California Adopts the Private Attorney General Doctrine in Actions Brought to Vindicate State Constitutional Rights
McSwane, Douglas R.
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Examines the California Supreme Court case Serrano v. Priest. Following a successful suit alleging that the California public school finance system violated the state constitution by discriminating against poorer school districts, Serrano sought attorney’s fees. The American Rule states that attorney’s fees are not permitted except when authorized by contractual term or statute. The court, absent statutory authority, nonetheless granted attorney’s fees adopting the private attorney general doctrine. The private attorney general doctrine permits attorney’s fees “for suits that substantially benefit the public interest,” as in this instance, this case “enforced an important right guaranteed by the California constitution.”