Case Details


The Use Of Contingency Fees By Public Entities In Nuisance Cases

Filing State



California Supreme Court




County of Santa Clara v. Superior Court, No. S163681 (Cal. July 26, 2010)


Neutral government attorneys must retain and exercise the requisite control and supervision over both the conduct of private attorneys and the overall prosecution of the case. After providing specific examples of contractual language that would be sufficient to illustrate “control” by government attorneys, the court examined the specific contracts at issue and determined that they did not fully satisfy the standards set out by the court.

Case Description

Several California cities and counties brought public nuisance cases against manufacturers of lead paint, and hired outside counsel on a contingency fee basis. The manufacturers moved to dismiss on the grounds that Clancy (a case barring contingency fees for attorneys representing public entities in nuisance cases) precluded the payment of contingency fees. The trial court agreed. The appellate court held that “Clancy does not bar all contingent-fee agreements with private counsel in public-nuisance abatement actions, but only those in which private attorneys appear in place of, rather than with and under the supervision of, government attorneys.”