LONG v. BONNES - 455 U.S. 961 (1982)
U.S. Supreme Court
LONG v. BONNES , 455 U.S. 961 (1982)
455 U.S. 961
Edwin R. LONG and Ralph E. Long v. Jean M. BONNES, et al
J. B. KENLEY, Individually and as Commissioner of Health, Virginia Department of Health, et al. v. Willie E. YOUNG
No. 80-2153 Supreme Court of the United States February 22, 1982
On petition for writs of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.
The petitions for writs of certiorari are denied.
Justice REHNQUIST, with whom Justice O'CONNOR joins, dissenting.
By enacting the Civil Rights Attorney's Fees Awards Act of 1976 (Act), Congress created a statutory basis for courts, in the exercise of their sound discretion, to award attorney's fees to private litigants who prevail in litigation under various civil rights laws. The Courts of Appeals responsible for interpreting the Act have differed as to the correct construction of more than one of its provisions. Because the two cases from the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit which the Court today declines to review present examples of this difference on the important issue of how to determine when a party "prevails" within the meaning of the Act, I dissent from the denial of certiorari.
The Act, codified as the last sentence of 42 U.S.C. 1988, provides for the discretionary award of attorney's fees to the "prevailing party" in a lawsuit brought under one or more of eight specified statutes. [Footnote 1] The Senate Report accompanying the Act, S.Rep.No.94-1011 (1976), U.S.Code Cong . & Admin.News 1976, p. 5908, provides that "[i]t is intended that the standards for awarding fees be generally the same as under the fee provisions of the 1964 Civil Rights
Act." 2 Id., at 4. Two principal cases from this Court deal with the question of when a party shall recover attorney's fees under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Newman v. Piggie Park Enterprises, Inc., 390 U.S. 400 (1968), held that "one who succeeds in obtaining an injunction under . . . Title [II] should ordinarily recover an attorney's fee unless special circumstances would render such an award unjust." Id., at 402. Christiansburg Garment Co. v. EEOC, 434 U.S. 412 (1978), held that a defendant who successfully defended a charge of employment discrimination under Title VII could recover attorney's fees where the District Court found that the plaintiff's action "was frivolous, unreasonable, or without foundation, even though not brought in subjective bad faith." Id., at 421.
In each of these cases, this Court found it unnecessary to decide any question respecting the definition of "prevailing party," because in each case the suit had gone to judgment in favor of the party seeking attorney's fees. Nor has this Court had occasion to define "prevailing party" as used in the Act. As more and more litigation has ensued in which claims for attorney's fees are made under the Act, however, more troublesome questions as to when a party has "prevailed" have confronted the Courts of Appeals.
The Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, in one of the judgments which the Court today declines to review, has established a test for determining when a party "prevails" within the meaning of 1988. That test requires the trial court to determine
- " 'the precise legal/factual condition that the fee claimant has sought to change or affect so as to gain a benefit or [455 U.S. 961 , 963]