Key Tronic Corp. v. United States, 511 U.S. 809, 11 (1994)

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Cite as: 511 U. S. 809 (1994)

Opinion of the Court

strongly suggest a deliberate decision not to authorize such awards.

Third, we believe it would stretch the plain terms of the phrase "enforcement activities" too far to construe it as encompassing the kind of private cost recovery action at issue in this case. Though we offer no comment on the extent to which that phrase forms the basis for the Government's recovery of attorney's fees through 107, the term "enforcement activity" is not sufficiently explicit to embody a private action under 107 to recover cleanup costs.12 Given our adherence to a general practice of not awarding fees to a prevailing party absent explicit statutory authority, Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. v. Wilderness Society, 421 U. S., at 262, we conclude that CERCLA 107 does not provide for the award of private litigants' attorney's fees associated with bringing a cost recovery action.13


The conclusion we reach with respect to litigation-related fees does not signify that all payments that happen to be made

12 That characterization undeniably applies to citizen suits brought by private parties under 310 seeking affirmative relief. Significantly, Congress expressly authorized fee awards in such cases. See 42 U. S. C. 9659(f).

13 In concluding that a private party may not recover attorney's fees arising from the litigation of a private recovery action, the Tenth Circuit observed: "We simply cannot agree with those courts that find an explicit authorization for the award of litigation fees from the fact that response costs include related enforcement activities. We recognize that CERCLA is designed to encourage private parties to assume the financial responsibility of cleanup by allowing them to seek recovery from others. It may be true that awarding the litigation fees incurred in that recovery would further this goal. Nonetheless, the efficacy of an exception to the American rule is a policy decision that must be made by Congress, not the courts. The desirability of a fee-shifting provision cannot substitute for the express authorization mandated by the Supreme Court." FMC Corp v. Aero Industries, Inc., 998 F. 2d 842, 847 (1993) (citing Alyeska, 421 U. S., at 263-264).


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