HUTTO V. FINNEY, 437 U. S. 678 (1978)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Hutto v. Finney, 437 U.S. 678 (1978)

Hutto v. Finney

No. 76-1660

Argued February 21, 1978

Decided June 23, 1978

437 U.S. 678


After finding in respondent prison inmates' action against petitioner prison officials that conditions in the Arkansas prison system constituted cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments, the District Court entered a series of detailed remedial orders. On appeal to the Court of Appeals, petitioners challenged two aspects of that relief: (1) an order placing a maximum limit of 30 days on confinement in punitive isolation, and (2) an award of attorney's fees to be paid out of Department of Correction funds, based on the District Court's finding that petitioners had acted in bad faith in failing to cure the previously identified violations. The Court of Appeals affirmed, and assessed an additional attorney's fee to cover services on appeal.


1. The District Court did not err in including the 30-day limitation on sentences to isolation as part of its comprehensive remedy to correct the constitutional violations. Where the question before the court was whether these past constitutional violations had been remedied, it was entitled to consider the severity of the violations in assessing the constitutionality of conditions in the isolation cells, the length of time each inmate spent in isolation being simply one consideration among many. Pp. 437 U. S. 685-688.

2. The District Court's award of attorney's fees to be paid out of Department of Correction funds is adequately supported by its finding that petitioners had acted in bad faith, and does not violate the Eleventh Amendment. The award served the same purpose as a remedial fine imposed for civil contempt, and vindicated the court's authority over a recalcitrant litigant. There being no reason to distinguish the award from any other penalty imposed to enforce a prospective injunction, the Eleventh Amendment's substantive protections do not prevent the award against the Department's officers in their official capacities, and the fact that the order directed the award to be paid out of Department funds, rather than being assessed against petitioners in their official capacities, does not constitute reversible error. Pp. 437 U. S. 689-693.

3. The Civil Rights Attorney's Fees Awards Act of 1976, which provides that, "[i]n any action" to enforce certain civil rights laws (including the law under which this action was brought), federal courts chanrobles.com-red

Page 437 U. S. 679

may award prevailing parties reasonable attorney's fees "as part of the costs," supports the additional award of attorney's fees by the Court of Appeals. Pp. 437 U. S. 693-700.

(a) The Act's broad language, and the fact that it primarily applies to laws specifically passed to restrain unlawful state action, as well as the Act's legislative history, make it clear that Congress, when it passed the Act, intended to exercise its power to set aside the States' immunity from retroactive relief in order to enforce the Fourteenth Amendment, and to authorize fee awards payable by the States when their officials are sued in their official capacities. Pp. 437 U. S. 693-694.

(b) Costs have traditionally been awarded against States without regard for the States' Eleventh Amendment immunity, and it is much too late to single out attorney's fees as the one kind of litigation cost whose recovery may not be authorized by Congress without an express statutory waiver of States' immunity. Pp. 437 U. S. 694-698.

(c) The fact that neither the State nor the Department of Correction was expressly named as a defendant does not preclude the Court of Appeals' award, since, although the Eleventh Amendment prevented respondents from suing the State by name, their injunctive suit against petitioner prison officials was, for all practical purposes, brought against the State, so that, absent any indication that petitioners acted in bad faith before the Court of Appeals, the Department of Correction is the entity intended by Congress to bear the burden of the award. Pp. 437 U. S. 699-700.

548 F.2d 740, affirmed.

STEVENS, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BRENNAN, STEWART, MARSHALL, and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined, in Part I of which WHITE, J., joined, and in Parts I and II-A of which BURGER, C.J.,and POWELL, J., joined. BRENNAN, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 437 U. S. 700. POWELL, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, in which BURGER, C.J.,joined, and in the dissenting portion of which WHITE and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined, post, p. 437 U. S. 704. REHNQUIST, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in Part II of which WHITE, J., joined, post, p. 437 U. S. 710. chanrobles.com-red

Page 437 U. S. 680


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