Suter v. Artist M.

PETITIONER: Suter
RESPONDENT: Artist M.
LOCATION: Dougherty Superior Court

DOCKET NO.: 90-1488
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1991-1993)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

CITATION: 503 US 347 (1992)
ARGUED: Dec 02, 1991
DECIDED: Mar 25, 1992

ADVOCATES:
Christina M. Tchen - Argued the case for the petitioners
Michael G. Dsida - Argued the case for the respondents
Michael Dsida - for respondents

Facts of the case

The Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980 (AACW) provides that, in order to be reimbursed for adoption and foster care services, a state must submit a plan for the administration of those services to the federal Secretary of Health and Human Services for approval. In order to be approved, the plan must be "in effect in all" a state's political subdivisions and "be mandatory upon them," and must state that "reasonable efforts will be made" to prevent removal of children from their homes and to facilitate reunification of families where removal has occurred. Several children in the Illinois foster care program brought suit against the Director and the Guardianship Administrator of the Illinois program under 42 U.S.C. 1983, which provides private individuals a right to sue for "deprivation of any rights ... secured by [federal] laws." They charged that Illinois had failed to make reasonable efforts to preserve and reunite families, and that it was required to do so by the AACW. The Director and Guardianship Administrator argued that the children had no standing to sue because the AACW did not create substantive rights that had to be reinforced, but merely stated what contents an administrative plan needed to have in order to receive approval. The federal District Court sided with the children, and the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed.

Question

Does the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980 create a "right" for the purposes of 42 U.S.C. 1983, allowing children affected by a state's adoption program to bring a private suit against its administrators?

Media for Suter v. Artist M.

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 02, 1991 in Suter v. Artist M.

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - March 25, 1992 in Suter v. Artist M.

William H. Rehnquist:

I have the opinions of the Court to announce in three cases.

The first is No. 90-1488, Suter versus Artist M.

In 1980, Congress acting pursuant to the spending power conferred on it by Article I of the Constitution passed the Adoption Assistance in Child Welfare Act.

This law says that the Federal Government will reimburse states for certain expenses which they incur in setting up foster care and adoption assistance programs.

To participate in the program, a state must submit a plan for approval by the Secretary of Health and Human Services.

One section of the Act lists 16 features that a plan must contain in order to be approved.

One of these is that reasonable efforts will be made to prevent removal of children from their homes and to encourage reunification of families where removal has occurred.

The respondents in this case who prevailed in the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit are class of children in Cook County, Illinois who have been removed from their homes because of evidence that they have been abused or neglected.

They sued the Illinois State Administrator claiming that because the Illinois agency delayed in providing case workers to children, it had failed to make the reasonable efforts required by the federal law.

The Court of Appeals ruled for them and upheld an order that the agency must assign a case worker within three days of the time when each child is first removed from his home.

For the reasons stated in an opinion filed with the Clerk today, we reverse the Court of Appeals and hold that the Adoption Act is not privately enforceable under Section 1983.

When Congress wishes to impose conditions on the receipt of funds pursuant to the spending power statute, it must impose these conditions unambiguously.

For reasons more fully amplified in our opinion, we hold that the provision requiring reasonable efforts in this Act was intended to give the states discretion and is too general to admit a judicial enforcement by private suit.

Justice Blackmun has filed a dissenting opinion which Justice Stevens joins.