N.C. DOT v. Crest St. Commun. Council
479 U.S. 6 (1986)

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U.S. Supreme Court

N.C. DOT v. Crest St. Commun. Council, 479 U.S. 6 (1986)

North Carolina Department of Transportation v. Crest Street Community Council, Inc.

No. 85-767

Argued Oct. 7, 1986

Decided Nov. 4, 1986

479 U.S. 6

Syllabus

The Civil Rights Attorney's Fees Awards Act of 1976, 42 U.S.C. §1988, provides that "[i]n any action or proceeding to enforce" certain enumerated civil rights laws, including Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the court may award attorney's fees to the prevailing party, other than the United States. Title VI prohibits "any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance" from discriminating on the basis of race, color, or national origin. Respondents filed an administrative complaint with the United States Department of Transportation, challenging petitioner North Carolina Department of Transportation's proposed extension of a largely federally funded major expressway through an established, predominantly black neighborhood in the city of Durham as violative of Title VI. Subsequent negotiations resulted, after five years, in a Final Mitigation Plan executed by petitioners, respondents, and the city that resolved the controversy. In the meantime, construction of the highway extension had been enjoined by the Federal District Court in an unrelated action alleging violations of certain federal statutes that did not include any civil rights laws. Respondents in the instant case moved to intervene in that action and filed a proposed complaint asserting Title VI violations. The District Court subsequently entered a consent judgment dissolving the injunction and dismissing the action and also respondents' Title VI claims on the condition that petitioners implement the Final Mitigation Plan. The following day, that Plan was executed. Respondents then filed an action in District Court for attorney's fees under §1988 for services performed by their counsel in preparing the administrative complaint and in negotiating resolution of the dispute. The District Court granted summary judgment for petitioners and dismissed the action. The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded, holding that §1988 covered the actions taken by respondents subsequent to the filing of the administrative complaint, and that §1988 allowed a separate action for attorney's fees.

Held:

1. Under §1988's plain language and legislative history, only a court in an action to enforce one of the civil rights laws listed in §1988 may

Page 479 U. S. 7

award attorney's fees. Here, the action for attorney's fees is not, and was never, all action to enforce any of those laws. Pp. 479 U. S. 11-15.

2. Respondents are not entitled to claim attorney's fees by virtue of their proposed complaint and motion to intervene in the unrelated action. They did not seek attorney's fees in that action, but rather agreed that their Title VI claims in the proposed complaint would be dismissed. The court that considered the attorney's fees claim was not adjudicating an action to enforce Title VI. Pp. 479 U. S. 15-16.

769 F.2d 1025, reversed.

O'CONNOR, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C. J., and WHITE, POWELL, STEVENS, and SCALIA, JJ., joined. BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which MARSHALL and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined, post, p. 479 U. S. 16.

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