Kean for Congress Committee v. FEC (1:04CV00007)
In separate rulings issued on January 13 and January 20, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ordered the Commission to pay attorney’s fees totaling over $31,000 to the Kean for Congress Committee. The fees stem from the Committee’s lawsuit challenging the Commission’s dismissal of an administrative complaint it had filed — a decision the Commission ultimately reversed on remand from the district court. See also Kean v. FEC above.
On January 5, 2004, Kean for Congress Committee (the Committee) asked the court to find that the Commission acted contrary to law when it dismissed the plaintiff’s administrative complaint, designated MUR 5024. The administrative complaint alleged that a Virginia corporation known as the Council for Responsible Government and its so-called “Accountability Project” (collectively, CRG) funded mailings which attempted to influence a New Jersey Congressional Seventh District Republican primary, in violation of federal law. On November 4, 2003, the Commission unanimously dismissed the administrative complaint after splitting 3-3 on whether to find reason to believe the CRG violated the Federal Election Campaign Act.
On February 15, 2005, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia granted the FEC’s motion for this case to be voluntarily remanded to the Commission so that it can apply the Supreme Court decision in McConnell v. FEC to the facts of the plaintiff’s administrative complaint.
At the FEC’s request and over the committee’s opposition, the court remanded the case to the FEC for 60 days so it could reconsider the committee’s administrative complaint in light of McConnell v. FEC, 540 U.S. 93 (2003), which the Supreme Court had issued after the FEC had dismissed the committee’s administrative complaint but before the Commissioners had issued their Statements of Reasons for that dismissal. The court’s order did not direct the FEC to take any particular position on remand or compel the agency to reverse its dismissal. On remand, the FEC found “reason to believe” and subsequently entered into a conciliation agreement with the Council for Responsible Government.
The court remanded MUR 5024 to the Commission until April 15, 2005, to permit the FEC to reconsider its dismissal of the administrative complaint in light of the McConnell decision. The court also granted the FEC’s motion to hold summary judgment in abeyance.
On May 31, 2005, Kean for Congress filed a motion for attorney’s fees and expenses, arguing that under the Equal Access to Justice Act it was a “prevailing party.” In order to be a prevailing party, the party must prove that:
- There has been a court-ordered change in the legal relationship between the parties;
- Judgment was entered in the party’s favor; and
- The judicial pronouncement confers some judicial relief.
The court found that the remand order was a court-ordered change in the legal relationship, by forcing the FEC to reconsider the administrative complaint within 60 days. Additionally, it was favorable to the committee, even though it originally had opposed the remand, and offered relief in the form of time constraints, which addressed the grievances of the committee.
After concluding that the committee was a prevailing party, the court considered whether the FEC’s position was "substantially justified.” The court found that the FEC’s position was not substantially justified because, among other reasons, the three Commissioners who initially voted against pursuing the administrative complaint did not address the McConnell decision in their Statement of Reasons. The court found the committee’s request for attorney’s fees to be reasonable and ordered the FEC to pay over $31,000.