West Virginia University Hospitals, Inc. v. Casey

PETITIONER:West Virginia University Hospitals, Inc.
LOCATION:Where police chase began

DOCKET NO.: 89-994
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1990-1991)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

CITATION: 499 US 83 (1991)
ARGUED: Oct 09, 1990
DECIDED: Mar 19, 1991

Calvin R. Koons – on behalf of the respondent
Robert T. Adams – on behalf of the Petitioner

Facts of the case


Media for West Virginia University Hospitals, Inc. v. Casey

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – October 09, 1990 in West Virginia University Hospitals, Inc. v. Casey

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – March 19, 1991 in West Virginia University Hospitals, Inc. v. Casey

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the Court in No. 89-994 West Virginia University Hospital, Inc. versus Casey will be announced by Justice Scalia.

Antonin Scalia:

This case presents the question whether 42 U.S.C Section 1988, which permits the award of “a reasonable attorney’s fee as part of the costs,” includes the award of fees for services rendered by scientific and other experts who assist in the preparation or presentation of the case.

The Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit held that it does not, and we agree.

In Crawford Sitting Company versus J.T. Gibbons, Incorporated, we held that litigation costs may not be shifted to the loosing party absent explicit statutory authority to the contrary.

The hospital in this case argues that Section 1988, in shifting an attorney’s fee, provide such authority with respect to expert services, we think not.

Statutory usage both before and after the enactment of Section 1988 did not regard the phrase attorney’s fee as embracing fees for expert services to the contrary, numerous statutes explicitly shift expert fees in addition to attorney’s fees.

Moreover, judicially usage at the time of Section 1988’s enactment did not regard expert fees as a component of attorney’s fees.

In particular, when applying fee-shifting provisions parallel to those of Section 1988, such as those of the Clayton Act and the Federal Patent laws, courts thought that expert fees could not be shifted as part of the statutorily authorized attorney’s fee.

We think the statutory and judicial background conclusively establishes that attorney’s fees and expert fees are distinct, and we read 1988 to comport with this ordinary usage.

Whereas here, a statute contains a phrase that is unambiguous, the court’s sole function is to enforce it according to its terms.

We do not find it persuasive that some members of congress viewed Section 1988 as a response to our decision in Alyeska Pipeline Service Company versus Wilderness Society where we narrowed court’s equitable fee-shifting powers.

Or that certain members stated and reports or debates that Section 1988 was to be a broad remedy.

The best evidence of congressional purposes of the statutory text which cannot be expanded or contracted by the statements of individual legislators or committees during the enactment process.

The decision of the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit is affirmed.

Justice Marshall has filed a dissenting opinion.

Justice Stevens has filed a dissenting opinion, joined by Justice Marshall and Justice Blackmun.