Martin, Director, Michigan Dept. of Corrections, et al. v. Hadix et al.
Decided on June 21, 1999; 527 US 343


A. Issues Discussed:  Criminal justice (prison), attorney’s fees, prisoners’ rights 

B. Legal Question Presented:

Does the federal Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (PLRA) limit an attorney's fees for post-judgment monitoring services that were pending when the PLRA became effective?

A. Background:
Everett Hadix and other prisoners in the Michigan prison system filed a lawsuit against prison officials claiming that the conditions of their confinement violated the Due Process Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The prisoners prevailed in their suit and the District Court ruled that Hadix was entitled to attorney's fees for post-judgment monitoring. The court established specific market rates for awarding fees. By April 26, 1996, the effective date of the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (PLRA), the market rate was $150 per hour. The PLRA limited the size of fees that may be awarded to attorneys who litigate prisoner lawsuits to a maximum hourly rate of $112.50. When first presented with the issue, the District Court concluded that the PLRA cap did not limit attorney's fees for services performed in these cases prior to, but that were still unpaid by, the PLRA's effective date. The Court of Appeals affirmed. Subsequently, fee requests were filed for services performed during a period encompassing work performed both before and after the PLRA's effective date. The District Court reiterated its earlier conclusion in two orders. The Sixth Circuit Court consolidated the appeals from these orders, ruling that the PLRA's fee limitation does not apply to cases pending on the enactment date because if it did, it would have an impermissible retroactive effect, regardless of when the work was performed.
The US Supreme Court granted certiorari to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.
B. Counsel of Record:
Opposing Side
Deborah LaBelle argued the case for the respondents. With her on the briefs was Jeffrey D. Dillman.
Thomas L. Casey, Solicitor General of Michigan, argued the case for the petitioners. With him on the briefs were Jennifer M. Granholm, Attorney General; Frank J. Kelley, former Attorney General; and Leo H. Friedman and Mark W. Matus, Assistant Attorneys General.
C. The Arguments:
Opposing Side
Unavailable Unavailable
Opposing Side
Elizabeth Alexander, Donna H. Lee, Eric Balaban, Steven R. Shapiro, and Kary L. Moss filed a brief for the American Civil Liberties Union et al. as amici curiae urging affirmance but that the cap on fees should only apply to post-PLRA cases. A brief of amici curiae urging reversal was filed for the State of Ohio, et al. by Betty D. Montgomery, Attorney General of Ohio; and Stuart W. Harris and Todd R. Marti, Assistant Attorneys General; by L. A. Prager, Corporation Counsel of the District of Columbia; and by the Attorneys General for their respective jurisdictions as follows: Bill Pryor of Alabama, Bruce M. Botelho of Alaska, Grant Woods of Arizona, Daniel E. Lungren of California, M. Jane Brady of Delaware, Robert A. Butterworth of Florida, Thurbert E. Baker of Georgia, Robert H. Kono of Guam, Margery S. Bronster of Hawaii, Alan G. Lance of Idaho, Jim Ryan of Illinois, Jeffrey A. Modisett of Indiana, Tom Miller of Iowa, Carla J. Stovall of Kansas, Richard P. Ieyoub of Louisiana, J. Joseph Curran, Jr., of Maryland, Scott Harshbarger of Massachusetts, Hubert H. Humphrey III of Minnesota, Mike Moore of Mississippi, Joseph P. Mazurek of Montana, Don Stenberg of Nebraska, Frankie Sue Del Papa of Nevada, Peter Verniero of New Jersey, Dennis C. Vacco of New York, Michael F. Easley of North Carolina, W. A. Drew Edmondson of Oklahoma, Hardy Myers of Oregon, D. Michael Fisher of Pennsylvania, Jeffrey B. Pine of Rhode Island, Charles M. Condon of South Carolina, Mark Barnett of South Dakota, John Knox Walkup of Tennessee, Jan Graham of Utah, William H. Sorrell of Vermont, Mark L. Earley of Virginia, Christine O. Gregoire of Washington, and Darrell V. McGraw of West Virginia.

"For post-judgment monitoring performed before the effective date of the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (PLRA), the PLRA’s attorney’s fees provisions… would have a retroactive effect contrary to the usual assumption that congressional statutes are prospective in operation… The District Court entered orders establishing that the fees were to be awarded at prevailing market rates, and specifically set those rates… Thus, when the lawyers provided these post-judgment monitoring services before the enactment of the PLRA, they worked in reasonable reliance on this fee schedule… To give effect to the PLRA’s fees limitations, after the fact, would 'attac[h] new legal consequences' to completed conduct...

With respect to post-judgment monitoring performed after the effective date of the PLRA, by contrast, there is no retroactivity problem. On April 26, 1996, through the PLRA, the plaintiffs’ attorneys were on notice that their hourly rate had been adjusted. From that point forward, they would be paid at a rate consistent with the dictates of the law. After April 26, 1996, any expectation of compensation at the pre-PLRA rates was unreasonable. There is no manifest injustice in telling an attorney performing post-judgment monitoring services that, going forward, she will earn a lower hourly rate than she had earned in the past. If the attorney does not wish to perform services at this new, lower pay rate, she can choose not to work. In other words, as applied to work performed after the effective date of the PLRA, the PLRA has future effect on future work; this does not raise retroactivity concerns...

We conclude that the PLRA contains no express command about its temporal scope. Because we find that the PLRA, if applied to post-judgment monitoring services performed before the effective date of the Act, would have a retroactive effect inconsistent with our assumption that statutes are prospective, in the absence of an express command by Congress to apply the Act retroactively, we decline to do so... With respect to post-judgment monitoring performed after the effective date, by contrast, there is no retroactive effect, and the PLRA fees cap applies to such work. Accordingly, the judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is affirmed in part and reversed in part.”
Justice Vote: 2 Pro vs. 7 Con

  • O’Connor, S. Con (Wrote majority opinion)
  • Rehnquist, W. Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • Kennedy, A. Con (Joined majority opinion, dissenting only on part II-B)
  • Souter, D. Con (Joined majority opinion) Thomas, C. Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • Breyer, S. Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • Scalia, A. Con (Wrote concurring opinion)
  • Ginsburg, R. Pro (Joined majority opinion, concurring in part and dissenting in part)
  • Stevens, J. Pro (Joined majority opinion, concurring in part and dissenting in part)

The ACLU filed as amicus urging affirmance but arguing that the cap on fees should only apply to post-PLRA cases; the Supreme Court affirmed in part but also reversed in part the ruling of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in a 7-2 vote, holding that PLRA's cap on fees does apply to work after April 1996, even if the underlying case was filed long before PLRA's enactment, giving the ACLU an apparent loss.