United States v. City of Philadelphia, Civ. A. No. 79-2937.

Citation482 F. Supp. 1248
Decision Date30 October 1979
Docket NumberCiv. A. No. 79-2937.
PartiesUNITED STATES of America v. CITY OF PHILADELPHIA; Frank L. Rizzo, Mayor of Philadelphia; Hillel S. Levinson, Managing Director; Marvin E. Aronson, M.D., Medical Examiner; Irvin R. Davis, Director of Finance; Joseph F. O'Neill, Police Commissioner; Harry G. Fox, Deputy Police Commissioner; Morton B. Solomon, Deputy Police Commissioner; Frank A. Scafidi, Chief Inspector of the Philadelphia Police Department; Richard Bridgeford, Chief Inspector of the Philadelphia Police Department; Joseph Golden, Chief Inspector of the Philadelphia Police Department; Robert Wolfinger, Chief Inspector of the Philadelphia Police Department; James Herron, Chief Inspector of the Philadelphia Police Department; John McHugh, Chief Inspector of the Philadelphia Police Department; Ferdinand Spiewak, Chief Inspector of the Philadelphia Police Department; Gregore Sambor, Chief Inspector of the Philadelphia Police Department; Edwin S. Parker, Chief Inspector of the Philadelphia Police Department; William Devlin, Chief Inspector of the Philadelphia Police Department; John Craig, Chief Inspector of the Philadelphia Police Department; David Cordivari, Captain of the Philadelphia Police Department; Edmund Lyons, Superintendent of Prisons.
CourtUnited States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Pennsylvania)



L. Michael Thrasher, Drew S. Days, III, Charles Tiefer, Martha Fleetwood, Frederick S. Mittelman, Washington, D. C., Peter F. Vaira, John Penrose, William J. McGettigan, Howard D. Finkelstein, Philadelphia, Pa., for plaintiff.

Sheldon Albert, John R. Padova, James E. Beasley, Ellen Q. Suria, Richard A. Sprague, Edward H. Rubenstone, Stephen T. Saltz, Mark Goldberg, Ralph J. Teti, James M. Moran, Philadelphia, Pa., for defendants.


DITTER, District Judge.

In this widely publicized lawsuit, the United States government, through its Attorney General, seeks broad declaratory and equitable relief against the allegedly unconstitutional practices and policies of the Philadelphia police department. In addition to the City of Philadelphia itself, the named defendants include the Mayor, the Managing Director, the Medical Examiner, the Director of Finance, and the Police Commissioner, as well as some fifteen high-ranking police officials.

The complaint alleges that there exists a pervasive pattern of police abuse in Philadelphia, the effect of which is to deny basic federal constitutional rights to persons of all races, colors, and national origins. This abuse is said to consist of such practices as, for example, using deadly force where it is unnecessary, physically abusing arrestees and prisoners, extracting information and confessions by means of physical brutality, stopping persons without probable cause, and conducting illegal searches and seizures. Moreover, the plaintiff charges that the police department actually facilitates these abusive practices by maintaining policies and procedures which thwart the investigation of complaints and shield the officers involved from any kind of discipline or scrutiny. Thus, for example, it is alleged that the department fragments abuse investigations, suppresses evidence that inculpates police officers, accepts implausible explanations of abusive conduct, harasses complainants and witnesses, and prematurely terminates investigations of police brutality.

The government also charges that some or all of the individual defendants are personally responsible for promulgating and perpetuating these practices in furtherance of a deliberate effort to foster, as well as to condone, the intrusion upon civil rights by police officers.

Finally, the complaint alleges that while police abuse in Philadelphia is visited to some extent on all segments of the population, it has a disproportionately severe impact on black and Hispanic persons. This case, therefore, also contains an aspect of racial discrimination.

In their answer to the complaint, the defendants raised the question of the Attorney General's standing to maintain this lawsuit. On my order, the parties addressed the standing issue in extensive briefs, the quality of which was exceptional. After considering these briefs at great length and after my own research, I conclude that there exists no authority, express or implied, for the bringing of this lawsuit. Rather, I hold that the Attorney General has no standing before this court when he seeks to advance the civil rights of third persons, absent an express grant of the necessary power by an Act of Congress. This complaint, therefore, must be dismissed without ever testing the merits of its deeply serious charges.1


By the filing of this complaint, the Attorney General seeks to obtain broad equitable relief, the effect of which would be to alter the structure and the administration of a major municipal police force. I am told that this sweeping relief is necessary because the present policies and procedures of that police force violate the Constitution and the civil rights laws of the United States. The present issue is whether the Attorney General has the power to maintain such a lawsuit. Surely, the discussion must begin with the history of the attempts in Congress to grant powers of this type to the Attorney General by express statutory enactment. Of overwhelming significance to this case is the fact that on three separate occasions, these attempts have failed.

In an Executive Communication dated April 9, 1956, then Attorney General Herbert Brownell addressed what he viewed as a deficiency in the available means for enforcing 42 U.S.C. § 1985. That section, of course, attempts to provide relief from conspiracies to interfere with constitutional rights. Mr. Brownell pointed out that under the terms of the statute, such conspiracies "can be redressed only by a civil suit by the individual injured thereby." He urged the Congress, therefore, to consider "a proposal authorizing the Attorney General to initiate civil action where necessary to protect the rights secured by that statute." H.R.Rep. No. 291, 85th Cong., 1st Sess., reprinted in 1957 U.S.Code Cong. & Admin. News, pp. 1966, 1978, 1980.

Attorney General Brownell's suggestion was incorporated in the proposed Title III of the Civil Rights Act of 1957, which began in Congress as bill No. H.R. 6127. A majority of the House Judiciary Committee recommended approval of this legislation, including Title III. As proposed, the bill "amends existing law so as to permit the Federal Government to seek from the civil courts preventive or other necessary relief in civil-rights cases." H.R.Rep No. 291, supra, at 1966. It "provides that the Attorney General may institute for the United States or in the name of the United States a civil action for preventive relief whenever a person has committed any acts or practices which would give rise to a cause of action under the existing law as contained in section 1985." Id. at 1974. Moreover, the committee majority noted that the proposed amendment "authorizes the Attorney General to institute an action whenever any persons are about to engage in those acts and practices" which would violate the statute, thus clearly demonstrating that Title III contemplated suits for injunctive relief. Id. at 1975.

Finally, the report was careful to point out that, as proposed, Title III would not create any new rights. Rather, the bill created "a new remedy" (emphasis added), because its effect was "to provide the Attorney General with the right to bring a civil action . . . to prevent acts or practices" which would violate section 1985. Id. It is evident, therefore, that in the minds of Title III's authors, this remedy did not previously exist.

Not all the members of the House Judiciary Committee joined in hailing the proposed amendments. The minority report on H.R. 6127 described Title III's provisions as "truly shocking." At the heart of the objections was the "blanket authority to institute civil actions" which the new law would confer upon the Attorney General, thereby endowing him "with the privilege of setting up law through injunction." H.R.Rep. No. 291, supra, at 2001.

What concerned the minority most was the extent of intrusion that Title III would permit upon the authority of state and local officials. Of particular relevance for our purposes is the fact that the minority report anticipated the very lawsuit that the Attorney General now has brought. "Consider the effect of this legislation on State and local law enforcement; police officers will be faced with the threat of a Federal injunction." Id., at 2001. The report went on to point out the plight into which local officials will be thrust when they are faced with "an all-powerful Federal Government which proceeds against them by way of injunction." Further objection was raised on the ground that "of course these proceedings can and doubtless will be brought at the most inconvenient times, so far as conducting the affairs of those particular officials are sic concerned." Id.2

Finally, the minority concluded their condemnation of Title III with a fearful prediction: "Armed with the powers that this bill would expressly confer, a politically minded Attorney General, in combination with an unreasonable Federal district judge, could terrorize the people in any community. No Attorney General should ever seek such powers and Congress ought never to grant them." Id. at 2015.

The concerns raised by the committee minority in the House were echoed loudly when the bill reached the floor of the Senate. Many senators decried the federal intrusion upon local authority that Title III would permit. Thus, Senator Kefauver expressed his opposition by stating that "the Federal Government cannot take it upon itself to referee the police forces and the sheriff's officers of every county and locality in the nation." 103 Cong.Rec. 12530 (1957). Rather, the...

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