Marek v. Chesney
Annotate this Case
473 U.S. 1 (1985)
U.S. Supreme Court
Marek v. Chesney, 473 U.S. 1 (1985)
Marek v. Chesney
Argued December 5, 1984
Decided June 27, 1985
473 U.S. 1
Petitioner police officers, in answering a call on a domestic disturbance, shot and killed respondent's adult son. Respondent, in his own behalf and as administrator of his son's estate, filed suit against petitioners in Federal District Court under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and state tort law. Prior to trial, petitioners made a timely offer of settlement of $100,000, expressly including accrued costs and attorney's fees, but respondent did not accept the offer. The case went to trial and respondent was awarded $5,000 on the state law claim, $52,000 for the § 1983 violation, and $3,000 in punitive damages. Respondent then filed a request for attorney's fees under 42 U.S.C. § 1988, which provides that a prevailing party in a § 1983 action may be awarded attorney's fees "as part of the costs." The claimed attorney's fees included fees for work performed subsequent to the settlement offer. The District Court declined to award these latter fees pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 68, which provides that, if a timely pretrial offer of settlement is not accepted and "the judgment finally obtained by the offeree is not more favorable than the offer, the offeree must pay the costs incurred after the making of the offer." The Court of Appeals reversed.
Held: Petitioners are not liable for the attorney's fees incurred by respondent after petitioners' offer of settlement. Pp. 474 U. S. 5-12.
(a) Petitioners' offer was valid under Rule 68. The Rule does not require that a defendant's offer itemize the respective amounts being tendered for settlement of the underlying substantive claim and for costs. The drafters' concern was not so much with the particular components of offers, but with the judgments to be allowed against defendants. Whether or not the offer recites that costs are included or specifies an amount for costs, the offer has allowed judgment to be entered against the defendant both for damages caused by the challenged conduct and for costs. This construction of Rule 68 furthers its objective of encouraging settlements. Pp. 473 U. S. 5-7.
(b) In view of the Rule 68 drafters' awareness of the various federal statutes which, as an exception to the "American Rule," authorize an award of attorney's fees to prevailing parties as part of the costs in particular cases, the most reasonable inference is that the term "costs" in the Rule was intended to refer to all costs properly awardable under the relevant substantive statute. Thus, where the underlying statute defines "costs" to include attorney's fees, such fees are to be included as costs for purposes of Rule 68. Here, where § 1988 expressly includes attorney's fees as "costs" available to a prevailing plaintiff in a § 1983 suit, such fees are subject to the cost-shifting provision of Rule 68. Rather than "cutting against the grain" of § 1988, applying Rule 68 in the context of a § 1983 action is consistent with § 1988's policies and objectives of encouraging plaintiffs to bring meritorious civil rights suits; Rule 68 simply encourages settlements. Pp. 473 U. S. 7-11.
720 F.2d 474, reversed.
BURGER, C.J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which WHITE, POWELL, REHNQUIST, STEVENS, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined. POWELL, J., post, p. 473 U. S. 12, and REHNQUIST, J., post, p. 473 U. S. 13, filed concurring opinions. BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which MARSHALL and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined, post, p. 473 U. S. 13.