Prison Litigation Reform Act

The Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) states that when a prisoner wins a civil rights case “a portion of the judgment (not to exceed 25 percent) shall be applied to satisfy” his or her attorney’s fees award.

In Murphy v. Smith the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that this statute means “the court must pay the attorney’s entire fee award from the [prisoner’s] judgment until it reaches the 25% cap and only then turn to the [prison guards].” In other words, the court may not exercise its discretion and take any amount it wishes from the prisoner’s judgment to pay the attorney “from 25% down to a penny.”

The Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) states that when an inmate recovers money damages in a confinement conditions case “a portion of the judgment (not to exceed 25 percent)” shall be applied to his or her attorney’s fees award. The question the Supreme Court will decide in Murphy v. Smith is whether “not to exceed 25 percent” means up to 25 percent or exactly 25 percent.