1 March 2017
On February 16, 2017, attorneys for the student-athletes in the infamous O’Bannon case argued in front of the Ninth Circuit that they are entitled to over $42 million in attorney’s fees. The attorney’s obtained an injunction from the district court that the NCAA could not cap student-athlete aid packages at below the full cost of attendance, and that student-athletes could receive up to $5,000 per year in cash payments for use of their name, image, and likeness. However, the appellate court reversed the district court’s ruling that allowed players to receive up to $5,000 after their college career for use of their likeness. The Supreme Court denied a request by both sides for a review of the appellate court’s ruling.
Although the 9th Circuit knocked out another portion of the ruling that would entitle student-athletes to cash payments, the attorneys argued they “substantially prevailed” in the litigation, and the attorney’s fees were reasonable for the amount of work done preparing for litigation that lasted for a half decade. The NCAA was already ordered by a U.S. magistrate judge in July 2015 to pay more than $44 million in fees, which were later reduced to the amount requested by the attorneys.
The NCAA argued that the amount requested was unreasonable, as many of the plaintiffs did not actually benefit from the ruling. Specifically, the plaintiffs who originally joined the lawsuit when it first commenced in 2009 would not benefit from the ruling, as they had already graduated. In addition, the NCAA argued that it voluntarily changed its system to lift its cap on compensation below the full cost of attendance without the injunction.
The plaintiff’s attorneys argued that their victory “against one of the country’s oldest and most lucrative cartels” entitled them to the attorney’s fees they requested. In addition to the significance of the legal victory, the attorneys argued that they defeated 11 motions to dismiss, and had to take discovery from several schools and conferences to adequately try the case.