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Law School Case Brief

W. Va. Univ. Hosps. v. Casey - 499 U.S. 83, 111 S. Ct. 1138 (1991)


28 U.S.C.S. § 1821(b) limits the witness fees authorized by 28 U.S.C.S. § 1920(3) as follows: a witness shall be paid an attendance fee of $ 30 per day for each day's attendance; a witness shall also be paid the attendance fee for the time necessarily occupied in going to and returning from the place of attendance. When a prevailing party seeks reimbursement for fees paid to its own expert witnesses, a federal court is bound by the limits of 28 U.S.C.S. § 1821(b), absent contract or explicit statutory authority to the contrary. 42 U.S.C.S. § 1988 conveys no authority to shift expert fees. When experts appear at trial, they are of course eligible for the fee provided by 28 U.S.C.S. §§ 1920 and 1821.


A corporation which operated a hospital in West Virginia near the Pennsylvania border unsuccessfully objected to new Medicaid reimbursement schedules proposed by Pennsylvania's Department of Public Welfare for services provided by the hospital to Pennsylvania residents. After exhausting administrative remedies, the corporation filed suit under 42 USCS 1983, naming the Governor of Pennsylvania and various other state officials as defendants and alleging that the proposed reimbursement schedules violated federal constitutional and statutory law. Counsel for the corporation employed an accounting firm and three doctors specializing in hospital finance to assist in the preparation of the suit and to testify at trial. The district court ruled in favor of the corporation and awarded the corporation attorneys' fees under 42 USCS 1988 in the amount of $ 500,000, including $ 104,133 attributable to expert services. The government appealed the judgment on the merits and the fee award. On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed in part on the merits, but vacated the district court's judgment with regard to attorneys' fees insofar as it granted expert witness fees in excess of the $ 30 per day. The corporation appealed.


Are fees for services rendered by experts in civil rights litigation properly shifted to the losing party under 42 USCS 1988?




The United States Supreme Court examined various federal statutes that awarded fees and sought to ascertain whether expert fees were part of attorney's fees. The Court concluded that attorney's fees and expert fees were distinct items of expense and that 42 U.S.C.S. § 1988 gave no authority to shift expert fees, as experts were eligible for limited fees per 28 U.S.C.S. §§ 1920 and 1821. The Court affirmed the appeals court judgment.

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