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Oregon Pro Se Litigants and Attorneys Fees

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Can a self-represented (pro se) litigant claim “attorneys fees?”

For a discussion of the meaning of attorneys fees in the context of a pro se litigant’s public records lawsuit, I recommend you read the recently decided (June 17) Colby v. Gunson (A133979) (2009).

Excerpt: “Plaintiff argues that he is entitled to attorney fees and costs under ORS 192.490(3) because he is a “person seeking the right to inspect” public records, and he prevailed in the appeal. Defendant contends that the statutory reference to “attorney fees” includes only fees that are charged to a client under a contractual commitment between an attorney and client and not the value of the time invested in the case by a self-represented client. Our determination of the intended meaning of the term “attorney fees” in ORS 192.490(3) is governed by the method described in PGE v. Bureau of Labor and Industries, 317 Or 606, 610-12, 859 P2d 1143 (1993), as recently modified by State v. Gaines, 346 Or 160, 171-72, ___ P3d ___ (2009) (examination of the text and context of the statute, and legislative history of the enactment when that history appears useful to the court’s analysis)….

ORS 192.409(3) does not require that the attorney fees be “incurred.” The statutory construction issue in this case, then, is whether the bare term “attorney fees” implies that same contractual dynamic–a charge by an attorney that a separate entity is obligated to pay. We determine the legislative intent in the use of particular statutory wording by giving words their plain, natural, and ordinary meaning. Haynes v. Tri-County Metro., 337 Or 659, 663, 103 P3d 101 (2004). In common parlance, “attorney fee” connotes a charge for an attorney’s professional services. Webster’s Third New Int’l Dictionary 833 (unabridged ed 2002) defines “fee” to include “compensation often in the form of a fixed charge for professional service or for special and requested exercise of talent or of skill (as by an artist) (a doctor’s ~) (a lawyer’s retainer ~).” Similarly, Black’s Law Dictionary 139 (8th ed 2004) defines “attorney fee” as “[t]he charge to a client for services performed for the client, such as an hourly fee, a flat fee, or a contingent fee.” A “charge,” in turn, arises in a transaction between two persons. Webster’s defines “charge” to mean:…”
(read full case!)

(My previous OLR blog posts about Gaines and about dictionaries.)