Bilke v. State (1/29/2009)

February 3, 2009

Arizona Court ofAppeals Division One Holds An Individual Who Prevails in an Action Against the State or a Political Subdivision to Compel Compliance with a Statutory Obligation is Entitled to Recover Attorneys’ Fees Under A.R.S. § 12-2030(A), Even if the Action is Not Formally Entitled “Mandamus.”

Plaintiffs, current and former inmates of the State of Arizona, filed suit to recover “minimum wage” for certain work performed while incarcerated.  Certain inmates prevailed, but judgment was entered in favor of the State against the other inmates.   Plaintiffs sought attorney’s fees, claiming that they were the prevailing parties because certain inmates were awarded recoveries on their minimum wage claim.  The trial court denied Plaintiffs’ request, and they appealed.

The ArizonaAppeals Court reversed and remanded.  It determined that Plaintiffs were entitled to recover attorneys’ fees under A.R.S. 12 § 2030(A), explaining that a plaintiff is entitled to attorneys’ fees under that section if it “(1) prevailed on the merits (2) in a civil action (3) filed against the State or a political subdivision of the State (4) to compel a State officer or any officer of any political subdivision to perform a duty imposed by law.”  The Court further explained that an action need not be formally entitled “mandamus” in order for § 2030 to apply, despite the fact that the section is contained within an article pertaining to the legal remedy of mandamus and its heading includes the phrase “[m]andamus action,”.

The Court held that the Plaintiffs who prevailed were entitled to fees under § 12-2030 because they prevailed on the merits of a civil action against the State and political subdivisions to compel State officers to perform a duty imposed by law.  Plaintiffs sought to compel compliance with A.R.S. § 31-254(A) and § 41-1623(E), which required the State to pay inmates minimum wage under certain circumstances.  Because the trial court ruled that the State had failed to satisfy its statutorily-required obligation, the Plaintiffs’ action was not an ordinary action to recover damages for breach of contract or personal injuries, but instead was one to compel the State to perform a duty imposed by law.  

Judge Gemmill authored the opinion; Presiding Judge Norris concurred and Judge Kessler concurred.