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Buckhannon Board and Care Home v. West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources

United States Supreme Court
532 U.S. 598 (2001)


West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources (West Virginia) (plaintiff) ordered that the Buckhannon Board and Care Home’s (Buckhannon) (defendant) assisted living facility be closed when it failed an inspection by the fire marshal’s office for failing to meet West Virginia’s “self-preservation” requirement. This required that all residents be capable of moving themselves from situations involving imminent danger, such as fire. Buckhannon sued, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief that the self-preservation requirement violated the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 (FHAA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). West Virginia agreed to stay enforcement of the order pending the resolution of the litigation. However, during the course of the litigation the West Virginia legislature eliminated the self-preservation requirement. West Virginia moved to dismiss the case as moot, and the court granted the motion. Buckhannon then requested attorney’s fees, alleging it was the “prevailing party” under FHAA and ADA, and that, under the “catalyst theory,” a defendant is a "prevailing party" if it achieves the desired result because the lawsuit brought about a voluntary change in the plaintiff’s conduct. The district court denied the motion, noting that the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit had previously rejected the catalyst theory.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Rehnquist, C.J.)

Concurrence (Scalia, J.)

Dissent (Ginsburg, J.)

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