427 U.S. 1 (1976), 74-6521, Aldinger v. Howard

Docket Nº:No. 74-6521
Citation:427 U.S. 1, 96 S.Ct. 2413, 49 L.Ed.2d 276
Party Name:Aldinger v. Howard
Case Date:June 24, 1976
Court:United States Supreme Court

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427 U.S. 1 (1976)

96 S.Ct. 2413, 49 L.Ed.2d 276




No. 74-6521

United States Supreme Court

June 24, 1976

Argued March 24, 1976




After petitioner had been discharged without a hearing by respondent county treasurer from her job in his office, she brought suit against the treasurer, the respondent county, and other county officers in Federal District Court under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, claiming that her discharge violated her federal constitutional rights and seeking injunctive relief and damages. Jurisdiction over the federal claim was asserted under 28 U.S.C. § 1343(3), which gives federal district courts jurisdiction over "any civil action authorized by law to be commenced by any person" to redress the deprivation, under color of state law, of federal constitutional rights, and pendent jurisdiction was alleged to lie over a state law claim against the county. The District Court dismissed the action as to the county on the ground that, since the county was not suable as a "person" under § 1983, there was no independent basis of jurisdiction over it, and that thus the court had no power to exercise pendent jurisdiction over the claim against the county. On an appeal from this dismissal, the Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held: A fair reading of the language used in § 1343(3), together with the scope of § 1983, under which counties are excluded from the "person[s] " answerable to the

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plaintiff "in an action at law [or] suit in equity" to redress the enumerated deprivations, requires a holding that the joinder of a municipal corporation, like the county here, for purposes of asserting a state law claim not within federal jurisdiction, is without the District Court's statutory jurisdiction. While, with respect to litigation where nonfederal questions or claims were bound up with the federal claim upon which the parties were already in federal court, there is nothing in Art. III's grant of judicial power that prevents adjudication of the nonfederal portions of the parties' dispute, it is quite another thing to permit a nonfederal claim, in turn, to be the basis for [96 S.Ct. 2415] joining a party over whom no independent federal jurisdiction exists, simply because that claim derives from the "common nucleus of operative fact," giving rise to the dispute between the parties to the federal claim. Mine Workers v. Gibbs, 383 U.S. 715, distinguished. The addition of a completely new party under such circumstances would run counter to the well established principle that federal courts, as opposed to state trial courts of general jurisdiction, are courts of limited jurisdiction marked out by Congress. Pp. 6-19.

513 F.2d 1257, affirmed.

REHNQUIST, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and STEWART, WHITE, POWELL, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which MARSHALL and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined, post, p. 19.

REHNQUIST, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case presents the "subtle and complex question with far-reaching implications," alluded to but not answered in Moor v County of Alameda, 411 U.S. 693, 715 (1973), and Philbrook v. Glodgett, 421 U.S. 707, 720 (1975): whether the doctrine of pendent jurisdiction extends to confer jurisdiction over a party as to whom

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no independent basis of federal jurisdiction exists. In this action, where jurisdiction over the main, federal claim against various officials of Spokane County, Wash., was grounded in 28 U.S.C. § 1343(3), the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that pendent jurisdiction was not available to adjudicate petitioner's state law claims against Spokane County, over which party federal jurisdiction was otherwise nonexistent. While noting that its previous holdings to this effect were left undisturbed by Moor, which arose from that Circuit, the Court of Appeals was "not unaware of the widespread rejection" of its position in almost all other Federal Circuits. 513 F.2d 1257, 1261 (1975). We granted certiorari to resolve the conflict on this important question. 423 U.S. 823 (1975). We affirm.


This case arises at the pleading stage, and the allegations in petitioner's complaint are straightforward. Petitioner was hired in 1971 by respondent Howard, the Spokane County treasurer, for clerical work in that office. Two months later, Howard informed petitioner by letter that, although her job performance was "excellent," she would be dismissed, effective two weeks hence, because she was allegedly "living with [her] boy friend." Howard's action, petitioner alleged, was taken pursuant to a state statute which provides that the appointing county officer "may revoke each appointment at pleasure."1 Though a hearing was requested, none was held before or after the effective date of the discharge.

Petitioner's action in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Washington, as embodied in her second amended complaint, claimed principally under

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the Civil Rights Act of 1871, 42 U.S.C. § 1983,2 that the discharge violated her substantive constitutional rights under the First, Ninth, and Fourteenth Amendments, and was procedurally defective under the latter's Due Process Clause. An injunction restraining the dismissal and damages for salary loss were sought against Howard, his wife, the named county commissioners, and the county. Jurisdiction over the federal claim was asserted under 28 U.S.C. § 1343(3),3 and pendent jurisdiction was alleged to lie over the "state law claims against [96 S.Ct. 2416] the parties." As to the county, the state law

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claim was laid to rest on state statutes waiving the county's sovereign immunity and providing for vicarious liability arising out of tortious conduct of its officials. 513 F.2d at 1358. The District Court dismissed the action as to the county on the ground that, since it was not suable as a "person" under § 1983, there was no independent basis of jurisdiction over the county, and thus "this court [has no] power to exercise pendent jurisdiction over the claims against Spokane County." From this final judgment, see Fed.Rule Civ.Proc. 54(b), petitioner appealed.

The Court of Appeals first rejected petitioner's claim that her § 1983 action against the county fell within the District Court's § 1343(3) jurisdiction, as obviously foreclosed by this Court's decisions in Moor, supra, and City of Kenosha v. Bruno, 412 U.S. 507 (1973). Turning to petitioner's pendent jurisdiction argument, the Court of Appeals noted, 513 F.2d at 1260, that the District Court had made no alternative ruling on the "suitability of this case for the discretionary exercise of pendent jurisdiction" under the second part of the rule enunciated in Mine Workers v. Gibbs, 383 U.S. 715, 726-727 (1966). But since this Court in Moor had expressly left undisturbed the Ninth Circuit's refusal to apply pendent jurisdiction over a nonfederal party, the instant panel felt free to apply that rule as set out in Hymer v. Chai, 407 F.2d 136 (CA9 1969), and Moor v. Madigan, 458 F.2d 1217 (CA9 1972), aff'd in part, rev'd in part, 411 U.S. 693 (1973). This kind of case, the Court of Appeals reasoned, presented the "weakest rationale" for extension of Gibbs to pendent parties: (1) The state claims are pressed against a party who would otherwise not be in federal court;4 (2) diversity cases generally present more

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attractive opportunities for exercise of pendent party jurisdiction, since all claims therein, by definition, arise from state law; (3) federal courts should be wary of extending court-created doctrines of jurisdiction to reach parties who are expressly excluded by Congress from liability, and hence federal jurisdiction, in the federal statute sought to be applied to the defendant in the main claim; (4) pendent state law claims arising in a civil rights context will "almost inevitably" involve the federal court in difficult and unsettled questions of state law, with the accompanying potential for jury confusion. 513 F.2d at 1261-1262.


The question whether "pendent" federal jurisdiction encompasses not merely the litigation of additional claims between parties with respect to whom there is federal jurisdiction, but also the joining of additional parties with respect to whom there is no independent basis of federal jurisdiction, has been much litigated in other federal courts5 and much discussed by commentators6 since this Court's decision in Gibbs. [96 S.Ct. 2417] Gibbs, in turn, is the most recent in a long line of our cases dealing with the relationship between the judicial power of the United States and the actual contours of the cases and controversies to which that power is extended by Art. III.

In Osborn v. Bank of the United States, 9 Wheat. 738

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(1824), Mr. Chief Justice Marshall, in his opinion for the Court, addressed the argument that the presence in a federal lawsuit of questions which were not dependent on the construction of a law of the United States prevented the federal court from exercising Art. III jurisdiction, even in a case in which the plaintiff had been authorized by Congress to sue in federal court. Noting that "[t]here is scarcely any case, every part of which depends" upon federal law, id. at 820, the Chief Justice rejected the contention:

If it be a sufficient foundation for jurisdiction that the title or right set up by the party may be defeated by one construction of the constitution or law of the United States and sustained by the opposite construction, provided the facts necessary to support the action be made out, then all the other questions must be decided as incidental to this, which gives that jurisdiction. Those other questions cannot arrest the proceedings. . . .

We think, then, that when a question to which the...

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