Touro Law Review
In 2001, the United States Supreme Court decided Buckhannon Board & Care Home, Inc. v. West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, which destroyed the so-called catalyst theory. The catalyst theory refers to the bringing of a lawsuit, but prior to the conclusion of the suit, the defendant settles with the plaintiff according to the plaintiffs basic original demand for relief. Every circuit except the Fourth Circuit had held that if you are a catalyst for a change in the defendant's conduct, you "prevailed" in the suit. Therefore, the plaintiff should be entitled to legal fees. In Buckhannon, the Court confirmed that a party must prevail in order to be entitled to legal fees, and a voluntary change by the defendant does not establish the legal requirement for obtaining fees. In other words, a party must obtain an enforceable judgment or a consent decree, which is the functional equivalent of a judgment, before it will be considered a prevailing party relative to fees.
The Effect of Buckhannon on the Awarding of Attorney Fees, 19 Touro L. Rev. 607
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