In an action brought under 42 U. S. C. § 1983, the court, in its discretion, may allow the prevailing party to recover a reasonable attorney's fee as part of the award of costs.
Petitioner is responsible for the administration of Connecticut's Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), a federally funded public assistance program.
Following an adversary hearing, the District Court awarded respondent's counsel a fee of $3,012.19. 455 F.Supp. 1344
The Court of Appeals affirmed, 594 F.2d 336 (CA2 1979), holding that Congress intended to authorize an award of fees in this kind of situation and that it had the constitutional power to do so.
Petitioner's first argument is that Congress did not intend to authorize the award of attorney's fees in every type of § 1983 action, but rather limited the courts' authority to award fees to cases in which § 1983 is invoked as a remedy for a constitutional violation or a violation of a federal statute providing for the protection of civil rights or equal rights. In support of this contention, petitioner relies on our holding in Chapman v. Houston Welfare Rights Organization, 441 U.S. 600, that there is no federal jurisdiction under § 1343 over § 1983 claims outside these categories and that there is therefore no jurisdiction under § 1343 over a § 1983 claim based solely on a violation of the Social Security Act. Characterizing respondent's claim in this case as arising solely out of a Social Security Act violation, petitioner argues that the District Court had no authority under § 1988 to award her attorney's fees.
Even if petitioner's characterization of respondent's claim were correct,
We also find no merit in petitioner's suggestion that respondent was not the "prevailing party" within the meaning of § 1988. The fact that respondent prevailed through a settlement rather than through litigation does not weaken her claim to fees. Nothing in the language of § 1988 conditions the District Court's power to award fees on full litigation of the issues or on a judicial determination that the plaintiff's rights have been violated. Moreover, the Senate Report expressly stated that "for purposes of the award of counsel fees, parties may be considered to have prevailed when they vindicate rights through a consent judgment or without formally obtaining relief." S. Rep. No. 94-1011, p. 5 (1976).
Nor can we accept petitioner's contention that respondent
Petitioner's second argument is that, regardless of Congress' intent, a federal court is barred by the Eleventh Amendment from awarding fees against a State in a case involving a purely statutory, non-civil-rights claim.
In this case, there is no need to reach the question whether a federal court could award attorney's fees against a State based on a statutory, non-civil-rights claim. For, contrary to petitioner's characterization, respondent did allege violations of her Fourteenth Amendment due process and equal protection
In Hutto, we rejected the argument of the Attorney General of Arkansas that the general language of § 1988 was insufficient to overcome a State's claim of immunity under the Eleventh Amendment, noting that "[t]he Court has never viewed the Eleventh Amendment as barring such awards, even in suits between States and individual litigants."
The judgment is affirmed.
MR. JUSTICE POWELL, with whom THE CHIEF JUSTICE and MR. JUSTICE REHNQUIST join, concurring in the judgment, and in Part II of the Court's opinion.
Respondent's complaint presented claims under both the Social Security Act and the Fourteenth Amendment. Following
In this situation, the District Court and the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit both found, the award of attorney's fees under § 1988 does not require an adjudication on the merits of the constitutional claims. I agree with this conclusion. Consequently, I see no reason to reach out, as the Court does in Part I of its opinion, to apply today's ruling in Maine v. Thiboutot, ante, p. 1. See ante, at 128-129. That decision holds that plaintiffs may win attorney's fees under § 1988 when they bring an action under 42 U. S. C. § 1983 without any constitutional claim whatever. For the reasons given in my dissenting opinion in Thiboutot, I believe that decision seriously misconceives the congressional purpose behind § 1983. In this case, however, the complaint included a substantial constitutional claim which "remained in the case until the entire dispute was settled by the entry of a consent decree." Ante, at 131. Since Congress has made plain its intent that fees be awarded to "prevailing" parties in these circumstances, see ante, at 132-133, n. 15, we have no occasion to look behind the settlement agreement to evaluate further the constitutional cause of action.
In contrast, Part II of the Court's opinion resolves the Eleventh Amendment question on the narrow ground that respondent alleged "substantial" Fourteenth Amendment claims. Ante, at 131. Hutto v. Finney, 437 U.S. 678 (1978), held that since Congress may qualify the States' Eleventh Amendment immunity under the Enforcement Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, § 1988 authorizes fee awards against States in these circumstances. I believe that Congress should not be deemed to have qualified the Eleventh Amendment in the absence of explicit evidence of that intent. See Hutto, supra, at 704 (POWELL, J., concurring in part and dissenting
"In any action or proceeding to enforce a provision of sections 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, and 1981 of the Revised Statutes, title IX of Public Law 92-318, or in any civil action or proceeding, by or on behalf of the United States of America, to enforce, or charging a violation of, a provision of the United States Internal Revenue Code, or title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 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."
This statute is codified in 42 U. S. C. § 1988; in the codification § 1979 of the Revised Statutes has been renumbered to refer to § 1983 of Title 42 of the United States Code.
"28. Defendants' practice and policy constitute an invidious discrimination against persons whose work-related expenses exceed the allowances set forth in Index 332.31 and violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution by forbidding plaintiff and the class she represents ever from controverting the presumption that their work-related expenses exceeding the transportation and food allowances of Index 332.31 are reasonable.
"32. Defendants' practice and policy violate the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution in that:
"a) Defendants' practice and policy establish an irrebutable [sic] presumption that the plaintiff's work-related transportation and lunch allowances are unreasonable and operate to deny plaintiff and the class she represents a fair opportunity to rebut it.
"b) The standard lunch and transportation allowances contained in Index 332.31 are arbitrary in that they were not developed by a statistically fair averaging, nor do they reflect current prices." App. 9-10.
"The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of any civil action authorized by law to be commenced by any person:
"(3) To redress the deprivation, under color of any State law, statute, ordinance, regulation, custom or usage of any right, privilege or immunity secured by the Constitution of the United States or by any Act of Congress providing for equal rights of citizens or of all persons within the jurisdiction of the United States;
"(4) To recover damages or to secure equitable or other relief under any Act of Congress providing for the protection of civil rights, including the right to vote."
"The State contends, however, that Congress' power under the Fourteenth Amendment to override state sovereign immunity extends only to suits in which a party prevails on a constitutional claim. On this view, Congress cannot validly authorize a fee award against a state in the absence of a judicial determination that plaintiff had a meritorious constitutional claim. We disagree. We think it is within Congress' Fourteenth Amendment power to authorize a fee award when a party prevails on a statutory claim as long as the pendent constitutional claim is a substantial one and arises out of the same operative facts. Such a fee award furthers the Congressional goal of encouraging suits to vindicate constitutional rights without undermining the longstanding judicial policy of avoiding unnecessary decision of important constitutional issues. As we understand the Supreme Court decisions, any appropriate means of implementing the Fourteenth Amendment overrides the State's Eleventh Amendment rights, see, e. g., Fitzpatrick v. Bitzer, supra, 427 U. S., at 453, 456; Katzenbach v. Morgan, 384 U.S. 641, 648-650 (1966). We hold that the authorization of attorneys' fees to be awarded under the standards set forth above is an appropriate way to achieve the competing goals described above." (Emphasis in original.) 594 F. 2d, at 342-343.
Section 1988 does not contain language like that in § 1343. Rather, § 1988 provides that attorney's fees may be awarded to the prevailing party "[i]n any action or proceeding to enforce [§ 1983]." Although the reference to actions "to enforce" § 1983 is somewhat imprecise in light of the fact that § 1983 does not itself create substantive rights, the legislative history makes it perfectly clear that the Act was intended to apply in any action for which § 1983 provides a remedy. See Maine v. Thiboutot, ante, at 9-10.
"The Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State."
The Eleventh Amendment issue was not before the Court in Thiboutot because that case involved an award of fees by a state court pursuant to § 1988. Ante, at 9, n. 7.
"[H]e argues that these plain indications of legislative intent are not enough. In his view, Congress must enact express statutory language making the States liable if it wishes to abrogate their immunity. The Attorney General points out that this Court has sometimes refused to impose retroactive liability on the States in the absence of an extraordinarily explicit statutory mandate. See Employees v. Missouri Public Health & Welfare Dept., 411 U.S. 279; see also Edelman v. Jordan, 415 U.S. 651. But these cases concern retroactive liability for prelitigation conduct rather than expenses incurred in litigation seeking only prospective relief.
"The Act imposes attorney's fees `as part of the costs.' Costs have traditionally been awarded without regard for the States' Eleventh Amendment immunity. The practice of awarding costs against the States goes back to 1849 in this Court. See Missouri v. Iowa, 7 How. 660, 681; North Dakota v. Minnesota, 263 U.S. 583 (collecting cases). The Court has never viewed the Eleventh Amendment as barring such awards, even in suits between States and individual litigants.
"In Fairmont Creamery Co. v. Minnesota, 275 U.S. 70, the State challenged this Court's award of costs, but we squarely rejected the State's claim of immunity. Far from requiring an explicit abrogation of state immunity, we relied on a statutory mandate that was entirely silent on the question of state liability. The power to make the award was supported by `the inherent authority of the Court in the orderly administration of justice as between all parties litigant.' Id., at 74. A federal court's interest in orderly, expeditious proceedings `justifies [it] in treating the state just as any other litigant and in imposing costs upon it' when an award is called for. Id., at 77.
"Just as a federal court may treat a State like any other litigant when it assesses costs, so also may Congress amend its definition of taxable costs and have the amended class of costs apply to the States, as it does to all other litigants, without expressly stating that it intends to abrogate the States' Eleventh Amendment immunity. For it would be absurd to require an express reference to state litigants whenever a filing fee, or a new item, such as an expert witness' fees, is added to the category of taxable costs." 437 U. S., at 695-697 (footnotes omitted).
"To the extent a plaintiff joins a claim under one of the statutes enumerated in H. R. 15460 with a claim that does not allow attorney fees, that plaintiff, if it prevails on the non-fee claim, is entitled to a determination on the other claim for the purpose of awarding counsel fees. Morales v. Haines, 486 F.2d 880 (7th Cir. 1973). In some instances, however, the claim with fees may involve a constitutional question which the courts are reluctant to resolve if the non-constitutional claim is dispositive. Hagans v. Lavine, 415 U.S. 528 (1974). In such cases, if the claim for which fees may be awarded meets the `substantiality' test, see Hagans v. Lavine, supra; United Mine Workers v. Gibbs, 383 U.S. 715 (1966), attorney's fees may be allowed even though the court declines to enter judgment for the plaintiff on that claim, so long as the plaintiff prevails on the non-fee claim arising out of a `common nucleus of operative fact.' United Mine Workers v. Gibbs, supra, at 725." H. R. Rep. No. 94-1558, p. 4, n. 7 (1976).