On March 8, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) issued an opinion in the case Uzuegbunam v. Preczewski, which concerned nominal damages claims and whether they provide legal standing in federal cases. Nominal damages claims are when a judge finds in favor of one party in a lawsuit but concludes that no real harm was done and therefore awards a very small, or nominal, amount of monetary relief.
The case originated from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit and was argued before SCOTUS on January 12, 2021. So far, the court has accepted four cases from the 11th Circuit and has decided one during this term.
In an 8-1 ruling, the court held that awarding nominal damages does provide legal standing in a case, meaning that the plaintiff has the legal right to sue. Justice Clarence Thomas delivered the majority opinion of the court, and Justice Brett Kavanaugh filed a concurring opinion. Justice Thomas has authored three majority opinions so far during the current term.
Chief Justice John Roberts filed a dissenting opinion, concluding that nominal damages claims are not a sufficient basis for Article III legal standing in a case.
This was Roberts’ first dissenting opinion in a case argued during the 2020-2021 term as well as his first lone dissent since joining the court in 2005. Roberts filed a dissent in the case Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn v. Cuomo, which was decided without argument.
To date, the court has issued opinions in 19 cases for the current term. Four cases were decided without argument.