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U.S. Supreme Court

Ruckelshause v. Sierra Club, 463 U.S. 680 (1983)

Ruckelshause v. Sierra Club

No. 82-242

Argued April 25, 1983

Decided July 1, 1983

463 U.S. 680


Section 307(f) of the Clean Air Act provides that in a proceeding for judicial review of an emission standard promulgated under the Act, the court may award reasonable attorney's fees "whenever it determines that such award is appropriate." Respondents filed petitions in the Court of Appeals for review of the Environmental Protection Agency's standards limiting the emission of sulfur dioxide by coal-burning powerplants. The Court of Appeals rejected respondents' claims challenging the validity of the standards. Subsequently, the Court of Appeals granted respondents' request for attorney's fees incurred in the review proceedings, awarding a specified amount to each respondent.

Held: Absent some degree of success on the merits by the claimant, it is not "appropriate" for a federal court to award attorney's fees under § 307(f). Pp. 463 U. S. 682-694.

(a) There is nothing in § 307(f) to indicate that Congress meant to abandon historic fee-shifting principles and intuitive notions of fairness when it enacted that section. Instead, it appears that the term "appropriate" modifies, but does not completely reject, the traditional rule that a fee claimant must "prevail" before it may recover attorney's fees. This result is the most reasonable interpretation of congressional intent. Pp. 463 U. S. 682-686.

(b) The legislative history of § 307(f) does not support respondents' argument that the section was intended as a radical departure from the traditional rule. Moreover, the relation between § 307(f) and § 304(d), which, like § 307(f), provides for the award of attorney's fees when "appropriate," refutes respondents' argument, since, if that argument were accepted, it would mean that in an unsuccessful suit brought under § 304 by a private citizen against a private business for alleged violations of the Clean Air Act, the winning defendant could be required to pay the losing plaintiff's attorney's fees, a result which Congress certainly did not intend. Pp. 463 U. S. 686-693.

217 U.S.App.D.C. 180, 672 F.2d 33, and 221 U.S.App.D.C. 450, 684 F.2d 972, reversed.

Page 463 U. S. 681

REHNQUIST, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J.,and WHITE, POWELL, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN, MARSHALL, and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined, post, p. 463 U. S. 694.

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