Martin v. Hadix,
527 U.S. 343 (1999)

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No. 98-262. Argued March 30, 1999-Decided June 21,1999

Respondent prisoners filed two federal class actions in 1977 and 1980 against petitioner prison officials challenging the conditions of confinement in the Michigan prison system under 42 U. S. C. § 1983. By 1987, the plaintiffs had prevailed in both suits, the District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan had ruled them entitled to attorney's fees under § 1988 for post judgment monitoring of the defendants' compliance with remedial decrees, systems were established for awarding those fees on a semiannual basis, and the District Court had established specific market rates for awarding fees. By April 26, 1996, the effective date of the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (PLRA), the prevailing market rate in both cases was $150 per hour. However, § 803(d)(3) of the PLRA, 42 U. S. C. § 1997e(d)(3), limits the size of fees that may be awarded to attorneys who litigate prisoner lawsuits. In the Eastern District, those fees are capped at a maximum hourly rate of $112.50. When first presented with the issue, the District Court concluded that the PLRA cap did not limit attorney's fees for services performed in these cases prior to, but that were still unpaid by, the PLRA's effective date, and the Sixth Circuit affirmed. Fee requests next were filed in both cases for services performed between January 1, 1996, and June 30, 1996, a period encompassing work performed both before and after the PLRA's effective date. In nearly identical orders, the District Court reiterated its earlier conclusion that the PLRA does not limit fees for work performed before April 26, 1996, but concluded that the PLRA cap does limit fees for services performed after that date. The Sixth Circuit consolidated the appeals from these orders, and, as relevant here, affirmed in part and reversed in part. It held that the PLRA's fee limitation does not apply to cases pending on the enactment date. If it did, the court held, it would have an impermissible retroactive effect, regardless of when the work was performed.

Held: Section 803(d)(3) limits attorney's fees for post judgment monitoring services performed after the PLRA's effective date, but does not limit fees for monitoring performed before that date. Pp. 352-362.

(a) Whether the PLRA applies to cases pending when it was enacted depends on whether Congress has expressly prescribed the statute's



temporal reach. Landgraf v. USI Film Products, 511 U. S. 244, 280. If not, the Court determines whether the statute's application to the conduct at issue would result in a retroactive effect. If so, the Court presumes that the statute does not apply to that conduct. E. g., ibid. P.352.

(b) Congress has not expressly mandated § 803(d)(3)'s temporal reach.

The fundamental problem with petitioners' arguments that the language of § 803(d)(1)-which provides for attorney's fees "[i]n any action brought by a prisoner who is confined" (emphasis added)-and of §803(d)(3)-which relates to fee "award[s]"-c1early expresses a congressional intent that § 803(d) apply to pending cases is that § 803(d) is better read as setting substantive limits on the award of attorney's fees, and as making no attempt to define the temporal reach of these substantive limitations. Had Congress intended § 803(d)(3) to apply to all fee orders entered after the effective date, it could have used language that unambiguously addresses the section's temporal reach, such as the language suggested in Landgraf "[T]he [PLRA] shall apply to all proceedings pending on or commenced after the date of enactment." 511 U. S., at 260 (internal quotation marks omitted). Pp. 353-355.

(c) The Court also rejects respondents' contention that the PLRA's fee provisions reveal a congressional intent that they apply prospectively only to cases filed after the effective date. According to respondents, a comparison of § 802-which, in addressing "appropriate remedies" in prison litigation, explicitly provides that it applies to pending cases, § 802(b)(1)-with § 803-which is silent on the subjectsupports the negative inference that § 803 does not apply to pending cases. This argument is based on an analogy to Lindh v. Murphy, 521 U. S. 320, 329, in which the Court, in concluding that chapter 153 of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 was inapplicable to pending cases, relied heavily on the observation that chapter 154 of that Act included explicit language making it applicable to such cases. The "negative inference" argument is inapposite here. In Lindh, the negative inference arose from the fact that the two chapters addressed similar issues, see ibid.; here, §§ 802 and 803 address wholly distinct subject matters. Finally, respondents' attempt to bolster their "negative inference" argument with the legislative historywhich indicates that § 803's attorney's fees limitations were originally part of § 802, along with language making them applicable to pending cases--overstates the inferences that can be drawn from an ambiguous act of legislative drafting. Pp. 355-357.

(d) Application of § 803(d)(3) in parts of this case would have retroactive effects inconsistent with the usual rule that legislation is deemed to be prospective. Pp. 357-362.

Full Text of Opinion

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