In 2001, in Buckhannon Board and Care Home, Inc. v. West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, the Supreme Court of the United States eliminated the catalyst theory from the definition of prevailing party in relation to two federal statutes. In doing so, the Court severely restricted the opportunities for plaintiffs to collect attorney's fees from defendants who change their behavior to meet the plaintiffs' claims without fully adjudicating those claims. This Note examines the history of the catalyst theory and prevailing party decisions, as well as the impact of Buckhannon on fee-shifting, and argues that a permanent rejection of the catalyst theory would dramatically chill the vindication of civil and environmental rights by plaintiffs facing costly litigation. This Note concludes that Congress should enact legislation that preserves the catalyst theory and that, in the meantime, courts should distinguish the fee-shifting provisions at issue in Buckhannon and thus preserve the catalyst theory in other statutory contexts.
Kyle A. Loring, The Catalyst Theory Meets the Supreme Court-Common Sense Takes a Vacation, 43 B.C.L. Rev. 973 (2002), https://lawdigitalcommons.bc.edu/bclr/vol43/iss4/5