The Roberts Court (2005–present)
In what decision did Chief Justice Roberts write his first opinion for the Court?
Chief Justice Roberts wrote his first opinion in Martin v. Franklin Capital Corporation (2005), an attorney fee case. The issue concerned the proper legal standard for when a plaintiff in a civil suit could recover attorney’s fees when a lawsuit is sent back to state court.
Often, plaintiffs file lawsuits in state courts and then defendants remove those cases to federal courts for different reasons. However, sometimes the federal courts then order the cases removed back to state court. That is what happened in Martin v. Franklin Capital Corporation. The plaintiffs filed a class-action suit in state court, the defendants removed to federal court, and then the federal court sent it back to state court. The Martins then sought attorney fees for the time and legal costs it took in removing the case to federal court and then back to state court.
The federal law dealing with removal costs provides that a federal judge “may” award attorney fees for removal costs. Roberts reasoned that “absent unusual circumstances, courts may award attorney’s fees under [the removal statute] only where the removing party lacked an objectively reasonable basis for seeking removal.” The Court concluded that the Martins were not allowed attorney’s fees because the defendant had a reasonable basis for thinking the federal court had jurisdiction.