LOCATION: Spofford Juvenile Center
DOCKET NO.: 82-2120
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit
CITATION: 468 US 992 (1984)
ARGUED: Mar 28, 1984
DECIDED: Jul 05, 1984
E. Richard Larson - on behalf of Petitioners
Forrest L. Avila - on behalf of Respondents
Facts of the case
Media for Smith v. Robinson
Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 28, 1984 in Smith v. Robinson
Warren E. Burger:
We will hear arguments first this morning in Smith against Robinson.
Mr. Larson, you may proceed whenever you're ready.
E. Richard Larson:
Thank you, Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:
This case involves Petitioners' entitlement to attorney's fees under 42 U.S.C. Section 1988 in this action to enforce constitutional rights through Section 1983.
This case also involves fee entitlement under Section 505(b) of the Rehabilitation Act in this action brought to enforce and to charge a violation of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.
As in Vlum v. Stenson, decided unanimously by this Court last week, resolution in this case begins and ends with the legislative history accompanying these fee provision, a legislative history in which Congress stated that plaintiffs need not prevail on a substantial constitutional claim or on another overlapping fee claim in order to be entitled to fees.
This case we submit is further controlled by this Court's unanimous decision in Maher v. Gagne, a decision in which this Court not only conclusively applied the foregoing legislative history, but indeed it is the same legislative history that is applicable here.
And in that case this Court held that a plaintiff who never obtained a ruling on her substantial constitutional claim nonetheless was entitled to fees under Section 1988.
In this case, Petitioner Tommy Smith is a physically and emotionally handicapped child who walks with the aid of leg braces and crutches due to cerebral palsy.
Tommy was eight years old when this litigation was commenced in 1976.
Tommy at that time was enrolled in a special education day program approved by the Respondents and paid for by the school committee as part of their education program.
This litigation was commenced when the local school committee, with the subsequent approval and support of the Respondents, proposed to exclude Tommy from receiving an education solely because of the nature of his handicap.
Respondents' consistent litigation position throughout this litigation has been that the school committees, including the local school committee here, and the Respondents had no responsibility for educating Tommy or similarly situated persons who had an emotional handicap.
Petitioners' complaint alleged three substantial federal claims.
Initially, they were constitutional claims.
Indeed, the opening complaint alleged only constitutional claims.
This was a due process claim... the Petitioner was being excluded, being denied an education, with no hearing whatsoever... and also a straight equal, protection claim... that Petitioner was being denied an education, excluded from an education, in violation of equal protection.
Petitioners also alleged a federal claim under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, the language of which specifically precludes the exclusion of a person from receiving federal benefits in a federal program, a program supported by federal moneys, solely on the basis of handicap.
A third federal claim was also alleged in this case, the '75 Handicapped Act.
After the Act became effective and subsequent to plaintiff's success on their constitutional claims, plaintiffs added the claim that the Respondents had violated the Education for all Handicapped Children Act of 1975.
Now, there is no question in this case about the appropriateness of the education that was designed for Tommy.
It's simply a question of exclusion versus non-exclusion.
There also is no question in this case Petitioners in fact prevailed.
They prevailed initially and throughout the litigation on their due process claim, and they ultimately prevailed, primarily as a result of a certified decision by the Rhode Island Supreme Court.
William H. Rehnquist:
Mr. Larson, you say that your clients prevailed throughout the litigation on their due process claim.
I didn't read Judge Campbell's opinion is necessarily agreeing with that.
E. Richard Larson:
The characterization of Judge Campbell's opinion... or in the opinion, is that we ultimately prevailed as a matter of the Education for all Handicapped Children Act.
Judge Campbell does not disagree whatsoever that throughout the course of this litigation it was the preliminary injunction entered on the due process claim pursuant to which plaintiffs through the course of the litigation prevailed.
William H. Rehnquist:
What is the difference between prevailing through the course of the litigation and ultimately prevailing?
I take it from your argument you see those as two different things.