503 U.S. 347 (1992), 90-1488, Suter v. Artist M.

Docket Nº:No. 90-1488
Citation:503 U.S. 347, 112 S.Ct. 1360, 118 L.Ed.2d 1, 60 U.S.L.W. 4251
Party Name:Suter v. Artist M.
Case Date:March 25, 1992
Court:United States Supreme Court

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503 U.S. 347 (1992)

112 S.Ct. 1360, 118 L.Ed.2d 1, 60 U.S.L.W. 4251



Artist M.

No. 90-1488

United States Supreme Court

March 25, 1992

Argued Dec. 2, 1991




The Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980 provides that a State will be reimbursed by the Federal Government for certain expenses it incurs in administering foster care and adoption services, if it submits a plan for approval by the Secretary of Health and Human Services. Among its requisite features, an approved plan must provide that it "shall be in effect in all" of a State's political subdivisions and "be mandatory upon them," 42 U.S.C. § 671(a)(3), and that "reasonable efforts will be made" to prevent removal of children from their homes and to facilitate reunification of families where removal has occurred, § 671(a)(15). Respondents, child beneficiaries of the Act, sought declaratory and injunctive relief, alleging that petitioners, the Director and the Guardianship Administrator of the Illinois agency responsible for investigating charges of child abuse and neglect and providing services for abused and neglected children and their families, had failed to make reasonable efforts to preserve and reunite families, in contravention of § 671(a)(15). The District Court denied petitioners' motion to dismiss, holding, inter alia, that the Act contained an implied cause of action and that suit could also be brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The court entered an injunction against petitioners, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. That court relied on Wilder v. Virginia Hospital Assn., 496 U.S. 498, to hold that the "reasonable efforts" clause of the Act could be enforced through a § 1983 action, and applied the standard of Cort v. Ash, 422 U.S. 66 to find that the Act created an implied right of action entitling respondents to bring suit directly under the Act.


1. Section 671(a)(15) does not confer on its beneficiaries a private right enforceable in a § 1983 action. Pp. 355-364.

(a) Section 1983 is not available to enforce a violation of a federal statute where Congress has foreclosed enforcement in the enactment itself and "where the statute did not create enforceable rights, privileges, or immunities within the meaning of § 1983." Wright v. Roanoke Redevelopment and Housing Authority, 479 U.S. 418, 423. Congress must confer such rights unambiguously when it intends to impose conditions on the grant of federal moneys. Pennhurst State School and Hospital v. Halderman, 451 U.S. 1, 17. Thus, statutory provisions must

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be analyzed in detail, in light of the entire legislative enactment, to determine whether the language in question created rights within the meaning of § 1983. Pp. 355-357.

(b) Congress did not unambiguously confer upon the Act's beneficiaries the right to enforce the "reasonable efforts" requirement. The Act is mandatory only insofar as it requires a State to have an approved plan containing the listed features; and it is undisputed [112 S.Ct. 1363] that the Illinois plan provides that reasonable efforts at prevention and reunification will be made. Respondents err in basing their § 1983 argument, in part, on § 671(a)(3)'s "in effect" language, which is directed to the requirement that the plan apply to all of a State's political subdivisions, and is not intended to otherwise modify the word "plan." Unlike the Medicaid legislation in Wilder, supra -- which actually required the States to adopt reasonable and adequate reimbursement rates for health care providers and which, along with regulations, set forth in some detail the factors to be considered in determining the methods for calculating rates -- here, the statute provides no further guidance as to how "reasonable efforts" are to be measured, and, within broad limits, lets the State decide how to comply with the directive. Since other sections of the Act provide mechanisms for the Secretary to enforce the "reasonable efforts" clause, the absence of a § 1983 remedy does not make the clause a dead letter. The regulations also are not specific, and provide no notice that failure to do anything other than submit a plan with the requisite features is a further condition on the receipt of federal funds. And the legislative history indicates that the Act left a great deal of discretion to the States to meet the "reasonable efforts" requirement. Pp. 353-363.

2. The Act does not create an implied cause of action for private enforcement. Respondents have failed to demonstrate that Congress intended to make such a remedy available. See Cort, supra; Transamerica Mortgage Advisors, Inc. v. Lewis, 444 U.S. 11, 15-16. Pp. 363-364.

917 F.2d 980, (CA7 1990), reversed.

REHNQUIST, C.J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which WHITE, O'CONNOR, SCALIA, KENNEDY, SOUTER, and THOMAS, JJ., joined. BLACKMUN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which STEVENS, J., joined, post, p. 364.

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REHNQUIST, J., lead opinion

THE CHIEF JUSTICE delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case raises the question whether private individuals have the right to enforce by suit a provision of the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980 (Adoption Act or Act), 94 Stat. 500, 42 U.S.C. §§ 620-628, 670-679a, either under the Act itself or through an action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.[1] The Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit held that 42 U.S.C. § 671(a)(15) contained an implied right of action, and that respondents could enforce this section of the Act through an action brought under § 1983 as well. We hold that the Act does not create an enforceable right on behalf of the respondents.

The Adoption Act establishes a federal reimbursement program for certain expenses incurred by the States in administering

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foster care and adoption services. The Act provides that States will be reimbursed for a percentage of foster care and adoption assistance payments when the State satisfies the requirements of the Act. 42 U.S.C. §§ 672-674, 675(4)(A) (1988 ed. and Supp. 1).

To participate in the program, States must submit a plan to the Secretary of Health and Human Services for approval by the Secretary. [112 S.Ct. 1364] 42 U.S.C. §§ 670, 671. Section 671 lists 16 qualifications which state plans must contain in order to gain the Secretary's approval. As relevant here, the Act provides:

(a) Requisite features of State plan

In order for a State to be eligible for payments under this part, it shall have a plan approved by the Secretary which --

* * * *

(3) provides that the plan shall be in effect in all political subdivisions of the State, and, if administered by them, be mandatory upon them;

* * * *

(15) effective October 1, 1983, provides that, in each case, reasonable efforts will be made (A) prior to the placement of a child in foster care, to prevent or eliminate the need for removal of the child from his home, and (B) to make it possible for the child to return to his home. . . .

42 U.S.C. § 671(a)(3), (15).

Petitioners in this action are Sue Suter and Gary T. Morgan, the Director and the Guardianship Administrator, respectively, of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). DCFS is the state agency responsible for, among other things, investigating charges of child abuse and neglect and providing services to abused and neglected children and their families. DCFS is authorized under Illinois law, see Ill.Rev.Stat., ch. 37, 802-1, et. seq. (1989), to gain temporary custody of an abused or neglected child after a

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hearing and order by the Juvenile Court. Alternatively, the court may order that a child remain in his home under a protective supervisory order entered against his parents. See Artist M. v. Johnson, 917 F.2d 980, 982-983 (CA7 1990). Once DCFS has jurisdiction over a child either in its temporary custody, or in the child's home under a protective order, all services are provided to the child and his family by means of an individual caseworker at DCFS to whom the child's case is assigned. App. 35-39.

Respondents filed this class action suit seeking declaratory and injunctive relief under the Adoption Act.[2] They alleged that petitioners, in contravention of 42 U.S.C. § 671(a)(15), failed to make reasonable efforts to prevent removal of children from their homes and to facilitate reunification of families where removal had occurred.[3] This failure occurred, as alleged by respondents, because DCFS failed promptly to assign caseworkers to children placed in DCFS custody and promptly to reassign cases when caseworkers were on leave from DCFS. App. 6-8. The District Court, without objection from petitioners, certified two separate classes seeking relief, including all children who are or will be wards of DCFS and are placed in foster care or remain in their homes under a judicial protective order.[4] Artist M. v.

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Johnson, 726 F.Supp. 690, 691 (ND Ill.1989). The District Court denied a motion to dismiss filed by petitioners, holding, as relevant here, that the Adoption Act contained an implied cause of action and that suit could also be brought to enforce the Act [112 S.Ct. 1365] under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. 726 F.Supp. at 696, 697.

The District Court then entered an injunction requiring petitioners to assign a caseworker to each child placed in DCFS custody within three working days of the time the case is first heard in Juvenile Court, and to reassign a caseworker within three working days of the date any caseworker relinquishes responsibility for a particular case. App. to Pet. for Cert. 56a. The three working day deadline was found by the District Court to "realistically reflec[t] the institutional capabilities of DCFS," id. at 55a, based in part on petitioners' assertion that assigning caseworkers within that time frame "would not be overly burdensome." Id. at 54a. The...

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