City of St. Louis v. Praprotnik

PETITIONER: City of St. Louis
RESPONDENT: Praprotnik
LOCATION: Dickinson School District Superintendent's Office

DOCKET NO.: 86-772
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1988-1990)
LOWER COURT:

CITATION: 485 US 112 (1988)
ARGUED: Oct 07, 1987
DECIDED: Mar 02, 1988

Facts of the case

Question

Media for City of St. Louis v. Praprotnik

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 07, 1987 in City of St. Louis v. Praprotnik

William H. Rehnquist:

We will hear argument first this morning in No. 86-772, the City of St. Louis v. Praprotnik.

Mr. Wilson, you may proceed whenever you are ready.

James J. Wilson:

Thank you.

This proceeding, brought under Section 1983, involves the imposition of municipal liability upon the Petitioner for the single isolated act of a city official who lacked general authority in the area and whose action was contrary to the policy of the city.

This is a Monell type case.

In Monell, this Court indicated that it was going to leave to future decisions the full contours of municipal liability.

It is our position in respect to single incidents that this Court has shaped those contours in its decisions in cases such as Owens, Tuttle, and particularly the recent Pembaur decision.

And what this proceeding calls for is an application of those principles to the facts herein.

The facts are largely undisputed.

The Plaintiff was a civil service employee of the City of St. Louis.

He was a planner for our community development commission.

Around 1980, he became embroiled in a dispute with his supervisor.

This led to a 15-day suspension for violation of the secondary employment rule.

He appealed to our Civil Service Commission which reduced that to a reprimand.

In April 1981, because of a change of administrations, the new mayor appointed a Defendant Frank Hamsher as the head of the community development agency.

Approximately one year later, Mr. Hamsher, as director of that agency, transferred the Plaintiff to another City department.

He filed an appeal with the Civil Service Commission.

The Civil Service Commission declined that appeal on the basis that no injury was done to him at that time since this was a lateral transfer.

Subsequent to that, the Plaintiff filed a 1983 action naming three City officials and the City as Defendants.

Defendant Hamsher was one of those named.

The Plaintiff was subsequently laid off from his position some 17 months after the transfer.

He took an appeal from that layoff and that appeal has been deferred awaiting the outcome of this proceeding.

We believe the question is whether or not the acts of the Defendant Hamsher in transferring the Plaintiff fall within the language of Monell which imposes liability for acts which can be said to fairly represent governmental policy.

Now, the court below, the trial court rendered through a jury verdict a judgment against the City of St. Louis.

It exonerated the three individual defendants.

The Court of Appeals in its opinion determined that the jury had found that the act of transfer was a retaliatory act on the part of Defendant Hamsher and he was impermissibly motivated and caused constitutional injury to the Plaintiff who had been exercising his right of First Amendment by appealing to the Civil Service Commission.

The Eighth Circuit determined that the Defendant Hamsher was a policy maker and his action, therefore, in transferring the Plaintiff bound the City of St. Louis so that Monell type liability was imposed upon the City as a policy maker.

It is our position that the crux of this matter involves the distinction between a City official who has the discretion to act.

In this case, the discretion to hire and fire and transfer employees as opposed to the authority of a policy maker.

In this case, it would be the authority to set employment policy for the City of St. Louis.