Maher v. Gagne

LOCATION: University of California Medical School at Davis

DOCKET NO.: 78-1888
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

CITATION: 448 US 122 (1980)
ARGUED: Jan 09, 1980
DECIDED: Jun 25, 1980

Edmund C. Walsh - on behalf of the Petitioner
Joan E. Pilver - on behalf of the Respondent

Facts of the case


Media for Maher v. Gagne

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 09, 1980 in Maher v. Gagne

Warren E. Burger:

We will hear arguments first this morning in Maher v. Virginia Gagne, and others.

Mr. Walsh, you may proceed whenever you are ready.

Edmund C. Walsh:

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

This is a case which is here on certiorari through the Second Circuit.

It is a case in which the District Court awarded attorney's fees against the Petitioner, the Commissioner of the Department of Income Maintenance in his official capacity to be paid out of State funds of the State of Connecticut to the respondent's attorneys in the amount of some $3,000.

The District Court found the award to be authorized by the Civil Rights Attorney's Fees Awards Act of 1976 to the plaintiff as the prevailing party.

The case was settled by consent decree.

William H. Rehnquist:

Mr. Walsh, looking at page 21A of the petition for certiorari, did their consent decree reserve to the court the right to fix attorney's fees for the plaintiffs in the case?

Edmund C. Walsh:

It did not, Your Honor, but in all candor it must be said that prior to the entry of the consent decree the State proposed that each party would pay its own costs and the respondents' attorneys refused to agree to that and we decided we would leave it to the District Court when they brought a motion subsequently for attorney's fees.

William H. Rehnquist:

So the State, in effect, consented that after the consent decree was entered a motion for attorney's fees or a new suit for attorney's fees could be brought?

Edmund C. Walsh:

Yes, Your Honor, that is the only way that we could get the consent decree signed.

We do not agree that attorney's fees were awarded.

We do not agree to awarding of attorney's fees.

William H. Rehnquist:

But you also say that, at least orally, you did not agree that the consent decree settled all the issues in the case, including the issues of whether attorney's fees should be awarded.

Edmund C. Walsh:

That is correct, Your Honor.

We just apprised the District Court judge of our agreement that we had not remained silent and it was not to be inferred that the agreement was inclusive.

In other words, they reserved the right to bring the motion before the court, if I am answering your question correctly.

The Gagne case presents two issues to this Court.

The first issue is whether the award is in fact authorized by the Attorney's Fees Awards Act or, conversely, whether or not the Eleventh Amendment prohibits such an award.

And, secondly, even if the award is authorized -- is not authorized by the Fees Act, whether or not as the Second Circuit has held the award has but the ancillary effect of an award for prospective injunctive relief under Edelman v. Jordan and would not be barred by the Eleventh Amendment.

The case began when the respondent, who was a recipient under Connecticut's aid to families with dependent children program, challenged the State's practices and policies with respect to awarding her her employment expenses.

She was employed at full-time and under the Federal statute, Section 402(a)(7) of the Social Security Act, that statute required that any expenses reasonably attributable to the earning of income will be -- must be deducted from a person's gross earnings in computing the amount of their welfare assistance award.

The respondent claims specifically that the departments imposed a maximum allowance with respect to transportation allowance for her private automobile at 6 cents a mile and a maximum lunch allowance of 50 percents per lunch.

She also claimed that they did not allow her certain work-related clothing expenses which she had.

Before bringing the action the respondent requested and received an administrative fair hearing on these issues of the expenses and the State was upheld on the transportation and lunch expenses.

It was directed to award her any fee she had for work-related clothing which she could prove.

And the fourth issue she brought at the administrative hearing was abandoned when She brought this case.

She also claimed she was entitled to deduct her 16-year-old son's working expenses from her award.

Five months after bringing the suit the State amended its policy which is contained at A66 of the appendix so as to provide expressly that any expenses reasonably attributable to employment were to be allowed to AFDC recipients and the amended policy is at A68 and 69 of the appendix.

Subsequently, about a year, in September of 1976, the plaintiff filed an amended complaint claiming that the new policy as revised still routinely disallowed expenses of the plaintiff.