477 U.S. 561 (1986), 85-224, City of Riverside v. Rivera

Docket Nº:No. 85-224
Citation:477 U.S. 561, 106 S.Ct. 2686, 91 L.Ed.2d 466, 54 U.S.L.W. 4845
Party Name:City of Riverside v. Rivera
Case Date:June 27, 1986
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 561

477 U.S. 561 (1986)

106 S.Ct. 2686, 91 L.Ed.2d 466, 54 U.S.L.W. 4845

City of Riverside

v.

Rivera

No. 85-224

United States Supreme Court

June 27, 1986

Argued March 31, 1986

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR

THE NINTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Respondents, eight Chicano individuals, attended a party at the home of two of the respondents. A large number of officers of petitioner city's police force, acting without a warrant, broke up the party by using tear gas and unnecessary physical force, and many of the guests, including four of the respondents, were arrested. Criminal charges were ultimately dismissed. Respondents filed suit in Federal District Court against the city, its Chief of Police, and 30 individual police officers under various federal Civil Rights Acts, alleging violations of respondents' First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights, as well as numerous state law claims. Ultimately the jury returned 37 individual verdicts in favor of respondents and against the city and five individual officers, finding 11 violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983, 4 instances of false arrest and imprisonment, and 22 instances of negligence. Respondents were awarded $33,350 in compensatory and punitive damages. They also sought attorney's fees under the Civil Rights Attorney's Fees Awards Act of 1976, 42 U.S.C. § 1988, in the amount of $ 245,456.25, based on 1,946.75 hours expended by their two attorneys at $125 per hour and 84.5 hours expended by law clerks at $25 per hour. Finding both the hours and rates reasonable, the District Court awarded respondents the requested amount, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. This Court remanded for reconsideration in light of the intervening decision in Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, and the District Court, after additional hearings and review of the matter, made extensive findings of fact and conclusions of law, and again concluded that respondents were entitled to an award of the requested amount of attorney's fees. The Court of Appeals again affirmed, ruling, inter alia, that the fee award was not excessive merely because it exceeded the amount of damages awarded by the jury.

Held: The judgment is affirmed.

763 F.2d 1580, affirmed.

JUSTICE BRENNAN, joined by JUSTICE MARSHALL, JUSTICE BLACKMUN, and JUSTICE STEVENS, concluded that:

1. Under Hensley v. Eckerhart, supra, which announced certain guidelines for calculating a "reasonable" attorney's fee under § 1988, the "lodestar" figure, obtained by multiplying the number of hours reasonably

Page 562

expended on the litigation by a reasonable hourly rate, is presumed [106 S.Ct. 2688] to be the reasonable fee contemplated by § 1988, and an important factor, among others, for consideration in adjusting the lodestar figure upward or downward is the "results obtained." Where a plaintiff has obtained excellent results, his attorney should recover a fully compensatory fee, and the fee award should not be reduced simply because the plaintiff failed to prevail on every contention raised in the lawsuit. The record here establishes that the District Court correctly applied the factors announced in Hensley, and did not abuse its discretion in awarding attorney's fees for all time reasonably spent litigating the case. Pp. 567-573.

2. There is no merit to the argument that Hensley's lodestar approach is inappropriate in civil rights cases where a plaintiff recovers only monetary damages, and that, in such cases, fees in excess of the amount of damages recovered are necessarily unreasonable. Although the amount of damages recovered is relevant to the amount of attorney's fees to be awarded under § 1988, it is only one of many factors that a court should consider in calculating an award of attorney's fees. Pp. 573-580.

(a) A civil rights action for damages does not constitute merely a private tort suit benefiting only the individual plaintiffs whose rights were violated. Unlike most private tort litigants, a civil rights plaintiff seeks to vindicate important civil and constitutional rights that cannot be valued solely in monetary terms. Because damages awards do not reflect fully the public benefit advanced by civil rights litigation, Congress did not intend for fees in civil rights cases, unlike most private law cases, to depend on obtaining substantial monetary relief, but instead recognized that reasonable attorney's fees under § 1988 are not conditioned upon, and need not be proportionate to, an award of money damages. Pp. 574-576.

(b) A rule limiting attorney's fees in civil rights cases to a proportion of the damages awarded would seriously undermine Congress' purpose in enacting § 1988. Congress enacted § 1988 specifically because it found that the private market for legal services failed to provide many victims of civil rights violations with effective access to the judicial process. A rule of proportionality would make it difficult, if not impossible, for individuals with meritorious civil rights claims but relatively small potential damages to obtain redress from the courts, and would be totally inconsistent with Congress' purpose of ensuring sufficiently vigorous enforcement of civil rights. In order to ensure that lawyers would be willing to represent persons with legitimate civil rights grievances, Congress determined that it would be necessary to compensate lawyers for all time reasonably expended on a case. Pp. 576-580.

3. Although Congress did not intend that statutory fee awards produce "windfalls" to attorneys, neither did it intend that attorney's fees be proportionate to the amount of damages a civil rights plaintiff

Page 563

might recover. Rather, there already exists a wide range of safeguards that are designed to protect civil rights defendants against the possibility of excessive fee awards, and that adequately protect against the possibility that § 1988 might produce a "windfall" to civil rights attorneys. Pp. 580-581.

JUSTICE POWELL concluded that the District Court's detailed findings concerning the fee award, which were accepted by the Court of Appeals, were not "clearly erroneous" for purposes of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 52(a), and that the District Court did not abuse its discretion in making the fee award. JUSTICE POWELL also concluded that neither the decisions of this Court nor the legislative history of § 1988 support a rule of proportionality between fees awarded and damages recovered in a civil rights case, and rejected the argument that the prevailing contingent fee rate charged by counsel in personal injury cases should be considered the reasonable fee for purposes of § 1988. Pp. 581-586.

BRENNAN, J., announced the judgment of the Court and delivered an opinion, [106 S.Ct. 2689] in which MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. POWELL, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, post, p. 581. BURGER, C.J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 587. REHNQUIST, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BURGER, C.J., and WHITE and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined, post, p. 588.

Page 564

BRENNAN, J., lead opinion

JUSTICE BRENNAN announced the judgment of the Court and delivered an opinion in which JUSTICE MARSHALL, JUSTICE BLACKMUN, and JUSTICE STEVENS join.

The issue presented in this case is whether an award of attorney's fees under 42 U.S.C. § 1988 is per se "unreasonable" within the meaning of the statute if it exceeds the amount of damages recovered by the plaintiff in the underlying civil rights action.

I

Respondents, eight Chicano individuals, attended a party on the evening of August 1, 1975, at the Riverside, California, home of respondents Santos and Jennie Rivera. A large number of unidentified police officers, acting without a warrant, broke up the party using tear gas and, as found by the District Court, "unnecessary physical force." Many of the guests, including four of the respondents, were arrested. The District Court later found that "[t]he party was not creating a disturbance in the community at the time of the break-in." App. 188. Criminal charges against the arrestees were ultimately dismissed for lack of probable cause.

On June 4, 1976, respondents sued the city of Riverside, its Chief of Police, and 30 individual police officers under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981, 1983, 1985(3), and 1986 for allegedly violating their First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The complaint, which also alleged numerous state law claims, sought damages and declaratory and injunctive relief. On August 5, 1977, 23 of the individual police officers moved for summary judgment; the District Court granted summary judgment in favor of 17 of these officers. The case against the remaining defendants proceeded to trial in September, 1980. The jury returned a total of 37 individual verdicts in favor of the respondents and against the city and five individual officers, finding 11 violations of § 1983, 4 instances of false arrest and imprisonment, and 22 instances of negligence. Respondents were awarded $33,350 in compensatory and punitive

Page 565

damages: $13,300 for their federal claims, and $20,050 for their state law claims.1

Respondents also sought attorney's fees and costs under § 1988. They requested compensation for 1,946.75 hours expended by their two attorneys at a rate of $125 per hour, and for 84.5 hours expended by law clerks at a rate of $25 per hour, a total of $245,456.25. The District Court found both the hours and rates reasonable, and awarded respondents $245,456.25 in attorney's fees. The court rejected respondents' request for certain additional expenses, and for a multiplier sought by respondents to reflect the contingent nature of their success and the high quality of their attorneys' efforts.

[106 S.Ct. 2690] Petitioners appealed only the attorney's fees award, which the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed. Rivera v. City of Riverside, 679 F.2d 795 (1982). Petitioners sought a writ of...

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1246 practice notes
  • 276 F.R.D. 681 (S.D.Fla. 2011), 10-22236-CIV, Adelman v. Boy Scouts of America
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 11th Circuit Southern District of Florida
    • August 19, 2011
    ...the plaintiff in response." Heder v. City of Two Rivers, 255 F.Supp.2d 947, 956 (E.D.Wis.2003) (quoting City of Riverside v. Rivera, 477 U.S. 561, 581 n. 11, 106 S.Ct. 2686, 91 L.Ed.2d 466 (1986)).21 A " no surrender" mentality may be perfectly appropriate for a Bruce Springs......
  • 487 F.Supp.2d 961 (N.D.Ill. 2007), C. A. 04 C 3596, Oshana v. Coca-Cola Co.
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 7th Circuit Northern District of Illinois
    • April 24, 2007
    ...is well-settled that fee awards in cases involving fee-shifting statutes may exceed the amount recovered. See City of Riverside v. Rivera, 477 U.S. 561, 576, 106 S.Ct. 2686, 91 L.Ed.2d 466 (1986) (in civil rights cases, reasonable fees need not be conditioned upon or proportionate to the am......
  • 565 B.R. 50 (Bkrtcy.S.D.N.Y. 2017), 15-11989 (MEW), In re Relativity Fashion, LLC
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States Bankruptcy Courts Second Circuit
    • March 22, 2017
    ...Jenkins, 491 U.S. 274, 286, 109 S.Ct. 2463, 105 L.Ed.2d 229 (1989) (quoting City of Riverside v. Rivera, 477 U.S. 561, 591, 106 S.Ct. 2686, 91 L.Ed.2d 466 (1986) (Rehnquist, J., dissenting)); see also In Time Products, Ltd. v. Toy Biz, Inc., 38 F.3d 660, 667 (2d Cir......
  • 635 F.Supp.2d 523 (S.D.Miss. 2009), C. A. 3:09CV29TSL-JCS, Anglin v. Tower Loan of Mississippi, Inc.
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 5th Circuit Southern District of Mississippi
    • June 4, 2009
    ...be proportionate to the amount recovered would discourage vigorous enforcement of the Act." ) (citing City of Riverside v. Rivera, 477 U.S. 561, 106 S.Ct. 2686, 2694, 91 L.Ed.2d 466 (1986)). In this case, the court has little doubt that if plaintiff were successful in the prosecution o......
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1231 cases
  • 276 F.R.D. 681 (S.D.Fla. 2011), 10-22236-CIV, Adelman v. Boy Scouts of America
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 11th Circuit Southern District of Florida
    • August 19, 2011
    ...the plaintiff in response." Heder v. City of Two Rivers, 255 F.Supp.2d 947, 956 (E.D.Wis.2003) (quoting City of Riverside v. Rivera, 477 U.S. 561, 581 n. 11, 106 S.Ct. 2686, 91 L.Ed.2d 466 (1986)).21 A " no surrender" mentality may be perfectly appropriate for a Bruce Springs......
  • 487 F.Supp.2d 961 (N.D.Ill. 2007), C. A. 04 C 3596, Oshana v. Coca-Cola Co.
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 7th Circuit Northern District of Illinois
    • April 24, 2007
    ...is well-settled that fee awards in cases involving fee-shifting statutes may exceed the amount recovered. See City of Riverside v. Rivera, 477 U.S. 561, 576, 106 S.Ct. 2686, 91 L.Ed.2d 466 (1986) (in civil rights cases, reasonable fees need not be conditioned upon or proportionate to the am......
  • 565 B.R. 50 (Bkrtcy.S.D.N.Y. 2017), 15-11989 (MEW), In re Relativity Fashion, LLC
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States Bankruptcy Courts Second Circuit
    • March 22, 2017
    ...Jenkins, 491 U.S. 274, 286, 109 S.Ct. 2463, 105 L.Ed.2d 229 (1989) (quoting City of Riverside v. Rivera, 477 U.S. 561, 591, 106 S.Ct. 2686, 91 L.Ed.2d 466 (1986) (Rehnquist, J., dissenting)); see also In Time Products, Ltd. v. Toy Biz, Inc., 38 F.3d 660, 667 (2d Cir......
  • 635 F.Supp.2d 523 (S.D.Miss. 2009), C. A. 3:09CV29TSL-JCS, Anglin v. Tower Loan of Mississippi, Inc.
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 5th Circuit Southern District of Mississippi
    • June 4, 2009
    ...be proportionate to the amount recovered would discourage vigorous enforcement of the Act." ) (citing City of Riverside v. Rivera, 477 U.S. 561, 106 S.Ct. 2686, 2694, 91 L.Ed.2d 466 (1986)). In this case, the court has little doubt that if plaintiff were successful in the prosecution o......
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  • Native Advertising: The Old Is New Again
    • United States
    • Mondaq United States
    • July 7, 2015
    ...must ... not be misleading"); see also Bolger v. Youngs Drug Products Corp., 463 U.S. 60 (1983). Central Hudson Gas & Elec., 477 U.S. at 562. Zauderer v. Office of Disciplinary Counsel, 471 U.S. 626, 637 Nike v. Kasky, 27 Cal 4th 939 (2002), cert. granted, 537 U.S. 1099, and cert. ......
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  • Section 1983
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    • West's Encyclopedia of American Law Sar–Ten
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    ...1988 does not require that the attorneys' fees awarded be in proportion to the amount of damages recovered (City of Riverside v. Rivera, 477 U.S. 561, 106 S. Ct. 2686, 91 L. Ed. 2d 466 [1986]). Rule 68 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure can lead to the adjustment of the amount of damag......
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    ...Manhart, 435 U.S. 702 (1978), 32,69-70,87, 109 City of Richmond v. J. A. Croson Co., 488 U.S. 469 (1989), 55 City of Riverside v. Rivera, 477 U.S. 561 (1986), 119-20 City of St. Louis v. Prapotnik, 485 U.S. 112 (1988), 128 Clackamas Gastroenterology Assocs., P.C. v. Wells, 538 U.S. 440 (200......
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    ...Compensation is available even when the economic value to clients is less than the value to lawyers. See City of Riverside v. Rivera, 477 U.S. 561 (1986), in which the majority approved a fee award of $245,456.25 for pursuit of a civil rights claim resulting in a recovery by the plaintiffs ......
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