Hensley v. Eckerhart
Annotate this Case
461 U.S. 424 (1983)
U.S. Supreme Court
Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424 (1983)
Hensley v. Eckerhart
Argued November 3, 1982
Decided May 16, 1983
461 U.S. 424
Respondents, on behalf of all persons involuntarily confined in the forensic unit of a Missouri state hospital, brought suit in Federal District Court against petitioner hospital officials, challenging the constitutionality of treatment and conditions at the hospital. The District Court, after a trial, found constitutional violations in five of the six general areas of treatment. Subsequently, respondents filed a request for attorney's fees under the Civil Rights Attorney's Fees Awards Act of 1976, 42 U.S.C. § 1988, which 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." After determining that respondents were prevailing parties under § 1988 even though they had not succeeded on every claim, the District Court refused to eliminate from the attorney's fees award the hours spent by respondents' attorneys on the unsuccessful claims, finding that the significant extent of the relief clearly justified the award of a reasonable attorney's fee. The Court of Appeals affirmed.
Held: The District Court did not properly consider the relationship between the extent of success and the amount of the attorney's fee award. The extent of a plaintiff's success is a crucial factor in determining the proper amount of an attorney's fee award under § 1988. Where the plaintiff failed to prevail on a claim unrelated to the successful claims, the hours spent on the unsuccessful claim should be excluded in considering the amount of a reasonable fee. Where a lawsuit consists of related claims, a plaintiff who has won substantial relief should not have his attorney's fee reduced simply because the district court did not adopt each contention raised. But where the plaintiff achieved only limited success, the court should award only that amount of fees that is reasonable in relation to the results obtained. Pp. 461 U. S. 429-440.
664 F.2d 294, vacated and remanded.
POWELL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and WHITE, REHNQUIST and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined. BURGER, C.J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 461 U. S. 440. BRENNAN, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, in which MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, and STEVENS, JJ., joined, post, p. 461 U. S. 441.
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