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Florida Doesn't Have to Pay Nudist's Fee

  Legal Business  -   POSTED: 2007/06/04 15:40

The Supreme Court made it harder Monday to recover legal fees from the government, ruling against a woman who sued for the right to form a peace sign in the nude in a Florida park. The justices ruled unanimously against Toni Anne Wyner, a nudist from Fort Pierce, Fla. Wyner won a federal court ruling that allowed her and other performers to go forward with their protest in the nude on Valentine's Day 2003.

Based on the order, known as a preliminary injunction, a federal judge ruled that Florida should pay Wyner's lawyers $25,000 in legal fees.

But Wyner's lawsuit also was a broader challenge to a Florida law that bans nudity on beaches, arguing that the law violated her First Amendment right of free expression.

Wyner lost that fight and the Supreme Court said that what matters is the final resolution of the lawsuit.

"Here, at the end of the fray, Florida prevailed in the suit. The state's bathing suit rule remained intact," Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said in her opinion for the court.

Ginsburg cautioned that the court was taking no position "on the extent to which the First Amendment protects artworks that involve nudity."

Because the case had the potential for broad impact on lawsuits against governments generally, the Bush administration and 24 states joined Florida in urging the court to reverse the award of attorney's fees.

An unusual array of conservative and liberal interest groups came together in support of Wyner, arguing that public interest law firms would be left without any compensation in many cases.

The governments wanted the court to rule that parties who win preliminary injunctions can never recover attorney's fees.

The court, however, left unanswered what happens in lawsuits in which "the preliminary injunction essentially resolves the whole case and ends the litigation," said Andrew Pincus, a partner with the Mayer, Brown, Rowe & Maw law firm who filed a brief on behalf of the interest groups.


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