Housing Authority of Kaw Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma v. City of Ponca City

Decision Date19 December 1991
Docket NumberNo. 90-6154,90-6154
Citation952 F.2d 1183
PartiesHOUSING AUTHORITY OF THE KAW TRIBE OF INDIANS OF OKLAHOMA, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. CITY OF PONCA CITY, a municipal corporation, Defendant-Appellee.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Tenth Circuit

Linda A. Epperley (Nathan H. Young III with her on the briefs), Tahlequah, Okl., for plaintiff-appellant.

Andrew W. Lester (Laura Holmgren-Ganz with him on the briefs) of Lester, Bryant & Ganz, Enid, Okl., for defendant-appellee.

Before McKAY, Chief Judge, HOLLOWAY, Circuit Judge, and WINDER, 1 District Judge.

McKAY, Chief Judge.

The Housing Authority of the Kaw Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma (the "Kaw Housing Authority" or the "Authority") challenges the order of the United States District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma dismissing its action because it lacked standing to bring suit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981-1983 (1988) and Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, 42 U.S.C. § 3601 et seq. (1988), better known as the Fair Housing Act. The action arose after a state court issued a permanent injunction prohibiting the Kaw Housing Authority from purchasing homes within the city's boundaries. This injunction came at the request of the city following a veto by the mayor of Ponca City of an Inter-local Cooperation Agreement between the city and the Kaw Housing Authority for the purchase of up to ten residences for the benefit of members of the Kaw Tribe of Oklahoma.


To provide and maintain housing for the needy, Congress enacted the Housing Act of 1937. 42 U.S.C. § 1437 (1988). Consistent with the Act's mandate, the Department of Housing and Urban Development ("HUD") has promulgated regulations for the creation of Indian housing authorities. See 24 C.F.R. §§ 905.101-905.950 (1990). The regulations provide that an Indian housing authority may be created by either a tribal ordinance or pursuant to state law. 24 C.F.R. §§ 125-26 (1991). Whether created by tribal ordinance or state statute, the administration of an Indian housing authority must adhere to certain rules promulgated by the federal government to qualify for available federal funds.

The State of Oklahoma enacted a statute providing for the establishment of local Indian housing authorities. Okla.Stat. tit. 63, § 1057 (1984). 2 The Oklahoma law grants an Indian housing authority most of the powers of any city or county housing authority in the state, including the power of eminent domain. Okla.Stat. tit. 63, § 1078 (1984). The state enactment specifically designates an Indian housing authority as a state agency. Id. at § 1057.

The Kaw Housing Authority was created pursuant to the Oklahoma enabling provision. With financial support from HUD, the Kaw Housing Authority operates to provide low- and moderate-income housing for members of the Kaw Tribe and other Native-Americans. In 1988, the Authority applied to HUD for additional funding for the purchase of existing homes for low-income Kaw tribal members at scattered sites in Kay County, Oklahoma. As part of the scattered site acquisition project, the Kaw Housing Authority wished to purchase ten homes in Ponca City. Because Oklahoma law precludes a housing authority from operating in an area in which another housing authority is already operating, or within the boundary of a city unless the city has adopted a resolution of consent, see Okla.Stat. tit 63, § 1054(f), the Kaw Housing Authority sought permission from Ponca City to purchase property within its boundaries. On December 19, 1988, the Ponca City Council approved an Inter-local Cooperative Agreement supporting the purchase by the Authority of ten homes within the city limits. Pursuant to the agreement, the Authority executed options on seven homes and paid deposits totalling $14,000. On December 21, 1988, however, the mayor vetoed the cooperative agreement, voicing concerns that the homes might become "Indian lands" and therefore immune from the city's jurisdiction. The city council approved the veto on January 6, 1989. The city then filed an action in state court seeking a permanent injunction prohibiting the Kaw Housing Authority from purchasing land within the city. The state court issued such an injunction on April 3, 1989.

The Kaw Housing Authority brought suit in federal district court, alleging that the city's actions were racially motivated and thereby violated the Authority's constitutional rights guaranteed by sections 1981-1983 of the Civil Rights Act. The Authority also claimed that the city had violated the Fair Housing Act.

In response, the city filed a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. It asserted that, as a political subdivision of the State of Oklahoma, the Authority possessed no federal constitutional rights which could be enforced against another political subdivision under sections 1981-1983. The motion also alleged that the Authority did not qualify as an "aggrieved person" under the Fair Housing Act. Finally, the city argued that the authority was barred from asserting these claims by the doctrine of res judicata because the claims could have been asserted in response to the city's action in state court. The district court granted the city's motion to dismiss, concluding that the Kaw Housing Authority did not have standing to sue under sections 1981-1983 or the Fair Housing Act. However, the court expressly stated that res judicata was not a basis for its decision.

The Authority now brings this appeal. We review a Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal for failure to state a claim under the same standard applied by the district court. We therefore must assume as true all well-pleaded facts, construing them in favor of the non-moving party. Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 501, 95 S.Ct. 2197, 2206, 45 L.Ed.2d 343 (1975); Bryan v. Stillwater Bd. of Realtors, 578 F.2d 1319, 1321 (10th Cir.1977).

The Authority challenges the district court's conclusion that it does not have standing to bring suit under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981-1983. It also argues that the trial court erred when it held that the Authority was not an "aggrieved person" for purposes of bringing suit under the Fair Housing Act. Conversely, the city complains that, even if the Authority has standing to sue under these provisions, the causes of action brought in the district court are barred by principles of res judicata stemming from the city's action seeking an injunction against the Authority in state court. We address, in turn, each of the parties' claims.


The focus of any inquiry into standing "is whether the litigant is entitled to have the court decide the merits of the dispute or of particular issues. This inquiry involves both constitutional limitations on federal-court jurisdiction and prudential limitations on its exercise.... In both dimensions it is founded in concern about the proper--and properly limited--role of the courts in a democratic society." Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 498, 95 S.Ct. 2197, 2205, 45 L.Ed.2d 343 (1975) (citations omitted). The constitutional limitations of standing are derived from Article III, which limits judicial power to "cases" and "controversies." To overcome the Article III limitation on standing, often referred to as the "injury in fact" requirement, a plaintiff must at a minimum show that he or she has suffered an actual or threatened injury caused by the defendant and that a favorable judicial decision is likely to redress the injury. Valley Forge Christian College v. Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Inc., 454 U.S. 464, 471, 102 S.Ct. 752, 757, 70 L.Ed.2d 700 (1982).

Beyond the constitutional requirements, the Supreme Court has also set forth principles of standing that limit the class of persons that may invoke the courts' powers. See Secretary of State v. Joseph H. Munson Co., 467 U.S. 947, 955, 104 S.Ct. 2839, 2846, 81 L.Ed.2d 786 (1984); Valley Forge Christian College, 454 U.S. at 474-75, 102 S.Ct. at 759-60; accord Acorn v. City of Tulsa, 835 F.2d 735, 738 (10th Cir.1987). For example, one significant limitation is that a party must assert its own legal rights and cannot rest its claim on the interests of others. Warth, 422 U.S. at 499, 95 S.Ct. at 2205. "Without such limitations ... the courts would be called upon to decide abstract questions of wide public significance even though other governmental institutions may be more competent to address the questions and even though judicial intervention may be unnecessary to protect individual rights." Id. at 500, 95 S.Ct. at 2205-06. Consequently, even though the plaintiff has suffered palpable injury because some third party has been denied legal rights, the plaintiff may not generally assert the third party's rights as the basis of its claim.


We focus initially on the Authority's standing to sue under section 1983. 3 That provision was enacted to vindicate rights guaranteed under the Fourteenth Amendment, see Jones v. Alfred H. Mayer Co., 392 U.S. 409, 436, 88 S.Ct. 2186, 2201, 20 L.Ed.2d 1189 (1968); City of Memphis v. Greene, 451 U.S. 100, 120, 101 S.Ct. 1584, 1596, 67 L.Ed.2d 769 (1981), which places limitations on the states in the interest of individual rights. See Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Porter, 659 F.2d 306, 314 (3rd Cir.1981) (en banc), cert. denied, 458 U.S. 1121, 102 S.Ct. 3509, 73 L.Ed.2d 1383 (1982). To have standing to sue under section 1983, therefore, the Authority must possess some right guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. Thus, section 1983 does not provide any substantive rights at all but only creates a remedy for the violation of substantive rights guaranteed by the Constitution. Chapman v. Houston Welfare Rights Org., 441 U.S. 600, 617-18, 99 S.Ct. 1905, 1915-16, 60 L.Ed.2d 508 (1979).

To determine whether the Kaw Housing Authority possesses a Fourteenth Amendment right, we must first review the Authority's origin. The Oklahoma enabling statute provides that an Indian Housing Authority organized under its provisions is a state agency. Moreover, HUD, the...

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