Marek v. Chesney - Case Summary

University / Undergraduate
Modified: 22nd Feb 2024
Wordcount: 680 words


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Legal Case Summary

Summary: The case examined whether an offer of judgment, which was rejected by the plaintiff, limited the defendant's liability for legal fees.


In Marek v. Chesney, a civil rights action was filed by Chesney against Marek and several other respondents. The case arose from an incident in 1975, wherein Chesney alleged he was beaten up when he was arrested. In 1981, he filed an action under 42 USC Section 1983 against the defendants. During the pre-trial, the respondents offered to settle for $100,000. However, Chesney rejected the offer.

The case went to trial and a jury awarded Chesney $60,000 in damages, an amount less than the initial settlement offer. After the verdict, Chesney sought attorney's fees under 42 USC Section 1988. The District Court ordered the respondents to pay a compensatory amount along with an interest. However, they refused to pay for fees and costs incurred after their offer of settlement, standing firm on their argument that their liability for fees was capped by the rejected settlement offer.


The primary issue in Marek v. Chesney was whether the defendants' liability for attorney's fees was limited by a rejected offer of settlement. The key consideration was interpreting the term 'costs' under Rule 68 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and if it included attorney's fees awarded under 42 USC Section 1988. Another issue was whether the rejection of the settlement offer by Chesney, which was more than the judgment finally awarded, limited the amount the defendants were liable to pay.


The decision in Marek v. Chesney clarified the interpretation of 'costs' in Rule 68, determining that it could include attorney's fees under certain federal statutes. The case further strengthened the use of Rule 68 as a mechanism to encourage settlement and prevent protraction of litigation. The decision of Marek v. Chesney continues to impact litigation strategies and informs the conduct of both plaintiffs and defendants in the context of settlement negotiations.


The Supreme Court ruled in favour of Marek and other defendants. The court decided that the term 'costs' in Rule 68 did include attorney's fees under the circumstances outlined in 42 USC Section 1988. The court held that the offer of settlement had, indeed, limited the defendants' liability for legal fees. Justice Powell, delivering the opinion of the court, emphasised that Chesney was not unjustly punished for rejecting the offer of settlement and the interpretation of Rule 68 was consistent with the policies and intentions of the Civil Rights Attorney's Fees Awards Act.


  • Marek et al. v. Chesney (1985), 473 U.S. 1.
  • Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Rule 68.
  • 42 U.S. Code § 1983 - Civil action for deprivation of rights.
  • 42 U.S. Code § 1988 - Proceedings in vindication of civil rights.

Journalist Brief

In the case of Marek v. Chesney, the U.S Supreme Court had to decide if a rejected settlement offer can limit the amount a party can be asked to pay for legal costs. The case arose from a 1981 civil rights action filed by Chesney, who was awarded less money by the court than what was originally offered as a settlement by Marek. When Chesney asked for his legal costs to be covered, Marek argued that their responsibility to cover these was limited by their previous offer. The Supreme Court sided with Marek, leading to a significant ruling that clarified how costs in legal settlements are defined.


What was the core issue in Marek v. Chesney?

Answer: The core issue was whether a party's liability for attorney's fees can be limited by an offer of settlement that was rejected by the plaintiff.

What was the outcome of Marek v. Chesney?

Answer: The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Marek, affirming that the rejected settlement offer had indeed limited the liability for attorney's fees.

What is the significance of Marek v. Chesney?

Answer: Marek v. Chesney clarified the interpretation of 'costs' in Rule 68, determining that it could include attorney's fees. It highlighted the importance of prudence in managing settlement negotiations and decisions to proceed to trial.

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