(CN) - Fees may be available to attorneys who monitored California's compliance with a settlement for diabetic public school students, the 9th Circuit ruled Monday.
California headed off a proposed class action by four students and the American Diabetes Association in 2005 when it agreed to settle claims that it had failed to provide needed services for diabetics in public schools.
Under the terms of the 2007 settlement, which awarded $400,000 in attorneys' fees, U.S. District Judge Maxine Chesney retained ancillary jurisdiction over the case in San Francisco until Jan. 24, 2010.
Nearly two years after that date had passed, attorneys for the plaintiffs filed fees motion for their work monitoring the California Department of Education's implementation of the terms of the settlement.
Judge Chesney denied the move, however, saying that the court lacked jurisdiction to consider the issue because the settlement agreement had expired.
A three-judge appellate panel reversed on Monday, finding that the federal court had retained ancillary jurisdiction over attorneys' fees in the case.
To find otherwise would be to defeat the purpose of ancillary jurisdiction in the first place, which is "to enable a federal court to render a judgment that resolves the entire case before it and to effectuate its judgment once it has been rendered," the panel ruled, quoting a previous decision from the 7th Circuit.
"Requiring a separate lawsuit - that hypothetically would invoke federal question jurisdiction - not only would interfere with the district court's powers to render a judgment that resolves the entire case and to effectuate its judgment, but also would harm judicial economy and efficiency," Judge Jacqueline Nguyen wrote for the court. "Practically speaking, any such separate 'attorneys' fees only' lawsuit likely would be referred to the district judge who presided over the underlying lawsuit anyway."
The panel remanded the question to San Francisco, leaving it to the lower court to decide "whether to exercise ancillary jurisdiction over plaintiffs' motion for attorneys' fees."