Gibbs v. Blackwelder, 9616.

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (4th Circuit)
Citation346 F.2d 943
Docket NumberNo. 9616.,9616.
PartiesReacus GIBBS and Wanda N. Gibbs, his wife, Appellants, v. Leroy J. BLACKWELDER, and Mary Louise Blackwelder, his wife, Appellees.
Decision Date02 June 1965

Richard M. Millman, Washington, D. C., for appellants.

No appearance for the appellees.

Before HAYNSWORTH, Chief Judge, BOREMAN, Circuit Judge, and HUTCHESON, District Judge.

HAYNSWORTH, Chief Judge:

In litigation arising out of a land transaction in Florida, the plaintiffs, Gibbs, obtained a judgment in Florida against the defendant, Leroy J. Blackwelder, for a sum in excess of $35,000. Unable to collect the judgment in that State, they brought suit upon the Florida judgment in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. There, the issue became the availability of certain lands, titled in the name of Mrs. Blackwelder, for the satisfaction of the husband's debts. The lands are said to be of very substantial value and the claim of the Gibbs one of several claims against the husband which will be collectible only if the lands standing in the name of the wife are available for their satisfaction.

Extended proceedings in the District Court resulted in a memorandum opinion and a decree in which the District Court held that Mr. Blackwelder did have an interest in the lands and that they were available for the satisfaction of his debts. There has been no appeal from that decree. In a supplemental memorandum opinion, however, the District Court refused to allow fees to the plaintiffs' attorneys, except certain minor sums in connection with their obtaining an order requiring the defendants to answer questions propounded in the taking of depositions, and it charged one of the plaintiffs' attorneys with $250 for having advised the plaintiffs to refuse to answer questions propounded to them. This appeal comes from the refusal to allow attorneys' fees to the plaintiffs in general and from the $250 charge against the attorney in favor of the defendants.

The District Court was under the impression that the request for the allowance of fees for the plaintiffs' attorneys was for the benefit of the attorneys and not for the benefit of the plaintiffs. He said in his memorandum opinion:

"The fees here claimed would not go to the plaintiffs. They are for the attorneys. The plaintiffs have not asked that they be reimbursed for attorney fees incurred. In any event they would not be entitled to recover more than they had agreed to pay their attorneys and there is no evidence in this case what that amount is."

Now, at least, it is clear that the request for the allowance of fees is for the benefit of the plaintiffs. It is founded upon the principle that when one who, while establishing his own claim, also establishes the means by which others may collect their claims, a chancellor in equity may award counsel fees to the trail blazer out of the property made available for the satisfaction of all claims. The principle is applied so that the one who led in hewing the path to victory is not left saddled with extensive attorney's fees, which need not be incurred by his more timid fellows who held back until the fruits of the pioneer's success were laid before them. The principle is succinctly stated in Sprague v. Ticonic National Bank, 307 U.S. 161, 165-7, 59 S.Ct. 777, 779-780, 83 L.Ed. 1184.

"* * * To be sure, the usual case is one where through the complainant\'s efforts a fund is recovered in which others share. Sometimes the complainant avowedly sues for the common interest while in others his litigation results in a fund for a group though he did not profess to be their representative. The present case presents a variant of the latter situation. In her main suit the petitioner neither avowed herself to be the representative of a class nor did she automatically establish a fund in which others could participate. But in view of the consequences of stare decisis, the petitioner by establishing her claim necessarily established the claims of fourteen other trusts pertaining to the same bonds.
"That the party in a situation like the present neither purported to sue for a class nor formally established by litigation a fund available to the class, does not seem to be a differentiating factor so far as it affects the source of the recognized power of equity to grant reimbursements of the kind for which the petitioner in this case appealed to the chancellor\'s discretion * * *. Whether one professes to sue representatively or formally makes a fund available for others may, of course, be a relevant circumstance in making the fund liable for his costs in producing it. But when such a fund is for all practical purposes created for the benefit of others, the formalities of the litigation — the absence of an avowed class suit or the creation of a fund, as it were, through stare decisis rather than through a decree — hardly touch the power of equity in doing justice as between a party and the beneficiaries of his litigation. As in much else that pertains to equitable

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  • Brewer v. SCHOOL BD. OF CITY OF NORFOLK, VIRGINIA, 71-1900 and 71-1901.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (4th Circuit)
    • March 7, 1972
    ...including attorney's fees, for protecting the common fund for others having a similar interest with him in that fund. Gibbs v. Blackwelder (4th Cir. 1965) 346 F.2d 943, 945; United States v. Jacobs (D.C.Md.1960) 187 F. Supp. 630, 634, aff. 298 F.2d 469.15 The doctrine extends not only to ca......
  • City of Detroit v. Grinnell Corporation, 14
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    ...into the definition of an act which is merely a "step . . . toward final judgment in which it will merge." Compare Gibbs v. Blackwelder, 346 F.2d 943 (4th Cir. 1965). A final judgment will arise only when the District Court makes a final apportionment of the The judgment approving the settl......
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    • June 25, 1993 478, 100 S.Ct. at 749; Mills v. Electric Auto-Lite, 396 U.S. 375, 392, 90 S.Ct. 616, 625, 24 L.Ed.2d 593 (1970); Gibbs v. Blackwelder, 346 F.2d 943, 945 (4th Cir.1965). Jurisdiction over the fund enables a court to prevent such inequity by assessing fees out of the entire fund, spreading......
  • Knebel v. Capital Nat. Bank in Austin, B--4546
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    ...v. Pettus, 113 U.S. 116, 58 S.Ct. 387, 28 L.Ed. 915 (1884); Trustees v. Greenough, 105 U.S. 527, 26 L.Ed. 1157 (1881); Gibbs v. Blackwelder, 346 F.2d 943 (4th Cir. 1965); Schechtman v. Wolfson, 244 F.2d 537 (2d Cir. 1957); Wallace v. Fiske, 80 F.2d 897 (8th Cir.1936); Palmer v. Hartford Nat......
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