OCTOBER TERM, 1998
certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the sixth circuit
No. 98-262. Argued March 30, 1999—Decided June 21, 1999
Respondent prisoners filed two federal class actions in 1977 and 1980 against petitioner prison officials challenging the conditions of confinement in the Michigan prison system under 42 U. S. C. § 1983. By 1987, the plaintiffs had prevailed in both suits, the District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan had ruled them entitled to attorney's fees under § 1988 for postjudgment monitoring of the defendants' compliance with remedial decrees, systems were established for awarding those fees on a semiannual basis, and the District Court had established specific market rates for awarding fees. By April 26, 1996, the effective date of the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (PLRA), the prevailing market rate in both cases was $150 per hour. However, § 803(d)(3) of the PLRA, 42 U. S. C. § 1997e(d)(3), limits the size of fees that may be awarded to attorneys who litigate prisoner lawsuits. In the Eastern District, those fees are capped at 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, and the Sixth Circuit affirmed. Fee requests next were filed in both cases for services performed between January 1, 1996, and June 30, 1996, a period encompassing work performed both before and after the PLRA's effective date. In nearly identical orders, the District Court reiterated its earlier conclusion that the PLRA does not limit fees for work performed before April 26, 1996, but concluded that the PLRA cap does limit fees for services performed after that date. The Sixth Circuit consolidated the appeals from these orders, and, as relevant here, affirmed in part and reversed in part. It held that the PLRA's fee limitation does not apply to cases pending on the enactment date. If it did, the court held, it would have an impermissible retroactive effect, regardless of when the work was performed.
Held: Section 803(d)(3) limits attorney's fees for postjudgment monitoring services performed after the PLRA's effective date, but does not limit fees for monitoring performed before that date. Pp. 352-362.
(a) Whether the PLRA applies to cases pending when it was enacted depends on whether Congress has expressly prescribed the statute's
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