Library of Congress v. Shaw
478 U.S. 310 (1986)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Library of Congress v. Shaw, 478 U.S. 310 (1986)

Library of Congress v. Shaw

No. 85-54

Argued February 24, 1986

Decided July 1, 1986

478 U.S. 310

Syllabus

After petitioner Library of Congress had rejected respondent black employee's complaints alleging job-related racial discrimination, respondent's counsel pursued administrative relief and settlement negotiations, and eventually reached a settlement with the Library. The latter agreed to promote respondent retroactively with backpay if the Comptroller General determined that the Library was authorized to do so in the absence of a specific finding of racial discrimination. The Comptroller General ruled that the Library, under the Back Pay Act, lacked such authority. Respondent then filed suit in Federal District Court, alleging that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 authorized the relief. The court agreed, and therefore authorized the Library to promote respondent with backpay, and to pay a reasonable attorney's fee and costs pursuant to § 706(k) of the Act, which provides that, in any Title VII action, the court may allow the prevailing party a "reasonable attorney's fee as part of the costs," and that "the United States shall be liable for costs the same as a private person." In calculating the attorney's fee, the District Court increased the lodestar amount by 30 percent to compensate counsel for the delay in receiving payment for his services. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that, although the no-interest rule -- under which no recovery can be had against the Government for interest in the absence of an express waiver of sovereign immunity from an award of interest -- applied, since compensation for delay is functionally equivalent to interest, Congress waived the Government's immunity from interest by making it liable "the same as a private person."

Held: The no-interest rule applies here, so as to preclude the award of increased compensation to respondent's counsel for the delay in receiving payment for his services. Pp. 478 U. S. 314-323.

(a) Section 706(k)'s provision making the United States liable "the same as a private person" waives the Government's immunity from attorney's fees, but not interest. The statute, as well as its history, contains no reference to interest, and thus precludes reading it as the requisite waiver of the Government's immunity from interest. 478 U. S. 318-320.

(b) Nor is that requisite waiver found in § 706(k)'s requirement of awarding "reasonable" attorney's fees. There is no basis for reading the term "reasonable" as the embodiment of a specific congressional choice

Page 478 U. S. 311

to include interest as a component of attorney's fees. And any congressional policy permitting recovery of a reasonable attorney's fee, no matter how compelling, is insufficient, standing alone, to waive the Government's immunity from interest. Pp. 478 U. S. 320-321.

(c) Section 706(k)'s provision making the United States liable for "costs," including a reasonable attorney's fee, does not provide the clear affirmative intent of Congress to waive the Government's immunity from interest. Prejudgment interest is considered as damages, not a component of "costs." P. 478 U. S. 321.

(d) The no-interest rule cannot be avoided by characterizing what is functionally equivalent to interest as compensation for delay. Both interest and a delay factor are designed to compensate for the belated receipt of money. Pp. 478 U. S. 321-323.

241 U.S.App.D.C. 355, 747 F.2d 1469, reversed and remanded.

BLACKMUN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and WHITE, POWELL, REHNQUIST, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined. BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion\, in which MARSHALL and STEVENS, JJ., joined, post, p. 478 U. S. 323.

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