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` Cite as: 568 U. S. ____ (2012)
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`Per Curiam
`SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
`
` STEVEN LEFEMINE, DBA COLUMBIA CHRISTIANS
`
`
` FOR LIFE v. DAN WIDEMAN ET AL.
`
`ON PETITION FOR WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED
`
`
`STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FOURTH CIRCUIT
`
`
`No. 12–168. Decided November 5, 2012
`
` PER CURIAM.
`This case concerns the award of attorney’s fees in a suit
`
`
`alleging unconstitutional conduct by government officials.
`
`The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
`held that a plaintiff who secured a permanent injunction
`but no monetary damages was not a “prevailing party”
`under 42 U. S. C. §1988, and so could not receive fees.
`That was error. Because the injunction ordered the de-
`fendant officials to change their behavior in a way that
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`directly benefited the plaintiff, we vacate the Fourth Cir-
`
`cuit’s decision and remand for further proceedings.
`
`
`*
`*
`*
`
`Petitioner Steven Lefemine and members of Columbia
`Christians for Life (CCL) engage in demonstrations in
`
`which they carry pictures of aborted fetuses to protest the
`availability of abortions. On November 3, 2005, Lefemine
`and about 20 other CCL members conducted such a
`demonstration at a busy intersection in Greenwood Coun-
`ty, South Carolina. Citing complaints about the graphic
`signs, a Greenwood County police officer informed Lefem-
`ine that if the signs were not discarded, he would be tick-
`eted for breach of the peace. Lefemine objected, asserting
`that the officer was violating his First Amendment rights,
`but the threat eventually caused him to disband the pro-
`test. See Lefemine v. Davis, 732 F. Supp. 2d 614, 617–619
`
`(SC 2010).
`
`A year later, an attorney for Lefemine sent a letter to
`
`

`
`2
`
`
`LEFEMINE v. WIDEMAN
`
` Per Curiam
`
`Dan Wideman, the sheriff of Greenwood County, inform-
`ing him that the group intended to return to the same site
`
`with the disputed signs. The letter cautioned that further
`interference would cause Lefemine “‘to pursue all avail-
`able legal remedies.’” Id., at 619. Chief Deputy Mike
`Frederick responded that the police had not previously
`violated Lefemine’s rights, and warned that “‘should we
`observe any protester or demonstrator committing the
`same act, we will again conduct ourselves in exactly the
`same manner: order the person(s) to stop or face criminal
`
`sanctions.’” Ibid. Out of fear of those sanctions, the group
`chose not to protest in the county for the next two years.
`
`See ibid.
`
`
`On October 31, 2008, Lefemine filed a complaint under
`42 U. S. C. §1983 against several Greenwood County
`police officers alleging violations of his First Amendment
`rights. Lefemine sought nominal damages, a declaratory
`judgment, a permanent injunction, and attorney’s fees.
`See 732 F. Supp. 2d, at 620. Ruling on the parties’ dueling
`
`motions for summary judgment, the District Court deter-
`mined that the defendants had infringed Lefemine’s
`
`rights. See id., at 620–625. The court therefore perma-
`nently enjoined the defendants “from engaging in content-
`based restrictions on [Lefemine’s] display of graphic signs”
`under similar circumstances.
`Id., at 627. The court,
`however, refused Lefemine’s request for nominal damages,
`finding that the defendants were entitled to qualified
`immunity because the illegality of their conduct was not
`
`clearly established at the time. See ibid. The court as
`
`well denied Lefemine’s request for attorney’s fees under
`§1988, stating that “[u]nder the totality of the facts in this
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`case the award of attorney’s fees is not warranted.” Ibid.
`
`The Fourth Circuit affirmed the denial of attorney’s fees
`on the ground that the District Court’s judgment did
`not make Lefemine a “prevailing party” under §1988. 672
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`3
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`Cite as: 568 U. S. ____ (2012)
`
`
`Per Curiam
`F. 3d 292, 302–303 (2012).* The court reasoned that the
`relief awarded did not “‘alte[r] the relative positions of
`the parties’”: The injunction prohibited only “unlawful, but
`not legitimate, conduct by the defendant[s],” and merely
`“ordered [d]efendants to comply with the law and safe-
`guard [Lefemine’s] constitutional rights in the future. No
`other damages were awarded.” Ibid. Lefemine sought a
`writ of certiorari to review the Fourth Circuit’s determina-
`tion that he was not a prevailing party under §1988.
`
`The Civil Rights Attorney’s Fees Awards Act of 1976, 90
`Stat. 2641, 42 U. S. C. §1988, allows “the prevailing party”
`
`in certain civil rights actions, including suits brought
`under §1983, to recover “a reasonable attorney’s fee.” A
`plaintiff “prevails,” we have held, “when actual relief on
`the merits of his claim materially alters the legal relation-
`ship between the parties by modifying the defendant’s
`
`behavior in a way that directly benefits the plaintiff.”
`
`Farrar v. Hobby, 506 U. S. 103, 111–112 (1992). And we
`have repeatedly held that an injunction or declaratory
`judgment, like a damages award, will usually satisfy that
`
`test. See, e.g., Rhodes v. Stewart, 488 U. S. 1, 4 (1988) (per
`
`curiam).
`
`
`Under these established standards, Lefemine was a
`prevailing party. Lefemine desired to conduct demonstra-
`tions in Greenwood County with signs that the defendant
`police officers had told him he could not carry. He brought
`this suit in part to secure an injunction to protect himself
`from the defendants’ standing threat of sanctions. And he
`succeeded in removing that threat. The District Court
`held that the defendants had violated Lefemine’s rights
`and enjoined them from engaging in similar conduct in the
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`——————
`*The defendants did not appeal the District Court’s judgment that
`they had violated Lefemine’s First Amendment rights, so the Court of
`Appeals took as a given that a violation had occurred. See 672 F. 3d, at
`299, n. 5.
`
`
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`

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`4
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`
`
`LEFEMINE v. WIDEMAN
`
` Per Curiam
`
`future. Contrary to the Fourth Circuit’s view, that ruling
`worked the requisite material alteration in the parties’
`relationship. Before the ruling, the police intended to stop
`Lefemine from protesting with his signs; after the ruling,
`the police could not prevent him from demonstrating
`in that manner. So when the District Court “ordered
`[d]efendants to comply with the law,” 672 F. 3d, at 303,
`the relief given—as in the usual case involving such an
`injunction—supported the award of attorney’s fees.
`Because Lefemine is a “prevailing party,” he “should
`
`ordinarily recover an attorney’s fee unless special circum-
`stances would render such an award unjust.” Hensley v.
`Eckerhart, 461 U. S. 424, 429 (1983) (internal quotation
`marks omitted). Neither of the courts below addressed
`whether any special circumstances exist in this case, and
`we do not do so; whether there may be other grounds on
`which the police officers could contest liability for fees
`is not a question before us. Accordingly, the petition for
`
`
`certiorari is granted, the judgment of the Fourth Circuit is
`vacated, and the case is remanded for further proceedings
`consistent with this opinion.
`
`
`
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`
`
`It is so ordered.

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