Local Governments Stand Against Unbalanced “Fee Shifting” System

On Tuesday, Michael Sanderson testified amongst representatives from the City of Gaithersburg, Baltimore City, Anne Arundel County, LGIT, and MML in opposition of SB 629 Access to Maryland Courts Act.

From the MACo Testimony:

In theory, the bill seeks to ensure there is adequate legal representation for low-income individuals asserting a constitutional claim in State courts. In practice, the bill would trigger a rush of litigation and costs for the State and local governments and create a profoundly unbalanced system that favors plaintiffs over defendants.

SB 629 would authorize a court to award a prevailing party reasonable attorney’s fees and expenses in a civil action against the State or a local government to enforce a “self-executing” provision of the Maryland Constitution or Declaration of Rights. “Self-executing” is defined as a provision so complete that it may be enforced by a court without the need for further legislative authority or direction.

However, while a prevailing plaintiff can collect attorney’s fees based on a variety of factors and considerations detailed in the bill, a prevailing defendant is only allowed to recover fees if the court determines that the plaintiff’s suit was made in bad faith or without substantial justification. Attorney’s fee awards in local government cases are subject to the liability cap of the Local Government Tort Claims Act (LGTCA).

The testimony also contains information on the bill’s overbroad scope, an increase in claims brought against State and local governments, unequal treatment of plaintiffs and defendants, and more. Read it here.

For more on 2019 MACo legislation, visit the Legislative Database.

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