Lake Country Estates, Inc v. Tahoe Regional Planning Agency

Citation99 S.Ct. 1171,440 U.S. 391,59 L.Ed.2d 401
Decision Date05 March 1979
Docket NumberNo. 77-1327,77-1327
PartiesLAKE COUNTRY ESTATES, INC., et al., Petitioners, v. TAHOE REGIONAL PLANNING AGENCY, etc., et al
CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Syllabus

California and Nevada entered into a Compact, later consented to by Congress, to create respondent Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA) to coordinate and regulate development in the Lake Tahoe Basin resort area and to conserve its natural resources. The Compact authorized TRPA to adopt and enforce a regional plan for land use, transportation, conservation, recreation, and public services. Petitioners, Basin property owners, brought suit in Federal District Court alleging that TRPA and its individual members and executive officer (also respondents) had adopted a land-use ordinance that destroyed the value of petitioners' property in violation of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, and seeking monetary and equitable relief. To support their federal claim, petitioners asserted, inter alia, that respondents had acted under color of state law and that therefore their cause of action was authorized by 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and jurisdiction was provided by 28 U.S.C. § 1343. The District Court dismissed the complaint, holding that although a cause of action for "inverse condemnation" was sufficiently alleged, the action could not be maintained against TRPA because it had no authority to condemn property and that the individual respondents were immune from liability. The Court of Appeals, while reinstating the complaint against the individual respondents on other grounds, rejected petitioners' claims based on §§ 1983 and 1343, holding that congressional approval had transformed the Compact into federal law with the result that respondents had acted pursuant to federal authority rather than under color of state law. The court further held that TRPA was immune from suit under the Eleventh Amendment and that with respect to the individual respondents they should be absolutely immune for conduct of a legislative character and qualifiedly immune for executive action. Held:

1. Petitioners stated a cause of action under § 1983 and hence properly invoked federal jurisdiction under § 1343. The requirement of federal approval of the Compact did not foreclose a finding that respondents' conduct was "under color of state law" within the meaning of § 1983. The facts with respect to TRPA's operation—such as that its implementation depended upon the appointment of members by both States and their subdivisions and upon financing by counties; that the appointees, in discharging their duties as TRPA officials, also serve the interests of the appointing units; that federal involvement is limited to the appointment of one nonvoting member; and that each State has an absolute right to withdraw from the Compact—adequately characterize respondents' alleged actions as "under color of state law." Pp. 398-400.

2. TRPA is not immune from liability under the Eleventh Amendment. The States' intention in creating TRPA, the terms of the Compact, and TRPA's actual operation make clear that nothing short of an absolute rule would allow TRPA to claim sovereign immunity, and because the Eleventh Amendment prescribes no such rule, TRPA is subject to "the judicial power of the United States" within the meaning of that Amendment. Pp. 400-402.

3. To the extent that the evidence discloses that the individual respondents were acting in a legislative capacity, they are entitled to absolute immunity from federal damages liability. "Legislators are immune from deterrents to the uninhibited discharge of their legislative duty, not for their private indulgence but for the public good," Tenney v. Brandhove, 341 U.S. 367, 377, 71 S.Ct. 783, 95 L.Ed. 1019, and this reasoning is equally applicable to federal, state, and regional legislators. Whatever potential damages liability regional legislators may face as a matter of state law, petitioners' federal claims do not encompass the recovery of damages from TRPA members acting in a legislative capacity. Pp. 402-406.

566 F.2d 1353, reversed in part and affirmed in part.

John J. Bartko, San Francisco, Cal., for petitioners.

Kenneth C. Rollston, South Lake Tahoe, Cal., and E. Clement Shute, Jr., Asst. Atty. Gen., San Francisco, Cal., for respondents.

Mr. Justice STEVENS delivered the opinion of the Court.

We granted certiorari to decide whether the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, an entity created by Compact between California and Nevada, is entitled to the immunity that the Eleventh Amendment provides to the compacting States themselves.1 436 U.S. 943, 98 S.Ct. 2843, 56 L.Ed.2d 784. The case also presents the question whether the individual members of the Agency's governing body are entitled to absolute immunity from federal damages claims when acting in a legislative capacity.

Lake Tahoe, a unique mountain lake, is located partly in California and partly in Nevada. The Lake Tahoe Basin, an area comprising 500 square miles, is a popular resort area that has grown rapidly in recent years.2

In 1968, the States of California and Nevada agreed to create a single agency to coordinate and regulate development in the Basin and to conserve its natural resources. As required by the Constitution,3 in 1969 Congress gave its consent to the Compact, and the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA) was organized.4 The Compact authorized TRPA to adopt and to enforce a regional plan for land use, transportation, conservation, recreation, and public services.5

Petitioners own property in the Lake Tahoe Basin. In 1973, they filed a complaint in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California alleging that TRPA, the individual members of its governing body, and its executive officer had adopted a land-use ordinance and general plan, and engaged in other conduct, that destroyed the economic value of petitioners' property.6 Petitioners alleged that respondents had thereby taken their property without due process of law and without just compensation in violation of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States. They sought monetary and equitable relief.

Petitioners advanced alternative theories to support their federal claim. First, they asserted that the alleged violations of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments gave rise to an implied cause of action, comparable to the claim based on an alleged violation of the Fourth Amendment recognized in Bivens v. Six Unknown Fed. Narcotics Agents, 403 U.S. 388, 91 S.Ct. 1999, 29 L.Ed.2d 619, and that jurisdiction could be predicated on 28 U.S.C. § 1331.7 Second, they claimed that respondents had acted under color of state law and therefore their cause of action was authorized by 42 U.S.C. § 1983 8 and jurisdiction was provided by 28 U.S.C. § 1343.9

The District Court dismissed the complaint. Although it concluded that the complaint sufficiently alleged a cause of action for "inverse condemnation," 10 it held that such an action could not be brought against TRPA because that agency did not have the authority to condemn property. The court also held that the individual defendants were immune from liability for the exercise of the discretionary functions alleged in the complaint.

On appeal, the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of TRPA, but reinstated the complaint against the individual respondents. 566 F.2d 1353. Addressing first the questions of cause of action and jurisdiction, the Court of Appeals rejected petitioners' claims based on §§ 1983 and 1343. The court held that congressional approval had transformed the Compact between the States into federal law. As a result, the respondents were acting pursuant to federal authority, rather than under color of state law, and §§ 1983 and 1343 could not be invoked to provide a cause of action and federal jurisdiction. But the court accepted petitioners' alternative argument: It held that they had alleged a deprivation of due process in violation of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, that an implied remedy comparable to that upheld in Bivens, supra, was available, and that federal jurisdiction was provided by § 1331.

Having found a cause of action and a basis for federal jurisdiction, the court turned to the immunity questions. Although the point had not been argued, the Court of Appeals decided that the Eleventh Amendment immunized TRPA from suit in a federal court. With respect to the individual respondents, the Court of Appeals held that absolute immunity should be afforded for conduct of a legislative character and qualified immunity for executive action. Since the record did not adequately disclose whether the challenged conduct was legislative or executive, the court remanded for a hearing.

Petitioners ask this Court to hold that TRPA is not entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity and that the individual respondents are not entitled to absolute immunity when acting in a legislative capacity. Because none of the respondents filed a cross-petition for certiorari, we have no occasion to review the Court of Appeals' additional holding that a violation of the Due Process Clause was adequately alleged.11 For purposes of our decision, we assume the sufficiency of those allegations.

I

Before addressing the immunity issues, we must consider whether petitioners properly invoked the jurisdiction of a federal court. While respondents did not cross petition for certiorari, they now argue that the Bivens rationale does not apply to a claim based on the deprivation of property rather than liberty, and therefore the Court of Appeals' jurisdictional analysis was defective.

We do not normally address any issues other than those fairly comprised within the questions presented by the petition for certiorari and any cross-petitions. An exception to this rule is the question of jurisdiction: even if not raised by the parties, we cannot ignore the absence of federal...

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