Perdue v. Kenny A.

PETITIONER: Sonny Perdue, Governor of Georgia, et al.
RESPONDENT: Kenny A., By His Next Friend Linda Winn, et al.
LOCATION:

DOCKET NO.: 08-970
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2009-2010)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

CITATION: 559 US 542 (2010)
GRANTED: Apr 06, 2009
ARGUED: Oct 14, 2009
DECIDED: Apr 21, 2010

ADVOCATES:
Mark H. Cohen - argued the cause for the petitioners
Paul D. Clement - argued the cause for the respondents
Pratik A. Shah - Assistant to the Solicitor General, Department of Justice, for the United States as amicus curiae

Facts of the case

In 2005, the Georgia Department of Human Resources (DHR) and related state agencies settled a class action lawsuit with plaintiff foster children under the care of the DHR. However, the parties could not agree on the appropriate amount of attorneys' fees to be included in the settlement. Subsequently, the plaintiffs filed a motion in a Georgia federal district court for that court to make a fee determination and award. The plaintiffs argued that they were owed over $7 million for services rendered and also deserved a $7 million fee enhancement for a job well done. The district court largely agreed with the plaintiffs and awarded $10,522,405.08 in compensation, over $4 million of which was a fee enhancement. The district court reasoned that "the superb quality of counsel's representation far exceeded what could reasonably be expected for the standard hourly rates used to calculate the fee" and thus justified the enhancement.

On appeal, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion when it enhanced the lodestar figure (hours reasonably expended multiplied by a reasonable hourly rate) because of counsel's skill, commitment, dedication, and professionalism. The Court reasoned that the enhancement of the lodestar amount of attorney's fees may be allowed for superior representation coupled with the exceptional nature of results.

Question

Can the reasonable attorneys' fee award under a federal fee-shifting statute ever be enhanced based solely on the quality of performance and results obtained?

Media for Perdue v. Kenny A.

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 14, 2009 in Perdue v. Kenny A.

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - April 21, 2010 in Perdue v. Kenny A.

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

And justice Alito has her opinion this morning case 08-970 Perdue versus Kenny A.

Samuel A. Alito, Jr.:

This case comes to us on writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th circuit 42 U.S.C section 1988 authorizes courts to award a reasonable attorney's fees for prevailing parties in civil rights actions.

In awarding fees in this action in this record calculated the so-called load-star amount, the hours worked multiplied by a reasonable hourly fee and enhanced that amount by an additional 75% for superior performance and results obtained.

For the reasons set out in our opinion, we conclude that the load-star amount may be increased due to superior performance but only in unusual circumstances under which the load-star does not adequately account for performance.

In addition any enhancement must be based on a reviewable methodology and must be supported by specific evidence because the Court of Appeals did not apply these standards in this case we reverse and remand for the case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Justice Kennedy and Justice Thomas have filed concurring opinions, Justice Breyer has filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part in which Justices Stevens Ginsburg and Sotomayor have joined.