Yesterday, the United States Supreme Court in a per curiam decision, reversed the Idaho Supreme Court’s decision on an award of attorney fees under 42 U.S.C. § 1988. In the case of James v. City of Boise, 158 Idaho 713, 351 P.3d 1171 (2015), the Idaho Supreme Court granted attorney fees to the City of Boise without an analysis of whether the Plaintiff’s action was frivolous, unreasonable, or without foundation, as is mandated by the U.S. Supreme Court’s interpretation of 42 U.S.C. § 1988 in Hughes v. Rowe, 449 U.S. 5 (1980). See James, 158 Idaho at 734, 351 P.3d at 1192. The Idaho Supreme Court concluded it had discretion to award attorney fees without this analysis because while “the [U.S.] Supreme Court may have the authority to limit the discretion of lower federal courts, it does not have the authority to limit the discretion of state courts where such limitation is not contained in the statute.” Id.
The U.S. Supreme Court reversed, explaining: “Section 1988 is a federal statute. ‘It is this Court’s responsibility to say what a [federal] statute means, and once the Court has spoken, it is the duty of other courts to respect that understanding of the governing rule of law.’” James v. City of Boise, 577 U.S. ___, 2016 WL 280883 (2016) (citations omitted). “The Idaho Supreme Court, like any other state or federal court, is bound by this Court’s interpretation of federal law.” Id.
You can read the full opinion here: http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/15pdf/15-493_5h26.pdf. We wrote about the Idaho Supreme Court’s decision in James in May 2015.