Collins v. City of Harker Heights

RESPONDENT:City of Harker Heights
LOCATION:International Society for Krishna Consciousness

DOCKET NO.: 90-1279
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1991-1993)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

CITATION: 503 US 115 (1992)
ARGUED: Nov 05, 1991
DECIDED: Feb 26, 1992

Lucas A. Powe, Jr. – on behalf of the Respondent
Sanford Jay Rosen – on behalf of the Petitioner

Facts of the case


Media for Collins v. City of Harker Heights

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – November 05, 1991 in Collins v. City of Harker Heights

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – February 26, 1992 in Collins v. City of Harker Heights

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinions of the Court in two cases will be announced by Justice Stevens.

John Paul Stevens:

The first of the two is Collins against the City of Harker Heights, a case that comes to us on writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

The petitioner’s husband was an employee of the City Sanitation Department.

He died of asphyxia after entering a manhole to unstop a sewer line.

Petitioner brought this action under the Civil Rights Act 42 U.S.C. 1983 alleging that her husband had a right under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, to be free from unreasonable risk of harm and to be protected from the City’s custom and policy of deliberate indifference toward its employee’s safety, and that the city had violated that right by following a custom and policy of not training its employees about the dangers of working in sewer lines and manholes not providing adequate safety equipment at job sites or adequate safety warnings.

The District Court dismissed the complaint on the ground that it did not allege a constitutional violation.

Without reaching the question whether the City had violated Collins’ constitutional rights, the Court of Appeals affirmed on a different theory that there had been no abuse of governmental power which the court found to be a necessary element of a civil rights action.

For the reasons discussed in the unanimous opinion filed with the Clerk today, we disagree with the Court of Appeals’ reading of Section 1983 as requiring proof of an abusive governmental power separate and apart from the proof of a constitutional violation.

We nevertheless affirm that court’s judgment because we are satisfied that the conduct alleged in petitioner’s complaint does not violate the Constitution.