Rhode Island’s board of bar examiners doesn’t owe attorneys’ fees to a lawyer with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder who sued, and got, extra time to take the bar exam.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit Dec. 11 reversed a $19,486 attorneys’ fee award in Anthony Sinapi’s favor after finding he didn’t qualify as a “prevailing party” entitled to fees.
Though Sinapi received a temporary restraining order allowing him extra time to take the exam in a “distraction-reduced” environment, he didn’t prevail on the merits of his lawsuit, the First Circuit said
The order in favor of Sinapi, entered one day before he took the exam, was “pressured and necessarily superficial,” and the district court never ultimately resolved his substantive claims, the First Circuit said. His fee award based on “prevailing party” status was therefore unwarranted, the court said.
Despite undoing the fee award, the First Circuit agreed with the district court’s decision to extend immunity to the board and its members on Sinapi’s claim for damages.
The immunity stems from both the 11th Amendment, which protects states and their instrumentalities from suit in federal court, and the doctrine of quasi-judicial immunity, which protects certain judge-like figures from litigation, the First Circuit said.
Finally, the board urged the First Circuit to resolve the case under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, because Sinapi filed his federal court lawsuit after losing in the Rhode Island Supreme Court. The Rooker-Feldman doctrine generally prevents lower federal courts from reviewing state court decisions.
The First Circuit declined to do so. It said it’s one of the circuits—along with the Second, Third, and Seventh—that allows courts to “step around” Rooker-Feldman questions to reach a “more straightforward issue that will easily resolve a case on the merits.”
Judge Michael A. Ponsor, sitting by designation from the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts, wrote the decision. Judges Sandra L. Lynch and Kermit V. Lipez joined.
Sinapi Law Associates Ltd. represented Sinapi. The Rhode Island attorney general’s office represented the board.
The case is Sinapi v. R.I. Bd. of Bar Examiners, 1st Cir., No. 16-2251, 12/11/18.