County of Los Angeles v. Davis

Citation440 U.S. 625,59 L.Ed.2d 642,99 S.Ct. 1379
Decision Date27 March 1979
Docket NumberNo. 77-1553,77-1553
PartiesCOUNTY OF LOS ANGELES et al., Petitioners, v. Van DAVIS et al
CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Syllabus

Respondents, representing present and future black and Mexican-American applicants to the Los Angeles County Fire Department, brought a class action against petitioners (Los Angeles County, and the County Board of Supervisors and Civil Service Commission), alleging, inter alia, that petitioners' hiring procedure whereby they proposed to interview the top 544 scorers (of whom 492 were white, 10 were black, and 33 were Mexican-American) on a 1972 written civil service examination in order to fill temporary emergency manpower needs in the Fire Department, violated 42 U.S.C. § 1981. The District Court, in 1973, held that the procedure, though not discriminatorily motivated, violated § 1981 because the 1972 examination had not been validated as predictive of job performance, and accordingly the court permanently enjoined all future discrimination and mandated good-faith affirmative-action efforts. The Court of Appeals affirmed. Held : The controversy has become moot during the pendency of the litigation. Pp. 631-634.

(a) Jurisdiction, properly acquired, may abate if a case becomes moot because (1) there is no reasonable expectation that the alleged violation will recur, and (2) interim relief or events have completely and irrevocably eradicated the effects of the alleged violation. When both conditions are satisfied, the case is moot because neither party has a legally cognizable interest in the final determination of the underlying questions of fact and law. P. 631.

(b) Here the first condition is met because there can be no reasonable expectation that petitioners will use an unvalidated civil service examination for the purposes contemplated in 1972. The temporary emergency firefighter shortage and lack of an alternative means of screening job applicants existing at that time were unique, are no longer present, and are unlikely to recur because, since the commencement of the litigation, petitioners have instituted an efficient and nonrandom method of screening job applicants and increasing minority representation in the Fire Department. Pp. 631-633.

(c) The second condition of mootness is met because petitioners' compliance since 1973 with the District Court's decree and their hiring of over 50% of new recruits from minorities has completely cured any discriminatory effects of the 1972 proposal. Pp. 633-634.

566 F.2d 1334, vacated and remanded.

William F. Stewart, Los Angeles, Cal., for petitioners.

A. Thomas Hunt, Los Angeles, Cal., for respondents.

Mr. Justice BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

The District Court for the Central District of California determined in 1973 that hiring practices of the County of Los Angeles respecting the County Fire Department violated 42 U.S.C. § 1981.1 The District Court in an unreported opinion and order permanently enjoined all future discrimination and entered a remedial hiring order. The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded the case for further consideration. 566 F.2d 1334 (1977). We granted certiorari to consider questions presented as to whether the use of arbitrary employment criteria, racially exclusionary in operation, but not purposefully discriminatory, violates 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and, if so, whether the imposition of minimum hiring quotas for fully qualified minority applicants is an appropriate remedy in this employment discrimination case. 437 U.S. 903, 98 S.Ct. 3087, 57 L.Ed.2d 1132 (1978). We now find that the controversy has become moot during the pendency of this litigation. Accordingly, we vacate the judgment of the Court of Appeals and direct that court to modify its remand so as to direct the District Court to dismiss the action.

I

In 1969, persons seeking employment with the Los Angeles County Fire Department were required to take a written civil service examination and a physical-agility test. Applicants were ranked according to their performance on the two tests and selected for job interviews on the basis of their scores. Those who passed their oral interviews were then placed on a hiring-eligibility list. Because blacks and Hispanics did poorly on the written examination, this method of screening job applicants proved to have a disparate impact on minority hiring.

The County of Los Angeles has not used the written civil service examination as a ranking device since 1969. The county desisted, prior to the commencement of this litigation, because it felt that the test had a disparate adverse impact on minority hiring, because it feared that this impact might violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 78 Stat. 253, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and because it wished, in any event, to increase minority representation in the Fire Department. See App. to Brief for Respondents.

In 1971, the county replaced the 1969 procedure with a new method of screening job applicants. A new written test was designed expressly to eliminate cultural bias. The test was to be given and graded on a pass-fail basis for the sole purpose of screening out illiterates. Five hundred of the passing applicants were to be selected at random for oral interviews and physical-agility tests. Passing applicants were to be ranked solely on the basis of the results of the physical-agility test and the oral interview. See 566 F.2d, at 1346 (Wallace, J., dissenting).

An examination was conducted, pursuant to this plan, in January 1972. Ninety-seven percent of the applicants passed the written test. There was no disparate adverse impact on minorities and this use of the written examination has not been challenged in this litigation.

After administration of the written test, but before the random selection could be made, an action was filed in state court against the county charging that the random-selection process violated provisions of the county charter and civil service regulations. The county was enjoined from using the random-selection method pending trial on the merits. See ibid.

For a time the hiring process came to a halt. The eligibility list drawn from the 1969 examination had been exhausted. The county was unable to devise a nonrandom method of screening job applicants and the county lacked the resources to interview all of the applicants who had passed the 1972 examination.

As a consequence of this unintended hiring freeze, vacancies in the County Fire Department increased and the manpower needs of the Department became critical. Finally, to break the logjam, the County Department of Personnel proposed to interview those applicants who had received the top 544 scores on the 1972 written test. Of this number, 492 were white, 10 black, and 33 Mexican-American. The applicants were not to be ranked on the basis of the test results, however, and the interviews were not intended to eliminate the remaining applicants from consideration. The purpose was solely to expedite the hiring of sufficient firefighters to meet the immediate urgent requirements of the Fire Department. See ibid. But when minority representatives objected to the plan, it was abandoned, uneffectuated, prior to the commencement of this litigation.

In January 1973, respondents, representing present and future black and Mexican-American applicants to the Fire Department, brought a class action against the County of Los Angeles, the Board of Supervisors of the County of Los Angeles, and the Civil Service Commission of the County of Los Angeles (petitioners). Respondents charged that petitioners' 1969 hiring procedures violated 42 U.S.C. § 1981. Respondents also charged that petitioners' plan to interview those applicants who had received the top 544 scores on the 1972 written test violated 42 U.S.C. § 1981.

The District Court found that petitioners had acted without discriminatory intent. Nonetheless, the District Court held that because the 1969 and 1972 written examinations had not been validated as predictive of job performance, petitioners' employment practices had violated 42 U.S.C. § 1981. The court permanently enjoined all future discrimination and mandated good-faith affirmative-action efforts. The court also entered a remedial hiring order whereby at least 20% of all new firefighter recruits were required to be black and another 20% were required to be Mexican-American until the percentage of blacks and Mexican-Americans in the Los Angeles County Fire Department was commensurate with their percentage in Los Angeles County.2

The Court of Appeals reversed the District Court with respect to the 1969 examination: The Court of Appeals held that respondents did not have standing to seek relief on account of the 1969 civil service examination because the plaintiff class, as certified by the District Court, consisted only of present and future job applicants 3 and did not include any persons who had in any way been affected by the 1969 test.4

The Court of Appeals affirmed, however, the District Court's holding with respect to the 1972 proposal to use an unvalidated civil service examination.

II

The only question remaining in this case, then, concerns petitioners' 1972 plan to interview the top 544 scorers on the 1972 written examination in order to fill temporary emergency manpower needs. We find that this controversy became moot during the pendency of this litigation.

"Simply stated, a case is moot when the issues presented are no longer 'live' or the parties lack a legally cognizable interest in the outcome." Powell v. McCormack, 395 U.S. 486, 496, 89 S.Ct. 1944, 1951, 23 L.Ed.2d 491 (1969). We recognize that, as a general rule, "voluntary cessation of allegedly illegal conduct does not deprive the tribunal of power to hear and determine the case, i. e., does not make the case moot." United States v. W. T. Grant Co., 345 U.S. 629, 632, 73 S.Ct. 894, 897...

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