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Call for new briefs in 10-114

A local police chief in Louisiana, sued in a civil rights case the Supreme Court is due to hear later this month, has died, leading the Court on Friday to call for new briefs on the potential impact of the death on the case.  Billy Ray Vice, who served as police chief in Vinton, La.,  had been awarded more than $50,000 in attorneys’ fees after a federal court threw out a civil rights claim against him by a former rival for the police chief’s job.   The Court is scheduled to hear oral argument in the case — Fox v. Vice (10-114) — on March 22.

Another resident of Vinton, Ricky D. Fox, is pursuing an appeal to the Court to challenge what his attorneys called a “windfall” in the more than $50,000 in attorneys’ fee recovery that a federal judge awarded to Vice after concluding that Fox’s federal civil rights claim against Vice was “frivolous.”  The Supreme Court agreed on Nov. 1 to hear Fox’s petition on the question of whether such an award is valid if it reimbursed Vice for all of his attorneys’ fees, not just those fees directly related to the litigation over the civil rights claim.  Fox has other claims, based on state law, and those were not treated as frivolous.

In Friday’s order, the Court noted that no one had been named as a substitute in the case for Vice, and the lawyers were told to discuss in letter briefs what effect that might have on the case.  Under the Court’s rules, the failure to name a substitute party for one who has died can lead to dismissal of the case.  In addition, counsel was told to discuss whether the case might continue if there were claims against the former police chief in his official capacity.  The Court’s rules say that claims may not expire if an officer has left a public position but claims could proceed against a successor in the office.

The case grows out of two claims by Ricky Fox against Billy Vice.  Fox’s lawsuit contended that Vice had engaged in an extortion plot to intimidate Fox and keep him from running for the police chief’s job then held by Vice.  First, Fox claimed, Vice had sent an anonymous letter threatening him if he did not back out of his candidacy.  Second, he claimed that Vice had set up an embarrassing incident at a high school basketball game in which Fox was accused of being a racist.

Vice had the case transferred to federal court, where it proceeded along with separate claims based on state law. The federal court found the federal civil rights claim to be frivolous, but awarded Vice his attorneys’ fees for the full scope of the federal proceeding, including fees that bore upon the non-frivolous state law claims.   The award, Fox’s appeal contended, should have been confined to attorney work on the dismissed federal claims alone.

Counsel are to answer the Court’s new questions by letter briefs, no longer than 12 pages, to be filed by 2 p.m. next Friday.

Cases: Fox v. Vice

Recommended Citation: Lyle Denniston, Call for new briefs in 10-114, SCOTUSblog (Mar. 4, 2011, 1:56 PM),