Burnett v. Grattan

LOCATION: Board of Immigration Appeals

DOCKET NO.: 83-264
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

CITATION: 468 US 42 (1984)
ARGUED: Mar 26, 1984
DECIDED: Jun 27, 1984

Paul Farrell Strain - on behalf of the Petitioners
Sheldon H. Laskin - on behalf of the Respondents

Facts of the case


Media for Burnett v. Grattan

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 26, 1984 in Burnett v. Grattan

Paul Farrell Strain:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court.

This case is here on writ of certiorari to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.

It arises from the discharge of two state employees, the Respondents here who were members of the administrative staff of the president of Coppin State College.

The Respondents are white.

Coppin State is predominantly black and black-managed.

The Respondents sued, claiming racial discrimination and, in one case, sex discrimination; and basing their claims on the Civil Rights Statutes.

The question is whether the statute of limitations of Maryland's Fair Employment Practice Statute is the best analogy to Respondents' suit, or whether the fact that the Fair Employment Statute remedy is not a purely judicial cause of action makes it inappropriate.

I will argue that Maryland's Fair Employment Statute is the wholly appropriate analogy; second, that there are sound reasons of public policy supporting its application to Respondents' suit; and finally, that the Maryland statutory six-month limitation period is fully adequate for Respondents to assert their cause of action.

As to the first issue concerning the appropriate analogy.

Maryland's Fair Employment Practice Statute which is Article 49B of the Maryland Code is the closest analogy to Respondents' suit.

And in that regard, it has almost no competition concerning which is the analogous statute.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

On that point, I notice that the Respondent cited a case, federal case Davidson v. Koerber that referred to Article 23 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights, in which the District Court held that it's beyond dispute that Maryland's Article 23 protects the same interests as the 14th Amendment, and therefore Section 1983.

You think the Respondents could have brought an action under Article 23 in this case, then, in Maryland?

Paul Farrell Strain:

Justice O'Connor, I think the Respondents very definitely could not have brought an action under Article 23.

Let me correct that slightly.

They did bring an action under Article 23, and as the district judge found, there is no action under Article 23.

Maryland courts have never recognized any direct action under the Maryland Constitution.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Despite that Davidson v. Koerber case; is that right?

Paul Farrell Strain:

That's correct, Justice O'Connor.

Judge Miller in the Davidson case did not address the issue of whether Maryland courts have recognized a direct action.

Judge Miller did address the issue of the appropriate analogy, but he was evidently not presented with the issue of whether there was such an action.

Of course, if the Maryland courts were to address the issue of whether there is a direct cause of action under the Maryland Constitution, I think for the same considerations that led this Court in Bush v. Lucas not to infer such a cause of action where there is a comprehensive statutory scheme, for that same reason, I would expect the Maryland court... Maryland Court of Appeals not to infer direct cause of action for employment discrimination.

And after all, that is what Respondents Grattan and Hedman are challenging.

Their cause of action is for employment discrimination.

And Article 49B is the state cause of action for Respondents Grattan and Hedman, and there is no dispute about that.

Where we part company with the Respondents is in their claim that the fact that Article 49B is not purely judicial defeats the analogy.

And I submit that neither the language nor the logic of this Court's decisions justify Respondents' position.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Mr. Strain, the Court of Appeals, though, said that the Maryland legislature intended the three-year statute of limitations period to apply to Section 1983 actions.

Paul Farrell Strain:

Justice O'Connor, I don't recall that precise language in Chief Judge Winters' opinion for the Fourth Circuit.

I think I recall language of Chief Judge Winter where he questioned whether the Maryland legislature intended the Fair Employment Statute to apply to Section 1983.