446 U.S. 754 (1980), 79-912, Hanrahan v. Hampton

Docket Nº:No. 79-912
Citation:446 U.S. 754, 100 S.Ct. 1987, 64 L.Ed.2d 670
Party Name:Hanrahan v. Hampton
Case Date:June 02, 1980
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 754

446 U.S. 754 (1980)

100 S.Ct. 1987, 64 L.Ed.2d 670

Hanrahan

v.

Hampton

No. 79-912

United States Supreme Court

June 2, 1980

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE SEVENTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

The Civil Rights Attorney's Fees Awards Act of 1976 (Act) permits the award of a reasonable attorney's fee to the "prevailing party" as part of the taxable costs in a suit brought under any of several specified civil rights statutes. Respondents brought suit under certain of those statutes, alleging that their constitutional rights had been violated by petitioners, and seeking damages. The District Court directed verdicts for petitioners, but the Court of Appeals reversed and remanded for a new trial, and also awarded to respondents their costs on appeal, including attorney's fees which it believed to he authorized by the Act.

Held: Respondents were not "prevailing" parties in the sense intended by the Act. While Congress contemplated the award of fees pendente lite in some cases, it intended to permit such an interlocutory award only when a party has prevailed on the merits of at least some of his claims, either in the trial court or on appeal. Respondents have not prevailed on the merits of any of their claims, since the Court of Appeals held only that they were entitled to a trial of their cause. Nor may they fairly be said to have "prevailed" by reason of the Court of Appeals' other interlocutory dispositions that affected only the extent of discovery, since such determinations might affect the disposition on the merits, but were themselves not matters on which a party could "prevail" for purposes of shifting his counsel fees to the opposing party under the Act.

Certiorari granted in part; 60 F.2d 600, reversed in part.

Per curiam opinion.

PER CURIAM.

In the Civil Rights Attorney's Fees Awards Act of 1976, Congress amended 42 U.S.C. § 1988 to permit the award of a reasonable attorney's fee to the "prevailing party" as part of the taxable costs in a suit brought under any of several specified civil rights statutes. The respondents brought suit

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under three of those statutes in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, alleging that their constitutional rights had been violated by the petitioners, and seeking money damages from them.1 The District Court directed verdicts for the petitioners, but the Court of Appeals reversed and remanded the case to the District Court for a new trial, 600 F.2d 600. The Court of Appeals also awarded to the respondents their costs on appeal, including attorney's fees which it believed to be authorized by § 1988. Id. at 643-644.2

The final sentence of § 1988, as amended, provides as follows:

In any action or proceeding to enforce a provision of

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sections 1981, 1982, 1983, 1985, and 1986 of this title, . . . the court, in its discretion, may allow the prevailing party, other than the United States, a reasonable attorney's fee as part of the costs.

42 U.S.C. § 1988. The statute, by its terms, thus permits the award of attorney's fees only to a "prevailing party." Accordingly, in the present cases, the Court of Appeals was authorized to award to the respondents the attorney's fees attributable to their appeal only if, by reason of obtaining a partial reversal of the trial court's judgment, they "prevailed" within the meaning of § 1988. The Court of Appeals believed that they had prevailed with respect to the appeal in this case,3 resting its conclusion upon the following appellate rulings favorable to the respondents: (1) the reversal of the District Court's judgment directing verdicts against them, save with respect to certain of the defendants; (2) the reversal of the District Court's denial of their motion to discover [100 S.Ct. 1989] the identity of an informant; and (3) the direction to the District Court on remand to consider allowing further discovery, and to conduct a hearing on the respondents' contention that the conduct of some of the petitioners in response to the trial court's discovery orders warranted the imposition of sanctions under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 37(b)(2). While the respondents did prevail on these matters in the sense that the Court of Appeals overturned several rulings against them by the District Court, they were not, we have concluded, "prevailing" parties in the sense intended by 42 U.S.C. § 1988, as amended.

The legislative history of the Civil Rights Attorney's Fees Awards Act of 1976 indicates that a person may in some circumstances be a "prevailing party" without having obtained a

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favorable "final judgment following a full trial on the merits," H.R.Rep. No. 94-1558, p. 7 (1976). See also S.Rep. No. 94-1011, p. 5 (1976). Thus, for example, "parties may be considered to have prevailed when they vindicate rights through a consent judgment or without formally obtaining relief," ibid. See also H.R.Rep. No. 94-1558, supra at 7, and cases cited; Dawson v. Pastrick, 600 F.2d 70, 78 (CA7 1979); Nadeau v. Helgemoe, 581 F.2d 275, 279-21 (CA1 1978).

It is evident also that Congress contemplated the award of fees pendente lite in some cases. S.Rep. No. 94-1011, supra at 5; H.R.Rep. No. 91558, supra, at 7-8. But it seems clearly to have been the intent of Congress to permit such an interlocutory award only to a party who has established his entitlement to some relief on the merits of his claims, either in the trial court or on appeal. The congressional Committee Reports described what were considered to be appropriate circumstances for such an award by reference to two cases -- Bradley v. Richmond School Board, 416 U.S. 696 (1974), and Mills v. Electric Auto-Lite Co., 396 U.S. 375 (1970). S.Rep. No. 94-1011, supra at 5; H.R.Rep. No. 94-1558, supra at 8. In each of those cases, the party to whom fees were awarded had established the liability of the opposing party, although final remedial orders had not been entered. The House Committee Report, moreover, approved the standard suggested by this Court in Bradley, that

"the entry of any order that determines substantial rights of the parties may be an appropriate occasion upon which to consider the propriety of an award of counsel fees . . . ,"

H.R.Rep. No. 94-1558, supra at 8, quoting Bradley v. Richmond School Board, supra at 723, n. 28. Similarly, the Senate Committee Report explained that the award of counsel fees pendente lite would be

especially appropriate where a party has prevailed on an important matter in the course of litigation, even when he ultimately does not prevail on all issues.

S.Rep. No. 91011, supra at 5 (emphasis added). It seems apparent from these passages

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that Congress intended to permit the interim award of counsel fees only when a party has prevailed on the merits of at least some of his claims. For only in that event has there been a determination of the "substantial rights of the parties," which Congress determined was a necessary foundation for departing from the usual rule in this country that each party is to bear the expense of his own attorney.4

[100 S.Ct. 1990] The respondents have of course not prevailed on the merits of any of their claims. The Court of Appeals held only that the respondents were entitled to a trial of their cause.5 As a practical matter, they are in a position no different from that

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they would have occupied if they had simply defeated the defendants' motion for a directed verdict in the trial court. The jury may or may not decide some or all of the issues in favor of the respondents. If the jury should not do so on remand in these cases, it could not seriously be contended that the respondents had prevailed. See Swietlowich v. Bucks County, 620 F.2d 33, 34 (CA3 1980). Nor may they fairly be said to have "prevailed" by reason of the Court of Appeals' other interlocutory dispositions, which affected only the extent of discovery. As is true of other procedural or evidentiary rulings, these determinations may affect the disposition on the merits, but were themselves not matters on which a party could "prevail" for purposes of shifting his counsel fees to the opposing party under § 1988. See Bly v. McLeod, 605 F.2d 134, 137 (CA4 1979).

The motion of Fraternal Order of Police of the State of Illinois in case No. 79-912 for leave to file a brief, as amicus curiae, is granted.

The respondents' motions for leave to proceed in form pauperis are granted, the petitions for certiorari are granted, limited to the question of the propriety of the award of attorney's fees by the Court of Appeals, and the judgment is reversed insofar as it awarded attorney's fees to the respondents. In all other respects, the petitions for certiorari are denied.

It s so ordered.

MR. JUSTICE STEVENS took no part in the consideration or decision of these cases.

POWELL, J., concurring and dissenting

MR. JUSTICE POWELL, with whom THE CHIEF JUSTICE and MR. JUSTICE REHNQUIST join, concurring in part and dissenting in part.

I join the Court's opinion insofar as it reverses the award of attorney's fees entered by the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. As I would grant the petition filed by the

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federal defendants in its entirety, I dissent from the denial of certiorari in No. 79-914.1

I

This civil litigation arose in the aftermath of a 1969 police raid on a Chicago apartment occupied by nine members of the Black Panther Party, two of whom were killed. The surviving occupants of the apartment and the legal representatives of the deceased Black Panthers filed four actions for damages, now consolidated, against 28 state and federal law enforcement officials. The complaints allege numerous violations of constitutional rights. In particular, the plaintiffs claim that three agents assigned to the Federal Bureau of [100 S.Ct. 1991] Investigation's Chicago office and an informant working with them (the...

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