Seventh Circuit Review


According to the “American rule,” litigants must bear their own litigation costs, including attorneys’ fees, absent statutory authorization allowing otherwise. With the emergence of fee-shifting provisions in various statutes, particularly in the area of civil rights, a court may award a prevailing party its attorneys’ fees and other costs. Deciding whether a party prevailed for purposes of a fee-shifting statute, however, requires courts to engage in an analysis of the benefit the plaintiff has received from his judgment. Recently, in Karraker v. Rent-A-Center, the Seventh Circuit held that a plaintiff class prevailed for purposes of the American with Disabilities Act's fee-shifting provision where it obtained an injunction ordering Rent-A-Center to find and destroy prohibited medical examination results. Although the Seventh Circuit failed to apply the prevailing party standard correctly as formulated by the Supreme Court, the Seventh Circuit ultimately reached the correct conclusion in holding that the plaintiffs had prevailed. This Note will argue that the Supreme Court should create a per se rule that plaintiffs that have obtained a final judgment against the defendants, such as the plaintiff class in Karraker, should automatically be considered a prevailing party for three reasons. First, the per se rule will be more efficient in resolving fee-shifting litigation. Second, the rule is consistent with Congress’ private attorney general rationale underlying fee-shifting provisions in civil rights statutes. Third, the per se rule is a logical and incremental extension of the current Supreme Court precedent deciding whether a plaintiff has prevailed.

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