Washington Law Review


Ingrid Holmlund


The Clean Air Act (the Act) provides that in a suit for judicial review of an agency action under the Act, "the court may award costs of litigation (including reasonable attorney and expert witness fees) whenever it determines that such [an] award is appropriate." In Ruckelshaus v. Sierra Club, the United States Supreme Court held that this language permits an award of attorneys' fees only to parties who prevail on the merits. In a footnote, the Court extended its holding to sixteen other statutes with identical provisions. This Note will evaluate the soundness of the Supreme Court's holding in Ruckelshaus. Part I describes the fee awards provisions in the Clean Air Act and identifies the basic considerations behind fee awards. Part I then reviews the Supreme Court's analysis in Ruckelshaus v. Sierra Club of the validity of fee-shifting to nonprevailing parties. Part III presents an evaluation of the Court's decision. It examines the Court's use of the legislative history of the Clean Air Act, the general effectiveness of the Court's holding, and the soundness of its extension to other statutes. In Part IVA, a more effective standard for fee awards under section 307(f) is proposed and assessed in terms of the basic fee-shifting considerations. Finally, Part IVB applies this standard to Ruckelshaus, and concludes that there was a reasonable basis for fee awards to the Sierra Club and the EDF.

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