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The Civil Rights Attorney's Fees Awards Act imposes attorney's fees "as part of the costs." Costs have traditionally been awarded without regard for the States' U.S. Const. amend. XI immunity.
After finding that conditions in the Arkansas penal system constituted cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas entered a series of detailed remedial orders. In particular, the court entered an order that placed limits on the number of men that could be confined in one punitive isolation cell, required that each have a bunk, discontinued the isolation cell diet, and set 30 days as the maximum isolation sentence, and the court, finding that prison officials had acted in bad faith in not curing constitutional violations identified earlier, awarded attorney's fees to be paid out of the funds of the state Department of Correction (410 F Supp 251). The Department challenged the 30-day limit and the award of attorney's fees on appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, which affirmed and assessed an additional attorney's fee to cover services on appeal. A writ of certiorari was granted.
Did the substantive protections of the Eleventh Amendment prevent an award of attorney's fees against petitioners in their official capacities?
The Court held that an award of attorney's fees to be paid out of Arkansas funds could be imposed because petitioners had acted in bad faith. The award served the same purpose as a fine imposed for civil contempt. The Court allowed a substantial fee because the allowance could incline petitioners to act in a manner that would preclude further protracted litigation about prison conditions. The Court viewed the attorney's fees as any other penalty imposed to enforce a prospective injunction. Accordingly, the Court held that the substantive protections of the Eleventh Amendment did not prevent an award of attorney's fees against petitioners in their official capacities.