Burlington v. Dague, 505 U.S. 557, 7 (1992)

Page:   Index   Previous  1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15  Next

Cite as: 505 U. S. 557 (1992)

Opinion of the Court

supra, at 898-899. Taking account of it again through lode-star enhancement amounts to double counting. Delaware Valley II, 483 U. S., at 726-727 (plurality opinion).

The first factor (relative merits of the claim) is not reflected in the lodestar, but there are good reasons why it should play no part in the calculation of the award. It is, of course, a factor that always exists (no claim has a 100% chance of success), so that computation of the lodestar would never end the court's inquiry in contingent-fee cases. See id., at 740 (Blackmun, J., dissenting). Moreover, the consequence of awarding contingency enhancement to take account of this "merits" factor would be to provide attorneys with the same incentive to bring relatively meritless claims as relatively meritorious ones. Assume, for example, two claims, one with underlying merit of 20%, the other of 80%. Absent any contingency enhancement, a contingent-fee attorney would prefer to take the latter, since he is four times more likely to be paid. But with a contingency enhancement, this preference will disappear: the enhancement for the 20% claim would be a multiplier of 5 (100/20), which is quadruple the 1.25 multiplier (100/80) that would attach to the 80% claim. Thus, enhancement for the contingency risk posed by each case would encourage meritorious claims to be brought, but only at the social cost of indiscriminately encouraging nonmeritorious claims to be brought as well. We think that an unlikely objective of the "reasonable fees" provisions. "These statutes were not designed as a form of economic relief to improve the financial lot of lawyers." Delaware Valley I, 478 U. S., at 565.

Instead of enhancement based upon the contingency risk posed by each case, Dague urges that we adopt the approach set forth in the Delaware Valley II concurrence. We decline to do so, first and foremost because we do not see how it can intelligibly be applied. On the one hand, it would require the party seeking contingency enhancement to "establish that without the adjustment for risk [he] 'would have faced


Page:   Index   Previous  1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15  Next

Last modified: October 4, 2007