Fitzpatrick v. Bitzer

LOCATION:Federal Power Commission

DOCKET NO.: 75-251
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

CITATION: 427 US 445 (1976)
ARGUED: Apr 20, 1976 / Apr 21, 1976
DECIDED: Jun 28, 1976

Lawrence G. Wallace – argued the cause for the United States as amicus curiae in both cases
Paul W. Orth – for petitioners in No. 75-251 and respondents in No. 75-283
Sidney D. Giber – for respondents in No. 75-251 and petitioners in No. 75-283

Facts of the case


Media for Fitzpatrick v. Bitzer

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – April 20, 1976 (Part 1) in Fitzpatrick v. Bitzer
Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – April 21, 1976 (Part 2) in Fitzpatrick v. Bitzer

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – June 28, 1976 in Fitzpatrick v. Bitzer

William H. Rehnquist:

In number 75-251 and 75-283, Fitzpatrick against Bitzer and Bitzer against Mathews.

These cases are here because we granted cross petitions for certiorari to the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

The cases arose out of a complaint on behalf of retired male employees of the State of Connecticut who asserted that, that state’s statutory retirement benefit plan discriminated against men.

The District Court for the district of Connecticut concluded that the plan did violate Title 7 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and that since after 1972, state and local governments were subject to the provisions of that Title.

The plaintiffs were entitled to prospective relief against the named state officials.

The District Court, however, denied plaintiff’s request for retroactive benefits and for a reasonable attorney’s fees.

On appeal to the Court of Appeals, that Court agreed with a District Court that the plaintiff’s action insofar as it sought retroactive benefits was barred by the Eleventh Amendment because of our decision in Edalman against George.

The Court of Appeals decided that plaintiffs were entitled to attorney’s fees, however, since in it’s view the award of attorney’s fees would only have that sort of an ancillary effect on the state Treasury of the kind which was permitted under Edalman.

We reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals on the issue of retroactive benefits and affirm it’s judgment insofar as it authorized the award of Attorney’s fees.

Analysis in this case begins in our view where the Brad and Edalman ended, since in Edalman, we concluded that there was no congressional authorization to sue the state as a party defendant in the Federal Courts.

Here on the contrary, Congress clearly did authorize such actions when it amended Title 7 in 1972 to bring State and Local governments within the purview of that Title.

The Court of Appeals relied in part on commerce clause cases from this Court which we find not to be controlling.

The Fourteenth Amendment by its terms imposes substantive limitations on the authority of the States and Section 5 of that amendment provides that Congress shall have power to enforce by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this Article.

We conclude that Congress in exercising its authority under Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment could have properly authorized recovery by the victims of discrimination, prohibited in Title 7 against the state Treasury of Connecticut.

Under the view we take, since Congress in Title 7 authorized the award of Attorney’s fees to successful plaintiffs, that portion of the judgment the Court of Appeals holding that Attorney’s fees might be awarded in this case was correct.

The judgment number 75-251 is reversed, the judgment 75-283 is affirmed.

Mr. Justice Brennan has filed a separate opinion concurring in the judgment.

Mr. Justice Stevens has filed a separate opinion concurring in the judgment.

Warren E. Burger:

Thank you, Mr. Justice Rehnquist.