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
The final sentence of § 1988, as amended, provides as follows:
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,
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
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. 94-1558, 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. 94-1011, supra, at 5 (emphasis added). It seems apparent from these passages
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.
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 forma 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 is so ordered.
MR. JUSTICE STEVENS took no part in the consideration or decision of these cases.
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
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 Investigation's Chicago office and an informant working with them (the federal defendants) conspired with state officers to carry out the operation, to conceal its allegedly sinister nature, and to harass the plaintiffs with unfounded prosecutions.
The jury trial lasted 18 months, generating a 37,000-page transcript and masses of documentary evidence. At the close of the plaintiffs' case, some 16 months after trial began, the District Court granted directed verdicts in favor of the federal and most of the state defendants. Trial continued as to the police officers who actually participated in the apartment incident. Ultimately, the jury deadlocked and the District Court entered a final judgment directing verdicts in favor of all of the defendants. A divided panel of the Court of Appeals vacated the judgment and ordered a new trial as to all but four of the defendants.
I have not reviewed the entire record of what is said to have been "the longest case tried to a jury in the history of the United States judiciary." Memorandum of District Court, App. to Pet. for Cert. in No. 79-914. p. 175a. I have, however,
At the close of the plaintiffs' case in chief, the District Court "reviewed all of the evidence . . . with all reasonable inferences that could be drawn therefrom, in the light most favorable to the plaintiffs." Id., at 186a. The court found the record "devoid of proof of . . . participation [by the federal defendants] in a conspiratorial plan among themselves or with the state defendants. Thus no liability on their part existed and their motions for directed verdicts were granted." Id., at 193a-194a. More specifically, the court explained:
Despite the explicit findings of the judge who presided over this 18-month trial, a majority of the Court of Appeals drew its own inferences and concluded that the evidence was sufficient to "warrant a jury determination of whether a conspiracy existed." 600 F.2d 600, 621 (1979). The majority's lengthy opinion indicates that the court relied primarily, if not entirely, upon extensive testimony describing an FBI counterintelligence program directed against a number of organizations including the Black Panther Party.
There is no question that the FBI viewed that organization, which openly advocated armed resistance to authority and
No one contends that any of the federal defendants took part in the raid itself. They did supply information to state officers about illegal firearms stored in the apartment. But each federal defendant testified that he did not know of and did not participate in any planning or joint activity regarding the operation at any time. This uncontradicted testimony was fully corroborated by the state defendants. In these circumstances, inferences drawn from a program not shown to have been related to the events in question are of dubious value. Judge Pell, dissenting in part in the Court of Appeals, viewed the matter as follows:
In the absence of positive evidence or "reasonable inference-creating facts," there was no reason to include the federal defendants in the remand for a second trial.
This Court ordinarily leaves questions as to the sufficiency of evidence in a particular case to the courts below. But this is nor ordinary litigation. Although it may appear on the surface to be an unexceptional civil rights suit for damages, the extraordinary magnitude of the litigation and the nature and scope of the evidence demonstrate that this lawsuit differs
Judge Pell observed that "this case has important overtones of unbridled denigrating attacks on governmental officials." Id., at 666. The allegations of unconstitutional conduct by the state defendants are serious indeed, and I express no view on the merits of these claims. But the plaintiffs have a larger target: the Federal Bureau of Investigation. It is apparent that a basic trial strategy was to attack the FBI broadly. If there were sufficient relevant evidence to support the plaintiffs' claims, the law would require that they go to the jury regardless of underlying motive. Yet the presence of this collateral objective, related only tangentially if at all to the recovery of damages, imposed a special duty on the courts to bear in mind the admonition of Butz v. Economou, 438 U.S. 478, 508 (1978), that "federal officials [not be] harassed by frivolous lawsuits."
Butz rejected a claim that all highly placed federal officials should be absolutely immune from liability for civil rights violations. But federal officials, like state officials used under 42 U. S. C. § 1983, have qualified immunity from suit. They therefore are liable only when they "discharge their duties in a way that is known to them to violate . . . a clearly established constitutional rule." 438 U. S., at 507. In Butz, we emphasized that absolute immunity is unnecessary to protect the public interest in "encouraging the vigorous exercise of official authority," id., at 506, because qualified immunity shields officials from liability for good-faith mistakes. We predicted that such immunity would prove "workable," because "firm application of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure" would permit "[i]nsubstantial lawsuits [to] be quickly terminated." In particular, "damages suits concerning constitutional violations need not proceed to trial, but can be terminated on a properly supported motion for summary judgment. . . ." Id., at 507-508. The District Court heeded this admonition.
Our concern in Butz was that extravagant charges might force officials to trial on claims that lacked a substantial basis in fact. In this case, there can be little speculation as to what evidence may be marshaled in support of the complaint. After 16 months of trial devoted exclusively to the plaintiffs' evidence, the trial court found the record wholly "devoid of proof of . . . participation" by the federal defendants in the conspiracy alleged. App. to Pet. for Cert. in No. 79-914, p. 193a. These defendants continue to assert that their conduct was a routine and good-faith effort at cooperative law enforcement. Neither the parties nor the courts below have identified concrete evidence to the contrary. If a new trial may be ordered in this case, similar allegations could survive properly supported motions for summary judgment on the basis of speculative inferences from unrelated evidence. The prospect of defending such lawsuits can hardly fail to "dampen the ardor of all but the most resolute, or the most irresponsible, in the unflinching discharge of their duties." Gregoire v. Biddle, 177 F.2d 579, 581 (CA2 1949).
The Court of Appeals' remand for a second trial as to the federal defendants in this case vitiates the protection we
MR. JUSTICE MARSHALL, dissenting.
It is not clear to me that the award of attorney's fees in this case was in error because "respondents have of course not prevailed on the merits of any of their claims." Ante, at 758. The Court concedes that Congress in passing the Civil Rights Attorney's Fees Awards Act of 1976 contemplated the award of attorney's fees pendente lite in certain instances, and that a litigant may be a "prevailing party" for purposes of the Act without obtaining final judgment on the merits following a full trial. It is sufficient if there has been a determination of "`substantial rights of the parties,'" ante, at 757, quoting H. R. Rep. No. 94-1558, p. 8 (1976).
In the instant case, respondents have been successful in obtaining reversal on appeal of a directed verdict entered against them. While this "only" means that respondents are entitled to a trial of their cause, ante, at 758, that is a major accomplishment which determines "substantial rights of the parties." Had petitioners been successful in defending their directed verdict on appeal, there is no doubt that they would be considered to have prevailed on the merits; the lawsuit would have been finished. Obtaining an appellate order requiring that a new trial be held after an action to enforce civil rights has been prematurely terminated similarly is an achievement reflecting on the merits of the case. The decision of the Court of Appeals, establishing that respondents produced sufficient evidence to warrant sending their case to the jury, breathes new life into an otherwise dead lawsuit. Without full briefing and oral argument, I am unable to
In my view, the attorney's fees issue is sufficiently difficult to warrant the plenary attention of this Court rather than summary reversal. Accordingly, I dissent.
The respondents based their claims on 42 U. S. C. §§ 1983, 1985 (3) (1976 ed., Supp. II), and 1986, and on provisions of the Constitution. They also alleged various causes of action under state law.
In the cases cited by the Court of Appeals to justify the award of counsel fees in these cases, those to whom fees were awarded had prevailed on the merits of at least some of their claims. See Davis v. Murphy, 587 F.2d 362, 363-364 (CA7 1978); Nadeau v. Helgemoe, 581 F.2d 275, 279-281 (CA1 1978); Wharton v. Knefel, 562 F.2d 550, 556 (CA8 1977).
Judge Pell also noted that "Black Panther publications called for killing policemen," that the party "published a `Destruction Kit' which described how to make and use incendiary bombs and other similar devices," that children attending its highly praised breakfast program were instructed to "Kill the Pigs," and that Black Panthers had "boasted" that one of their members had killed two Chicago police officers less than a month before the events at issue in this case. Id., at 654-655.