Webb v. Bd. of Educ. of Dyer County
471 U.S. 234 (1985)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Webb v. Bd. of Educ. of Dyer County, 471 U.S. 234 (1985)

Webb v. Board of Education of Dyer County, Tennessee

No. 83-1360

Argued October 29, 1984

Decided April 17, 1985

471 U.S. 234

Syllabus

After respondent Board of Education of Dyer County, Tennessee, terminated petitioner's employment as a schoolteacher in 1974, he retained counsel to represent him in administrative proceedings before the Board. Petitioner contended, inter alia, that his discharge was racially motivated and that his constitutional rights had been violated. In 1978, the Board ultimately decided to adhere to its decision. In 1979, petitioner instituted this action in Federal District Court, seeking relief under various civil rights statutes, including 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The case was subsequently settled in 1981 by the entry of a consent order awarding petitioner damages and other relief, and reserving the matter of an award of attorney's fees for future resolution by the parties or by the court. After negotiations proved unsuccessful, petitioner filed a motion for an award of fees under the Civil Rights Attorney's Fees Awards Act of 1976, 42 U.S.C. § 1988, which provides that, "[i]n any action or proceeding to enforce" certain statutes, including § 1983, "the court, in its discretion, may allow the prevailing party . . . a reasonable attorney's fee as part of the costs." The District Court awarded a fee, but rejected petitioner's contention that it should cover services performed by counsel in the administrative proceedings. The Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held:

1. Petitioner is not entitled to a fee award for counsel's services during the Board hearings on the theory that they were "proceeding[s] to enforce" § 1983 within the meaning of § 1988. The reasoning in New York Gaslight Club, Inc. v. Carey,447 U. S. 54 which held that a provision of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 authorized fees for counsel's work performed pursuing a state administrative remedy -- is not applicable, since the statute involved in Carey expressly required the claimant to pursue state administrative remedies before commencing proceedings in a federal forum, whereas there is no comparable requirement in § 1983. Cf. Smith v. Robinson,468 U. S. 992. The Board proceedings here simply do not have the same integral function under § 1983 that state administrative proceedings have under Title VII. Pp. 471 U. S. 240-241.

Page 471 U. S. 235

2. Nor is petitioner entitled to recover on the theory that the time spent by counsel in the Board proceedings was "reasonably expended" in preparation for the court action, and therefore compensable under the rationale of Hensley v. Eckerhart,461 U. S. 424. The Court in Hensley emphasized that the amount to be awarded under § 1988 necessarily depends on the facts of each case, and that the exercise of discretion by the district court must be respected. The time that is compensable under § 1988 is that "reasonably expended on the litigation." Id. at 461 U. S. 433 (emphasis added). In this case, there is no difficulty in identifying the dividing line between the administrative proceedings and the judicial proceeding. Petitioner did not suggest that any discrete portion of the work product from the administrative proceedings was work that was both useful and of a type ordinarily necessary to advance the civil rights litigation to the stage it reached before settlement. Thus, the District Court's decision to deny any fees for time spent between 1974 and 1979 pursuing optional administrative remedies was well within the range of reasonable discretion. Pp. 471 U. S. 241-244.

715 F.2d 254, affirmed.

STEVENS, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and WHITE, POWELL, REHNQUIST, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined. BRENNAN, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, in which BLACKMUN, J., joined, post, p. 471 U. S. 244. MARSHALL, J., took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

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