Delta Air Lines, Inc. v. August

PETITIONER: Delta Air Lines, Inc.
RESPONDENT: August
LOCATION: White House

DOCKET NO.: 79-814
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

CITATION: 450 US 346 (1981)
ARGUED: Nov 12, 1980
DECIDED: Mar 09, 1981

ADVOCATES:
E. Allan Kovar - on behalf of the Petitioner,
Elinor Hadley Stillman - for the United States, as amicus curiae, by special leave of Court
Elinor Hadley Stillman - as amici curiae
Susan M. Vance - on behalf of the Respondent,

Facts of the case

Question

Media for Delta Air Lines, Inc. v. August

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 12, 1980 in Delta Air Lines, Inc. v. August

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - March 09, 1981 in Delta Air Lines, Inc. v. August

Warren E. Burger:

The judgment and opinion of the Court in Delta Airlines against August will be announced by Mr. Justice Stevens.

John Paul Stevens:

This case which involves a construction of Rule 68 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure comes to us from the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.

Pursuant to that rule, if a plaintiff rejects a defendants' formal offer of settlement and if the judgment finally obtained by the offeree is not more favorable than the offer, the plaintiff must pay the cost incurred after the making of the offer.

The narrow question presented by the case is whether the words, "Judgment obtained by the offeree" as used in that rule should be construed to encompass a judgment against the offeree as well as a judgment in favor of the offeree.

The respondent filed a complaint against Delta Airlines alleging that she had been discharged from her position as a flight attendant solely because of her race, a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

She sought reinstatement approximately $20,000.00 in backpay, attorney's fees and costs.

A few months after the complaint was filed, defendant made a formal settlement offer to plaintiff in the amount of $450.

The offer was refused.

The case was tried and plaintiff lost.

The District Court entered judgment in favor of defendant directed at each party bear its own costs.

Defendant then moved for modification of the judgment contending that under Rule 68, the plaintiff should be required to pay the costs incurred by defendant after the offer of judgment had been refused.

The District Court denied the motion on the ground that $450 was not a reasonable good faith attempt to settle the case and therefore did not trigger the cost-shifting provisions of the rule.

The Court of Appeals affirmed on the same ground.

In finding a reasonable requirement in the rule, the Court of Appeals did not confront the threshold questions whether Rule 69 has any application at all to a case in which judgment is entered against the plaintiff and in favor of the defendant.

We answer that question by holding that the rule simply does not apply to a case in which the defendant is the party who obtains the judgment and accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals.

Justice Powell has filed an opinion concurring in the judgment.

Justice Rehnquist has filed a dissenting opinion in which the Chief Justice and Justice Stewart have joined.

Warren E. Burger:

Thank you, Justice Stevens.