Missouri v. Jenkins

RESPONDENT: Kalima Jenkins et al.
LOCATION: Kansas City Missouri School District

DOCKET NO.: 88-64
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1988-1990)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

CITATION: 491 US 274 (1989)
ARGUED: Feb 21, 1989
DECIDED: Jun 19, 1989

Bruce Farmer - Assistant Attorney General of Missouri, argued the cause for the petitioners
Jay Topkis - argued the cause for the respondents

Facts of the case

The Kansas City Missouri School District hired lawyers to argue a major desegregation case against the state of Missouri in federal district court. When the lawyers won the case after years of litigation, they sought compensation from Missouri under the Civil Rights Attorney's Fees Awards Act of 1976. The district court calculated the amount owed using current market rates for attorney's fees. Missouri objected to paying the lawyers at current rates for work they performed in the past when rates were lower. The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit ruled against Missouri. Missouri alleged that the federal courts violated its Eleventh Amendment sovereign immunity privileges by forcing it to pay higher rates.


Under the Civil Rights Attorney's Fees Awards Act of 1976, does the Eleventh Amendment prohibit a federal court from requiring a state to pay lawyers at current market rates for past litigation? Can legal assistants be charged at current market rates rather than at their cost to the lawyers at the time of litigation?

Media for Missouri v. Jenkins

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 21, 1989 in Missouri v. Jenkins

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll hear argument now in No. 88-64, Missouri v. Kalima Jenkins.

Mr. Farmer, you may proceed whenever you're ready.

Bruce Farmer:

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

This case is here in certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit.

Petitioners are the State of Missouri and its officials found liable in their official capacity.

We present two issues involving the attorney's field ward arising out of the Kansas City, Mo., desegregation case.

The first is an 11th Amendment immunity issue, this time as it pertains to a Section 1988 fee award that includes prejudgment interest or compensation for delay in payment.

The second issue concerns an issue that was also involved in the Blanchard v. Bergeron case, and that concerns the proper method of compensation for paralegal services.

I would like to briefly address the 11th Amendment issue first, and while the underlying facts in this case have been complex, only a few facts are relevant now.

The Kansas City desegregation case began in 1977.

The fee award, however, went to two groups of attorneys who entered the case later.

Kansas City attorney Arthur Benson and his staff entered the case in 1979 and was awarded $1.7 million in fees and expenses for the period through June of 1986.

The NAACP Legal Defense Fund entered the case in 1982 and were awarded $2.4 million.

The plaintiffs became prevailing parties in September of 1984.

The fee applications were filed in February of 1986.

The fee awards were based on current rather than historical hourly rates.

This was expressly done to compensate for delay in payment.

Out of approximately 18,000 attorney hours compensated, about 85 % were incurred in the years 1983 and 1984.

The record shows that the current hourly rates used were approximately $15 to $20 higher than the historical rates for this period.

Now, the 11th Amendment and the current status of the 11th Amendment is involved in at least two other cases before this Court this term.

Pennsylvania v. Union Gas argued last October and Gilhool v. Muth scheduled to be argued next week.

The issue was also touched on briefly in Wheel v. Michigan State Department of State Police argued in December.

The 11th Amendment has been explored in great detail in previous recent opinions of this Court.

I'm not sure that I can add much to the detailed historical argument.

In this case, it is the State's position that compensation for delay in payment or prejudgment interest is barred by the 11th Amendment, and we submit that the principles set forth in this Court's Library of Congress v. Shaw decision can be extended to an 11th Amendment context.

Now, Library of Congress dealt with the fee-shifting provision of Title VII and the federal government's sovereign immunity In the long-standing no-interest rule.

Sovereign immunity was expressly waived concerning attorneys' fees and costs, but this Court found that it was not waived concerning the sovereign's immunity from interest.

We believe it can be extended to the 11th Amendment context because of the numerous similarities between the fee-shifting provision of Title VII and Section 1988.

First, Section 1988, when enacted by Congress, Congress specifically relied on the language of Title VII, the fee-shifting provision of Title VII.

The identical relevant phrase is found in both fee-shifting provisions, that is,