Kay v. Ehrler
499 U.S. 432 (1991)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Kay v. Ehrler, 499 U.S. 432 (1991)

Kay v. Ehrler

No. 90-79

Argued Feb. 25, 1991

Decided April 16, 1991

499 U.S. 432

Syllabus

After respondent Kentucky Board of Elections denied petitioner Kay's request to have his name placed on a primary ballot for President of the United States, Kay, an attorney licensed to practice in Florida, filed a civil rights action on his own behalf in the District Court, challenging the constitutionality of the state statute on which the Board relied. Although he prevailed on the merits, the court denied his request for attorney's fees under 42 U.S.C. § 1988, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held: A pro se litigant who is also a lawyer may not be awarded attorney's fees under § 1988. Neither § 1988's text nor its legislative history provides a clear answer to the question whether a lawyer who represents himself should be treated like a client who has an independent attorney or like other pro se litigants, who, the Courts of Appeals have correctly decided, are not entitled to attorney's fees. However, § 1988's overriding concern is with obtaining independent counsel for victims of civil rights violations in order to ensure the effective prosecution of meritorious claims. That policy is best served by a rule that creates an incentive to retain counsel in every case, rather than a disincentive to employ counsel whenever a plaintiff considers himself competent to litigate on his own behalf. Even a skilled lawyer who represents himself is at a disadvantage in contested litigation because ethical considerations may make it inappropriate for him to appear as a witness, and because he is deprived of the judgment of an independent third party during the litigation. Pp. 499 U. S. 435-438.

900 F.2d 967 (CA 6 1990), affirmed.

STEVENS, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

Page 499 U. S. 433

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