493 U.S. 103 (1989), 88-840, Golden State Transit Corp. v. City of Los Angeles

Docket Nº:No. 88-840
Citation:493 U.S. 103, 110 S.Ct. 444, 107 L.Ed.2d 420, 58 U.S.L.W. 4033
Party Name:Golden State Transit Corp. v. City of Los Angeles
Case Date:December 05, 1989
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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493 U.S. 103 (1989)

110 S.Ct. 444, 107 L.Ed.2d 420, 58 U.S.L.W. 4033

Golden State Transit Corp.

v.

City of Los Angeles

No. 88-840

United States Supreme Court

Dec. 5, 1989

Argued Oct. 3, 1989

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR

THE NINTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

After this Court held that respondent city had violated federal law by conditioning the renewal of petitioner's taxicab franchise on settlement of a pending labor dispute between petitioner and its union, Golden State Transit Corp. v. Los Angeles, 475 U.S. 608 (Golden State I), the District Court enjoined the city to reinstate the franchise. However, the court concluded that § 1983 did not authorize a compensatory damages award, since the Supremacy Clause does not create individual rights that may be vindicated in an action for damages under § 1983; and since, even though the city's conduct was preempted by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) under Golden State I, [110 S.Ct. 447] there had been no "direct violation" of the statute, and the Act's comprehensive enforcement scheme precluded resort to § 1983. The Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held: Petitioner is entitled to maintain a § 1983 action for compensatory damages. Pp. 105-113.

(a) The Supremacy Clause, of its own force, does not create rights enforceable under § 1983. The Clause "is not a source of any federal rights"; rather, it "`secure[s]' federal rights by according them priority whenever they come in conflict with state law." Chapman v. Houston Welfare Rights Organization, 441 U.S. 600, 613. Pp. 107-108.

(b) However, the NLRA grants petitioner rights enforceable under § 1983. A § 1983 remedy is not precluded by the existence of a comprehensive enforcement [110 S.Ct. 450] scheme, since the NLRA provides no mechanism to address state interference with federally protected labor rights. Moreover, the city's argument that its conduct did not violate any rights secured by the NLRA is rejected, since petitioner is the intended beneficiary of a statutory scheme that gives parties to a collective bargaining agreement the right to make use of "economic weapons," not expressly set forth in the NLRA, free of federal or state governmental interference. Machinists v. Wisconsin Employment Relations Comm'n, 427 U.S. 132, 150. The violation of a federal right that is implicit in a statute's language and structure is as much a "direct violation" of a right

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as is the violation that is clearly set forth in the text of the statute. Pp. 108-112.

857 F.2d 631 (CA9 1988); reversed and remanded.

STEVENS, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BRENNAN, WHITE, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, and SCALIA, JJ., joined. KENNEDY, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and O'CONNOR, J., joined, post, p. 113.

STEVENS, J., lead opinion

Justice STEVENS delivered the opinion of the Court.

In Golden State Transit Corp. v. City of Los Angeles, 475 U.S. 608 (1986) (Golden State I), we held that the respondent city had violated federal law by conditioning the renewal of petitioner's taxi cab franchise on settlement of a pending labor dispute between petitioner and its union. On remand, the District Court enjoined the city to reinstate the franchise, but concluded that 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (1982 ed.)1 did not authorize an award of compensatory damages. The court reasoned that "the supremacy clause does not create individual rights that may be vindicated in an action for damages under

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Section 1983," Golden State Transit Corp. v. Los Angeles, 660 F.Supp. 571, 578 (CD Cal.1987), and that, even though the city's conduct was preempted by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), 49 Stat. 449, as amended, 29 U.S.C. § 151 et seq. (1982 ed. and Supp. V), a § 1983 cause of action did not lie because there had been no "direct violation" of the statute and because the Act's comprehensive enforcement scheme precluded resort to § 1983.2 The Court of Appeals affirmed. 857 F.2d 631 (CA9 1988). We granted certiorari limited [110 S.Ct. 448] to the question whether the NLRA granted petitioner rights enforceable under § 1983. 489 U.S. 1010 (1989).

I

Section 1983 provides a federal remedy for "the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws." As the language of the statute plainly indicates, the remedy encompasses violations of federal statutory as well as constitutional rights. We have repeatedly held that the coverage of the statute must be broadly construed. See, e.g., Felder v. Casey, 487 U.S. 131 (1988); Maine v. Thiboutot, 448 U.S. 1, 4 (1980);

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cf. United States v. Price, 383 U.S. 787, 801 (1966). It provides a remedy "against all forms of official violation of federally protected rights." Monell v. New York City Dept. of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658, 700-701 (1978).

A determination that § 1983 is available to remedy a statutory or constitutional violation involves a two-step inquiry. First, the plaintiff must assert the violation of a federal right. See Middlesex County Sewerage Authority v. National Sea Clammers Assn., 453 U.S. 1, 19 (1981). Section 1983 speaks in terms of "rights, privileges, or immunities," not violations of federal law. In deciding whether a federal right has been violated, we have considered whether the provision in question creates obligations binding on the governmental unit, or rather "does no more than express a congressional preference for certain kinds of treatment." Pennhurst State School and Hospital v. Halderman, 451 U.S. 1, 19 (1981). The interest the plaintiff asserts must not be "too vague and amorphous" to be "beyond the competence of the judiciary to enforce." Wright v. Roanoke Redevelopment and Housing Authority, 479 U.S. 418, 431-432 (1987). We have also asked whether the provision in question was "inten[ded] to benefit" the putative plaintiff. Id. at 430; see also id. at 433 (O'CONNOR, J., dissenting) (citing Cort v. Ash, 422 U.S. 66, 78 (1975)).

Second, even when the plaintiff has asserted a federal right, the defendant may show that Congress "specifically foreclosed a remedy under § 1983," Smith v. Robinson, 468 U.S. 992, 1005, n. 9 (1984), by providing a "comprehensive enforcement mechanis[m] for protection of a federal right." Id. at 1003; see also National Sea Clammers, 453 U.S. 1 (1981); Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475 (1973). The availability of administrative mechanisms to protect plaintiff's interests is not necessarily sufficient to demonstrate [110 S.Ct. 449] that Congress intended to foreclose a § 1983 remedy. See Wright, 479 U.S. at 425-428; cf. Rosado v. Wyman, 397 U.S. 397, 420 (1970).

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Rather, the statutory framework must be such that "[a]llowing a plaintiff" to bring a § 1983 action "would be inconsistent with Congress' carefully tailored scheme." Smith, 468 U.S. at 1012. The burden to demonstrate that Congress has expressly withdrawn the remedy is on the defendant. See Wright, 479 U.S. at 423; National Sea Clammers, 453 U.S. at 21, n. 31. "`We do not lightly conclude that Congress intended to preclude reliance on § 1983 as a remedy' for the deprivation of a federally secured right." Wright, 479 U.S. at 423-424 (quoting Smith v. Robinson, 468 U.S. 992, 1012 (1984)).

Respondent argues that the Supremacy Clause,3 of its own force, does not create rights enforceable under § 1983. We agree. "[T]hat clause is not a source of any federal rights"; it "`secure[s]' federal rights by according them priority whenever they come in conflict with state law." Chapman v. Houston Welfare Rights Organization, 441 U.S. 600, 613 (1979); see also Swift & Co. v. Wiekham, 382 U.S. 111 (1965).4 Given the variety of situations in which preemption

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claims may be asserted, in state court and in federal court, it would obviously be incorrect to assume that a federal right of action pursuant to § 1983 exists every time a federal rule of law preempts state regulatory authority. Conversely, the fact that a federal statute has preempted certain state action does not preclude the possibility that the same federal statute may create a federal right for which § 1983 provides a remedy.

In all cases, the availability of the § 1983 remedy turns on whether the statute, by its terms or as interpreted, creates obligations "sufficiently specific and definite" to be within "the competence of the judiciary to enforce," Wright, 479 U.S. at 432, is intended to benefit the putative plaintiff, and is not foreclosed "by express provision or other specific evidence from the statute itself." Id. at 423.

II

The nub of the controversy between the parties is whether the NLRA creates "rights" in labor and management that are protected against governmental interference. The city does not argue, nor could it, that a § 1983 action is precluded by the existence of a comprehensive

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enforcement scheme. Although the National Labor Relations Board has exclusive jurisdiction to prevent and remedy unfair labor practices by employers and unions, it has no authority to address conduct protected by the NLRA against governmental interference.5 There is thus no comprehensive enforcement scheme for preventing state interference with federally protected labor rights that would foreclose the § 1983 remedy. Nor can there be any substantial question that our holding in Golden State I that the city's conduct was preempted was within the competence of the judiciary to enforce. Rather, the city argues that it cannot be held liable under § 1983 because its conduct did not violate any rights secured by the NLRA. On the basis of our previous cases, we reject this argument. We agree with petitioner that it is the intended beneficiary of a statutory scheme that prevents governmental interference with the collective bargaining process and that the NLRA gives it rights enforceable against governmental interference in an action under § 1983.

In the NLRA,...

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