In numerous federal environmental statutes, Congress gave plaintiffs the right to recover attorneys' fees when the court finds them "appropriate." In Ruckleshaus v. Sierra Club, the United States Supreme Court held that it was only "appropriate" to grant attorneys' fees when the plaintiff had at least partially prevailed on the merits. The decision ignored both the important role environmental groups play in the interpretation and development of regulatory programs through litigation and the ability of the lower courts to determine when attorneys' fees were "appropriate." The Court, instead, focused on the adversarial nature of such groups and the traditional American common law notions regarding attorneys' fees awards. The effect of the decision is to hamper the efforts of environmental groups by placing economic and psychological barriers in the path of any future actions.
Jeanne A. Taylor
Ruckleshaus v. Sierra Club: Muddying the Waters of Fee-Shifting in Federal Environmental Litigation ,
11 Pepp. L. Rev.
Available at: http://digitalcommons.pepperdine.edu/plr/vol11/iss2/5