Appeal by defendants from so much of a judgment of the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut, Warren W. Eginton, Judge, as awarded plaintiffs attorney's fees in the amount of $15,806.25, plus costs, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988, following the denial of all relief requested in the complaint. Vacated and remanded.
Before: KEARSE, PIERCE, and MARKEY,*fn* Circuit Judges.
Defendants Douglas Lloyd, Commissioner of Health Services for the State of Connecticut, et al. (the "State"), appeal from so much of a final judgment of the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut, Warren W. Eginton, Judge, as awarded plaintiffs attorney's fees in the amount of $15,806.25, plus costs, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988 (Supp. V 1981), in connection with plaintiffs' suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Supp. V 1981), seeking declaratory and injunctive relief against the State's announced closing of a hospital. On appeal, the State contends that since all of the relief requested by plaintiffs in the lawsuit was denied, plaintiffs were not entitled to an award of attorney's fees because they were not "prevailing parties" within the meaning of § 1988. Because we cannot determine from the district judge's rulings upon what premise he made the award of fees, we vacate the award and remand the matter to the district court for findings and clarification.
The action was commenced in February 1981, shortly after the State announced that the Laurel Heights Hospital (the "Hospital"), which administered to the special rehabilitative needs of persons afflicted with tuberculosis and other chronic disabilities, would cease operations on March 12, 1981. Plaintiffs, patients at the Hospital, alleged that the closing would violate their due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution and would constitute discrimination on the basis of race and physical handicap, in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000d-2000d-4 (1976), and § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 794 (Supp. V 1981).
Following the receipt of a report by court-appointed special masters, the court denied plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction, and the State was allowed to close the Hospital on schedule. Eventually, the court denied all of the relief requested by the plaintiffs, except for their request for attorney's fees.
The court dealt with the matter of attorney's fees in two opinions. In its first opinion, the court noted that "[a] prevailing party under § 1988 has been defined as one whose success "on any significant issue in litigation . . . achieves some of the benefit . . . sought in bringing the suit." Hensley v. Eckerhart, [461 U.S. 424, 103 S. Ct. 1933, 1939, 76 L. Ed. 2d 40 (1983)] (quoting Nadeau v. Helgemoe, 581 F.2d 275, 278-79 (1st Cir. 1978))." Ruling on Plaintiffs' Motion for Attorneys' Fees, dated September 26, 1983 ("First Ruling"), at 2. The court noted that plaintiffs' motions for class certification, declaratory judgment, and injunctive relief had all been denied, but stated that this did not mean that plaintiffs were not prevailing parties:
In fact, the arguments of the plaintiffs prompted the court to appoint three doctors to review the state's plans for relocating plaintiffs to facilities comparable to Laurel Heights. The results of these doctors' review, which were reported to the court before the scheduled closing date of Laurel Heights, satisfied the court and the plaintiffs of the adequacy of the state's disposition plans.
Thus, the court allowed Laurel Heights to close on schedule, not because plaintiffs utterly failed in their proof, but because the thorough and tireless efforts of the court-appointed doctors allowed the court to reach an informed decision before the scheduled closing date.
The court recognizes defendants' contention that the court-appointed doctors merely confirmed the soundness of the existing plans of the state for relocating the plaintiffs. The court also recognizes, however, that the slow-turning wheels of the bureaucracy no doubt moved more quickly and efficiently when subject to the scrutiny of the court-appointed doctors.
Thus, the court finds that plaintiffs qualify as prevailing parties within the scope of § 1988, and are entitled to an award of attorney's fees. Accordingly, to the extent that it seeks some award of fees, plaintiffs' motion is GRANTED.
First Ruling at 3-4. The court directed the parties to brief the question of the amount of "reasonable fees."
The parties duly submitted additional briefs; plaintiffs sought an award of $30,349.04. The court awarded $15,806.25. In discussing the factors to be considered in determining the ...