City of Rancho Palos Verdes v. Abrams

PETITIONER: City of Rancho Palos Verdes, California, et al.
RESPONDENT: Mark J. Abrams
LOCATION: Texas State Capitol

DOCKET NO.: 03-1601
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 544 US 113 (2005)
GRANTED: Sep 28, 2004
ARGUED: Jan 19, 2005
DECIDED: Mar 22, 2005

James A. Feldman - argued the cause for Petitioners, on behalf of the United States, as amicus curiae
Jeffrey A. Lamken - argued the cause for Petitioners
Seth P. Waxman - argued the cause for Respondent

Facts of the case

Rancho Palos Verdes, a city in California, gave Mark Abrams a permit to construct an antenna on his property for amateur use. But when the city learned Abrams used the antenna for commercial purposes, the city forced Abrams to stop until he got a commercial use permit. Abrams applied and the city refused to give him the permit. Abrams then sued in federal district court, alleging the city violated his rights under the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Abrams sought damages under a federal liability law that allowed people to sue for damages for federal rights violations.

The district court agreed with Abrams and ordered the city to give Abrams the permit. But the court refused Abrams' request for damages under the separate federal liability law. The court said Congress intended for violations of rights under the Telecommunications Act to include only remedies specifically found in that act. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed and ruled that because the act did not contain a "comprehensive remedial scheme," Abrams could seek damages under other federal laws.


May people whose rights guaranteed by the Telecommunications Act of 1996 are violated seek remedies other than those allowed by the act?

Media for City of Rancho Palos Verdes v. Abrams

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 19, 2005 in City of Rancho Palos Verdes v. Abrams

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - March 22, 2005 in City of Rancho Palos Verdes v. Abrams

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the Court in No. 03-1601, the City of Rancho Palos Verdes versus Abrams will be announced by Justice Scalia.

Antonin Scalia:

This case is here on writ of certiorari to the Ninth Circuit.

The Telecommunications Act of 1996, which is called TCA, limited the traditional authority of state and local governments to regulate the location and construction of antenna towers.

Under 47 U.S.C. Section 332(c)(7), state and local governments may not among other things discriminate among providers of “functionally equivalent wireless services” or take actions that “prohibit or have the effect of prohibiting the provision of personal wireless services.”

They must act on request for authorization to locate wireless facilities within a reasonable period of time and each decision denying such request must be in writing and supported by substantial evidence contained in a written record, and as a central to this case, Section 332(c)(7)(B)(V) provides that if local governments fail to abide by these provisions “any person adversely affected may within 30 days commence and action in any court of competent jurisdiction".

Respondent Mark Abrams is a resident of petitioner, the City of Rancho Palos Verdes, California.

Throughout the 1990s, he installed several radio towers of up to 50 feet in height on the property allowing him to operate contrary to zoning laws a successful commercial radio transmission business.

In 1999, when the city discovered that respondent was using his antennas in a commercial business, it obtained an injunction in State Court ordering him to desist.

Abrams sought a conditional use permit from the city to allow him to resume using his antennas commercially but the city denied the permit.

Thereupon, Abrams filed suit in Federal Court alleging that the denial of the permit violated the limitations placed on the city’s zoning authority by the TCA.

He contended that he was permitted to enforce this statutory rights and this is the significant part under both the TCA itself and under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983.

The latter provision he claimed allowed him to recover as the TCA on its face does not money damages and attorney’s fees.

The District Court agreed with respondent and city was not violation of the Act in order the city to issue respondent a permit.

The court did not agree however that respondent was entitled to damages or attorney’s fees under 1983.

Respondent appealed the latter holding and the Ninth Circuit reversed.

We granted certiorari.

Section 1983 imposes liability on anyone who under color of state law deprives another person of the rights guaranteed to him by the constitution and laws of the United States.

We have held that this provision permits suits for deprivation of rights conferred by Federal Statute only when the statute creates an individually enforceable right, and if the plaintiff makes this showing the state act, here defendant, may still demonstrate that 1983 is not available by showing that Congress did not intended as a remedy for the newly created right.

Evidence of such intent may be expressed in the statute or as we held in cases called Middlesex County Sewerage Authority versus National Sea Clammers Association.

It may be inferred from the existence of an alternative enforcement scheme.

The Court of Appeals assumed that the TCA created individually enforceable rights in respondent and the city does not question that determination here.

The critical question is whether Congress meant the judicial remedy expressly authorized by the TCA to co-exist with the alternative remedy available under Section 1983.

We hold that it did not.

The provision of an expressed private means of redressing the statute will ordinarily indicate that Congress did not mean to leave open a more extensive remedy under section 1983.

Indeed, the existence of a more restrictive private remedy has been redividing line between those cases in which we have held that an action will lie under 1983 and those in which we have held that it would not.

Nevertheless, we do not accept the government suggestion that the availability of a private judicial remedy conclusively establishes a congressional intent to preclude 1983 relief.

The ordinary inference of the remedy provided in the statute is exclusive may surely be overcome by textual indication either express or implicit that the remedy is to compliment rather than plan Section 1983.

There is however no such indication in the relevant remedial provisions of the TCA.

Section 332(c)(7)(B)(V) adds no remedies to those available under 1983 and limits relief in ways that section 1983 does not.

It requires aggrieved persons to seek judicial review of zoning decisions within 30 days of a final action, and once an action is filed that mandates at the court herein and decided on an expedited basis.