DOCKET NO.: 98-262
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
CITATION: 527 US 343 (1999)
ARGUED: Mar 30, 1999
DECIDED: Jun 21, 1999
Deborah A. La Belle – Argued the cause for the respondents
Deborah LaBelle – on behalf of the Respondents
Thomas L. Casey – Lansing, Michigan, argued the cause for the petitioners
Facts of the case
Everett Hadix and other prisoners in the Michigan prison system filed a class action lawsuit against prison officials claiming that the conditions of their confinement violated the Due Process Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Thereafter, Hadix and the officials entered into a consent decree to remedy the situation. In 1987, the District Court ruled that Hadix was entitled to attorney’s fees for post-judgment monitoring of compliance with the decrees. The court established specific market rates for awarding fees. By April 26, 1996, the effective date of the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (PLRA), the market rate was $150 per hour. The PLRA limited the size of fees that may be awarded to attorneys who litigate prisoner lawsuits to 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. The Court of Appeals affirmed. Next, fee requests were filed with the District Court for services performed during a period encompassing work performed both before and after the PLRA’s effective date. The District Court reiterated its earlier conclusion. The Court of Appeals held that the PLRA’s fee limitation does not apply to cases pending on the enactment date because if it did, it would have an impermissible retroactive effect, regardless of when the work was performed.
Does the federal Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 limit an attorney’s fees for post-judgment monitoring services that were pending when the Act became effective?
Media for Martin v. Hadix
Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – June 21, 1999 in Martin v. Hadix
John Paul Stevens:
Justice O’Connor has an opinion to announce.
Sandra Day O’Connor:
This is No. 98-262, Martin versus Hadix.
It comes to us on writ of certiorari to the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.
More than 20 years ago, Michigan prison inmates filed two federal class action lawsuits against state prison officials, challenging the conditions of confinement in the Michigan prison system.
More than 10 years ago, in both cases the District Court had concluded that the plaintiffs were prevailing parties and that they were entitled to attorney’s fees for postjudgment monitoring of the State’s compliance with the remedial orders.
The District Court established a system for awarding these attorney’s fees and set a specific market rate for awarding the fees.
By 1996 the market rate was set by the Court at a $150 an hour.
On April 26, 1996 however Congress passed the Prison Litigation Reform Act which became effective in April.
The Act as relevant to this case limits the size of the attorney’s fees that maybe awarded in prison litigation lawsuits.
For example, in this case the Act caps fee awards at the maximum hourly rate of a $112.50.
The District Court concluded that the PLRA’s fee cap does not limit fees, for work performed before the effective date of the Act, but that it does limit the awards for work performed after the effective date of the Act.
On appeal the Sixth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part.
The Court of Appeals concluded that the Act’s fees provision does not apply for cases such as the cases here that were pending when the Act was enacted, regardless of when the work was performed.
In an opinion filed with the Clerk of the Court today, we affirm in part and reverse in part.
In determining whether a new law like the Prison Litigation Reform Act applies to pending cases, we ask first whether congress has expressly prescribed the statute’s temporal reach, in other words what it is going to apply to and when.
In this case we conclude that Congress has not spoken to the temporal reach of the fees provision.
As a result we ask the next question, whether application of the fees provision to the case here would have a retroactive effect.
In this case we conclude that the Act’s fees provision would have a retroactive effect when applied to work performed before the effective date of the Act.
The attorneys in these cases had a reasonable expectation that the work they performed before the enactment of the Prison Litigation Reform Act would be compensated at the rate set by the District Court.
To apply the Act, the fees cap the work performed before its effective date would alter this arrangement post hoc by reducing that rate of compensation because this type of retroactive effect would be inconsistent with our traditional presumption against retroactivity, we decline to apply the Act retroactively in the absence of an expressed directive by Congress to that effect.
By contrast, the Act’s fees provision, as applied to work performed after the effective date of the Act, does not have a retroactive effect.
There is no retroactivity problem in telling a lawyer that going forward; any work the attorney performs will be at a lower hourly rate.
If the attorney does not want to work at the new lower rate she can decline the job.
Accordingly, we affirm in part and reverse in part the judgment of the Court of Appeals.
Justice Scalia has filed an opinion concurring in the judgment; Justice Ginsburg has filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part which is joined by Justice Stevens.