Evans v. Jeff D.

475 U.S. 717 (1986)

Yeazell, pp. 358-362


Facts: A class action was filed against Idaho on behalf of handicapped children.  The class was represented by Idaho Legal Aid.  The state offered a settlement which included a waiver by the class of any claim to attorney’s fees.  The attorney for the class felt that he should accept because the settlement would give them a better deal than they could have gotten at trial.  However, Idaho Legal Aid didn’t want the attorney to accept the offer, because it meant that the organization wouldn’t get any money.  The class argued that the offer including the fee waiver was coercive and shouldn’t be upheld by the court.  The district court, however, approved the settlement and denied attorney’s fees and costs.


Procedural Posture: The Court of Appeals reversed the district court’s ruling, saying that “a stipulated waiver of all attorney's fees obtained solely as a condition for obtaining relief for the class should not be accepted by the court.”  The state of Idaho appealed to the Supreme Court.


Issue: Do federal district courts have the power to approve the waiver of attorney’s fees?


Rule: Rule 23(e) requires court approval of settlements of class actions.  The Fees Act doesn’t prohibit all settlements conditioned on the waiver of fees.


Analysis: The Court finds that the district court did not go over the line in approving the fee waiver in the context of a settlement favorable to the plaintiffs.


Conclusion: The Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals and reinstated the ruling of the trial court that the attorney’s fees could be waived.


Notes and Questions



a.      So the Legal Aid Society needs to think about other future potential clients, not just the current ones.

b.     What do you mean no ethical dilemma?  That’s assuming that being a proper advocate has infinite value and cannot be exchanged for any other value, like the solvency of a socially useful organization or making sure that your own kids can eat.  The reality is that this dilemma will have an impact on the case.  The Court shouldn’t stick its head in the sand and pretend there is no dilemma, it should deal with the dilemma.

1.     Why would the clients want to refuse a settlement requiring a wavier of attorney’s fees?  What do they care?

a.      That seems pretty selfish.

b.     Do people really obey these rules?  If Idaho Legal Aid is unwilling to take the case for really free, then it shouldn’t.  If the clients sign and Idaho makes its offer, then you’re well within your rights to refuse the offer and bargain for some money for Idaho Legal Aid.


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