In Bangs v. Town of Wells, 2003 ME 129, 834 A.2d 955 (Me. 2003), the plaintiffs appealed an adverse zoning board decision to the trial court, under section 1983 and state law.
The trial court affirmed the decision, finding against the plaintiffs on the state and federal claims.
On appeal, the Supreme Judicial Court reversed, finding in favor of the plaintiffs, solely on the state law ground. It did not address the section 1983 claim.
On remand, the plaintiffs filed a petition for attorney's fees under section 1988, which was denied.
The plaintiffs appealed that decision. The Supreme Judicial Court of Maine reversed.
The Law Court explained that, in some cases, a party is entitled, under 42 U.S.C. § 1988, to attorney's fees incurred in the pursuit of non-constitutional claims if "a complainant is successful on a nonconstitutional ground, and no judgment is entered in the Section 1983 claim." Bangs, 2003 ME 129, P9, 834 A.2d at 958-59.
In order to be entitled to an award of attorneys fees in this situation, however, three requirements must be met. Id.
Those requirements are:
First, the relief granted to the party must result in the material alteration of the legal relationship of parties. A "material alteration" exists when a party receives "at least some relief on the merits of his claim." Second, the successful pendant claim must arise from the same nucleus of operative facts as those giving rise to the section 1983 claim. Third, the federal claim must be substantial. Id.