439 U.S. 60 (1978), 77-515, Holt Civic Club v. City of Tuscaloosa

Docket Nº:No. 77-515
Citation:439 U.S. 60, 99 S.Ct. 383, 58 L.Ed.2d 292
Party Name:Holt Civic Club v. City of Tuscaloosa
Case Date:November 28, 1978
Court:United States Supreme Court

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439 U.S. 60 (1978)

99 S.Ct. 383, 58 L.Ed.2d 292

Holt Civic Club


City of Tuscaloosa

No. 77-515

United States Supreme Court

Nov. 28, 1978

Argued October 11, 1978




Appellants, a civic association and certain individual residents of Holt, Ala., a small unincorporated community outside the corporate limits of Tuscaloosa but within three miles thereof, brought this statewide class action challenging the constitutionality of "police jurisdiction" statutes that extend municipal police, sanitary, and business licensing powers over those residing within three miles of certain corporate boundaries without permitting such residents to vote in municipal elections. A three-judge District Court granted appellees' motion to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted.


1. The convening of a three-judge court under then-applicable 28 U.S.C. § 2281 (1970 ed.) was proper, since appellants challenged the constitutionality of [99 S.Ct. 385] state statutes that created a statewide system under which Alabama cities exercise extraterritorial powers. Moody v. Flowers, 387 U.S. 97, distinguished. Pp. 63-65.

2. Alabama's police jurisdiction statutes do not violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Pp. 66-75.

(a) A government unit may legitimately restrict the right to participate in its political processes to those who reside within its borders. Various voting qualification decisions on which appellants rely in support of their contention that the denial of the franchise to them can stand only if justified by a compelling state interest are inapposite. In those cases, unlike the situation here, the challenged statutes disfranchised individuals who physically resided within the geographical boundaries of the governmental entity concerned. Pp. 66-70.

(b) Alabama's police jurisdiction statutory scheme is a rational legislative response to the problems faced by the State's burgeoning cities, and the legislature has a legitimate interest in ensuring that residents of areas adjoining city borders be provided such basic municipal services as police, fire, and health protection. Nor is it unreasonable for the legislature to require police jurisdiction residents to contribute through license fees, as they do here on a reduced scale, to the expense of such services. Pp. 70-75.

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3. The challenged statutes do not violate due process, since appellants have no constitutional right to vote in Tuscaloosa elections. P. 75.


REHNQUIST, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and STEWART, BLACKMUN, POWELL, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. STEVENS, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 75. BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which WHITE and MARSHALL, JJ., joined, post, p. 79.

REHNQUIST, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.

Holt is a small, largely rural, unincorporated community located on the northeastern outskirts of Tuscaloosa, the fifth largest city in Alabama. Because the community is within the three-mile police jurisdiction circumscribing Tuscaloosa's corporate limits, its residents are subject to the city's "police [and] sanitary regulations." Ala.Code § 11-40-10 (1975).1 Holt residents are also subject to the criminal jurisdiction of the city's court, Ala.Code § 12-14-1 (1975)2 and to the city's

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power to license businesses, trades, and professions, Ala.Code § 11-51-91 (175).3 Tuscaloosa, however, may collect from businesses in the police jurisdiction only one-half [99 S.Ct. 386] of the license fee chargeable to similar businesses conducted within the corporate limits. Ibid.

In 1973, appellants, an unincorporated civic association and seven individual residents of Holt, brought this statewide class action in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama4 challenging the constitutionality of these Alabama statutes. They claimed that the city's extraterritorial exercise of police powers over Holt residents, without a concomitant extension of the franchise on an equal footing with those residing within the corporate limits, denies residents

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of the police jurisdiction rights secured by the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. The District Court denied appellants' request to convene a three-judge court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2281 (1970 ed.) and dismissed the complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. Characterizing the Alabama statutes as enabling Acts, the District Court held that the statutes lack the requisite statewide application necessary to convene a three-judge District Court. On appeal, the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ordered the convening of a three-judge court, finding that the police jurisdiction statute embodies "`a policy of statewide concern.'" Holt Civic Club v. Tuscaloosa, 525 F.2d 653, 655 (1975), quoting Spielman Motor Sales Co. v. Dodge, 295 U.S. 89, 94 (1935).

A three-judge District Court was convened, but appellants' constitutional claims fared no better on the merits. Noting that appellants sought a declaration that extraterritorial regulation is unconstitutional per se, rather than ar extension of the franchise to police jurisdiction residents, the District Court held simply that "[e]qual protection has not been extended to cover such contention." App. to Juris.Statement 2a. The court rejected appellants' due process claim without comment. Accordingly, appellees' motion to dismiss was granted.

Unsure whether appellants' constitutional attack on the Alabama statutes satisfied the requirements of 28 U.S.C. § 2281 (1970 ed.) for convening a three-judge district court, we postponed consideration of the jurisdictional issue until the hearing of the case on the merits. 435 U.S. 914 (1978). We now conclude that the three-judge court was properly convened, and that appellants' constitutional claims were properly rejected.


Before its repeal,5 28 U.S.C. § 2281 (1970 ed.) required that a three-judge district court be convened in any case in

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which a preliminary or permanent injunction was sought to restrain

the enforcement, operation or execution of any State statute by restraining the action of any officer of such State in the enforcement or execution of such statute. . . .

Our decisions have interpreted § 2281 to require the convening of a three-judge district court

where the challenged statute or regulation, albeit created or authorized by a state legislature, has statewide application or effectuates a statewide policy.

Board of Regents v. New Left Education Project, 404 U.S. 541, 542 (1972). Relying on Moody v. Flowers, 387 U.S. 97 (1967), appellees contend, and the original single-judge District Court held, that Alabama's police jurisdiction statutes lack statewide impact.

A [99 S.Ct. 387] three-judge court was improperly convened in Moody because the challenged state statutes had "limited application, concerning only a particular county involved in the litigation. . . ." Id. at 104. In contrast, appellants' constitutional attack focuses upon a state statute that creates the statewide system under which Alabama cities exercise extraterritorial powers. In mandatory terms, the statute provides that municipal police and sanitary ordinances

shall have force and effect in the limits of the city or town and in the police jurisdiction thereof and on any property or rights-of-way belonging to the city or town.6

Clearly, Alabama's police

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jurisdiction statutes have statewide application. See, e.g., Sailors v. Board of Education, 387 U.S. 105, 107 (1967). That the named defendants are local officials is irrelevant where, as here, those officials are "functioning pursuant to a statewide policy and performing a state function." Moody v. Flowers, supra, at 102; Spielman Motor Sales Co. v. Dodge, supra, at 94-95. The convening of a three-judge District Court was proper.


Appellants' amended complaint requested the District Court to declare the Alabama statutes unconstitutional and to enjoin their enforcement insofar as they authorize the extraterritorial exercise of municipal powers. Seizing on the District Court's observation that "[appellants] do not seek extension of the franchise to themselves," appellants suggest that their complaint was dismissed because they sought the wrong remedy.

The unconstitutional predicament in which appellants assertedly found themselves could be remedied in only two ways: (1) the city's extraterritorial power could be negated by invalidating the State's authorizing statutes, or (2) the right to vote in municipal elections could be extended to residents of the police jurisdiction. We agree with appellants that a federal court should not dismiss a meritorious constitutional claim because the complaint seeks one remedy rather than another plainly appropriate one. Under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure,

every final judgment shall grant the relief

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to which the party in whose favor it is rendered is entitled, even if the party has not demanded such relief in his pleadings.

Rule 54(c). Thus, although the prayer for relief may be looked to for illumination when there is doubt as to the substantive theory under which a plaintiff is proceeding, its omissions are not, in and of themselves, a barrier to redress of a meritorious claim. See, e.g., 6 J. Moore, W. Taggart, & J. Wicker, Moore's Federal Practice ¶ 54.62, pp. 1261-1265 (2d ed.1976). But while a meritorious claim will not be rejected for want of a prayer for appropriate relief, a claim lacking substantive merit obviously should be rejected. We think it is clear from the pleadings in this case that [99 S.Ct. 388] appellants have alleged no claim cognizable under the United...

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