Webb v. Board of Education of Dyer County, Tennessee

RESPONDENT: Board of Education of Dyer County, Tennessee
LOCATION: Elstad's Residence

DOCKET NO.: 83-1360
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

CITATION: 471 US 234 (1985)
ARGUED: Oct 29, 1984
DECIDED: Apr 17, 1985

Charles Stephen Ralston - on behalf of Petitioner
S. Russell Headrick - on behalf of Respondents

Facts of the case


Media for Webb v. Board of Education of Dyer County, Tennessee

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 29, 1984 in Webb v. Board of Education of Dyer County, Tennessee

Warren E. Burger:

We'll here arguments next in Webb against County Board.

Mr. Ralston, I think you may proceed whenever you're ready.

Charles Stephen Ralston:

Thank you.

Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court:

This case presents for the Court a single issue, and that is whether or not attorney time expended before a civil rights action is brought under 1981 and 1983, Title 42 of the United States Code, is filed in federal court, work done before that filing, can that time be excluded from a fee award simply because the time was spent pursuing the same federal claim in an available state administrative proceeding.

Our position, Petitioner's position, is quite simply that it should not and cannot be excluded, that it is awardable under the specific language of 42 U.S.C. Section 1988 and under the decisions of this Court that interpret that statute.

Our position is, first, that if that time, as we contend it was here, is reasonably expended, reasonably spent, then within the meaning of Section 1988 and this Court's decision in Hensley versus Eckerhart, then it can be compensated for.

That is, it is chargeable to the defendant when the plaintiff prevails in his federal court action.

Warren E. Burger:

Could you have brought the proceeding in court without going into the administrative process?

Charles Stephen Ralston:

Yes, Mr. Chief Justice, we could have gone straight to the federal court, and that is true.

And the court below based their decision on the principle that, since it was not mandatory that the state administrative proceedings be exhausted and we did not have to go into federal court, therefore the time should not be compensated for.

Warren E. Burger:

Do you read the opinions of the courts as encouraging, even if they do not require, the exhaustion of administrative remedies?

Charles Stephen Ralston:

Your Honor, in the Patsy case, which held that exhaustion is not required, this Court pointed out that one of the concerns of Congress when it passed 1983 was to provide concurrent remedies in both state and federal courts.

So there's certainly no intention of Congress or the decisions of this Court to discourage the going and utilization of an available state remedy, which is precisely the result of the decision below.

The result would be to tell to a potential plaintiff that, go straight into federal court, do not spend any time at all pursuing any other available remedy.

Go into federal court, because if you don't you will lose any time you spend prior to going into federal court.

William H. Rehnquist:

Mr. Ralston, the district court's memorandum as I read it refers to the state administrative proceeding as one before the County Board of Education of Dyer County, Tennessee.

Charles Stephen Ralston:

Yes, Your Honor.

William H. Rehnquist:

You say you were pursuing the federal claim before that, the County Board.

What's the nature of that proceeding under Tennessee?

Charles Stephen Ralston:

Your Honor, we have reprinted in our brief, our main brief, in the appendix, pages 1a to 4a, the statute under Tennessee law which sets out the proceeding.

Now, that proceeding and what occurred before the Dyer County Board of Education followed that statute.

There's a right to charges, there's a right to have witnesses subpoenaed, there's a right to be represented by counsel.

There's a right to present the claims that the person has and have them considered by the Board.

And indeed, the statute even provides that if the teacher prevails the Board can award the teacher his costs.

So it is an administrative proceeding and a quasi-judicial proceeding.

William H. Rehnquist:

What are the standards for showing that you're entitled to reinstatement?

Is it kind of a breach of tenure kind of thing?

Charles Stephen Ralston:

Certainly under the tenure act there is that.

You'd have the right to do that.