The Mississippi Supreme Court held that the state statute governing attorney’s fees in wrongful conviction and imprisonment cases sets out an escalation of fees tied to each stage of the case with the fee award capped at 25%.
Jason Hall’s conviction was vacated by the Mississippi Supreme Court. He subsequently sued the State under the Wrongful Conviction and Imprisonment Act, Miss. Code Ann. § 11-44-1, et seq., but the State was granted summary judgment. He appealed and was eventually awarded $126,507 for wrongful incarceration. His attorneys were awarded $31,626.75, i.e., 25% of Hall’s award. They appealed.
At issue was how the attorney’s fees provision of Miss. Code Ann. § 11-44-7(2)(b) should be interpreted. It provides for an award of 10% for preparing and filing a claim, 20% for litigating the claim “if” contested, “and” 25% “if” the claim is appealed. Hall’s attorneys argued that the use of the term “and” means that the award amount at each stage is added to the award amount from the preceding stage or stages, resulting in an award of 55% at the appeal stage. Attorney’s fees under the statute are not deducted from the client’s award.
The Supreme Court rejected that interpretation of the statute. The Court stated that it often refers to dictionaries to “ascertain the meaning of a word in its common or popular sense.” It then referenced Random House Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary 1989 (2d ed. 2001) in which one of the definitions of “and” is “to connect alternatives.”
The Court acknowledged that “and” is most often used in the additive sense, but the use of the term ‘if’ creates conditional clauses (“if the claim is appealed”) together with the absence “of any other potentially additive language, reflects the Legislature’s intent to use “and” to connect alternatives rather than aggregate numbers.
Accordingly, the Court held that the term “and” creates a sliding scale with increased percentages at each stage of the case for calculating attorney’s fees under the statute. The Court affirmed the trial court’s 25% award for attorney’s fees. See: Hall v. State, 2018 Miss. LEXIS 50 (2018).
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Related legal case
Hall v. State
|Cite||2018 Miss. LEXIS 50 (2018)|