Washington Law Review


Richard Gans


In 1976, Congress enacted the Civil Rights Attorney's Fees Awards Act, amending 42 U.S.C. § 1988. Section 1988 authorizes courts to award attorney's fees to claimants who prevail in actions or proceedings to enforce civil rights under any of the laws enumerated in the Section. In North Carolina Department of Transportation v. Crest Street Community Council, Inc., the United States Supreme Court for the first time addressed the issue of whether a party may seek attorney's fees in a court action apart from the action or proceeding in which the party seeks to enforce civil rights. Justice O'Connor, writing for the six-member majority, concluded that pursuant to an interpretation of the legislative history and the "plain language" of section 1988, a court may award attorney's fees only in a court action to enforce a substantive civil rights statute. An independent action for attorney's fees may not, therefore, be asserted apart from a civil rights action.

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