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Injunctive Relief Reversed Due to Lack of Personal Stake

The U.S. Supreme Court reversed a judgment granting injunctive
relief in a §1983 action against Philadelphia police. Respondents brought
a §1983 action against Philadelphia officials, including the Mayor and the
Police Commissioner, alleging a pervasive pattern of illegal and
unconstitutional police mistreatment of minority citizens in particular
and Philadelphia residents in general." A U.S. District Court granted
injunctive relief and awarded attorney fees at 357 F.Supp. 1289. The
injunctive relief was affirmed by the Court of Appeals for the Third
Circuit at 506 F.2d 542 (1974).

The U.S. Supreme Court reversed, holding: 1) Respondents lacked
the requisite personal stake in the outcome," i.e. the injunctive relief,
as their claim was based not upon what the named petitioners might do to
them in the future but upon what one of a small, unnamed minority of
policemen might do to them." 2) The district court's intrusion into the
discretionary authority of petitioners was unwarranted based upon the
number of alleged incidents of constitutional dimension." See: Rizzo v.
Goode, 423 U.S. 362, 96 S.Ct. 598, 46 L.Ed.2d 561 (1976).

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Related legal case

Rizzo v. Goode

RIZZO v. GOODE ET AL., 96 S. Ct. 598, 423 U.S. 362 (U.S. 01/21/1976)


[2] No. 74-942

[3] 96 S. Ct. 598, 423 U.S. 362, 46 L. Ed. 2d 561, 1976

[4] January 21, 1976



[7] James M. Penny, Jr., argued the cause for petitioners. With him on the briefs was Stephen Arinson.

[8] Peter Hearn argued the cause for respondents. With him on the brief were Nancy J. Gellman, Jack J. Levine, William Lee Akers, and Harry Lore.*fn*

[9] Burger, Douglas, Brennan, Stewart, White, Marshall, Blackmun, Powell, Rehnquist; Stevens took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

[10] Author: Rehnquist

[ 423 U.S. Page 364]

[11] MR. JUSTICE REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.

[12] The District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, after parallel trials of separate actions*fn1 filed

[ 423 U.S. Page 365]

in 1970, entered an order in 1973 requiring petitioners "to submit to [the District] Court for its approval a comprehensive program for improving the handling of citizen complaints alleging police misconduct" in accordance with a comprehensive opinion filed together with the order. The proposed program, negotiated between petitioners and respondents for the purpose of complying with the order, was incorporated six months later into a final judgment. Petitioner City Police Commissioner was thereby required, inter alia, to put into force a directive governing the manner by which citizens' complaints against police officers should henceforth be handled by the department.*fn2 The Court of Appeals for

[ 423 U.S. Page 366]

the Third Circuit, upholding the District Court's finding that the existing procedures for handling citizen complaints were "inadequate," affirmed the District Court's choice of equitable relief: "The revisions were... ordered because they appeared to have the potential for prevention of future police misconduct."506 F.2d 542, 548 (CA3 1974). We granted certiorari to consider petitioners' claims that the judgment of the District Court represents an unwarranted intrusion by the federal judiciary into the discretionary authority committed to them by state and local law to perform their official functions. We find ourselves substantially in agreement with these claims, and we therefore reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals.

[13] I

[14] The central thrust of respondents' efforts in the two trials was to lay a foundation for equitable intervention, in one degree or another, because of an assertedly pervasive pattern of illegal and unconstitutional mistreatment by police officers. This mistreatment was said to have been directed against minority citizens in particular

[ 423 U.S. Page 367]

and against all Philadelphia residents in general. The named individual and group respondents were certified to represent these two classes. The principal petitioners here -- the Mayor, the City Managing Director, and the Police Commissioner -- were charged with conduct ranging from express authorization or encouragement of this mistreatment to failure to act in a manner so as to assure that it would not recur in the future.

[15] Hearing some 250 witnesses during 21 days of hearings, the District Court was faced with a staggering amount of evidence; each of the 40-odd incidents might alone have been the piece de resistance of a short, separate trial. The District Court carefully and conscientiously resolved often sharply conflicting testimony, and made detailed findings of fact,*fn3 which both sides now accept, with respect to eight of the incidents presented by the Goode respondents and with respect to 28 of those presented by COPPAR.*fn4

[16] The principal antagonists in the eight incidents recounted in Goode were Officers DeFazio and D'Amico, members of the city's "Highway Patrol" force. They were not named as parties to the action. The District Court found the conduct of these officers to be violative of the constitutional rights of the citizen complainants in three*fn5 of the incidents, and further found that complaints to the police Board of Inquiry had resulted in one case in a relatively mild five-day suspension and in another case a conclusion that there was no basis for disciplinary action.

[17] In only two of the 28 incidents recounted in COPPAR

[ 423 U.S. Page 368]

(which ranged in time from October 1969 to October 1970) did the District Court draw an explicit conclusion that the police conduct amounted to a deprivation of a federally secured right; it expressly found no police misconduct whatsoever in four of the incidents; and in one other the departmental policy complained of was subsequently changed. As to the remaining 21, the District Court did not proffer a comment on the degree of misconduct that had occurred: whether simply improvident, illegal under police regulations or state law, or actually violative of the individual's constitutional rights. Respondents' brief asserts that of this latter group, the facts as found in 14 of them "reveal [federal] violations."*fn6 While we think that somewhat of an overstatment, we accept it, arguendo, and thus take it as established that, insofar as the COPPAR record reveals, there were 16 incidents occurring in the city of Philadelphia over a year's time in which numbers of police officers violated citizens' constitutional rights. Additionally, the District Court made reference to citizens' complaints to the police in seven of those 16; in four of which, involving conduct of constitutional dimension, the police department received complaints but ultimately took no action against the offending officers.

[18] The District Court made a number of conclusions of law, not all of which are relevant to our analysis. It found that the evidence did not establish the existence of any policy on the part of the named petitioners to violate the legal and constitutional rights of the plaintiff classes, but it did find that evidence of departmental procedure indicated a tendency to discourage the filing of civilian complaints and to minimize the consequences of police

[ 423 U.S. Page 369]

misconduct. It found that as to the larger plaintiff class, the residents of Philadelphia, only a small percentage of policemen commit violations of their legal and constitutional rights, but that the frequency with which such violations occur is such that "they cannot be dismissed as rare, isolated instances." COPPAR v. Rizzo,357 F. Supp. 1289, 1319 (ED Pa. 1973). In the course of its opinion, the District Court commented:

[19] "In the course of these proceedings, much of the argument has been directed toward the proposition that courts should not attempt to supervise the functioning of the police department. Although, contrary to the defendants' assertions, the Court's legal power to do just that is firmly established,... I am not persuaded that any such drastic remedy is called for, at least initially, in the present cases." Id., at 1320.

[20] The District Court concluded by directing petitioners to draft, for the court's approval, "a comprehensive program for dealing adequately with civilian complaints," to be formulated along the following "guidelines" suggested by the court:

[21] "(1) Appropriate revision of police manuals and rules of procedure spelling out in some detail, in simple language, the 'dos and don'ts' of permissible conduct in dealing with civilians (for example, manifestations of racial bias, derogatory remarks, offensive language, etc.; unnecessary damage to property and other unreasonable conduct in executing search warrants; limitations on pursuit of persons charged only with summary offenses; recording and processing civilian complaints, etc.). (2) Revision of procedures for processing complaints against police, including (a) ready availability of forms for use by civilians in lodging complaints against police

[ 423 U.S. Page 370]

officers; (b) a screening procedure for eliminating frivolous complaints; (c) prompt and adequate investigation of complaints; (d) adjudication of non-frivolous complaints by an impartial individual or body, insulated so far as practicable from chain of command pressures, with a fair opportunity afforded the complainant to present his complaint, and to the police officer to present his defense; and (3) prompt notification to the concerned parties, informing them of the outcome." Id., at 1321.

[22] While noting that the "guidelines" were consistent with "generally recognized minimum standards" and imposed "no substantial burdens" on the police department, the District Court emphasized that respondents had no constitutional right to improved police procedures for handling civilian complaints. But given that violations of constitutional rights of citizens occur in "unacceptably" high numbers, and are likely to continue to occur, the court-mandated revision was a "necessary first step" in attempting to prevent future abuses. Ibid. On petitioners' appeal the Court of Appeals affirmed.

[23] II

[24] These actions were brought, and the affirmative equitable relief fashioned, under the Civil Rights Act of 1871, 42 U.S.C. § 1983. It provides that "[e]very person who, under color of [law] subjects, or causes to be subjected, any... person within the jurisdiction [of the United States] to the deprivation of any rights... secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law [or] suit in equity...." The plain words of the statute impose liability -- whether in the form of payment of redressive damages or being placed under an injunction -- only for conduct which "subjects, or causes to be subjected" the

[ 423 U.S. Page 371]

complainant to a deprivation of a right secured by the Constitution and laws.

[25] The findings of fact made by the District Court at the conclusion of these two parallel trials -- in sharp contrast to that which respondents sought to prove with respect to petitioners -- disclose a central paradox which permeates that court's legal conclusions. Individual police officers not named as parties to the action were found to have violated the constitutional rights of particular individuals, only a few of whom were parties plaintiff. As the facts developed, there was no affirmative link between the occurrence of the various incidents of police misconduct and the adoption of any plan or policy by petitioners -- express or otherwise -- showing their authorization or approval of such misconduct. Instead, the sole causal connection found by the District Court between petitioners and the individual respondents was that in the absence of a change in police disciplinary procedures, the incidents were likely to continue to occur, not with respect to them but as to the members of the classes they represented. In sum, the genesis of this lawsuit -- a heated dispute between individual citizens and certain policemen -- has evolved into an attempt by the federal judiciary to resolve a "controversy" between the entire citizenry of Philadelphia and the petitioning elected and appointed officials over what steps might, in the Court of Appeals' words, "[appear] to have the potential for prevention of future police misconduct."506 F.2d, at 548. The lower courts have, we think, overlooked several significant decisions of this Court in validating this type of litigation and the relief ultimately granted.

[26] A

[27] We first of all entertain serious doubts whether on the facts as found there was made out the requisite Art. III

[ 423 U.S. Page 372]

case or controversy between the individually named respondents and petitioners. In O'Shea v. Littleton, 414 U.S. 488 (1974), the individual respondents, plaintiffs in the District Court, alleged that petitioners, a county magistrate and judge, had embarked on a continuing, intentional practice of racially discriminatory bond setting, sentencing, and assessing of jury fees. No specific instances involving the individual respondents were set forth in the prayer for injunctive relief against the judicial officers. And even though respondents' counsel at oral argument had stated that some of the named respondents had in fact "suffered from the alleged unconstitutional practices," the Court concluded that "[p]ast exposure to illegal conduct does not in itself show a present case or controversy regarding injunctive relief, however, if unaccompanied by any continuing, present adverse effects." Id., at 495-496. The Court further recognized that while "past wrongs are evidence bearing on whether there is a real and immediate threat of repeated injury," the attempt to anticipate under what circumstances the respondents there would be made to appear in the future before petitioners "takes us into the area of speculation and conjecture." Id., at 496-497. These observations apply here with even more force, for the individual respondents' claim to "real and immediate" injury rests not upon what the named petitioners might do to them in the future -- such as set a bond on the basis of race -- but upon what one of a small, unnamed minority of policemen might do to them in the future because of that unknown policeman's perception of departmental disciplinary procedures. This hypothesis is even more attenuated than those allegations of future injury found insufficient in O'Shea to warrant invocation of federal jurisdiction. Thus, insofar as the individual respondents were concerned, we think they lacked the requisite "personal

[ 423 U.S. Page 373]

stake in the outcome," Baker v. Carr, 369 U.S. 186, 204 (1962), i.e., the order overhauling police disciplinary procedures.

[28] B

[29] That conclusion alone might appear to end the matter, for O'Shea also noted that "if none of the named plaintiffs... establishes the requisite of a case or controversy with the defendants, none may seek relief on behalf of himself or any other member of the class" which they purport to represent.414 U.S., at 494. But, unlike O'Shea, this case did not arise on the pleadings. The District Court, having certified the plaintiff classes, *fn7 bridged the gap between the facts shown at trial and the classwide relief sought with an unprecedented theory of § 1983 liability. It held that the classes' § 1983 actions for equitable relief against petitioners were made out on a showing of an "unacceptably high" number of those incidents of constitutional dimension -- some 20 in all -- occurring at large in a city of three million inhabitants, with 7,500 policemen.

[30] Nothing in Hague v. CIO, 307 U.S. 496 (1939), the only decision of this Court cited by the District Court,*fn8