White v. New Hampshire Department of Employment Security

PETITIONER: White
RESPONDENT: New Hampshire Department of Employment Security
LOCATION: José Aponte de la Torre Airport, formerly Roosevelt Roads Naval Station

DOCKET NO.: 80-5887
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit

CITATION: 455 US 445 (1982)
ARGUED: Nov 30, 1981
DECIDED: Mar 02, 1982

ADVOCATES:
B. Richard Larson - on behalf of Petitioner
Marc R. Scheer - on behalf of Respondent

Facts of the case

Question

Media for White v. New Hampshire Department of Employment Security

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 30, 1981 in White v. New Hampshire Department of Employment Security

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - March 02, 1982 in White v. New Hampshire Department of Employment Security

Warren E. Burger:

The judgment and opinion of the Court in White against New Hampshire Department of Employment Security will be announced by Justice Powell.

Lewis F. Powell, Jr.:

This case comes to use on certiorari from the Court of Appeals for the First Circuit.

The substantive controversy is irrelevant to the issue that prompted us to take the case.

Before trial, the parties reached a settlement agreement favorable to the petitioner, the plaintiff in the case below, but the agreement made no mention of attorney's fees.

Four months after the District Court had approved the settlement, the petitioner as a party, primarily prevailing filed a motion for attorney's fees.

Although the respondent argued that the settlement agreement had implicitly waived any such right the District Court awarded fees.

The Court of Appeals reversed relying on Rule 59(e) or the Federal Rule of Civil Procedure, it held that the request for fees was a motion to amend the final judgment which must be made within 10 days of its entry.

As petitioner had not filed within this period, the Court of Appeals ruled that the request was time barred.

Rule 59(e) was adopted to permit District Courts to correct errors in their decisions promptly within a 10-day period.

Request for attorney's fees are not applied of the substantive decision of a lawsuit.

On the contrary, they may be awarded under the Fees Act only to the prevailing party and this cannot be determined until a decision on the merits has been made.

Even though Rule 59(e) does not apply, District Courts have discretion to set their own time limits either by a general rule or in the particular case.

No such limit has been set in this case.

Accordingly, we reverse the decision of the Court of Appeals.

Justice Blackmun has filed a concurring opinion.

Warren E. Burger:

Thank you Justice Powell.