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U.S. District Court Grants Environmental Plaintiffs Who Achieved ‘Limited Success’ in Clean Air Act Litigation, $1.5 Million In Attorneys’ Fees

The U.S. District Court of Montana recently adopted, in full, a U.S. Magistrate finding and recommendation that the Sierra Club and Montana Environmental Information Center (collectively: plaintiffs) be granted nearly $1.5 million in attorneys’ fees as prevailing parties under the federal Clean Air Act and achieving some success on the merits of their claims. The District Court also agreed with the magistrate that the plaintiffs’ claims were not frivolous or unfounded. [Sierra Club et al. v. Talen Montana LLC, et al., ___F.Supp.3d___, Case No. 1:2013cv00032 (D. Mt. Feb. 15, 2017).]

Finally, the court reviewed the magistrate’s analysis that lead the magistrate to reduce the amount of attorneys’ fees it awarded to plaintiffs by nearly half from $3.1 million. The court agreed with the magistrate’s finding that the plaintiffs only achieved “limited success.” The court also agreed with the magistrate’s finding that a cross motion for attorneys’ fees filed by the defendants was without merit, because the plaintiffs’ claims were not “frivolous or unfounded.” Accordingly, the District Court adopted in full the magistrate’s findings and awarded plaintiffs half of their requested attorneys’ fees.

In this case, plaintiff environmental groups were awarded attorneys’ fees for partially success on the merits of their claims and obtaining prevailing party status under the Clean Air Act by requiring defendants to do something they were not otherwise legally obligated to do. The attorneys’ fees were half of what plaintiffs had requested on account of the partialness of their success. Going forward, this case may encourage earlier settlement by parties litigating under the Clean Air Act. However, it may also incentivize defendants to resist settlement because doing so may trigger attorneys’ fees payments regardless of defendants’ views of the merits of a plaintiff’s claims. The court’s decision is accessible online at: available at

(Danielle Sakai, Miles Krieger)