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Southeast Legal Defense Group v. Adams

ELR Citation: 7 ELR 20795
Nos. No. 72-612, 436 F. Supp. 891/10 ERC 1807/(D. Or., 09/06/1977)

The court holds that plaintiffs who prevailed in a suit challenging approval of the location of the proposed Mt. Hood Freeway are entitled to recover attorney fees from the state defendants under the Civil Rights Attorney's Fees Awards Act of 1976 even though their claims of civil rights violations were dismissed as moot. The Awards Act is applicable to cases such as this one which were pending on the date of its enactment. An examination of the Act's provisions and legislative history shows that it was not intended to create an exception to the rule prohibiting attorney fees awards against the federal government established by 28 U.S.C. §2412. Congress may, however, as part of its enforcement power under §5 of the Fourteenth Amendment, authorize an attorney fees award against a state without violating the Eleventh Amendment, and passage of the Awards Act clearly represents an exercise of that power. The legislative history indicates that Congress intended fee awards to be recoverable under the Act where a "substantial" claim under the civil rights laws is joined with another claim arising out of a common nucleus of operative facts and where plaintiff prevails on the latter claim even though the court declines to rule on the civil rights claim. In this case, plaintiffs' claim of civil rights violations met these criteria and was mooted by the court's ruling that defendants had violated the Federal Highway Act's hearing requirements in deciding on the proposed freeway's location. An award of reasonable attorney fees is therefore appropriate, and the state defendants are given 10 days to submit written objections to the amounts claimed by plaintiffs.

Counsel for Plaintiffs
Charles J. Merten
Mikado Block, 117 S. W. Taylor St., Portland OR 97204
(503) 227-3157

Counsel for Defendants
Jack G. Collins, First Ass't U.S. Attorney
P.O. Box 71, Portland OR 97207
(503) 221-2101

Walter L. Barrie, Ass't Attorney General
408 State Highway Bldg., Salem OR 97310
(503) 378-4400