Universities Research Association, Inc v. Coutu, No. 78-1945

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtBLACKMUN
Citation67 L.Ed.2d 662,450 U.S. 754,101 S.Ct. 1451
Docket NumberNo. 78-1945
Decision Date06 April 1981
PartiesUNIVERSITIES RESEARCH ASSOCIATION, INC., Petitioner, v. Stanley E. COUTU

450 U.S. 754
101 S.Ct. 1451
67 L.Ed.2d 662
UNIVERSITIES RESEARCH ASSOCIATION, INC., Petitioner,

v.

Stanley E. COUTU.

No. 78-1945.
Argued Nov. 10, 1980.
Decided April 6, 1981.
Syllabus

Section 1(a) of the Davis-Bacon Act provides that advertised specifications for federal construction contracts in excess of $2,000 "shall contain" a provision stating the minimum wages to be paid laborers and mechanics, which wages must be based on those the Secretary of Labor determines to be prevailing in the locality, and further provides that every contract based on such specifications "shall contain" a stipulation that the contractor will pay wages not less than those stated in the specifications. Petitioner made a contract with the Atomic Energy Commission to provide scientific and management services to the United States in connection with the construction, alteration, and repair of the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, a high-energy physics research facility. The contract was administratively determined not to call for work subject to the Act, and therefore did not contain a prevailing wage stipulation. Respondent, a former employee of petitioner, brought suit against petitioner on behalf of himself and others similarly situated, seeking damages on the theory that petitioner had violated the Davis-Bacon Act by failing to pay prevailing wages for the construction work. The District Court entered summary judgment for petitioner on the ground that since it appeared from the record that there were no express Davis-Bacon Act stipulations in the contract, it would be improper for the court to declare in the first instance that the contract was subject to the Act and to make appropriate wage determinations for the parties. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that if petitioner actually performed Davis-Bacon Act work with its own employees, respondent and his class became entitled to the prevailing wages, and the court remanded the case to allow respondent the opportunity to demonstrate, if he could, that petitioner had used him and his class to perform Davis-Bacon Act work.

Held : The Davis-Bacon Act does not confer upon an employee a private right of action for back wages under a contract that has been administratively determined not to call for work subject to the Act and thus does not contain prevailing wage stipulations. 767-784.

Page 755

(a) While requiring that certain stipulations be placed in federal construction contracts for the benefit of mechanics and laborers, § 1 of the Act does not confer rights directly on these individuals but is simply "phrased as a directive to federal agencies engaged in the disbursement of public funds." Cannon v. University of Chicago, 441 U.S. 677, 693, n. 14, 99 S.Ct. 1946, 1955, n. 14, 60 L.Ed.2d 560. That Congress did not intend to authorize a suit for back wages where there are no prevailing wage stipulations in the contract is also indicated by the absence of a provision comparable to § 3 of the Davis-Bacon Act, which confers on laborers and mechanics working under a contract containing such stipulations a conditional right of action against the contractor on the payment bond required by the Miller Act. Pp. 771-773.

(b) The Davis-Bacon Act's legislative history further supports the conclusion that implication of a private right of action under the circumstances of this case would be inconsistent with congressional intent. No contrary inference can be drawn from the Portal-to-Portal Act of 1947. Pp. 773-781.

(c) Finally, the underlying purpose of the Davis-Bacon Act's legislative scheme indicates that Congress did not intend to create the right of action asserted by respondent. To imply a private right of action to sue for Davis-Bacon Act wages under a contract that does not contain prevailing wage stipulations would destroy the careful balance the Act strikes between the interests of contractors and their employees. In addition, the implication of a private right of action where there has been no Davis-Bacon Act determination would introduce substantial uncertainty into Government contracting, and would undercut the elaborate administrative scheme promulgated to assure consistency in the administration and enforcement of the Act. Pp. 782-784.

595 F.2d 396, reversed and remanded.

Robert E. Mann, Chicago, Ill., for petitioner.

Harriet S. Shapiro, Washington, D.C., for United States, as amicus curiae, by special leave of Court.

Robert Jay Nye, Chicago, Ill., for respondent.

Page 756

Justice BLACKMUN delivered the opinion of the Court.

The Davis-Bacon Act requires that certain federal construction contracts contain a stipulation that laborers and mechanics will be paid not less than prevailing wages, as determined by the Secretary of Labor. The question presented in this case is whether the Act confers upon an employee a private right of action for back wages under a contract that has been administratively determined not to call for Davis-Bacon work, and that therefore does not contain a prevailing wage stipulation.

I

Section 1(a) of the Davis-Bacon Act of March 3, 1931 (Act), ch. 411, § 1, 46 Stat. 1494, as amended, 40 U.S.C. § 276a(a),1 provides that the advertised specifications for

Page 757

every federal contract in excess of $2,000 "for construction, alteration, and/or repair . . . of public buildings or public works of the United States . . . shall contain a provision stating the minimum wages to be paid various classes of laborers and mechanics which shall be based upon the wages that will be determined by the Secretary of Labor to be prevailing" for corresponding classes of laborers and mechanics employed on similar projects in the locality. Every contract based upon these specifications must contain a stipulation that the contractor shall pay wages not less than those stated in the specifications.2

A contract entered into pursuant to the Act must also provide that if the contractor fails to pay the minimum wages specified in the contract, the Government contracting officer may withhold so much of the accrued payments as may be considered necessary to pay the laborers and mechanics the difference between the contract wages and those actually paid. Section 3 of the Act, as added Aug. 30, 1935, 49 Stat.

Page 758

1012, 40 U.S.C. § 276a-2,3 authorizes the Comptroller General to pay these accrued payments directly to the laborers and mechanics.

Should the withheld funds prove insufficient to reimburse the employees, § 3 confers on them "the right of action and/or of intervention against the contractor and his sureties conferred by law upon persons furnishing labor or materials." Laborers and mechanics working under a contract that contains Davis-Bacon Act stipulations thus may themselves bring suit against the contractor on the payment bond that the Miller Act of August 24, 1935, 49 Stat. 793, as amended, 40 U.S.C. § 270a et seq. (1976 ed. and Supp. III), requires for the protection of persons supplying labor or materials under certain federal construction contracts.4 In addition,

Page 759

if the contractor fails to pay at least the stipulated minimum wages, the contract may be terminated and the contractor debarred from all Government contracts for a period of three years.5

Pursuant to Reorganization Plan No. 14 of 1950, 5 U.S.C.App., p. 746, the Secretary of Labor (Secretary) has issued regulations designed to "assure coordination of administration and consistency of enforcement" of the Act and some 60 related statutes.6 See 29 CFR Parts 1, 3, 5, 7 (1980).7 In

Page 760

their turn, various contracting agencies have issued detailed regulations concerning the applicability of the Act to the contracts they let. See, e. g., 41 CFR Subpart 9-18.7 (1979) (Department of Energy). The contracting agency has the initial responsibility for determining whether a particular contract is subject to the Davis-Bacon Act. See A. Thieblot, The Davis-Bacon Act 31 (Labor Relations and Public Policy Series Report No. 10, Univ. of Pa., 1975) (hereinafter Thieblot). If the agency determines that the contract is subject to the Act, it must determine the appropriate prevailing wage rate,8 and ensure that the rate chosen is inserted in the requests for bids on the project, as well as in any resulting contract. See 29 CFR § 5.5 (1980); Thieblot, at 31-34.

The contracting agency's coverage and classification determinations are subject to administrative review. Prior to the award of a contract, a contractor, labor organization, or employee may appeal a final agency determination that a project is not covered by the Act to the Department of Labor.

Page 761

29 CFR §§ 5.12 and 7.9 (1980).9 Disputes over the proper classification of workers under a contract containing Davis-Bacon provisions must be referred to the Secretary for determination. 41 CFR § 1-18.703-1(i) (1979); 29 CFR § 5.12 (1980). See North Georgia Bldg. & C. T. C. v. U. S. Dept. of Transp., 399 F.Supp. 58 (ND Ga. 1975). In turn, any "interested person" may appeal the Secretary's wage rate determination to the Wage Appeals Board of the Department of Labor, provided review is sought prior to the award of the contract at issue. 29 CFR § 1.16 (1980); 29 CFR Part 7 (1980). See Thieblot, at 40-43.10

Page 762

II

Petitioner Universities Research Association, Inc., is a not-for-profit consortium of North American universities. In 1967, petitioner made a contract with the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) to provide scientific and management services to the United States in connection with the construction, alteration, and repair of the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, a high-energy physics research facility located in Kane and Du Page Counties, Ill. Effective April 1972, this contract was modified to provide that petitioner also would furnish personnel to administer and operate the Fermi Laboratory. The contract was later assumed in turn by the AEC's successors, the Energy...

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334 practice notes
  • Health and Human Services Department,
    • United States
    • Federal Register February 14, 2002
    • February 14, 2002
    ...Government when Federal funds are used to perform construction activities. See generally Universities Research Ass'n, Inc. v. Coutu, 450 U.S. 754, 772 (1981) (``The Davis-Bacon Act requires that certain stipulations be placed in Federal construction contracts for the benefit of mechanics an......
  • Updating the Davis-Bacon and Related Acts Regulations
    • United States
    • Labor Department
    • Invalid date
    ...contractors from basing their bids on wages lower than those prevailing in the area.'' Universities Research Ass'n, Inc. v. Coutu, 450 U.S. 754, 773 (1981) (quoting H. Comm. on Educ. and Lab., Legislative History of the Bacon Act, 87th Cong., 2d Sess., 1 (Comm. Print 1962)). By requiring th......
  • Lugo v. Farmer's Pride Inc., Civil Action No. 07–0749.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Pennsylvania)
    • July 20, 2011
    ...the decision expanded employers' liability under the FLSA for time employees spent walking. See Univs. Research Ass'n, Inc. v. Coutu, 450 U.S. 754, 101 S.Ct. 1451, 67 L.Ed.2d 662 (1981) (The Portal–to–Portal Act “was intended to curtail the numerous suits for unpaid compensation and liquida......
  • Frank Bros., Inc. v. Wisconsin Dept. of Transp., No. 03-3207.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (7th Circuit)
    • June 3, 2005
    ...for a detailed web of legislation which, at its heart was "designed for the benefit of ... workers." Universities Research Ass'n v. Coutu, 450 U.S. 754, 771, 101 S.Ct. 1451, 67 L.Ed.2d 662 (1981) (quoting Binghamton Const. Co., 347 U.S. at 178, 74 S.Ct. 438). The Supreme Court has specifica......
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329 cases
  • Lugo v. Farmer's Pride Inc., Civil Action No. 07–0749.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Pennsylvania)
    • July 20, 2011
    ...the decision expanded employers' liability under the FLSA for time employees spent walking. See Univs. Research Ass'n, Inc. v. Coutu, 450 U.S. 754, 101 S.Ct. 1451, 67 L.Ed.2d 662 (1981) (The Portal–to–Portal Act “was intended to curtail the numerous suits for unpaid compensation and liquida......
  • Frank Bros., Inc. v. Wisconsin Dept. of Transp., No. 03-3207.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (7th Circuit)
    • June 3, 2005
    ...for a detailed web of legislation which, at its heart was "designed for the benefit of ... workers." Universities Research Ass'n v. Coutu, 450 U.S. 754, 771, 101 S.Ct. 1451, 67 L.Ed.2d 662 (1981) (quoting Binghamton Const. Co., 347 U.S. at 178, 74 S.Ct. 438). The Supreme Court has specifica......
  • Perez v. C.R. Calderon Constr., Inc., Civil Action No. 12–697 (BAH)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • December 22, 2016
    ...the rates at which employees are to be paid on "certain federal construction contracts," Universities Research Ass'n, Inc. v. Coutu, 450 U.S. 754, 756, 101 S.Ct. 1451, 67 L.Ed.2d 662 (1981), and requires that disputes over the appropriate wage rate classification be resolved administrativel......
  • Chao v. Virginia Dept. of Transp., Civ. A. No. 3:00CV457.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Virginia)
    • July 18, 2001
    ...in Anderson v. Mount Clemens Pottery Co., 328 U.S. 680, 66 S.Ct. 1187, 90 L.Ed. 1515 (1946)."10 Universities Research Ass'n v. Coutu, 450 U.S. 754, 780, 101 S.Ct. 1451, 67 L.Ed.2d 662 (1981), citing Unexcelled Chem. Corp. v. United States, 345 U.S. 59, 61, 73 S.Ct. 580, 97 L.Ed. 821 This ac......
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4 books & journal articles
  • Addressing The Problem: The Judicial Branches
    • United States
    • Environmental justice: legal theory and practice
    • February 17, 2009
    ...the agencies that will do the regulating. Like the statute found not to create a right of action in Universities Research Ass’n v. Coutu , 450 U.S. 754 (1981), §602 is “phrased as a directive to federal agencies engaged in the distribution of public funds,” id. at 772. When this is true, “[......
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    • Environmental justice: legal theory and practice - second edition
    • May 23, 2012
    ...the agencies that will do the regulating. Like the statute found not to create a right of action in Universities Research Ass’n v. Coutu , 450 U.S. 754 (1981), §602 is “phrased as a directive to federal agencies engaged in the distribution of public funds,” id. at 772. When this is true, “[......
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    • Environmental justice: legal theory and practice. 3rd Edition
    • November 20, 2014
    ...the agencies that will do the regulating. Like the statute found not to create a right of action in Universities Research Ass’n v. Coutu , 450 U.S. 754 (1981), §602 is “phrased as a directive to federal agencies engaged in the distribution of public funds,” id. at 772. When this is true, “[......
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    • United States
    • Environmental justice: legal theory and practice. 4th edition
    • February 20, 2018
    ...the agencies that will do the regulating. Like the statute found not to create a right of action in Universities Research Ass’n v. Coutu, 450 U.S. 754 (1981), §602 is “phrased as a directive to federal agencies engaged in the distribution of public funds,” id. at 772. When this is true, “[t......

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