Universities Research Assn., Inc. v. Coutu

PETITIONER: Universities Research Assn., Inc.
LOCATION: New York State Thruway

DOCKET NO.: 78-1945
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

CITATION: 450 US 754 (1981)
ARGUED: Nov 10, 1980
DECIDED: Apr 06, 1981

Harriet S. Shapiro - on behalf of the United States as amicus curiae
Robert E. Mann - on behalf of the Petitioner
Robert Jay Nye - on behalf of the Respondents

Facts of the case


Media for Universities Research Assn., Inc. v. Coutu

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 10, 1980 in Universities Research Assn., Inc. v. Coutu

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - April 06, 1981 in Universities Research Assn., Inc. v. Coutu

Warren E. Burger:

The judgment and opinion of the Court in Number 78-1945 Universities Research Association against Coutu will be announced by Justice Blackmun.

Harry A. Blackmun:

This case comes to us by writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.

The statute called the Davis-Bacon Act provides that advertised specifications for federal construction contracts shall contain a provision stating the minimum wages to be paid.

Those wages must be based on what the Secretary of Labor determines to be prevailing in the locality.

The Act further provides that every contract based on such specifications shall contain a stipulation that the contractor will pay wages not less than those stated in the specifications.

The petitioner, Universities Research Association, made a contract with the Atomic Energy Commission to provide scientific and management services to the United States in connection with the construction of a Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, a high-energy physics research facility.

It was administratively determined however, not to call for work subject to the Davis-Bacon Act and the contract therefore, contained no prevailing wage stipulation.

Respondent, a former employee of the petitioner, brought suit behalf of himself and others seeking damages on the theory that the petitioner had violated the Act by failing to pay prevailing wages for the construction work.

The Federal District Court entered summary judgment for the petitioner or defendant.

The Court of Appeals however reversed.

It held that if the petitioner actually performed Davis-Bacon Act work with its own employees, the respondent became entitled to the prevailing wages and it remanded the case so that the plaintiff would have the opportunity to demonstrate if it could.

That petitioner had used him in his class to perform Davis-Bacon Act work.

In an opinion filed with the clerk today, we hold that the Act does not confer upon an employee a private right of action for back wages under a contract that has been administratively determined not to call for work subject to the Act.

We find that Congress did not intend to authorize such a suit that the Act's legislative history supports this conclusion and that the underlying purpose of the Act also points in this direction.

To imply a private right of action under a contract that does not contain prevailing wage stipulations would destroy the careful balance the Act strikes between the interest of contractors and those of their employees.

The implication of a private right of action also would introduce substantial uncertainty and the Government contracting and would undercut the elaborated administrative scheme that has been promulgated to assure consistency in the administration and enforcement of the Act.

The judgment of the Court of Appeals is therefore reversed and the case is remanded.

Warren E. Burger:

Thank you, Justice Blackmun.