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School-fee case comes to a close - again

January 1, 2007
Parents who successfully challenged the constitutionality of Evansville school fees have won another victory in Indiana appellate courts, this time relating to attorney fees.

The Indiana Court of Appeals issued a 21-page decision today in Frank Nagy, et al. v. Evansville-Vanderburgh School Corporation, No 82A05-0609-CV-488, which involves a new issue stemming from an Indiana Supreme Court ruling last year. The case arose after the local district began charging every student a $20 student-services fee in fall 2002 as a way to make up for a $ 2.3 million deficient that year and a $ 5.3 million shortfall in 2003. The fees were ultimately declared unconstitutional in March 2006.

But on remand, the trial court denied the parents' requests for attorney fees on the issue of whether they're considered the "prevailing party." Parents appealed, arguing they are the prevailing party for purposes of the U.S. Constitution that provides for awarding attorney fees to parties who prevailed in actions brought to enforce federal constitutional rights.

"Turning to the specifics of the case before us, we must reject the trial court's determination that the Parents were not the prevailing party under Section 1988," the court wrote. "This outright victory upon the merits of the state constitutional claim fits within the generous definition of 'prevail' adopted by the federal Supreme Court."

However, left to be determined at the trial court level is how the fees should be divvied up to each set of parents - the Nagys and Bracketts, as the Bracketts joined the original suit later and were the only ones to bring a federal claim relating to attorney fees.

"Although we have addressed certain issues with regard to attorney fees. The ultimate calculation of reasonable attorney fees is a task for the trial court upon remand," the court wrote.
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