461 U.S. 424 (1983), 81-1244, Hensley v. Eckerhart

Docket Nº:No. 81-1244.
Citation:461 U.S. 424, 103 S.Ct. 1933, 76 L.Ed.2d 40
Party Name:C. Duane HENSLEY et al., Petitioners v. Thomas ECKERHART et al.
Case Date:May 16, 1983
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 424

461 U.S. 424 (1983)

103 S.Ct. 1933, 76 L.Ed.2d 40

C. Duane HENSLEY et al., Petitioners

v.

Thomas ECKERHART et al.

No. 81-1244.

United States Supreme Court.

May 16, 1983

Argued Nov. 3, 1982.

Plaintiffs brought action on behalf of all persons involuntarily confined at forensic unit of state hospital, challenging the constitutionality of treatment and conditions at the hospital. The United States District Court found constitutional violations, and awarded plaintiffs attorney fees, and appeal was taken. The Court of Appeals, 664 F.2d 294, affirmed, and certiorari was granted. The Supreme Court, Justice Powell, held that District Court failed to properly consider the relationship between the extent of success and the amount of attorney fee award, and cause would be remanded to permit District Court to determine the proper amount of fee award in light of Supreme Court's determination that the extent of a plaintiff's success is a crucial factor in determining the proper amount of award of attorney fees.

Vacated and remanded.

Chief Justice Burger filed a concurring opinion.

Justice Brennan filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, in which Justices Marshall, Blackmun and Stevens joined.

[103 S.Ct. 1935] Syllabus[*]

SYLLABUS

Respondents, on behalf of all persons involuntarily confined in the forensic unit of a Missouri state hospital, brought suit in Federal District Court against petitioner hospital officials, challenging the constitutionality of treatment and conditions at the hospital. The District Court, after a trial, found constitutional violations in five of the six general areas of treatment. Subsequently, respondents filed a request for attorney's fees under the Civil Rights Attorney's Fees Awards Act of 1976, 42 U.S.C. § 1988, which provides that in federal civil rights actions "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." After determining that respondents were prevailing parties under § 1988 even though they had not succeeded on every claim, the District Court refused to eliminate from the attorney's fees award the hours spent by respondents' attorneys on the unsuccessful claims, finding that the significant extent of the relief clearly justified the award of a reasonable attorney's fee. The Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held: The District Court did not properly consider the relationship between the extent of success and the amount of the attorney's fee award. The extent of a plaintiff's success is a crucial factor in determining the proper amount of an attorney's fee award under § 1988. Where the plaintiff failed to prevail on a claim unrelated to the successful claims, the hours spent on the unsuccessful claim should be excluded in considering the amount of a reasonable fee. Where a lawsuit consists of related claims, a plaintiff who has won substantial relief should not have his attorney's fee reduced simply because the district court did not adopt each contention raised. But where the plaintiff achieved only limited success, the court should award only that amount of fees that is reasonable in relation to the results obtained. Pp. 1937-1942.

664 F.2d 294 (8th Cir., 1981), vacated and remanded.

COUNSEL

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Michael L. Boicourt, Assistant Attorney General of Missouri, argued the cause for petitioners. With him on the brief was John Ashcroft, Attorney General.

Stanley J. Eichner argued the cause and filed a brief for respondents.*

* Robert E. Williams, Douglas S. McDowell, and Lorence L. Kessler filed a brief for the Equal Employment Advisory Council as amicus curiae urging reversal.

Jack Greenberg, James M. Nabrit III, Charles Stephen Ralston, Steven L. Winter, Norman J. Chachkin, and E. Richard Larson filed a brief for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., et al. as amici curiae urging affirmance.

Briefs of amici curiae were filed for the State of Pennsylvania et al. byLeRoy S. Zimmerman, Attorney General of Pennsylvania, and Andrew S. Gordon andAllen C. Warshaw, Deputy Attorneys General, Charles A. Graddick, Attorney General of Alabama, Wilson L. Condon, Attorney General of Alaska, Robert K. Corbin, Attorney General of Arizona, and Anthony B. Ching, Solicitor General,John Steven Clark, Attorney General of Arkansas, George Deukmejian, Attorney General of California, J.D. MacFarlane, Attorney General of Colorado, Richard S. Gebelein, Attorney General of Delaware, Jim Smith, Attorney General of Florida, Michael J. Bowers, Attorney General of Georgia, Tany S. Hong, Attorney General of Hawaii, David H. Leroy, Attorney General of Idaho, Tyrone C. Fahner, Attorney General of Illinois, Linley E. Pearson, Attorney General of Indiana,Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General of Iowa, Robert T. Stephan, Attorney General of Kansas, Steven L. Beshear, Attorney General of Kentucky, James E. Tierney, Attorney General of Maine, Stephen H. Sachs, Attorney General of Maryland,Francis X. Bellotti, Attorney General of Massachusetts, Frank J. Kelley, Attorney General of Michigan, Warren R. Spannaus, Attorney General of Minnesota, William A. Allain, Attorney General of Mississippi, Paul L. Douglas, Attorney General of Nebraska, Richard H. Bryan, Attorney General of Nevada,Gregory H. Smith, Attorney General of New Hampshire, Irwin I. Kimmelman, Attorney General of New Jersey, Jeff Bingaman, Attorney General of New Mexico,Rufus L. Edmisten, Attorney General of North Carolina, Robert O. Wefald, Attorney General of North Dakota, William J. Brown, Attorney General of Ohio,Jan Eric Cartwright, Attorney General of Oklahoma, Hector Reichard, Attorney General of Puerto Rico, Daniel R. McLeod, Attorney General of South Carolina,Mark D. Meierhenry, Attorney General of South Dakota, William M. Leech, Jr., Attorney General of Tennessee, Mark White, Attorney General of Texas, David L. Wilkinson, Attorney General of Utah, John J. Easton, Attorney General of Vermont, Gerald L. Baliles, Attorney General of Virginia, Kenneth O. Eikenberry, Attorney General of Washington, Chauncey H. Browning, Attorney General of West Virginia, Bronson C. La Follette, Attorney General of Wisconsin, and Steven F. Freudenthal, Attorney General of Wyoming; and for the American Bar Association by David R. Brink and M.D. Taracido.

Michael L. Boicourt, Jefferson City, Mo., for petitioners.

Stanley J. Eichner, Ann D. Lever, Ann D. Levers, St. Louis, Mo., for respondent.

OPINION

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Justice POWELL delivered the opinion of the Court.

Title 42 U.S.C. § 1988 provides that in federal civil rights actions "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." The issue in this case is whether a partially [103 S.Ct. 1936] prevailing plaintiff may recover an attorney's fee for legal services on unsuccessful claims.

I

A

Respondents brought this lawsuit on behalf of all persons involuntarily confined at the Forensic Unit of the Fulton State Hospital in Fulton, Missouri. The Forensic Unit consists of two residential buildings for housing patients who are dangerous to themselves or others. Maximum-security patients are housed in the Marion O. Biggs Building for the Criminally Insane. The rest of the patients reside in the less restrictive Rehabilitation Unit.

In 1972 respondents filed a three-count complaint in the District Court for the Western District of Missouri against petitioners, who are officials at the Forensic Unit and members of the Missouri Mental Health Commission. Count I challenged the constitutionality of treatment and conditions at the Forensic Unit. Count II challenged the placement of patients in the Biggs Building without procedural due process. Count III sought compensation for patients who performed institution-maintaining labor.

Count II was resolved by a consent decree in December 1973. Count III largely was mooted in August 1974 when

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petitioners began compensating patients for labor pursuant to the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. § 201et seq. In April 1975 respondents voluntarily dismissed the lawsuit and filed a new two-count complaint. Count I again related to the constitutionality of treatment and conditions at the Forensic Unit. Count II sought damages, based on the Thirteenth Amendment, for the value of past patient labor. In July 1976 respondents voluntarily dismissed this back-pay count. Finally, in August 1977 respondents filed an amended one-count complaint specifying the conditions that allegedly violated their constitutional right to treatment.

In August 1979, following a three-week trial, the District Court held that an involuntarily committed patient has a constitutional right to minimally adequate treatment. 475 F.Supp. 908, 915 (WD Mo.1979). The court then found constitutional violations in five of six general areas: physical environment; individual treatment plans; least restrictive environment; visitation, telephone, and mail privileges; and seclusion and restraint. 1 With respect to staffing, the sixth general area,

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the District Court found that the Forensic Unit's staffing levels, which had increased during the litigation, were minimally adequate. 475 F.Supp., at 919-920. Petitioners did not appeal the District Court's decision on the merits.

B

In February 1980 respondents filed a request for attorney's fees for the period from January 1975 through the end of the litigation. Their four attorneys claimed 2,985 hours worked and sought payment at rates varying from $40 to $65 per hour. This amounted to approximately $150,000. [103 S.Ct. 1937]...

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