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Torres v. Sachs

UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SECOND CIRCUIT


decided: June 25, 1976.

ROSA TORRES ET AL., PLAINTIFFS-APPELLEES,
v.
ALICE SACHS ET AL., DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS. RAYMOND S. VELEZ ET AL., PLAINTIFFS-APPELLEES, V. PATRICK CUNNINGHAM ET AL., DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS. JUANA LOPEZ ET AL., PLAINTIFFS-APPELLEES, V. DAVID DINKINS ET AL., DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS

Appeal by municipal defendants from amount of fee award to successful plaintiffs in voting rights action in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, Charles E. Stewart, Jr., Judge.

Smith, Mansfield and Van Graafeiland, Circuit Judges.

Author: Smith

Smith, Circuit Judge:

The municipal defendants appeal from an award by the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, Charles E. Stewart, Jr., Judge, of $23,252 in attorneys' fees to successful plaintiffs in two voting rights class actions seeking bilingual school board and general election officials and materials. We find no error and affirm the judgment.

Appellants on this appeal attack neither the underlying voting rights judgment nor the entitlement of the successful plaintiffs to attorneys' fees. They question rather the measure of allowable fees. Essentially they contend that because publicly financed legal services organizations supply counsel, and tax supported governmental bodies bear the burden of appellants' costs, some measure of fees should be used less than the going rates for similar services received by privately employed counsel for work of comparable importance, extent and complexity.

There is support for such a discounting of the value of similar services, see Souza v. Travisono, 512 F.2d 1137 (1st Cir. 1975), vacated on other grounds, 423 U.S. 809, 96 S. Ct. 19, 46 L. Ed. 2d 29 (1975); Gilpin v. Kansas State High School Activities Ass'n, 377 F. Supp. 1233, 1253 (D. Kan. 1974). The unanticipated burden on public treasuries on the one hand and the duty of the bar to provide services pro bono publico on the other are among the reasons given for reductions.

We disagree on two grounds. First, the statute and its legislative history make it quite plain that the Congress rejected any such limitation. Second, we consider that such voting rights enforcement by litigation, in common with other similar essential minority civil rights enforcement, is to be encouraged by reasonable fee awards rather than discouraged by requiring successful plaintiffs to bear litigation costs.

The Congress provided for attorneys' fees in § 402 of the 1975 extension of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, P.L. 94-73, 42 U.S.C. § 1973l(e).*fn1 The legislative history of this section leaves no question as to congressional intent in its enactment. The language of the Senate bill was substituted for the language of the House bill and adopted by the House. The Senate Report is persuasive.*fn2 The fees are to be measured by the same standards as in other complex federal litigation and are intended to be collectible from offending municipal officials and bodies. The Act is concededly applicable to cases pending at the time of its enactment under the principles of Bradley v. School Board of the City of Richmond, 416 U.S. 696, 94 S. Ct. 2006, 40 L. Ed. 2d 476 (1974).

Litigation to secure the law's protection has frequently depended on the exertions of organizations dedicated to the enforcement of the Civil Rights Acts. See Tillman v. Wheaton-Haven Recreation Ass'n, 517 F.2d 1141 (4th Cir. 1975). We agree with the courts which have held that the "allowable fees and expenses may not be reduced because [the prevailing party's] attorney was employed . . . by a civil rights organization . . . or because the attorney does not exact a fee." Fairley v. Patterson, 493 F.2d 598, 606 (5th Cir. 1974); Tillman v. Wheaton-Haven Recreation Ass'n, supra. Non-profit public interest law firms have been recognized as properly entitled to attorneys' fees, Jordan v. Fusari, 496 F.2d 646, 649 (2d Cir. 1974); Brandenburger v. Thompson, 494 F.2d 885, 889 (9th Cir. 1974), and the receipt of such fees promotes their continued existence and service to the public in this field.

Application of the provision to furnish full recompense for the value of services in successful litigation helps assure the continued availability of the services to those most in need of assistance in translating the promise of the Act into actually functioning voting rights, often grudgingly yielded to minorities by those reluctant to give up or dilute political power or to impose on the majority necessary expenses of implementation.

Attorneys' fees are not awarded necessarily to punish for bad faith, but to recompense those who by helping to protect basic rights are thought to have served the public interest. A principal purpose of the legislation is to encourage people to seek judicial redress of unlawful discrimination.

In short, imposition of full attorneys' fees is a useful and needed tool of the court to fully protect plaintiffs' rights as American citizens and voters, and we agree with the court's use of it in this case.

We find no merit in appellants' other claims.

Affirmed.

Disposition

Affirmed.


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