The U.S. Supreme Court yesterday in Murphy v. Smith, (Sup. Ct., Feb. 21, 2018), in a 5-4 decision, decided on the proper interpretation of a statutory provision relating to award of attorneys’ fees in damage actions by prisoners, including actions alleging a violation of an inmate’s First Amendment free exercise rights.  At issue is the provision in 42 USC § 1997e(d) relating to the amount an inmate must contribute out of his or her recovery toward attorneys’ fees when the inmate has been awarded such fees.  The majority, in an opinion by Justice Gorsuch, held that the statutory reference to the inmate’s contribution of up to 25% of the monetary judgment toward satisfying the award does not give the trial court discretion to require less than 25%.  Justice Sotomayor, joined by Justices Ginsberg, Breyer and Kagan, dissented arguing that the statute permits the exercise of discretion in determining the percentage (up to 25%) of a judgment that must be applied toward an attorneys’ fee award.



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