458 U.S. 592 (1982), 80-1305, Alfred L. Snapp & Son, Inc. v. Puerto Rico ex rel. Barez

Docket Nº:No. 80-1305
Citation:458 U.S. 592, 102 S.Ct. 3260, 73 L.Ed.2d 995
Party Name:Alfred L. Snapp & Son, Inc. v. Puerto Rico ex rel. Barez
Case Date:July 01, 1982
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 592

458 U.S. 592 (1982)

102 S.Ct. 3260, 73 L.Ed.2d 995

Alfred L. Snapp & Son, Inc.


Puerto Rico ex rel. Barez

No. 80-1305

United States Supreme Court

July 1, 1982

Argued April 20, 1982




Respondent Commonwealth of Puerto Rico filed suit in Federal District Court against petitioners, individuals and companies engaged in the apple industry in Virginia, alleging that petitioners had violated related provisions of the Wagner-Peyser Act and the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, and implementing regulations. The purposes of this statutory and regulatory scheme are to give United States workers, including citizens of Puerto Rico, a preference over temporary foreign workers for jobs that become available within this country, to ensure that working conditions of domestic employees are not adversely affected when foreign workers are brought in, and to prohibit discrimination against United States workers in favor of foreign workers. It was alleged that, pursuant to the federal laws, petitioners had reported 787 job openings for temporary farm labor to pick the 1978 apple crop, and that, in violation of such laws, petitioners had discriminated against Puerto Rican workers by failing to provide employment for qualified Puerto Rican migrant farmworkers, by subjecting those Puerto Rican workers that were employed to working conditions more burdensome than those established for temporary foreign workers, and by improperly terminating employment of Puerto Rican workers. Seeking declaratory and injunctive relief in its capacity as parens patriae, Puerto Rico asserted that this alleged discrimination deprived the Commonwealth of its right "to effectively participate in the benefits of the Federal Employment Service System of which it is a part," and thereby caused irreparable injury to the Commonwealth's efforts "to promote opportunities for profitable employment for Puerto Rican laborers and to reduce unemployment in the Commonwealth." The District Court dismissed the complaint, holding that Puerto Rico lacked standing to bring the action in view of the small number of individuals directly involved and the slight impact upon Puerto Rico's general economy that the loss of 787 temporary jobs could have. The Court of Appeals reversed.

Held: Puerto Rico has parens patriae standing to maintain this suit. Pp. 600-610.

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(a) In order to maintain a parens patriae action, a State must articulate an interest apart from the interests of particular private parties, that is, the State must be more than a nominal party. The State must express a "quasi-sovereign" interest, such as its interest in the health and wellbeing -- both physical and economic -- of its residents in general. Although more must be alleged than injury to an identifiable group of individual residents, the indirect effects of the injury must be considered as well in determining whether the State has alleged injury to a sufficiently substantial segment of its population. A State also has a quasi-sovereign interest in not being discriminatorily denied its rightful status within the federal system -- that is, in ensuring that the State and its general population are not excluded from the benefits [102 S.Ct. 3262] that are to flow from participation in the federal system. Pp. 600-608.

(b) Under the above principles, Puerto Rico's allegations that petitioners discriminated against Puerto Ricans in favor of foreign laborers falls within the Commonwealth's quasi-sovereign interest in the general wellbeing of its citizens. A State's interest in the wellbeing of its residents, which extends beyond mere physical interests to economic and commercial interests, also includes the State's substantial interest in securing its residents from the harmful effects of discrimination. This interest is peculiarly strong in the case of Puerto Rico simply because of the fact that invidious discrimination frequently occurs along ethnic lines. Alternatively, Puerto Rico has "parens patriae" standing to pursue its residents' interests in the Commonwealth's full and equal participation in the federal employment service scheme established by the laws involved here. Pp. 608-610.

632 F.2d 365, affirmed.

WHITE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which all other Members joined, except POWELL, J., who took no part in the decision of the case. BRENNAN, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, and STEVENS, JJ., joined, post, p. 610.

Page 594

WHITE, J., lead opinion

JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.

In this case, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico seeks to bring suit in its capacity as parens patriae against petitioners for their alleged violations of federal law. Puerto Rico contends that those violations discriminated against Puerto Ricans and injured the Puerto Rican economy. The question presented here is whether Puerto Rico has standing to maintain this suit.



The factual background of this case involves the interaction of two federal statutes, the Wagner-Peyser Act, 48 Stat. 113, 29 U.S.C. § 49 et seq., and the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, 66 Stat. 163, as amended, 8 U.S.C. § 1101 et seq. (1976 ed. and Supp. IV). The Wagner-Peyser Act was passed in 1933 in order to deal with the massive problem of unemployment resulting from the Depression. The Act establishes the United States Employment Service within the Department of Labor "[i]n order to promote the establishment and maintenance of a national system of public employment offices." 29 U.S.C. § 49. State agencies, which have been approved by the Secretary of Labor, are authorized to participate in the nationwide employment service.1 § 49g. The Secretary is authorized to make "such rules and regulations as may be necessary" to accomplish the ends of the Act. § 49k. Federal regulations issued pursuant to that authority

Page 595

have established an interstate clearance system to provide employers a means of recruiting nonlocal workers when the supply of local workers is inadequate. 20 CFR § 602.2(c) (1981). If local workers are not available, a "clearance order" is sent through the Employment and Training Administration of the Department of Labor to other state agencies in order to give them an opportunity to meet the request.

Some of petitioners' obligations under the employment system established by the Wagner-Peyser Act stem from the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, insofar as it regulates the admission of nonimmigrant aliens into the United States. The latter Act authorizes the admission of temporary foreign workers into the United States only "if unemployed persons capable of performing such service or labor cannot be found in this country." 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(15) (H)(ii). The Attorney General is charged with determining whether entry of foreign workers would meet this standard, "upon petition of the importing employer." 8 U.S.C. § 1184(c). He is to make this determination "after consultation with [102 S.Ct. 3263] appropriate agencies of the Government." Ibid. The Attorney General has delegated this responsibility to the Commissioner of Immigration and Naturalization, 8 CFR § 2.1 (1982), who, in turn, relies on the Secretary of Labor for the initial determinations. 8 CFR § 214.2(h)(3) (1982).2 To meet this responsibility, the Secretary of Labor relies upon the employment referral system established under the Wagner-Peyser Act.

Any employer who wants to employ temporary foreign agricultural laborers must first seek domestic laborers for the openings through use of the interstate clearance system.

Page 596

The employer who anticipates a need for foreign laborers must file an application with the local public employment office, including a copy of the job offer. 20 CFR §§ 655.201 (a)(1), (b)(1) (1981). The application must be filed in sufficient time to allow the agency to recruit through the interstate clearance system for 60 days prior to the estimated date of the start of employment. § 655.201(c). The regulations further provide that the employer must include assurances that the job opportunity is

open to all qualified U.S. workers without regard to race, color, national origin, sex, or religion, and is open to U.S. workers with handicaps who are qualified to perform the work,

and that the employer will continue to seek United States workers until the foreign workers have departed for the employer's place of employment. §§ 655.203(c), (d).3 Finally, the regulations require that

each employer's job offer to U.S. workers must offer U.S. workers at least the same benefits which the employer is offering, intends to offer, or will afford, to temporary foreign workers.

§ 655.202(a). Similarly, the employer may not impose obligations or restrictions on domestic workers that are not, or will not be, imposed on foreign workers. Ibid.

The obvious point of this somewhat complicated statutory and regulatory framework is to provide two assurances to United States workers, including the citizens of Puerto Rico. First, these workers are given a preference over foreign workers for jobs that become available within this country. Second, to the extent that foreign workers are brought in, the working conditions of domestic employees are not to be adversely affected, nor are United States workers to be discriminated against in favor of foreign workers.

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The particular facts of this case involve the 1978 apple harvest on the east coast. That was apparently a good year for apples, resulting in a substantial need for temporary farm laborers to pick the crop. To meet this need, the apple growers filed clearance orders with their state employment agencies...

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