Farrar v. Hobby

PETITIONER: Farrar et al., Coadministrators Of Estate Of Farrar, Deceased
RESPONDENT: Hobby
LOCATION: Office of Walter Nixon, Souther District Court of MS

DOCKET NO.: 91-990
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1991-1993)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

CITATION: 506 US 103 (1992)
ARGUED: Oct 07, 1992
DECIDED: Dec 14, 1992

ADVOCATES:
Finis E. Cowan - on behalf of the Respondent
Gerald M. Birnberg - on behalf of the Petitioners

Facts of the case

Question

Media for Farrar v. Hobby

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 07, 1992 in Farrar v. Hobby

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll hear argument now in No. 91-990, Dale Farrar and Pat Smith v. William Hobby.

Mr. Birnberg.

Gerald M. Birnberg:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

In Carey v. Piphus this Court held that procedural due process is so important to organized society that it is actionable even without a showing of actual damages.

In this case a jury found that the respondent had knowingly violated Joseph Farrar's constitutional rights to procedural due process essentially by obtaining a closing of this school for incorrigible delinquent children without prior administrative proceedings and hearings to which he was entitled under state law and by the process of a state court proceeding that didn't involve a fair and unbiased judge.

In all events the Fifth Circuit in 1985 concluded on the basis of that jury verdict that the petitioner was entitled at least to nominal damages, it having been found by the jury that his rights to procedural due process have been violated.

They found that notwithstanding the fact that that same jury had also found that Dr. Farrar had been unable to prove that he had sustained actual damages, but of course under Carey against Piphus that was essentially irrelevant.

He was entitled to an award of nominal damages.

The question in this case is does that final determination of entitlement to a judgment for nominal damages, not more than $1.00, in a case involving the deprivation of procedural due process entitle the plaintiff who recovered that judgment to also recover reasonable attorneys' fees under 42 United States Code Section 1983.

We submit that the question, that the answer to that question can be found in four separate places.

Byron R. White:

What was the denial of procedural due process?

Gerald M. Birnberg:

The denial of procedural due process was very complex, Justice White.

It involved essentially two things.

Number one, it involved having a decision made to shut down the school and not utilize the administrative procedures that Texas law provided.

And secondly it involved interfering with the, there was a district court hearing, a temporary restraining order, and at that district court hearing there was, it was an ex parte hearing--

Byron R. White:

But did the, was the proceeding... was due process finally given?

Gerald M. Birnberg:

--Was due process finally given?

I don't know that that question was ever presented to the jury, nor is it in this record, Justice White.

Our view of that fact is no.

But I would say this, and I think this is the gravamen of your question--

Byron R. White:

Well, was the school, are we talking about a school?

Gerald M. Birnberg:

--The school was closed.

Yes.

Byron R. White:

Which was shut down?

Gerald M. Birnberg:

It was shut down and it remained closed.

Byron R. White:

And it has never opened?

Gerald M. Birnberg:

It has never opened.

It was never reopened.

And in fact--

Byron R. White:

And is it conceded that it didn't deserve to be opened?