The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals finds that a federal district court erred when it significantly reduced the attorneys’ fees sought by the lawyers for a woman with disabilities whose case resulted in the right to file 1983 claims based on the state’s failure to provide Medicaid waiver services within a reasonable time.  Doe v. Kidd (4th Cir., Nos. 14-428, 14-429, 15-1022, 15-1024 and 15-1026, Aug. 9, 2016).

Sue Doe is a Medicaid waiver recipient who has been fighting with the South Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) over her benefits since 2002.  In 2008, her case made it to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled that the reasonable promptness provision found in 42 U.S.C. § 1396a(a)(8), gives rise to a right enforceable under § 1983.  In 2011, Doe was back in the 4th Circuit alleging that DHHS was still refusing to fund her care, and the 4th Circuit ordered the state to provide the required services.  In that decision, the court found that Doe was a “prevailing party” entitled to reasonable attorneys’ fees.  It took Doe another two years and a state supreme court decision before DHHS finally provided adequate services under the waiver program.

In 2013, Doe’s counsel filed a motion for $1,868,958 in attorneys’ fees ($997,489 for the state case and $871,469 for the federal case), $19,742 in costs and $59,018 in guardian ad litem (GAL) fees.  The district court determined that the state fees were not compensable under federal law and that Doe was only entitled to $100,000 in attorneys’ fees, $5,523.13 in costs and $3,750 in GAL fees.  The district court asserted that Doe’s attorneys claimed reimbursement for excessive hours and duplicative tasks and that their rates were too high.  The court also found that the litigation was not very successful because “there ha[d] been no change in the status quo”.

The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals reverses the district court and awards Doe $669,077.20 in fees for the federal matter and all of the GAL fees requested for time spent on the federal case.  The appeals court remands the case to the district court to determine the fees for the state court case, since that litigation “‘was both useful and of a type ordinarily necessary to advance the civil rights litigation to the stage it reached,’ . . . “.

To read the full text of the court’s opinion, go to:  http://www.ca4.uscourts.gov/Opinions/Unpublished/141428.U.pdf