Bass, Berry & Sims attorney Audrey Anderson was a guest on a recent episode of the Bloomberg Law Podcast to provide perspective on the March 8 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in Uzuegbunam v. Preczewski, which reversed a dismissal on mootness grounds due to the plaintiff’s claim for nominal damages. Audrey previously covered the ruling here.

Because the student plaintiff had already graduated and the defendant college had already changed the policy challenged as a free speech violation, the question before the court was whether the court should dismiss the case as moot or whether it retained jurisdiction to decide the claim for nominal damages. Audrey suggested that, while the 8-1 ruling with Chief Justice Roberts in dissent was somewhat of a surprise, the ruling itself was not given precedent at a number of lower circuit courts.

In arriving at the opinion, the Justices looked at how the law was applied in England and the U.S. when the Constitution was adopted to determine whether those early legal forces allowed claims of nominal damages and whether those claims were to remedy a past injury or to somehow prevent parties from violating the law in the future. Writing for the majority, Justice Thomas found that common law of England and in early U.S. held that nominal damages claims were meant to compensate claims that were hard to quantify. Looking toward 19th century precedent from the U.K. and U.S., Chief Justice Roberts’ dissent suggested that there must be case or controversy – or something else still at stake for the parties – for courts to have jurisdiction.

While nominal damages would inherently mean that there is little financial compensation at stake on the surface, Audrey notes that attorneys’ fees are at stake for the plaintiff. In most civil rights lawsuits, the plaintiff is entitled to attorneys’ fees from the defendant if they win.

The episode, “Chief Justice’s First Solo High Court Dissent,” was released on March 9 by the Bloomberg Law Podcast and is available wherever you get your podcast content.