City of Newport v. Fact Concerts, Inc.

PETITIONER: City of Newport
RESPONDENT: Fact Concerts, Inc.
LOCATION: New York State Thruway

DOCKET NO.: 80-396
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit

CITATION: 453 US 247 (1981)
ARGUED: Mar 31, 1981
DECIDED: Jun 26, 1981

ADVOCATES:
Guy J. Wells - on behalf of the Petitioners
Leonard Decof - on behalf of the Respondents

Facts of the case

Question

Media for City of Newport v. Fact Concerts, Inc.

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 31, 1981 in City of Newport v. Fact Concerts, Inc.

Warren E. Burger:

We'll hear arguments next in City of Newport v. Fact Concerts.

Mr. Wells, I think you may proceed when you are ready.

Guy J. Wells:

Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court:

We are here this afternoon to decide whether municipal governments all across this nation are going to be subjected to a new and potentially ruinous form of damage assessment, a form of damage assessment that clearly was never contemplated by the 42nd Congress.

It clearly is founded in no strong policy purpose.

And it wholly fails to accomplish any of the remedial purposes of Section 1983.

An award of punitive damages against a municipality lacks either a historic or a societal justification.

Now, an affirmative answer to the question presented... that is to say, is a municipality liable for punitive damages in a 1983 case... an affirmative answer to that question, it seems to me, will wreak havoc with the balance of governmental powers in the United States without producing any significant corresponding social purpose, even aside from the questions of division of governmental powers, what logic or reason supports a damage structure which punishes the innocent without deterring the guilty.

Now, going to the historic background of 1983, it is perfectly clear that punitive damage awards against municipalities were wholly beyond the ken of the 42nd Congress.

Up until 1871 no court in this country, with one exception... and that exception was clearly remedied very shortly thereafter... no court of the United States had ever upheld a punitive damage award against a municipality.

And the lawyer members of the 42nd Congress couldn't have helped but know that.

There was a plethora of authority on that subject at that time.

As a matter of fact, none of the courts of England had ever upheld a punitive damages award against a municipality.

If one wants to look at legislative history as this Court has done in considering the question of compensatory awards against municipalities, one only has to look at the remarks of Congressman Kerr, Congressman Butler, and Congressman Poland.

Now, admittedly, those remarks were directed to debate on the Sherman Amendment, but we must remember that the Sherman Amendment was aimed directly at municipalities, the Sherman Act which passed the Senate and died in the House.

And each of those gentlemen speaking to the question of the impact of the Sherman Act indicated that it was intended, and they believed it was intended, to be entirely remedial.

I believe Representative Blair said, it is not punitive or penal but remedial only.

And I believe that one can read that as representing the thinking of even some of the most radical members of the 42nd Congress.

I suggest that a punitive award would have been totally abhorrent.

Byron R. White:

You wouldn't suggest that punitive damages would have been improper in just the ordinary case.

It's just against the municipalities?

Guy J. Wells:

Well, I am limited here to talking because of the--

Byron R. White:

Well, I know, but is your argument that no punitive damages against municipalities because no punitive damages against anyone?

Guy J. Wells:

--No, no, sir.

I am suggesting here that I am talking only about punitive damages against municipalities.

I recognize that this Court--

Byron R. White:

The legislative history you're citing goes only to, or the case law that you're citing goes only to municipalities?

Guy J. Wells:

--It does, sir, yes.

Potter Stewart:

And these Congressmen whose views you have cited were proponents of the Sherman Amendment?

Guy J. Wells:

I believe Representative Butler was.