Roadway Express, Inc. v. Piper

PETITIONER: Roadway Express, Inc.
LOCATION: Congress

DOCKET NO.: 79-701
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

CITATION: 447 US 752 (1980)
ARGUED: Apr 15, 1980
DECIDED: Jun 23, 1980

Herschel E. Richard, Jr. - for respondents
Harriet S. Shapiro - for the United States, as amicus curiae, by special leave of Court
Miles Curtiss McKee -
M. Curtiss McKee - for petitioner

Facts of the case


Media for Roadway Express, Inc. v. Piper

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 15, 1980 in Roadway Express, Inc. v. Piper

Warren E. Burger:

We'll hear arguments next in Roadway Express against Monk.

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

Miles Curtiss McKee:

Thank you, Mr. Chief Justice and may it please it Court.

This case is before the Court on a writ of certiorari to the Fifth Circuit Court on appeal.

The issue is whether attorneys who multiplied proceedings in an action under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 42 U.S.C. 1981 and thereby unreasonably and vexatiously increased the cost, maybe personally assessed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1927, with attorney's fees as part of the excess cost incurred by an opposing party as a result of such conduct.

The case originated in the Western District of Louisiana where it was dismissed without prejudice by reason of the failure of the plaintiffs to answer the defendant's interrogatories and ordered by the Court, the failure of the plaintiff to produce one of the plaintiffs for deposition, the general failure to prosecute the suit and ultimately, the plaintiffs' abandonment of their claim.

The Court after the dismissal and after an evidentiary hearing on the matter of the assessment of cost at which the lawyers for the plaintiffs were represented by their malpractice carrier, the Court awarded fees as cost pursuant to 1927 and under the terms and provisions of Title VII and Section 1988.

It allowed attorney's fees as part of the cost.

And in the case of Hutto versus Finney decided by this Court in 1978, that taxable cost were equated with attorney's fees under 42 U.S.C. 1988.

Our argument to the Court is plain and simple because we're allowed the plain meaning of the statutes.

And where the plain meaning of the statutes is -- is present, there is no construction necessary.

The Fifth Circuit Court said that you could not combine these statutes, 42 U.S.C. 1988 and Title VII and 1927 on the other hand, that you could not compel them to achieve what the Fifth Circuit called a hybrid result.

The Court of Appeals did this without any explanation, without any discussion of the in pari materia relationship of these statutes and without explaining away the plain language of the statute and without pointing to any absurd, futile or unreasonable result.

So where are cost defined for a determination under Section 1927?

It must rely on other statutes for its definition.

And upon which statutes may it rely?

The United States and the respondents say that it may rely on only two statutes and that's 28 U.S.C. 1920 and 1923.

They admit that Section 1927 must resort mechanically to other statutes for its definition, but they draw a barrier at the resort to Title VII and Section 1988.

The respondent in the amici government don't demonstrate any statutory or other limitation on Section 1927's access to Title VII and Section 1988 for the definition of cost.

There is nothing in any statute to prohibit this access to these statutes for cost.

And neither the respondent, nor the United States or any of the amici in this case assailed the bare language of the statute.

Their efforts are devoted to unsubstantiated, unsupported speculation and postulation on which they offer no cases and no authority.

William H. Rehnquist:

One -- one reason advanced by the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit was the -- that 1927 should be construed strictly because they're regarded as penal in nature.

Did you agree with that?

Miles Curtiss McKee:

Your Honor, we could agree with it for the purposes of argument.

William H. Rehnquist:

Do you think you would be consistent with the language in Newman v. Piggie Park Enterprises where -- where they say that -- the Court said that an attorney's fee award flows almost as a matter of right, if you prevail on the merits?

Miles Curtiss McKee:

Well, Your Honor there is authority saying that such statutes are penal as to one group of people and not penal as to others and their remedial as to others.

William H. Rehnquist:

Well, what authority is that?

I mean is it authority from this Court?

Miles Curtiss McKee:

No, it's not.