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Venegas v. Mitchell

United States Supreme Court
495 U.S. 82 (1990)


Venegas (defendant) retained Mitchell (plaintiff) as his attorney in a civil rights claim. The two signed a contingent-fee agreement whereby Mitchell would be paid 40 percent of the gross amount of any recovery by Venegas. 42 U.S.C. § 1988 provided that a court may award reasonable attorney’s fees to the prevailing party in a civil rights action. In the civil rights action, Venegas won and the court awarded him $117,000 in attorney’s fees, $75,000 of which was to go to Mitchell for his proportion of work done in the case. Mitchell then asserted a lien against the proceeds of the judgment, claiming that he was owed his portion of the 40 percent contingency fee as well. Venegas claimed that the court-awarded attorney’s fees were reasonable and superseded and invalidated Venegas’s obligation to pay the 40 percent contingency fee. The district court found in favor of Mitchell, awarding him his portion of the 40 percent and the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed. The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari.

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