RESPONDENT: Flores de Otero
LOCATION: Detroit Police Headquarters
DOCKET NO.: 74-1267
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
CITATION: 426 US 572 (1976)
ARGUED: Dec 08, 1975
DECIDED: Jun 17, 1976
Max Ramirez De Arellano -
Miriam Naveira De Rodon -
Facts of the case
Media for Examining Board of Engineers, Architects and Surveyors v. Flores de OteroAudio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 08, 1975 in Examining Board of Engineers, Architects and Surveyors v. Flores de Otero
Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 17, 1976 in Examining Board of Engineers, Architects and Surveyors v. Flores de Otero
Warren E. Burger:
The judgment and opinion of the Court in 74-1267, Examining Board of Engineers v. Flores De Otero will be announced by Mr. Justice Blackmun.
Harry A. Blackmun:
This case comes to us from a three-judge district court, Federal District Court in Puerto Rico.
A statute of the commonwealth permits only United States citizens to receive licenses and to practice privately as civil engineers there.
A non-citizen may not be licensed with the exception that he may enjoy a special dispensation on a temporary basis if he works for a municipal corporation on the Island.
The plaintiffs who are appellees here are civil engineers who are aliens but who are legally residing in Puerto Rico and each one sued the Examining Board and its members, and sought declaratory and injunctive relief.
The basic question as it comes to us is one of jurisdiction under two statutes known as 28 USC 13-433 and 42 USC 1983, these are statutes that are subject to much litigation these days.
The later one provides that every person who under color of any statute of any state or territory deprives another of a constitutional right, shall be liable and so forth, and the issue as it's presented to us really is whether Puerto Rico is a state or territory?
The District Court held that it had jurisdiction and then it decided that the citizenship requirement was unconstitutional and it ordered the applicants to be licensed as civil engineers and the case came on appeal directly here.
The lengthy opinion filed today, we hold that the District Court indeed did have jurisdiction and this took us into a review of the legal history of the commonwealth and a study of the extent to which the constitution in our federal statutes apply to Puerto Rico.
We conclude that the Federal District Court on the island before Puerto Rico became a commonwealth in 1952, had the same jurisdiction to enforce rights of this kind as did Federal Courts in the several states.
We further hold that Congress by entering into the compact by which Puerto Rico assumed commonwealth status did not intend to leave the protection of federal rights exclusively to local Puerto Rico courts.
This is so despite the the fact that Puerto Rico occupies a unique relationship to the United States, and it makes little matter for our disposition whether the island is considered a territory or a state for purposes of the jurisdictional issue.
And then we further hold that the Court correctly determined that abstention was unnecessary here in regard to this particular statute.
Finally, we hold that Puerto Rico's prohibition of an aliens engaging in the private practice of engineering deprives the applicant's rights secured by the constitution in laws within the meaning of Section 1983 and that this is so whether it is the Fifth or the Fourteenth amendment that has application.
The justifications advanced by Puerto Rico for drawing the distinction between citizens and aliens, we conclude were not sufficient.
Accordingly, the two judgment of the United States District Court on a review here are affirmed.
Mr. Justice Rehnquist has filed a dissenting opinion.
Mr. Justice Stevens took no part in the consideration or disposition of this case.
Warren E. Burger:
Thank you, Mr. Justice Blackmun.