Wright v. City of Roanoke Redevelopment & Housing Authority

RESPONDENT: City of Roanoke Redevelopment & Housing Authority
LOCATION: Craig, Colorado

DOCKET NO.: 85-5915
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-1987)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

CITATION: 479 US 418 (1987)
ARGUED: Oct 06, 1986
DECIDED: Jan 14, 1987

Bayard E. Harris - on behalf of Respondent
Henry L. Woodward - on behalf of Petitioners

Facts of the case


Media for Wright v. City of Roanoke Redevelopment & Housing Authority

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 06, 1986 in Wright v. City of Roanoke Redevelopment & Housing Authority

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll hear arguments first this afternoon in No. 85-5915, Brenda E. Wright et al. versus the City of Roanoke Redevelopment and Housing Authority.

You may proceed, Mr. Woodward.

Henry L. Woodward:

Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court:

The petitioning public housing tenants in this case and the Roanoke Housing Authority agree on one critical point of the case: Where a Section 1983 plaintiff has a substantive right under federal law, we are in agreement that there arises a presumption that Congress intended for a private enforcement action to be possible rather than precluded.

The major issue before the Court is how that presumption operates.

William H. Rehnquist:

Mr. Woodward, from what you say I gather that's a somewhat different test than the test for an implied cause of action under a federal statute?

Henry L. Woodward:

We believe that it is, Your Honor.

It has some elements in common, but I believe that the experience of the Fourth Circuit in trying to address the preclusion inquiry here shows that the traditional Cort versus Ash four-step approach is not really going to serve the express Congressional purposes of 1983 adequately.

William H. Rehnquist:

And why do you say that?

Henry L. Woodward:

Well, looking specifically at the pieces of the Cort versus Ash test, some of them just don't seem to fit very well.

The first, which has to do with identifying a substantive right really, is in the 1983 context presumed, if we've gotten that far, by the Pennhurst sort of analysis.

If there is no substantive right, then we don't get to the preclusion question.

So that part of the traditional four-part test for the implied right is not directly a part of the preclusion inquiry for 1983.

The other piece that just doesn't fit very well with the nature and purpose of 1983 is perhaps the fourth step of the Cort versus Ash test, that which would have us look to whether the matter is one in which state law has something to say.

And that doesn't fit very well because of the traditional federalism concerns of Section 1983.

It has traditionally been viewed by this Court as a supplemental remedy to whatever the state may provide.

William H. Rehnquist:

Certainly it is as a practical matter kind of awkward to have two different tests for such closely related things, isn't it?

Henry L. Woodward:

Well, there is some awkwardness.

On the other hand, unless some specific method is found of addressing the particular nature of Section 1983, then the demands of that statute and the intent of Congress expressed in that statute are just not likely to be recognized.

Now, we concede that there is some similarity in sort of the middle and the core tests of the implied rights inquiry, that is the inquiry into Congressional intent, and the Section 1983 inquiry about preclusion.

But there is a difference of where they're coming from as well.

The implied rights inquiry is really traditionally applied in the context of a plaintiff trying to meet a burden of establishing Congressional intent, from whatever evidence is available.

In the 1983 context, the Congressional intent that you start with is the expressed intent, express intent in 1983 itself.

Byron R. White:

Where there is a state involved.

Henry L. Woodward:

Where a state or a state actor is involved, yes.

Byron R. White:

This is the class of cases that 1983 applies to?

Henry L. Woodward:

That is correct.

It is defendant-specific, in that sense, and it is only in that context that this area of examination of Congressional intent would be different from the implied rights inquiry.

The nature of Section 1983 is such that the sort of evidence that will suffice to justify preclusion has to be substantially greater than that which would defeat a plaintiff attempting to establish an implied right of action.

And the reason for that is that there is, after all, in 1983 that express intent that private parties have that remedy against that certain class of defendants.