In Farrar v. Hobby, the Supreme Court granted "prevailing party" status, as required by 42 U.S.C § 1988, to those plaintiffs who are awarded only nominal damages. The Court rejected the Fifth Circuit's rationale that an award of nominal damages is a "technical" or "insignificant" victory and insufficient to allow prevailing party status.
Although the Court unanimously found that a party who is awarded nominal damages is a prevailing party, the Court split five to four as to what reasonable attorney fees would be in this case. Writing for the Court, Justice Thomas compared the relief sought to the relief granted and determined that the only reasonable fee would be no fee at all. The dissenting opinion, written by Justice White, would withhold determining what reasonable attorney fees would be in this case because the petition for certiorari did not present the issue, nor did the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals determine the issue.
Conley, Seán W.
"Farrar v. Hobby: When Moral Victories Will Not Feed the Attorney,"
Mercer Law Review: Vol. 44:
4, Article 20.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.law.mercer.edu/jour_mlr/vol44/iss4/20