This litigation was initiated by respondents Wilderness Society, Environmental Defense Fund, Inc., and Friends of the Earth in an attempt to prevent the issuance of permits by the Secretary of the Interior which were required for the construction of the trans-Alaska oil pipeline. The Court of Appeals awarded attorneys' fees to respondents against petitioner Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. based upon the court's equitable powers and the theory that respondents were entitled to fees because they were performing the services of a "private attorney general." Certiorari was granted, 419 U.S. 823 (1974), to determine whether this award of attorneys' fees was appropriate. We reverse.
A major oil field was discovered in the North Slope of Alaska in 1968.
Respondents brought this suit in March 1970, and sought declaratory and injunctive relief against the Secretary of the Interior on the grounds that he intended to issue the right-of-way and special land-use permits in violation of § 28 of the Mineral Leasing Act of 1920, 41 Stat. 449, as amended, 30 U. S. C. § 185,
Subsequently the State of Alaska and petitioner Alyeska were allowed to intervene.
Upon appeal, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit reversed, basing its decision solely on the Mineral Leasing Act. 156 U. S. App. D. C. 121, 479 F.2d 842 (1973) (en banc). Finding that the NEPA issues were very complex and important, that deciding them was not necessary at that time since pipeline construction would be enjoined as a result of the violation of the Mineral Leasing Act, that they involved issues of fact still in dispute, and that it was desirable to expedite its decision as much as possible, the Court of Appeals declined to decide the merits of respondents' NEPA contentions which had been rejected by the District Court.
Congress then enacted legislation which amended the Mineral Leasing Act to allow the granting of the permits sought by Alyeska
With the merits of the litigation effectively terminated by this legislation, the Court of Appeals turned to the questions involved in respondents' request for an award of attorneys' fees.
In the United States, the prevailing litigant is ordinarily not entitled to collect a reasonable attorneys' fee from the loser. We are asked to fashion a far-reaching exception to this "American Rule"; but having considered its origin and development, we are convinced that it would be inappropriate for the Judiciary, without legislative guidance, to reallocate the burdens of litigation in the manner and to the extent urged by respondents and approved by the Court of Appeals.
At common law, costs were not allowed; but for centuries in England there has been statutory authorization to award costs, including attorneys' fees. Although the matter is in the discretion of the court, counsel fees are regularly allowed to the prevailing party.
During the first years of the federal-court system, Congress provided through legislation that the federal courts were to follow the practice with respect to awarding
In 1796, this Court appears to have ruled that the Judiciary itself would not create a general rule, independent of any statute, allowing awards of attorneys' fees in federal courts. In Arcambel v. Wiseman, 3 Dall. 306, the inclusion of attorneys' fees as damages
The practice after 1799 and until 1853 continued as before, that is, with the federal courts referring to the state rules governing awards of counsel fees, although the express legislative authorization for that practice had expired.
In 1853, Congress undertook to standardize the costs allowable in federal litigation. In support of the proposed legislation, it was asserted that there was great diversity in practice among the courts and that losing litigants were being unfairly saddled with exorbitant fees for the victor's attorney.
The Act then proceeds to list specific sums for the services of attorneys, solicitors, and proctors.
The intention of the Act to control the attorneys' fees recoverable by the prevailing party from the loser was repeatedly enforced by this Court. In The Baltimore, 8 Wall. 377 (1869), a $500 allowance for counsel was set aside, the Court reviewing the history of costs in the United States courts and concluding:
In Flanders v. Tweed, 15 Wall. 450 (1872), a counsel's fee of $6,000 was included by the jury in the damages award. The Court held the Act forbade such allowances:
See also In re Paschal, 10 Wall. 483, 493-494 (1871).
Although, as will be seen, Congress has made specific provision for attorneys' fees under certain federal statutes,
To be sure, the fee statutes have been construed to allow, in limited circumstances, a reasonable attorneys' fee to the prevailing party in excess of the small sums permitted by § 1923. In Trustees v. Greenough, 105 U.S. 527 (1882), the 1853 Act was read as not interfering with the historic power of equity to permit the trustee of a fund or property, or a party preserving or recovering a fund for the benefit of others in addition to himself, to recover his costs, including his attorneys' fees, from the fund or property itself or directly from the other parties enjoying the benefit.
Congress has not repudiated the judicially fashioned exceptions to the general rule against allowing substantial attorneys' fees; but neither has it retracted, repealed, or modified the limitations on taxable fees contained in the 1853 statute and its successors.
Congress itself presumably has the power and judgment to pick and choose among its statutes and to allow attorneys' fees under some, but not others. But it would be difficult, indeed, for the courts, without legislative
The decision below must therefore be reversed.
MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS and MR. JUSTICE POWELL took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.
MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN, dissenting.
I agree with MR. JUSTICE MARSHALL that federal equity courts have the power to award attorneys' fees
MR. JUSTICE MARSHALL, dissenting.
In reversing the award of attorneys' fees to the respondent environmentalist groups, the Court today disavows the well-established power of federal equity courts to award attorneys' fees when the interests of justice so require. While under the traditional American Rule the courts ordinarily refrain from allowing attorneys' fees, we have recognized several judicial exceptions to that rule for classes of cases in which equity seemed to favor fee shifting. See Sprague v. Ticonic National Bank, 307 U.S. 161 (1939); Mills v. Electric Auto-Lite Co., 396 U.S. 375, 391-392 (1970); Hall v. Cole, 412 U.S. 1, 5, 9 (1973). By imposing an absolute bar on the use of the "private attorney general" rationale as a basis for awarding attorneys' fees, the Court today takes an extremely narrow view of the independent power of the courts in this area—a view that flies squarely in the face of our prior cases.
The Court relies primarily on the docketing-fees-and-court-costs
On my view of the case, both questions must be answered. I see no basis in precedent or policy for holding that the courts cannot award attorneys' fees where the interests of justice require recovery, simply because the claim does not fit comfortably within one of the previously sanctioned judicial exceptions to the American Rule. The Court has not in the past regarded the award of attorneys' fees as a matter reserved for the Legislature, and it has certainly not read the docketing-fees statute as a general bar to judicial fee shifting. The Court's concern with the difficulty of applying meaningful standards in awarding attorneys' fees to successful
Contrary to the suggestion in the Court's opinion, our cases unequivocally establish that granting or withholding attorneys' fees is not strictly a matter of statutory construction, but has an independent basis in the equitable powers of the courts. In Sprague v. Ticonic National Bank, supra, the lower courts had denied a request for attorneys' fees from the proceeds of certain bond sales, which, because of petitioners' success in the litigation, would accrue to the benefit of a number of other similarly situated persons. This Court reversed, holding that the allowance of attorneys' fees and costs beyond those included in the ordinary taxable costs recognized by statute was within the traditional equity jurisdiction of the federal courts. The Court regarded the equitable foundation of the power to allow fees to be beyond serious question:
In more recent cases, we have reiterated the same theme: while as a general rule attorneys' fees are not to be awarded to the successful litigant, the courts as well as the Legislature may create exceptions to that rule. See Mills v. Electric Auto-Lite Co., 396 U. S., at 391-392; Hall v. Cole, 412 U. S., at 5. Under the judge-made exceptions, attorneys' fees have been assessed, without statutory authorization, for willful violation of a court order, Toledo Scale Co. v. Computing Scale Co., 261 U.S. 399, 426-428 (1923); for bad faith or oppressive litigation practices, Vaughan v. Atkinson, 369 U.S. 527, 530-531 (1962); and where the successful litigants have created a common fund for recovery or extended a substantial benefit to a class, Central Railroad & Banking Co. v. Pettus, 113 U.S. 116 (1885); Mills v. Electric Auto-Lite Co., supra.
In Mills, we found the absence of statutory authorization no barrier to extending the common-benefit theory to include nonmonetary benefits as a basis for awarding
We acknowledged in Mills that the common-fund exception to the American Rule had undergone considerable expansion since its earliest applications in cases in which the court simply ordered contribution to the litigation costs from a common fund produced for the benefit of a number of nonparty beneficiaries. The doctrine could apply, the Court wrote, where there was no fund at all, id., at 392, but simply a benefit of some sort conferred on the class from which contribution is sought. Id., at 393-394. As long as the court has jurisdiction over an entity through which the contribution can be effected, it is the fairer course to relieve the plaintiff of exclusive responsibility for the burden. Finally, we noted that even where it is impossible to assign monetary value to the benefit conferred, "the stress placed by Congress on the importance of fair and informed corporate suffrage leads to the conclusion that, in vindicating the statutory policy, petitioners have rendered a substantial service to the corporation and its
Only two years ago, in a member's suit against his union under the "free speech" provisions of the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act, we held that it was within the equitable power of the federal courts to grant attorneys' fees against the union, since the plaintiff had conferred a substantial benefit on all the members of the union by vindicating their free speech interests. Hall v. Cole, 412 U.S. 1 (1973). Because a court-ordered award of attorneys' fees in a suit under the free speech provision of the LMRDA promoted Congress' intention to afford meaningful protection for the rights of employees and the public generally, and because without provision of attorneys' fees an aggrieved union member would be unlikely to be able to finance the necessary litigation, id., at 13, the Court held that the allowance of counsel fees was "consistent with both the [LMRDA] and the historic equitable power of federal courts to grant such relief in the interests of justice." Id., at 14.
In my view, these cases simply cannot be squared with the majority's suggestion that the availability of attorneys' fees is entirely a matter of statutory authority. The cases plainly establish an independent basis for equity courts to grant attorneys' fees under several rather generous rubrics. The Court acknowledges as much when it says that we have independent authority to award fees in cases of bad faith or as a means of taxing costs to special beneficiaries. But I am at a loss to understand how it can also say that this independent judicial power succumbs to Procrustean statutory restrictions —indeed, to statutory silence—as soon as the far
The tension between today's opinion and the less rigid treatment of attorneys' fees in the past is reflected particularly in the Court's analysis of the docketing-fees statute, 28 U. S. C. § 1923, as a general statutory embodiment of the American Rule. While the Court has held in the past that Congress can restrict the availability of attorneys' fees under a particular statute either expressly or by implication,
Starting with the early common-fund cases, the Court has consistently read the fee-bill statute of 1853 narrowly when that Act has been interposed as a restriction on the Court's equitable powers to award attorneys' fees. In Trustees v. Greenough, 105 U.S. 527 (1881), the Court held that the statute imposed no bar to an award of attorneys' fees from the fund collected as a result of the plaintiff's efforts, since:
In Sprague, supra, the Court again applied this distinction in recognizing "the power of federal courts in equity suits to allow counsel fees and other expenses entailed by the litigation not included in the ordinary taxable costs recognized by statute." 307 U. S., at 164. The Court there identified the costs "between party and party" as the sole target of the 1853 Act and its successors. The award of attorneys' fees beyond the limited ordinary taxable costs, the Court termed costs "as between solicitor and client"; it held that these expenses, which could be assessed to the extent that fairness to the other party would permit, were not subject to the restrictions of the fee statute. Id., at 166, and n. 2. Whether this award was collected out of a fund in the court or through an assessment against the losing party in the litigation was not deemed controlling. Id., at 166-167; Mills, 396 U. S., at 392-394.
More recently, the Court gave its formal sanction to the line of lower court cases holding that the fee statute imposed no restriction on the equity court's power to include attorneys' fees in the plaintiff's award when the defendant has unjustifiably put the plaintiff to the expense of litigation in order to obtain a benefit to which the latter was plainly entitled. Vaughan v. Atkinson, 369 U.S. 527 (1962). Distinguishing The Baltimore, 8 Wall. 377 (1869), a case upon which the Court
Finally, in Fleischmann Distilling Corp. v. Maier Brewing Co., 386 U.S. 714 (1967), the Court undertook a comprehensive review of the assessment of attorneys' fees in federal-court actions. While noting that nonstatutory exceptions to the American Rule had been sanctioned "when overriding considerations of justice seemed to compel such a result," id., at 718, the Court held that the meticulous provision of remedies available under the Lanham Act and the history of unsuccessful attempts to include an attorneys' fee provision in the Act precluded the Court's implying a right to attorneys' fees in trademark actions. The Court did not, however, purport to find a statutory basis for the American Rule, and in fact it treated § 1923 as a "general exception" to the American Rule, not its statutory embodiment. 386 U. S., at 718 n. 11.
My Brother WHITE concedes that the language of the 1853 statute indicating that the awards provided therein were exclusive of any other compensation is no longer a part of the fee statute. But we are told that the fee statute should be read as if that language were still in the Act,
Nor can any support fairly be drawn from Congress' failure to provide expressly for attorneys' fees in either the National Environmental Policy Act or the Mineral Leasing Act, while it has provided for fee awards under other statutes. Confronted with the more forceful argument that other sections of the same statute included express provisions for recovery of attorneys' fees, we twice held that specific-remedy provisions in some sections should not be interpreted as evidencing congressional intent to deny the courts the power to award counsel fees in actions brought under other sections of that Act that do not mention attorneys' fees. Hall v. Cole, 412 U. S., at 11; Mills v. Electric Auto-Lite Co., 396 U. S., at 390-391. Indeed, the Mills Court interpreted congressional silence, not as a prohibition, but as authorization for the Court to decide the attorneys'-fees issue in the exercise of its coordinate, equitable power. Id., at 391. In rejecting the argument from congressional silence in Mills and Hall, the Court relied on the established rule that implied restrictions on the power to do equity are disfavored. Hecht Co. v. Bowles, 321 U.S. 321, 329 (1944).
In sum, the Court's primary contention—that Congress enjoys hegemony over fee shifting because of the docketing-fee statute and the occasional express provisions for attorneys' fees—will not withstand even the most casual reading of the precedents. The Court's recognition of the several judge-made exceptions to the American rule demonstrates the inadequacy of its analysis. Whatever the Court's view of the wisdom of fee shifting in "public benefit" cases in general, I think that it is a serious misstep for it to abdicate equitable authority in this area in the name of statutory construction.
The statutory analysis aside, the Court points to the difficulties in formulating a "private attorney general" exception that will not swallow the American Rule. I do not find the problem as vexing as the majority does. In fact, the guidelines to the proper application of the
In Newman v. Piggie Park Enterprises, Inc., 390 U.S. 400 (1968), we held that successful plaintiffs who sue under the discretionary-fee-award provision of Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 are entitled to the recovery of fees "unless special circumstances would render such an award unjust." 390 U. S., at 402. The Court reasoned that if Congress had intended to authorize fees only on the basis of bad faith, no new legislation would have been required in view of the long history of the bad-faith exception. Id., at 402 n. 4. The Court's decision in Newman stands on the necessity of fee shifting to permit meaningful private enforcement of protected rights with a significant public impact. The Court noted that Title II did not provide for a monetary award, but only equitable relief. Absent a fee-shifting provision, litigants would be required to suffer financial loss in order to vindicate a policy "that Congress considered of the highest priority." 390 U. S., at 402. Accordingly, the Court read the attorneys'-fee provision in Title II generously, since 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." 390 U. S., at 402.
Analyzing the attorneys'-fee provision in § 718 of the Education Amendments Act of 1972, the Court in Bradley v. School Board of the City of Richmond, 416 U.S. 696, 718 (1974), made a similar point. There the school board, a publicly funded governmental entity, had been engaged in litigation with parents of school-children in the district. The Court observed that the
Indeed, we have already recognized several of the same factors in the recent common-benefit cases. In Mills, we emphasized the benefit to the class of shareholders of having a meaningful remedy for corporate misconduct through private enforcement of the proxy regulations. Since the beneficiaries could fairly be taxed for this benefit, we held that the fee award should be made available. Similarly, in Hall, we pointed to the imbalance between the litigating power of the union and one of its members: in order to ensure that the right in question could be enforced, we held that attorneys' fees should be provided in appropriate cases. Additionally, we noted that the enforcement of the rights in question would accrue to the special benefit of the other union members, which justified assessing the attorneys' fees against the treasury of the defendant union.
From these cases and others, it is possible to discern with some confidence the factors that should guide an equity court in determining whether an award of attorneys' fees is appropriate.
There is hardly room for doubt that the first of these criteria is met in the present case. Significant public benefits are derived from citizen litigation to vindicate expressions of congressional or constitutional policy. See Newman v. Piggie Park Enterprises, supra. As a result of this litigation, respondents forced Congress to revise the Mineral Leasing Act of 1920 rather than permit its continued evasion. See Pub. L. 93-153, 87 Stat. 576. The 1973 amendments impose more stringent safety and liability standards, and they require Alyeska to pay fair market value for the right-of-way and to bear the costs of applying for the permit and monitoring the right-of-way.
Although the NEPA issues were not actually decided, the lawsuit served as a catalyst to ensure a thorough analysis of the pipeline's environmental impact. Requiring
Petitioner contends that these "beneficial results . . . might have occurred" without this litigation. Brief for Petitioner 11, 36-42. But the record demonstrates that Alyeska was unwilling to observe and the Government unwilling to enforce congressional land-use policy. Private action was necessary to assure compliance with the Mineral Leasing Act; the new environmental, technological, and land-use safeguards written into the 1973 amendments to the Act are directly traceable to the respondents' success in this litigation. In like manner, continued action was needed to prod the Interior Department into filing an impact statement; prior to the litigation, the Department and Alyeska were prepared to proceed with the construction of the pipeline on a piece-meal basis without considering the overall risks to the environment and to the physical integrity of the pipeline.
The second criterion is equally well satisfied in this case. Respondents' willingness to undertake this litigation was largely altruistic. While they did, of course, stand to benefit from the additional protections they sought for the area potentially affected by the pipeline, see Sierra Club v. Morton, 405 U.S. 727 (1972), the direct benefit to these citizen organizations is truly dwarfed by the demands of litigation of this proportion. Extensive factual discovery, expert scientific analysis, and legal
Respondents' claim also fulfills the third criterion, for Alyeska is the proper party to bear and spread the cost of this litigation undertaken in the interest of the general public. The Department of the Interior, of course, bears legal responsibility for adopting a position later determined to be unlawful. And, since the class of beneficiaries from the outcome of this litigation is probably co-extensive with the class of United States citizens, the Government should in fairness bear the costs of respondents' representation. But, the Court of Appeals concluded that it could not impose attorneys' fees on the United States, because in its view the statute providing for assessment of costs against the Government, 28 U. S. C. § 2412, permits the award of ordinary court costs, "but [does] not includ[e] the fees and expenses of attorneys." Since the respondents did not cross-petition on that point, we have no occasion to rule on the correctness of the court's construction of that statute.
"Rights-of-way through the public lands, including the forest reserves of the United States, may be granted by the Secretary of the Interior for pipe-line purposes for the transportation of oil or natural gas to any applicant possessing the [prescribed] qualifications . . . to the extent of the ground occupied by the said pipe line and twenty-five feet on each side of the same under such regulations and conditions as to survey, location, application, and use as may be prescribed by the Secretary of the Interior and upon the express condition that such pipe lines shall be constructed, operated, and maintained as common carriers and shall accept, convey, transport, or purchase without discrimination, oil or natural gas produced from Government lands in the vicinity of the pipe line in such proportionate amounts as the Secretary of the Interior may, after a full hearing with due notice thereof to the interested parties and a proper finding of facts, determine to be reasonable: . . . Provided further, That no right-of-way shall hereafter be granted over said lands for the transportation of oil or natural gas except under and subject to the provisions, limitations, and conditions of this section. Failure to comply with the provisions of this section or the regulations and conditions prescribed by the Secretary of the Interior shall be ground for forfeiture of the grant by the United States district court for the district in which the property, or some part thereof, is located in an appropriate proceeding."
"That until further provision shall be made, and except where by this act or other statutes of the United States is otherwise provided . . . rates of fees, except fees to judges, in the circuit and district courts, in suits at common law, shall be the same in each state respectively as are now used or allowed in the supreme courts of the same. And . . . [in causes of equity and of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction] the rates of fees [shall be] the same as are or were last allowed by the states respectively in the court exercising supreme jurisdiction in such causes." Act of Sept. 29, 1789, § 2, 1 Stat. 93. That legislation was to be in effect only until the end of the next congressional session, § 3, but it was extended twice. See Act of May 26, 1790, c. 13, 1 Stat. 123; Act of Feb. 18, 1791, c. 8, 1 Stat. 191. It was repealed, however, by legislation enacted on May 8, 1792, § 8, 1 Stat. 278.
Prior to the time of that repeal, other legislation had been passed providing for additional compensation for United States Attorneys to cover traveling expenses. Act of Mar. 3, 1791, c. 22, § 1, 1 Stat. 216. That legislation was also repealed by the Act of May 8, 1792, supra. The latter enactment substituted a new provision for the compensation of United States Attorneys; they would be entitled to "such fees in each state respectively as are allowed in the supreme courts of the same . . ." plus certain traveling expenses, § 3, 1 Stat. 277. That provision was repealed on February 28, 1799. § 9, 1 Stat. 626. That same statute provided new, specific rates of compensation for United States Attorneys. See § 4. See also § 5.
On March 1, 1793, Congress enacted a general provision governing the awarding of costs to prevailing parties in federal courts:
"That there be allowed and taxed in the supreme, circuit and district courts of the United States, in favour of the parties obtaining judgments therein, such compensation for their travel and attendance, and for attornies and counsellors' fees, except in the district courts in cases of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction, as are allowed in the supreme or superior courts of the respective states." § 4, 1 Stat. 333.
This provision was to be in force for one year and then to the end of the next session of Congress, § 5, but it was continued in effect in 1795, Act of Feb. 25, 1795, c. 28, 1 Stat. 419, and again in 1796, Act of Mar. 31, 1796, 1 Stat. 451, for a period of two years and then until the end of the next session of Congress; at that point, it expired.
After 1799 and until 1853, no other congressional legislation dealt with the awarding of attorneys' fees in federal courts except for the Act of 1842, n. 23, infra, which gave this Court authority to prescribe taxable attorneys' fees, and for legislation dealing with the compensation for United States Attorneys. See the Act of Mar. 3, 1841, 5 Stat. 427, and the Act of May 18, 1842, 5 Stat. 483. See the summary of the legislation dealing with costs throughout this period, in S. Law, The Jurisdiction and Powers of the United States Courts 255-282 (1852).
The brief legislative history of this section indicates that, as its own language states, its purpose was to reduce fee-bills in federal courts. Cong. Globe, 27th Cong., 2d Sess., 723 (1842) (remarks of Sen. Berrien). One of its opponents, Senator Buchanan, said the following:
"If Congress conforms the fee-bills of the courts over which it has control, to the fee-bills of the State courts, that is all that can be expected of it . . . . But the great and main objection was, its transfer of the legislative power of Congress to the Supreme Court." Ibid.
"There is now no uniform rule either for compensating the ministerial officers of the courts, or for the regulation of the costs in actions between private suitors. One system prevails in one district, and a totally different one in another; and in some cases it would be difficult to ascertain that any attention had been paid to any law whatever designed to regulate such proceedings. . . . It will hence be seen that the compensation of the officers, and the costs taxed in civil suits, is made to depend in a great degree on that allowed in the State courts. There are no two States where the allowance is the same.
"When this system was adopted, it had the semblance of equality, which does not now exist. There were then but sixteen States, in all of which the laws prescribed certain taxable costs to attorneys for the prosecution and defense of suits. In several of the States which have since been added to the Union, no such cost is allowed; and in others the amount is inconsiderable. As the State fee bills are made so far the rule of compensation in the Federal courts, the Senate will perceive that totally different systems of taxation prevail in the different districts. . . . It is not only the officers of the courts, but the suitors also, that are affected by the present unequal, extravagant, and often oppressive system.
"The abuses that have grown up in the taxation of attorneys' fees which the losing party has been compelled to pay in civil suits, have been a matter of serious complaint. The papers before the committee show that in some cases those costs have been swelled to an amount exceedingly oppressive to suitors, and altogether disproportionate to the magnitude and importance of the causes in which they are taxed, or the labor bestowed. . . .
"It is to correct the evils and remedy the defects of the present system, that the bill has been prepared and passed by the House of Representatives. It attempts to simplify the taxation of fees, by prescribing a limited number of definite items to be allowed. . . ."
See also H. R. Rep. No. 50, 32d Cong., 1st Sess. (1852); 2 Street, supra, n. 22, § 1987, p. 1189.
"In cases at law, where judgment is rendered without a jury, ten dollars, and five dollars where a cause is discontinued.
"For scire facias and other proceedings on recognizances, five dollars.
"For each deposition taken and admitted as evidence in the cause, two dollars and fifty cents.
"A compensation of five dollars shall be allowed for the services rendered in cases removed from a district to a circuit court by writ of error or appeal. . . ." 10 Stat. 161-162.
"(5) Docket fees under section 1923 of this title." 28 U. S. C. § 1920 (1946 ed., Supp. II).
"$20 on trial or final hearing in civil, criminal or admiralty cases, except that in cases of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction where the libellant recovers less than $50 the proctor's docket fee shall be $10;
"$20 in admiralty appeals involving not over $1,000;
"$50 in admiralty appeals involving not over $5,000;
"$100 in admiralty appeals involving more than $5,000;
"$5 on discontinuance of a civil action;
"$5 on motion for judgment and other proceedings on recognizances;
"$2.50 for each deposition admitted in evidence." 28 U. S. C. § 1923 (a) (1946 ed., Supp. II).
The 1948 Code does not contain the language used in the 1853 Act and carried on for nearly 100 years that the fees prescribed by the statute "and no other compensation shall be taxed and allowed," but nothing in the 1948 Code indicates a congressional intention to depart from that rule. The Reviser's Note to the new § 1923 states only that the "[s]ection consolidates sections 571, 572, and 578 of title 28, U. S. C., 1940 ed." Section 571 was the provision limiting awards to the fees prescribed by § 572. See n. 27, supra. Our conclusion that the 1948 Code did not change the longstanding rule limiting awards of attorneys' fees to the statutorily provided amounts is consistent with our established view that "the function of the Revisers of the 1948 Code was generally limited to that of consolidation and codification. Consequently, a well-established principle governing the interpretation of provisions altered in the 1948 revision is that `no change is to be presumed unless clearly expressed.'" Tidewater Oil Co. v. United States, 409 U.S. 151, 162 (1972) (footnote omitted). As MR. JUSTICE MARSHALL noted for the Court, id., at 162 n. 29, the Senate Report covering the new Code observed that "great care has been exercised to make no changes in the existing law which would not meet with substantially unanimous approval." S. Rep. No. 1559, 80th Cong., 2d Sess., 2 (1948).
The Reviser's Note to § 1920 explains the shift from the mandatory "shall be taxed" to the discretionary "may be taxed" as made "in view of Rule 54 (d) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, providing for allowance of costs to the prevailing party as of course `unless the court otherwise directs.'" Note following 28 U. S. C. § 1920 (1946 ed., Supp. II).
"The fee-bill is intended to regulate only those fees and costs which are strictly chargeable as between party and party, and not to regulate the fees of counsel and other expenses and charges as between solicitor and client, nor the power of a court of equity, in cases of administration of funds under its control, to make such allowance to the parties out of the fund as justice and equity may require. The fee-bill itself expressly provides that it shall not be construed to prohibit attorneys, solicitors, and proctors from charging to and receiving from their clients (other than the government) such reasonable compensation for their services, in addition to the taxable costs, as may be in accordance with general usage in their respective States, or may be agreed upon between the parties. Act of Feb. 26, 1853, c. 80, 10 Stat. 161; Rev. Stat., sect. 823. And the act contains nothing which can be fairly construed to deprive the Court of Chancery of its long-established control over the costs and charges of the litigation, to be exercised as equity and justice may require, including proper allowances to those who have instituted proceedings for the benefit of a general fund." 105 U. S., at 535-536.
Sprague v. Ticonic National Bank, 307 U.S. 161, 165 n. 2 (1939), might be read as suggesting that the Court in Greenough said that a federal court could tax against the losing party "solicitor and client" costs in excess of the amounts prescribed by the 1853 Act. But any such suggestion is without support either in the opinion in Greenough, which was limited to a common-fund rationale, or in the express terms of the statute. Those costs were simply left unregulated by the federal statute; it did not permit taxing the "client-solicitor" costs against the client's adversary. See The Baltimore, 8 Wall. 377 (1869); Flanders v. Tweed, 15 Wall. 450 (1872); 1 R. Foster, Federal Practice §§ 328-330 (1901); A. Conkling, The Organization, Jurisdiction and Practice of the Courts of the United States 456-457 (5th ed. 1870); A. Boyce, A Manual of the Practice in the Circuit Courts 72 (1869). Cf. United States v. One Package of Ready-Made Clothing, 27 F. Cas. 310, 312 (No. 15,950) (CCSDNY 1853). MR. JUSTICE MARSHALL'S reliance upon Sprague for the proposition that "client-solicitor" costs could be taxed against the client's opponent, see post, at 278-279, is thus misplaced and conflicts with any fair reading of Greenough, supra, and the 1853 Act.
Other statutes which are mandatory in terms of awarding attorneys' fees include the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U. S. C. § 216 (b); the Truth in Lending Act, 15 U. S. C. § 1640 (a); and the Merchant Marine Act of 1936, 46 U. S. C. § 1227.
Other statutory examples of discretion in awarding attorneys' fees are the Securities Act of 1933, 15 U. S. C. § 77k (e); the Trust Indenture Act, 15 U. S. C. § 77www (a); the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, 15 U. S. C. §§ 78i (e), 78r (a); the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Tit VII, 42 U. S. C. § 2000e-5 (k); the Clean Air Act, 42 U. S. C. § 1857h-2 (d); the Noise Control Act of 1972, 42 U. S. C. § 4911 (d) (1970 ed., Supp. II).
"If an action is commenced by the Corporation or by a recipient and a final order is entered in favor of the defendant and against the Corporation or a recipient's plaintiff, the court may, upon motion by the defendant and upon a finding by the court that the action was commenced or pursued for the sole purpose of harassment of the defendant or that the Corporation or a recipient's plaintiff maliciously abused legal process, enter an order (which shall be appealable before being made final) awarding reasonable costs and legal fees incurred by the defendant in defense of the action, except when in contravention of a State law, a rule of court, or a statute of general applicability. Any such costs and fees shall be directly paid by the Corporation."
On the other hand, remarks made during the debates on this legislation indicate that there was no intent to restrict the plaintiff's recovery of attorneys' fees in actions commenced by the Corporation or its recipient where under the circumstances other plaintiffs would be awarded such fees. 120 Cong. Rec. 15001 (1974) (Rep. Meeds); id., at 15008 (Rep. Steiger); id., at 24037 (Sen. Cranston); id., at 24052 (Sen. Mondale); id., at 24056 (Sen. Kennedy). Thus, if other plaintiffs might recover on the private-attorney-general theory, so might the Corporation. Congress itself, of course, has provided for counsel fees under various statutes on a private-attorney-general basis; and we find nothing in these remarks indicating any congressional approval of judicially created private-attorney-general fee awards.
That condition ill suits litigation in which the purported benefits accrue to the general public. In this Court's common-fund and common-benefit decisions, the classes of beneficiaries were small in number and easily identifiable. The benefits could be traced with some accuracy, and there was reason for confidence that the costs could indeed be shifted with some exactitude to those benefiting. In this case, however, sophisticated economic analysis would be required to gauge the extent to which the general public, the supposed beneficiary, as distinguished from selected elements of it, would bear the costs. The Court of Appeals, very familiar with the litigation and the parties after dealing with the merits of the suit, concluded that "imposing attorneys' fees on Alyeska will not operate to spread the costs of litigation proportionately among these beneficiaries. . . ." 161 U. S. App. D. C., at 449, 495 F. 2d, at 1029. MR. JUSTICE MARSHALL would apparently hold that factual assessment clearly wrong. See post, at 288.
If one accepts, as MR. JUSTICE MARSHALL appears to do, the limitations of 28 U. S. C. § 2412, which in the absence of authority under other statutes forbids an award of attorneys' fees against the United States or any agency or official of the United States, see nn. 40 and 42, infra, it becomes extremely difficult to predict when his version of the private-attorney-general basis for allowing fees would produce an award against a private party in litigation involving the enforcement of a federal statute such as that involved in this case—all in contrast to the typical result under those federal statutes which themselves provide for private actions and for an award of attorneys' fees to the successful private plaintiff as, for example, under the antitrust laws. There remains the private plaintiff whose suit to enforce federal or state law is pressed against defendants who include the State or one or more of its agencies or officers as, for instance, the typical suit under 42 U. S. C. § 1983. Even here Eleventh Amendment hurdles must be overcome, see n. 44, infra, and if they are not, there may be few remaining defendants who would satisfy the dissenting opinion's description of the litigant who may be saddled with his opponent's attorneys' fees.
We add that in the three-part test suggested by MR. JUSTICE MARSHALL, post, at 284-285, for administering a judicially created private-attorney-general rule, the only criterion which purports to enable a court to determine which statutes should be enforced by application of the rule is the first: "the important right being protected is one actually or necessarily shared by the general public or some class thereof . . . ." Absent some judicially manageable standard for gauging "importance," that criterion would apply to all substantive congressional legislation providing for rights and duties generally applicable, that is, to virtually all congressional output. That result would solve the problem of courts selectively applying the rule in accordance with their own particular substantive-law preferences and priorities, but its breadth requires more justification than MR. JUSTICE MARSHALL provides by citing this Court's common-fund and common-benefit cases.
MR. JUSTICE MARSHALL'S application of his suggested rule to this case, however, demonstrates the problems raised by courts generally assaying the public benefits which particular litigation has produced. The conclusion of the dissenting opinion is that "[t]here is hardly room for doubt" that respondents' litigation has protected an "important right . . . actually or necessarily shared by the general public or some class thereof . . . ." Post, at 285. Whether that conclusion is correct or not, it would appear at the very least that, as in any instance of conflicting public-policy views, there is room for doubt on each side. The opinions below are evidence of that fact. See 161 U. S. App. D. C., at 452-456, 495 F. 2d, at 1032-1036 (majority opinion); id., at 459-461, 495 F. 2d, at 1039-1041 (MacKinnon, J., dissenting); id., at 462-464, 495 F. 2d, at 1042-1044 (Wilkey, J., dissenting). It is that unavoidable doubt which calls for specific authority from Congress before courts apply a private-attorney-general rule in awarding attorneys' fees.
"If the Government of the United States shall put in issue the right of the plaintiff to recover the court may, in its discretion, allow costs to the prevailing party from the time of joining such issue. Such costs, however, shall include only what is actually incurred for witnesses, and for summoning the same, and fees paid to the clerk of the court." § 15, 24 Stat. 508.
The same section was included in the Judicial Code of 1911. § 152, 36 Stat. 1138. In 1946, the Federal Tort Claims Act provided: "Costs shall be allowed in all courts to the successful claimant to the same extent as if the United States were a private litigant, except that such costs shall not include attorneys' fees." § 410 (a), 60 Stat. 844. The 1948 Code provided in 28 U. S. C. § 2412 (a) (1946 ed., Supp. II) that "[t]he United States shall be liable for fees and costs only when such liability is expressly provided for by Act of Congress." The Reviser observed: "[Section 2412 (a)] is new. It follows the well-known common-law rule that a sovereign is not liable for costs unless specific provision for such liability is made by law." Noting that many statutes exempt the United States from liability for fees and costs, the Reviser concluded that "[a] uniform rule, embodied in this section, will make such specific exceptions unnecessary." In 1966, § 2412 was amended to its present form. 80 Stat. 308. The Senate Report on the proposed bill stated that "[t]he costs referred to in the section do not include fees and expenses of attorneys." S. Rep. No. 1329, 89th Cong., 2d Sess., 3 (1966). See also H. R. Rep. No. 1535, 89th Cong., 2d Sess., 2, 3 (1966). The Attorney General, in transmitting the proposal for legislation which led to the amendment, said that "[t]he bill makes it clear that the fees and expenses of attorneys . . . may not be taxed against the United States." Id., at 4. See Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe of Indians v. Morton, 163 U. S. App. D. C. 90, 499 F.2d 1095 (1974), cert. denied, 420 U.S. 962 (1975).
Without departing from this pattern, the Federal Tort Claims Act of 1946 in addition limited the fees which courts could allow and which attorneys could charge their clients and provided that the fees were "to be paid out of but not in addition to the amount of judgment, award, or settlement recovered, to the attorneys representing the claimant." § 422, 60 Stat. 846. See also § 410 (a). Section 422 was maintained in the 1948 Code as 28 U. S. C. § 2678 (1946 ed., Supp. II), and the percentage limitations were raised in 1966. 80 Stat. 307.
A New Method of Financing Legal Services, 40 Ford. L. Rev. 761 (1972); Ehrenzweig, Reimbursement of Counsel Fees and the Great Society, 54 Calif. L. Rev. 792 (1966); Stoebuck, Counsel Fees Included in Costs: A Logical Development, 38 U. Colo. L. Rev. 202 (1966); Kuenzel, The Attorney's Fee: Why Not a Cost of Litigation?, 49 Iowa L. Rev. 75 (1963); McCormick, Counsel Fees and Other Expenses of Litigation as an Element of Damages, 15 Minn. L. Rev. 619 (1931); Comment, Court Awarded Attorney's Fees and Equal Access to the Court, 122 U. Pa. L. Rev. 636, 648-655 (1974); Note, Attorney's Fees: Where Shall the Ultimate Burden Lie?, 20 Vand. L. Rev. 1216 (1967). See also 1 Speiser § 12.8; Posner, An Economic Approach to Legal Procedure and Judicial Administration, 2 J. Legal Studies 399, 437-438 (1973).
This Court's summary affirmance of the decision in Sims v. Amos, supra, cannot be taken as an acceptance of a judicially created private-attorney-general rule. The District Court in Sims indicated that there was an alternative ground available—the bad faith of the defendants—upon which to base the award of fees. 340 F. Supp., at 694. See also Edelman v. Jordan, 415 U.S. 651, 670-671 (1974).
"The essence of equity jurisdiction has been the power of the Chancellor to do equity and to mould each decree to the necessities of the particular case. Flexibility rather than rigidity has distinguished it. The qualities of mercy and practicality have made equity the instrument for nice adjustment and reconciliation between the public interest and private needs as well as between competing private claims. We do not believe that such a major departure from that long tradition as is here proposed should be lightly implied." 321 U. S., at 329-330.