Port Authority Trans-Hudson Corporation v. Feeney

PETITIONER: Port Authority Trans-Hudson Corporation
LOCATION: United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania

DOCKET NO.: 89-386
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1988-1990)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

CITATION: 495 US 299 (1990)
ARGUED: Feb 26, 1990
DECIDED: Apr 30, 1990

Joseph Lesser - on behalf of the Petitioner
Richard W. Miller - on behalf of the Respondent

Facts of the case


Media for Port Authority Trans-Hudson Corporation v. Feeney

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 26, 1990 in Port Authority Trans-Hudson Corporation v. Feeney

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll hear argument first this morning in No. 89-386, Port Authority Trans-Hudson Corporation v. Patrick Feeney.

Mr. Lesser.

Joseph Lesser:

Thank you, Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey was created in 1921 by a compact between the states to which Congress consented.

And the principal burden of my argument today before the Court is to demonstrate beyond any question whatsoever that the Port Authority is structured, administered and operated as a direct instrumentality of the compacting states, and is politically and legally accountable as such to the governors and legislatures of the compacting states.

It should therefore, I submit, be recognized for what it clearly is: an integral part of the governmental machinery of the two states, completely subject to their control and direction.

As a direct arm of the states, the Port Authority should be held, I believe, to share the states' constitutional protections and immunities, including their Eleventh Amendment immunity.

Such a holding, I shall show, fulfills not only the underlying purpose of the Eleventh Amendment's conceded deference to state's sovereignty, but also that of the compact clause, by encouraging the states to solve cooperatively their regional problems, thus enhancing, I submit, the vitality of our Federal system.

That the Port Authority is unquestionably a direct arm of the states, fully subject to their control and direction is most easily demonstrated.

The compact declares that the commissioners of the Port Authority, 12 in all, constitute the Port Authority.

Six of these commissioners are appointed by the governor of each state, with the advice and consent of the respective state senates.

The commissioners are subject to removal after charges upon hearing in New York by the governor of the state, and in New Jersey by the state senate.

The governors significantly possess a veto power over all actions which the commissioners of the Authority take.

The Authority cannot take any action which is not subject to gubernatorial veto.

And the Authority, as an arm of the states, is completely subject to legislative control and direction.

The Authority has no autonomous powers of government, like a county or a municipality, which of course, counties and municipalities do not share the states' sovereign immunity from suit.

The Port Authority has no such powers.

Everything the Port Authority does is authorized by bi-state legislation.

And the Port Authority is duty bound to be obedient to the legislatures and to follow their directions.

Because of the Port Authority's closeness, intimate relationship to the compacting states, it is not surprising that before 1950 and '51, when the states waived the Port Authority's sovereign immunity, every court that had occasion to pass upon this question, the courts of New York, the courts of New Jersey and the lower Federal courts held that the Port Authority shared the sovereign immunity from suit of the compacting states.

As a matter of fact--

Antonin Scalia:

Mr. Lesser, suppose a municipal corporation had those characteristics.

Suppose state law provided that the chief executive officer of a municipality could be impeached by the legislature, and was appointed initially by the... by the governor.

Would that... would that make a... a municipal corporation an arm of the state for Eleventh Amendment purposes?

Joseph Lesser:

--No, I don't think so.

I think this question before the Court is really fact intensive or fact specific.

A municipal corporation has autonomous powers.

As this Court said years ago, it's too remote from the states.

The Port Authority is not too remote from the states.

In fact, the only reason probably the Port Authority is not a department of state government was that the necessity of interstate cooperation.