Damian Stinnie v. Richard Holcomb, No. 21-1756 (4th Cir. 2022)Annotate this Case
This fee dispute arises from a putative class-action challenge to a now-repealed Virginia statute that triggered the automatic suspension of the driver’s licenses of “Appellants”, and numerous other Virginia residents for nonpayment of court costs and fines. After Appellants obtained a preliminary injunction, the Virginia General Assembly passed a law repealing the challenged statute. Appellants stipulated that dismissal of the underlying lawsuit was therefore appropriate but claimed that they were nonetheless entitled to attorney’s fees pursuant to 42 U.S.C. Section 1988 because they secured the preliminary injunction.
The district court denied Appellants’ petition for attorney’s fees, citing our decision in Smyth ex rel. Smyth v. Rivero, 282 F.3d 268 (4th Cir. 2002), wherein we held that preliminary injunctions do not confer the requisite “prevailing party” status required for an award of fees pursuant to Section 1988. On appeal, Appellants contend that Smyth is not controlling because it is untenable with subsequent Supreme Court decisions.
The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial Appellants' petition for attorney’s fees and litigation expenses. The court held that Smyth remains the law of the Fourth Circuit. And, pursuant to Smyth, Appellants are not prevailing parties. The court explained that it is bound by Smyth because it is directly on point and is neither distinguishable from nor untenable with any Supreme Court decision. The court wrote its decision in Smyth primarily turned on the nature of preliminary injunctions, not the standard for obtaining a preliminary injunction. Thus, Appellants’ argument that Smyth is untenable considering the changed merits standard following Winter is unpersuasive.
The court issued a subsequent related opinion or order on August 9, 2022.