Title 42 U. S. C. § 1988 (1976 ed., Supp. V) provides that in federal civil rights actions "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." The initial estimate of a reasonable attorney's fee is properly calculated by multiplying the number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation times a reasonable hourly rate. Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424 (1983). Adjustments to that fee then may be made as necessary in the particular case. The
This suit was brought in 1978 by respondent on behalf of a statewide class of Medicaid
Throughout this litigation, respondent was represented by attorneys from the Legal Aid Society of New York, a private nonprofit law office.
Petitioner submitted no evidence to support her claim that the hours and rates charged by respondent were unreasonable. Instead, petitioner rested her claim that the hours were duplicative and excessive and the rates exorbitant on arguments contained in her brief to the District Court and on that court's discretion. Petitioner requested an evidentiary hearing on the issue of reasonable billable hours only if the District Court found that the discussion in her brief did not justify reductions in the number of hours charged. Finally, petitioner argued that the 50% "bonus" requested by respondent was improper because it would be paid by the public.
The District Court held that both the hours expended and the rates charged were reasonable. It also held that the fee calculated by multiplying the number of hours times the hourly rates should be increased by the requested 50% because of the quality of representation, the complexity of the issues, the riskiness of success, and the "great benefit to a large class" that was achieved. 512 F.Supp. 680, 685 (1981). The District Court awarded the plaintiff class the requested fee of $118,968.
The Court of Appeals affirmed in an unpublished opinion. No. 81-7385 (CA2, Oct. 19, 1981). Affirmance order, 671 F.2d 493
Petitioner argues that the use of prevailing market rates to calculate attorney's fees under § 1988 leads to exorbitant fee awards and provides windfalls to civil rights counsel contrary to the express intent of Congress. To avoid this result, petitioner urges this Court to require that all fee awards under § 1988 be calculated according to the cost of providing legal services rather than according to the prevailing market rate.
Resolution of these two arguments begins and ends with an interpretation of the attorney's fee statute. The Civil Rights Attorney's Fees Awards Act of 1976, 90 Stat. 2641, 42 U. S. C. § 1988 (1976 ed., Supp. V), authorizes district courts to award a reasonable attorney's fee to prevailing civil rights litigants.
In all four of the cases cited by the Senate Report, fee awards were calculated according to prevailing market rates.
It is also clear from the legislative history that Congress did not intend the calculation of fee awards to vary depending on whether plaintiff was represented by private counsel or by a nonprofit legal services organization. The citations to Stanford Daily v. Zurcher, 64 F. R. D. 680 (ND Cal. 1974), and Davis v. County of Los Angeles, 8 EPD ¶ 9444 (CD Cal.
We cannot assume that Congress would endorse the standards used in Johnson v. Georgia Highway Express, Inc., 488 F.2d 714 (CA5 1974), Stanford Daily, Davis, and Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education, 66 F. R. D. 483 (WDNC 1975), if fee awards based on market rates were viewed as the kind of "windfall profits" it expressly intended to prohibit.
The statute and legislative history establish that "reasonable fees" under § 1988 are to be calculated according to the prevailing market rates in the relevant community, regardless of whether plaintiff is represented by private or non-profit counsel.
We address now the second question presented: whether a 50% upward adjustment in the fee was — as petitioner argues — an abuse of discretion by the District Court.
Where, as here, resolution of a question of federal law turns on a statute and the intention of Congress, we look first to the statutory language and then to the legislative history if the statutory language is unclear. In actions to enforce federal civil rights, § 1988 authorizes a court, "in its discretion,"
In Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424 (1983), we reviewed the cases cited in the legislative history of § 1988 and concluded that the "product of reasonable hours times a reasonable rate" normally provides a "reasonable" attorney's fee within the meaning of the statute. Id., at 434. Hensley also recognized that "in some cases of exceptional success an enhanced award may be justified." Id., at 435.
The issue remaining is the appropriateness of an upward adjustment to the fee award in this case. The burden of proving that such an adjustment is necessary to the determination of a reasonable fee is on the fee applicant. The record before us contains no evidence supporting an upward adjustment to fees calculated under the basic standard of reasonable rates times reasonable hours. The affidavits of respondent's attorneys do not claim, or even mention, entitlement to a bonus or upward revision. Respondent's brief to the District Court merely states in conclusory fashion that an upward adjustment to the fee is necessary because the issues were novel, the litigation was complex, and the results were of far-reaching significance to a large class of people. The District Court, without elaboration, accepted these conclusory reasons for approving the upward adjustment and supplied additional reasons of its own. In awarding the 50% increase, the court referred to the complexity of the litigation, the novelty of the issues, the high quality of representation, the "great benefit" to the class, and the "riskiness" of the lawsuit. The Court of Appeals, in affirming, shed no light on why it thought this substantial upward adjustment was appropriate. In a single sentence, it simply repeated the unsupported conclusions of the District Court.
The reasons offered by the District Court to support the upward adjustment do not withstand examination. The novelty and complexity of the issues presumably were fully reflected in the number of billable hours recorded by counsel and thus do not warrant an upward adjustment in a fee based on the number of billable hours times reasonable hourly rates. There may be cases, of course, where the experience and special skill of the attorney will require the expenditure of fewer hours than counsel normally would be expected to spend on a particularly novel or complex issue. In those cases, the special skill and experience of counsel should be reflected in the reasonableness of the hourly rates. Neither complexity nor novelty of the issues, therefore, is an appropriate
The District Court, having tried the case, was in the best position to conclude that "the quality of representation was high." In view of the reputation of the Legal Aid Society and its staff, we have no doubt that this was true.
In justifying the upward adjustment to the fee award, the District Court merely restated these same two factors: "The quality of representation was high. The litigation was complex." Id., at 685.
The 50% upward adjustment also was based in part on the District Court's determination that the ultimate outcome of the litigation "was of great benefit to a large class of needy people." 512 F. Supp., at 685. The court did not explain, however, exactly how this determination affected the fee award. "Results obtained" is one of the 12 factors identified in Johnson v. Georgia Highway Express, 488 F. 2d, at 718, as relevant to the calculation of a reasonable attorney's fee. It is "particularly crucial where a plaintiff is deemed `prevailing' even though he succeeded on only some of his claims for relief." Hensley, supra, at 434 (fee award must be reduced by the number of hours spent on unsuccessful claims). Because acknowledgment of the "results obtained" generally will be subsumed within other factors used to calculate a reasonable fee, it normally should not provide an independent basis for increasing the fee award.
In sum, we reiterate what was said in Hensley: "Where a plaintiff has obtained excellent results, his attorney should recover a fully compensatory fee. Normally this will encompass all hours reasonably expended on the litigation, and indeed in some cases of exceptional success an enhanced award may be justified." 461 U. S., at 435. We therefore reject petitioner's argument that an upward adjustment to an attorney's fee is never appropriate under § 1988.
It is so ordered.
JUSTICE BRENNAN, with whom JUSTICE MARSHALL joins, concurring.
I join the Court's opinion. I write separately only to reaffirm my view that Congress has clearly indicated that the risk of not prevailing, and therefore the risk of not recovering any attorney's fees, is a proper basis on which a district court may award an upward adjustment to an otherwise compensatory fee. See Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 448-449 (1983) (BRENNAN, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part).
Although the Court leaves the question unresolved, see ante, at 901, n. 17, the legislative history that always has controlled our interpretation of § 1988, and that proves determinative on the other issues addressed by today's decision, also determines whether an upward adjustment to compensate for the risk of nonpayment may be justified. In particular, Congress referred to Johnson v. Georgia Highway Express, Inc., 488 F.2d 714 (CA5 1974), for the appropriate standards to be applied by courts awarding attorney's fees under § 1988. See ante, at 893-896. "Whether the fee is fixed or contingent," 488 F. 2d, at 718 (emphasis in original), was consequently
Indeed, allowing district courts to award such upward adjustments is entirely consistent with the market-based approach to hourly rates that is today reaffirmed by the Court. Lawyers operating in the marketplace can be expected to charge a higher hourly rate when their compensation is contingent on success than when they will be promptly paid, irrespective of whether they win or lose. Similarly, it is necessary to account for this risk in fee awards under § 1988, either by increasing the appropriate hourly rate or by enhancing the fee otherwise calculated with the use of an hourly rate that does not reflect the risk of not prevailing.
"New York State residents who received Medicaid due to their eligibility for SSI and whose Medicaid benefits have been terminated because of subsequent ineligibility for SSI without having received one or more of the following: (a) an ex parte determination of continued eligibility for Medicaid, independent of eligibility for SSI; (b) timely and adequate notice of such termination; (c) an opportunity for a hearing." Stenson v. Blum, 476 F.Supp. 1331, 1335 (1979).
"In any action or proceeding to enforce a provision of sections 1981, 1982, 1983, 1985, and 1986 of this title . . . , 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."
In seeking some basis for a standard, courts properly have required prevailing attorneys to justify the reasonableness of the requested rate or rates. To inform and assist the court in the exercise of its discretion, the burden is on the fee applicant to produce satisfactory evidence — in addition to the attorney's own affidavits — that the requested rates are in line with those prevailing in the community for similar services by lawyers of reasonably comparable skill, experience, and reputation. A rate determined in this way is normally deemed to be reasonable, and is referred to — for convenience — as the prevailing market rate.