needed to pay the Pleasant Manor rate increases. The plaintiffs, however, were never given this assurance. Indeed, on October 27th, the Commonwealth defendant advised the plaintiffs that settlement was not possible. However, one day prior to the hearing on the preliminary injunction, which this Court had scheduled for November 3, 1988, the plaintiffs were advised for the first time that additional funding was forthcoming from the Commonwealth defendant and that the County defendants agreed to use these funds to pay the rate increase at Pleasant Manor. As heretofore pointed out, the settlement was presented the following morning to the Court.
The threshold inquiry for the Court when presented with an application for attorney's fees in a civil rights action is whether the claimant qualifies as a "prevailing party." The Third Circuit has stated in discussing fee awards under 42 U.S.C. § 1988 that the Court must look to the substance of the litigation's outcome to determine the "prevailing party." Ross v. Horn, 598 F.2d 1312, 1322 (3d Cir. 1979), cert. denied, 448 U.S. 906, 100 S. Ct. 3048, 65 L. Ed. 2d 1136 (1980). A claimant may be a "prevailing party" although the litigation ended in settlement. See Maher v. Gagne, 448 U.S. 122, 100 S. Ct. 2570, 2574, 65 L. Ed. 2d 653 (1980); accord, Hewitt v. Helms, 482 U.S. 755, 107 S. Ct. 2672, 2675, 96 L. Ed. 2d 654 (1987).
The test for "prevailing party" status entails a two-fold inquiry. The first part of the test "is whether plaintiff achieved some of the benefit sought by the party bringing the suit." Institutionalized Juveniles v. Secretary of Public Welfare, 758 F.2d 897, 910 (3d Cir. 1985) (quoting NAACP v. Wilmington Medical Center, Inc., 689 F.2d 1161, 1167 (3d Cir. 1982, cert. denied, 460 U.S. 1052, 103 S. Ct. 1499, 75 L. Ed. 2d 930 (1983)). The second part of this test is whether the "litigation 'constituted a material contributing factor in bringing about the events that resulted in the obtaining of the desired relief.'" Institutionalized Juveniles, 758 F.2d at 916 (quoting Sullivan v. Commonwealth of Pa. Dep't of Labor & Indus., 663 F.2d 443, 452 (3d Cir. 1981), cert. denied, 455 U.S. 1020, 102 S. Ct. 1716, 72 L. Ed. 2d 138 (1982)).
The parties to this lawsuit agree that the plaintiffs achieved all of the relief sought, namely, the prevention of their eviction and the continued funding of their habilitation at Pleasant Manor. The first part of the prevailing party test has therefore been met. The Commonwealth defendant claims that there is no causal connection between this litigation and the relief obtained by the settlement.
The plaintiffs' lawsuit need not be the sole cause of the defendants' action. See Morrison v. Ayoob, 627 F.2d 669, 671 (3d Cir. 1980) (per curiam), cert. denied, 449 U.S. 1102, 66 L. Ed. 2d 828, 101 S. Ct. 898 (1981). In addition, as stated by the Third Circuit in Wilmington Medical Center, 689 F.2d at 1169, the district court must "apply the most expansive definition of causation." This Court must determine whether the plaintiffs' lawsuit is causally linked to the relief obtained.
The Court has carefully reviewed all the evidence submitted on the issue of causation. The timing and content of the settlement is significant. Although the defendants had expressed sympathy for the plight of the retarded plaintiffs, the parents were always advised that nothing could be done for their retarded loved ones because funds were not available. The County defendants took the position that it was the Commonwealth's duty to provide the funding. The Commonwealth defendant took the position that no additional funding was available. At no time were the plaintiffs advised of the possibility that the Commonwealth defendant might procure additional funding which would resolve the crisis.
The Commonwealth defendant made his first move towards settlement on the day prior to the hearing on plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction. The injunction sought by the plaintiffs, if granted by the Court, would have compelled the Commonwealth defendant to obtain the funds needed by the County defendants to pay Pleasant Manor. The settlement agreement submitted to the Court on the day of the hearing provided for the Commonwealth defendant to provide additional funds to the County defendants and the County defendants agreed to pay the Pleasant Manor rate increase. On the basis of evidence presented to this Court in this litigation and the terms of the settlement agreement between the plaintiffs and the defendants, this Court finds that a causal connection exists between this litigation and the relief obtained by the settlement. The litigation was a material factor in bringing about the relief obtained by the plaintiffs.
The Commonwealth defendant contends that the relief obtained by the plaintiffs resulted from the happenstance that the Governor signed Act 55A and that the Commonwealth defendant had nothing whatsoever to do with it. As the Commonwealth defendant states in the brief, "the relief plaintiffs sought was not obtained from Secretary White as a result of this litigation. Again, it was obtained via the Governor's appropriation of supplemental funding . . . ." Commonwealth Defendant's Reply Brief to Plaintiffs' Motion for Attorney's Fees, at 10. This position is so extraordinary and improbable that it is unworthy of belief. This Court is well aware, and I am sure that the Secretary of Public Welfare is well aware, that Section 201 of the Mental Health and Mental Retardation Act of 1966 ("MH/MR Act") specifically states that the Department of Public Welfare "shall have the power, and its duty shall be: (1) To assure within the State the availability . . . of adequate mental retardation services for all persons who need them . . . ." 50 P.S. § 4201(1). As Secretary of D.P.W., the Commonwealth defendant was mandated to act and did act to fulfill his obligation to the plaintiffs in settling this case.
In concluding that the plaintiffs are entitled to an award of reasonable attorney's fees and costs the Court has considered Justice Powell's observation in Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 103 S. Ct. 1933, 76 L. Ed. 2d 40 (1983):
In enacting § 1988, Congress rejected the traditional assumption that private choices whether to litigate, compromise, or forego a potential claim will yield a socially desirable level of enforcement as far as the enumerated civil rights statutes are concerned.
All of these civil rights laws depend heavily upon private enforcement, and fee awards have proved an essential remedy if private citizens are to have a meaningful opportunity to vindicate the important Congressional policies which these laws contain.