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West Virginia Univ. Hospitals, Inc. v. Casey (89-994), 499 U.S. 83 (1991)


certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the third circuit

No. 89-994. Argued October 9, 1990 -- Decided March 19, 1991

After petitioner West Virginia University Hospitals, Inc. (WVUH), prevailed at trial in its suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 against respondent Pennsylvania officials over medicaid reimbursement rates for services provided Pennsylvania residents, the District Court awarded fees pursuant to 1988, which, inter alia, gives the court in certain civil rights suits discretion to allow the prevailing party "a reasonable attorney's fee as part of the costs." WVUH's award included fees attributable to an accounting firm and three doctors specializing in hospital finance hired to assist in the preparation of the suit and to testify. The Court of Appeals affirmed as to the merits, but reversed as to the expert fees, disallowing them except to the extent that they fell within the $30-per-day fees for witnesses provided by 28 U.S.C. 1920(3) and 1821(b).

Held: Fees for services rendered by experts in civil rights litigation may not be shifted to the losing party as part of "a reasonable attorney's fee" under 1988. Pp. 2-18.

(a) Sections 1920 and 1821(b) define the full extent of a federal court's power to shift expert fees, whether testimonial or nontestimonial, absent "explicit statutory authority to the contrary." Crawford Fitting Co. v. J. T. Gibbons, Inc., 482 U.S. 437, 439; see id., at 441. This Court will not lightly infer that Congress has repealed those sections through a pro- vision like 1988 that does not refer explicitly to witness fees. See id., at 445. Pp. 2-4. 

(b) Statutory usage before, during, and after 1976 (the date of 1988's enactment) did not regard the phrase "attorney's fees" as embracing fees for experts' services. Pp. 4-8.

(c) At the time of 1988's enactment, judicial usage did not regard the phrase "attorney's fees" as including experts' fees. Pp. 8-13. 

(d) Where, as here, a statute contains a phrase that is unambiguous, this Court's sole function is to enforce it according to its terms. See, e. g., United States v. Ron Pair Enterprises, Inc., 489 U.S. 235, 241. Although chronology and the remarks of some sponsors of the bill that became 1988 suggest that it was viewed as a response to Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. v. Wilderness Society, 421 U.S. 240 (1975), the text of 1988 is both broader and narrower than the pre-Alyeska regime. The best evidence of congressional purpose is the statutory text, which can- not be expanded or contracted by the statements of individual legislators or committees during the enactment process. WVUH's argument that Congress would have included expert fees in 1988 if it had thought about it, as it did in the EAJA, and that this Court has a duty to ask how Congress would have decided had it actually considered the question, profoundly mistakes the Court's role with respect to unambiguous statutory terms. See Iselin v. United States, 270 U.S. 245, 250-251. Pp. 13-18.

885 F. 2d 11, affirmed.

Scalia, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Rehnquist, C. J., and White, O'Connor, Kennedy, and Souter, JJ., joined. Marshall, J., filed a dissenting opinion. Stevens, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Marshall and Blackmun, JJ., joined. Next Page ->


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