The opinion of the court was delivered by: LORD, III
In May, 1981, plaintiffs, low income tenants in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, brought this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 seeking to enjoin defendants' practices of filing, entering, and executing upon confessed judgments for the possession of real property without giving plaintiffs any notice or a reasonable opportunity to defend against such action.
On June 8, 1983, after temporary injunctive relief had been granted and after a long period during which the parties attempted to settle this case, I entered an order granting plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment, holding, in relevant part, that:
Defendants' practices in filing, entering and executing upon confessed judgments without providing an opportunity for a prejudgment entry challenge by tenants [as] to whether the waiver was knowingly and intelligently given violate plaintiffs' rights to due process of and equal protection of law guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
Plaintiffs now move for the award of attorney's fees.
42 U.S.C. § 1988 provides that in civil rights suits, "the court, in its discretion, may allow the prevailing party . . . a reasonable attorney's fee as part of the costs." Attorney's fees should be awarded to a prevailing party unless special circumstances would make such an award unjust. Newman v. Piggie Park Enterprises, Inc., 390 U.S. 400, 402, 88 S. Ct. 964, 966, 19 L. Ed. 2d 1263 (1968).
Defendants do not contend that plaintiffs were not prevailing parties under § 1988. Rather, the defendants contest their liability for and the amount of the attorney's fees.
A. Defendants Dorsey and Taylor
Defendant Dorsey is the director of the Office of Judicial Support of Delaware County and defendant Taylor is the sheriff of Delaware County. These defendants argue that in entering and executing upon confessed judgments they were merely performing ministerial duties in compliance with the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure and thus should not be required to pay attorney's fees.
Good faith compliance with state law does not shield an individual from an award of attorney's fees. In Supreme Court of Virginia v. Consumers Union of the United States, 446 U.S. 719, 100 S. Ct. 1967, 64 L. Ed. 2d 641 (1980), the Supreme Court of Virginia was sued for its role in promulgating, interpreting, and enforcing an allegedly unconstitutional disciplinary rule of the Virginia Code of Professional Responsibility. The United States Supreme Court held that although the Virginia Supreme Court was immune from damages liability for acts performed in its legislative and judicial roles, it was not immune from suit in its enforcement role. Id. at 734-36. In its analysis of the award of attorney's fees, the Court stated at 739:
We are not convinced that it would be unfair to award fees against the State Bar, which by statute is designated as an administrative agency to help enforce the State Bar Code. Fee awards against enforcement officials are run-of-the-mill occurrences, even though, on occasion, had a state legislature acted or reacted in a different or more timely manner, there would have been no need for a lawsuit or an injunction. Nor would we disagree had the District Court awarded fees not only against the Bar but also against the Virginia Court because of its own direct enforcement role.
Defendant Dorsey was responsible for recording judgments entered by confession and defendant Taylor was responsible for executing upon such judgments. It was these actions that I found violative of due process in granting plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment. The fact that defendants may have been performing ministerial functions in good faith compliance with state law does not immunize them from liability for attorney's fees. See, e.g., Coalition for Basic Human Needs v. King, 691 F.2d 597, 602 (1st Cir. 1982); Johnson v. Mississippi, 606 F.2d 635, 637 (5th Cir. 1979); Finberg v. Sullivan, 555 F. Supp. 1068, 1070 (E.D. Pa. 1982), aff'd, 707 F.2d 1390 (3d Cir. 1983). Permitting a good faith defense would frustrate the ...