490 U.S. 755 (1989), 87-1614, Martin v. Wilks

Docket Nº:No. 87-1614
Citation:490 U.S. 755, 109 S.Ct. 2180, 104 L.Ed.2d 835, 57 U.S.L.W. 4616
Party Name:Martin v. Wilks
Case Date:June 12, 1989
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 755

490 U.S. 755 (1989)

109 S.Ct. 2180, 104 L.Ed.2d 835, 57 U.S.L.W. 4616

Martin

v.

Wilks

No. 87-1614

United States Supreme Court

June 12, 1989

Argued January 18, 1989

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR

THE ELEVENTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Black individuals and a branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People brought actions in Federal District Court against the city of Birmingham, Alabama, and the Jefferson County Personnel Board (Board), alleging that the defendants had engaged in racially discriminatory hiring and promotion practices in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other federal law. Consent decrees were eventually entered that included goals for hiring blacks as firefighters and for promoting them. Respondent white firefighters subsequently brought suit in the District Court against the city and the Board, alleging that, because of their race, they were being denied promotions in favor of less qualified blacks in violation of federal law. They argued that the city and the Board were making promotion decisions on the basis of race in reliance on the consent decrees, and that those decisions constituted impermissible racial discrimination. After trial, the District Court granted the defendants' motion to dismiss. It held that respondents were precluded from challenging employment decisions taken pursuant to the consent decrees, even though they had not been parties to the proceedings in which the decrees were entered. The Court of Appeals reversed, rejecting the "impermissible collateral attack" doctrine that immunizes parties to a consent decree from discrimination charges by nonparties for actions taken pursuant to the decree.

Held: Respondents are not precluded from challenging the employment decisions taken pursuant to the consent decrees. Pp. 761-769.

(a) "[O]ne is not bound by a judgment in personam in a litigation in which he is not designated as a party or to which he has not been made a party by service of process." Hansberry v. Lee, 311 U.S. 32, 40. Pp. 761-762.

(b) Under ordinary application of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a party [109 S.Ct. 2182] seeking a judgment binding on another cannot obligate that person to intervene; he must be joined. Rule 24, governing intervention, is cast in permissive terms. Rule 19(a) provides for mandatory

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joinder in circumstances where a judgment rendered in the absence of a person may "leave . . . persons already parties subject to a substantial risk of incurring . . . inconsistent allegations," and Rule 19(b) sets forth the factors to be considered by a court in deciding whether to allow an action to proceed in the absence of an interested party. Joinder as a party, rather than knowledge of a lawsuit and an opportunity to intervene, is the method by which potential parties are subjected to the jurisdiction of the court and bound by a judgment or decree. The linchpin of the "impermissible collateral attack" doctrine -- the attribution of preclusive effect to a failure to intervene -- is inconsistent with Rules 19 and 24. Pp. 763-765.

(c) Neither Penn-Central Merger and N & W Inclusion Cases, 389 U.S. 486, nor Provident Tradesmens Bank & Trust Co. v. Patterson, 390 U.S. 102, is authority for precluding respondents from challenging the actions taken under the consent decrees. Pp. 765-766.

(d) Even if there were some merit to the argument that the need to join affected parties would be burdensome and ultimately discouraging to civil rights litigation, acceptance of that argument would require a rewriting, rather than an interpretation of, the relevant Federal Rules. In any event, the difficulties in identifying those who would be adversely affected by a decree arise from the nature of the relief sought, and not because of any choice between mandatory intervention and joinder. Plaintiffs who seek the aid of courts to alter employment policies, or the employer who might be subject to conflicting decrees, are best able to bear the burden of designating those who would be adversely affected if plaintiffs prevail. The alternative urged here does not eliminate the need for, or difficulty of, identifying persons who should be included in a lawsuit. It merely shifts that responsibility to less able shoulders. The system of joinder called for by the Federal Rules is not likely to produce more relitigation of issues than a converse rule, and best serves the interests involved in the run of litigated cases, including cases like the present one. Pp. 766-768.

(e) With respect to the argument that the congressional policy favoring voluntary settlement of employment discrimination claims supports the "impermissible collateral attack" doctrine, it is essential to note what is meant by a "voluntary settlement." A voluntary settlement in the form of a consent decree between one group of employees and their employer cannot possibly "settle," voluntarily or otherwise, the conflicting claims of another group of employees who do not join in the agreement. Insofar as it may be easier to settle claims among a disparate group of affected persons if they are all before the court, joinder accomplishes

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that result as well as would a regime of mandatory intervention. P. 768.

833 F.2d 1492, affirmed.

REHNQUIST, C.J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which WHITE, O'CONNOR, SCALIA, and KENNEDY, JJ., joined. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN, MARSHALL, and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined, post, p. 769.

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REHNQUIST, J., lead opinion

[109 S.Ct. 2183] CHIEF JUSTICE REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.

A group of white firefighters sued the city of Birmingham, Alabama (City), and the Jefferson County Personnel Board (Board) alleging that they were being denied promotions in favor of less qualified black firefighters. They claimed that the City and the Board were making promotion decisions on the basis of race in reliance on certain consent decrees, and that these decisions constituted impermissible racial discrimination in violation of the Constitution and federal statute. The District Court held that the white firefighters were precluded from challenging employment decisions taken pursuant to the decrees, even though these firefighters had not been parties to the proceedings in which the decrees were

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entered. We think this holding contravenes the general rule that a person cannot be deprived of his legal rights in a proceeding to which he is not a party.

The litigation in which the consent decrees were entered began in 1974, when the Ensley Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and seven black individuals filed separate class action complaints against the City and the Board. They alleged that both had engaged in racially discriminatory hiring and promotion practices in various public service jobs in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and other federal law. After a bench trial on some issues, but before judgment, the parties entered into two consent decrees, one between the black individuals and the City and the other between them and the Board. These proposed decrees set forth an extensive remedial scheme, including long-term and interim annual goals for the hiring of blacks as firefighters. The decrees also provided for goals for promotion of blacks within the fire department.

The District Court entered an order provisionally approving the decrees and directing publication of notice of the upcoming fairness hearings. 3 App. 694-696. Notice of the hearings, with a reference to the general nature of the decrees, was published in two local newspapers. At that hearing, the Birmingham Firefighters Association (BFA) appeared and filed objections as amicus curiae. After the hearing, but before final approval of the decrees, the BFA and two of its members also moved to intervene on the ground that the decrees would adversely affect their rights. The District Court denied the motions as untimely, and approved the decrees. United States v. Jefferson County, 28 FEP Cases 1834 (ND Ala.1981). Seven white firefighters, all members of the BFA, then filed a complaint against the City and the Board seeking injunctive relief against enforcement of the decrees. The seven argued that the decrees

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would operate to illegally discriminate against them; the District Court denied relief. App. to Pet. for Cert. 37a.

Both the denial of intervention and the denial of injunctive relief were affirmed on appeal. United States v. Jefferson County, 720 F.2d 1511 (CA11 1983). The District Court had not abused its discretion in refusing to let the BFA intervene, thought the Eleventh Circuit, in part because the firefighters could "institut[e] an independent Title VII suit, asserting specific violations of their rights." Id. at 1518. And, for the same reason, petitioners had not adequately shown the potential for irreparable harm from the operation of the decrees necessary to obtain injunctive relief. Id. at 1520.

A new group of white firefighters, the Wilks respondents, then brought suit against the City and the Board in District Court. They too alleged that, because of their race, they were being denied promotions in favor of less qualified blacks in violation of federal law. The Board and the City admitted to making race-conscious employment decisions, but argued that the decisions were unassailable because they were made pursuant to the consent decrees. A group of black individuals, the Martin petitioners, were allowed to intervene [109 S.Ct. 2184] in their individual capacities to defend the decrees.

The defendants moved to dismiss the reverse discrimination cases as...

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