Attorney(s) appearing for the Case
Jack Greenberg argued the cause for petitioners. With him on the brief were James M. Nabrit III, Michael Meltsner, Matthew J. Perry, Lincoln C. Jenkins, Jr., and Hemphill P. Pride II.
No appearance for respondents.
Supreme Court of United States.
The petitioners instituted this class action under Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, § 204 (a), 78 Stat. 244, 42 U. S. C. § 2000a-3 (a), to enjoin racial discrimination at five drive-in restaurants and a sandwich shop owned and operated by the respondents in South Carolina. The District Court held that the operation of each of the respondents' restaurants affected commerce within the meaning of § 201 (c) (2), 78 Stat. 243, 42 U. S. C. § 2000a (c) (2), and found, on undisputed evidence, that Negroes had been discriminated against at all six of the restaurants. 256 F.Supp. 941, 947, 951. But the District Court erroneously concluded that Title II does not cover drive-in restaurants of the sort involved in this case. 256 F. Supp., at 951-953. Thus the court enjoined racial discrimination only at the respondents' sandwich shop. Id., at 953.
The Court of Appeals reversed the District Court's refusal to enjoin discrimination at the drive-in establishments, 377 F.2d 433, 435-436, and then directed its attention to that section of Title II which provides that "the prevailing party" is entitled to "a reasonable attorney's fee" in the court's "discretion." § 204 (b), 78 Stat. 244, 42 U. S. C. § 2000a-3 (b).1 In remanding the case, the Court of Appeals instructed the District Court to award counsel fees only to the extent that the respondents' defenses had been advanced "for purposes of delay and not in good faith." 377 F. 2d, at 437. We granted certiorari to decide whether this subjective standard properly effectuates the purposes of the counsel-fee provision of Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. 389 U.S. 815. We hold that it does not.
When the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed, it was evident that enforcement would prove difficult and that the Nation would have to rely in part upon private litigation as a means of securing broad compliance with the law.2 A Title II suit is thus private in form only. When a plaintiff brings an action under that Title, he cannot recover damages. If he obtains an injunction, he does so not for himself alone but also as a "private attorney general," vindicating a policy that Congress considered of the highest priority.3 If successful plaintiffs were routinely forced to bear their own attorneys' fees, few aggrieved parties would be in a position to advance the public interest by invoking the injunctive powers of the federal courts. Congress therefore enacted the provision for counsel fees—not simply to penalize litigants who deliberately advance arguments they know to be untenable but, more broadly, to encourage individuals injured by racial discrimination to seek judicial relief under Title II.4
It follows that one who succeeds in obtaining an injunction under that Title should ordinarily recover an attorney's fee unless special circumstances would render such an award unjust. Because no such circumstances are present here,5 the District Court on remand should include reasonable counsel fees as part of the costs to be assessed against the respondents. As so modified, the judgment of the Court of Appeals is
MR. JUSTICE MARSHALL took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.