Hutto v. Finney

Hutto v. Finney, 437 U.S. 678 (1978), was a landmark Supreme Court case against the Arkansas Department of Correction. The litigation lasted almost a decade, from 1969 through 1978. It was the first successful lawsuit filed by an inmate against a correctional institution.

Excerpted from Hutto v. Finney on Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Court Documents
Concurring Opinion
Dissenting Opinion

Supreme Court of the United States

437 U.S. 678

Hutto  v.  Finney

Certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

No. 76-1660  Argued: Feb. 21, 1978 --- Decided: June 23, 1978

After finding in respondent prison inmates' action against petitioner prison officials that conditions in the Arkansas prison system constituted cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eight and Fourteenth Amendments, the District Court entered a series of detailed remedial orders. On appeal to the Court of Appeals, petitioners challenged two aspects of that relief: (1) an order placing a maximum limit of 30 days on confinement in punitive isolation; and (2) an award of attorney's fees to be paid out of Department of Correction funds, based on the District Court's finding that petitioners had acted in bad faith in failing to cure the previously identified violations. The Court of Appeals affirmed and assessed an additional attorney's fee to cover services on appeal. Held:

1.The District Court did not err in including the 30-day limitation on sentences to isolation as part of its comprehensive remedy to correct the constitutional violations. Where the question before the court was whether these past constitutional violations had been remedied, it was entitled to consider the severity of the violations in assessing the constitutionality of conditions in the isolation cells, the length of time each inmate spent in isolation being simply one consideration among many. Pp. 685–688.

2.The District Court's award of attorney's fees to be paid out of Department of Correction funds is adequately supported by its finding that petitioners had acted in bad faith, and does not violate the Eleventh Amendment. The award served the same purpose as a remedial fine imposed for civil contempt, and vindicated the court's authority over a recalcitrant litigant. There being no reason to distinguish the award from any other penalty imposed to enforce a prospective injunction, the Eleventh Amendment's substantive protections do not prevent the award against the Department's officers in their official capacities, and the fact that the order directed the award to be paid out of Department funds rather than being assessed against petitioners in their official capacities, does not constitute reversible error. Pp. 689–693.

3.The Civil Rights Attorney's Fees Awards Act of 1976, which provides that "[i]n any action" to enforce certain civil rights laws (including the law under which this action was brought), federal courts [p679] may award prevailing parties reasonable attorney's fees "as part of the costs," supports the additional award of attorney's fees by the Court of Appeals. Pp. 693–700.

(a)The Act's broad language and the fact that it primarily applies to laws specifically passed to restrain unlawful state action, as well as the Act's legislative history, make it clear that Congress, when it passed the Act, intended to exercise its power to set aside the States' immunity from retroactive relief in order to enforce the Fourteenth Amendment, and to authorize fee awards payable by the States when their officials are sued in their official capacities. Pp. 693–694.

(b)Costs have traditionally been awarded against States without regard for the States' Eleventh Amendment immunity, and it is much too late to single out attorney's fees as the one kind of litigation cost whose recovery may not be authorized by Congress without an express statutory waiver of States' immunity. Pp. 694–698.

(c)The fact that neither the State nor the Department of Correction was expressly named as a defendant, does not preclude the Court of Appeals' award, since, although the Eleventh Amendment prevented respondents from suing the State by name, their injunctive suit against petitioner prison officials was, for all practical purposes, brought against the State, so that absent any indication that petitioners acted in bad faith before the Court of Appeals, the Department of Correction is the entity intended by Congress to bear the burden of the award. Pp. 699–700.

548 F.2d 740, affirmed.

STEVENS, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BRENNAN, STEWART, MARSHALL, and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined, in Part I of which WHITE, J., joined, and in Parts I and II-A of which BURGER, C. J., and POWELL, J., joined. BRENNAN, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 700. POWELL, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, in which BURGER, C. J., joined, and in the dissenting portion of which WHITE and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined, post, p. 704. REHNQUIST, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in Part II of which WHITE, J., joined, post, p. 710.

Garner L. Taylor, Jr., Assistant Attorney General of Arkansas, argued the cause for petitioners. On the brief were Bill Clinton, Attorney General, and Robert Alston Newcomb.

Philip E. Kaplan argued the cause for respondents. With him on the brief were Jack Holt, Jr., Philip E. McMath, Jack [p680] Greenberg, James M. Nabrit III, Charles Stephen Ralston, Stanley Bass, Eric Schnapper, and Lynn Walker.[*]

*   Briefs of amici curiae urging reversal were filed by Evelle J. Younger, Attorney General, Jack R. Winkler, Chief Assistant Attorney General, Edward P. O'Brien, Assistant Attorney General, and Gloria F. DeHart and Patrick G. Golden, Deputy Attorneys General, for the State of California; by Richard C. Turner, Attorney General, Stephen C. Robinson, Special Assistant Attorney General, and Theodore R. Boecker and Frederick M. Haskins, Assistant Attorneys General, for the State of Iowa; and by Robert P. Kane, Attorney General, and Melvin R. Shuster and J. Justin Blewitt, Jr., Deputy Attorneys General, for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Briefs of amici curiae urging affirmance were filed by Solicitor General McCree, Assistant Attorney General Days, Walter W. Barnett, and Dennis J. Dimsey for the United States; by Bruce J. Ennis, Burt Neuborne, and Richard Emery for the American Civil Liberties Union et al.; and by Charles A. Bane, Thomas D. Barr, Armand Derfner, Paul R. Dimond, Norman Redlich, Robert A. Murphy, Norman J. Chachkin, Richard S. Kohn, David M. Lipman, and William E. Caldwell for the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

Briefs of amici curiae were filed by A. F. Summer, Attorney General, and P. Roger Googe, Jr., and Peter M. Stockett, Jr., Assistant Attorneys General, for the State of Mississippi; and by John L. Hill, Attorney General, David M. Kendall, First Assistant Attorney General, and Joe B. Dibrell, Richel Rivers, and Nancy Simonson, Assistant Attorneys General, for the State of Texas.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).

Public domainPublic domainfalsefalse