Port Authority Trans-Hudson Corporation v. Feeney/Opinion of the Court

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Opinion of the Court
Concurring Opinion
Brennan


These cases call upon the Court to determine whether the Eleventh Amendment bars respondents' suits in federal court against an entity created by New York and New Jersey to operate certain transportation and other facilities.

* In 1921, New York and New Jersey entered a bistate compact creating the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (Authority). 1921 N.J.Laws, chs. 151, 154; see N.J.Stat.Ann. § 32:1-1 et seq. (West 1963); N.Y.Unconsol.Laws § 6401 et seq. (McKinney 1979). In accord with the Constitution's Compact Clause, Art. I, § 10, cl. 3, Congress consented to the compact. 42 Stat. 174 (1921). Through the compact, the States created the Authority to achieve "a better co-ordination of the terminal, transportation and other facilities of commerce in, about and through the port of New York," N.J.Stat.Ann. § 32:1-1 (West 1963); N.Y.Unconsol.Laws § 6401 (McKinney 1979), and lodged in the Authority "full power and authority to purchase, construct, lease and/or operate any terminal or transportation facility within [the port] district." N.J.Stat.Ann. § 32:1-7 (1963); N.Y.Unconsol.Laws § 6407 (McKinney 1979). See generally United States Trust Co. of N.Y. v. New Jersey, 431 U.S. 1, 4-5, 97 S.Ct. 1505, 1508-1509, 52 L.Ed.2d 92 (1977); E. Bard, The Port of New York Authority (1942). The Port Authority Trans-Hudson Corp. (PATH), petitioner in these consolidated cases, is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Authority that operates an interstate railway system and other facilities. PATH is entitled to "all of the privileges, immunities, tax exemptions and other exemptions of the port authority" and is subject to suit to the same extent as the Authority. See N.J.Stat.Ann. § 32:1-35.61 (West 1963); N.Y.Unconsol.Laws § 6612 (McKinney 1979).

Respondents Patrick Feeney and Charles Foster alleged injuries incurred during their employment with PATH. Both filed separate complaints against PATH in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York to recover damages pursuant to the Federal Employers' Liability Act (FELA), 35 Stat. 65, as amended, 45 U.S.C. § 51 et seq. (1982 ed.), the Boiler Inspection Act, 36 Stat. 913, as amended, 45 U.S.C. § 22 (1982 ed.), and the Safety Appliance Act, 27 Stat. 531, 45 U.S.C. § 1 (1982 ed.). PATH moved to dismiss both complaints, asserting that PATH enjoyed New York and New Jersey's sovereign immunity and thus that the Eleventh Amendment deprived the federal court of jurisdiction over the suits. Relying in part on Port Authority Police Benevolent Assn., Inc. v. Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, 819 F.2d 413 (CA3), cert. denied, 484 U.S. 953, 108 S.Ct. 344, 98 L.Ed.2d 370 (1987), the District Court concluded that the Eleventh Amendment deprived it of jurisdiction and dismissed respondents' complaints. App. to Pet. for Cert. A-27, A-46. In Port Authority Police Benevolent Assn., the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit reasoned that because the States had established the Authority as a state agency and continued to exercise extensive control over its operations, the Authority was entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity. 819 F.2d, at 413. The court also found no waiver of that immunity. Id., at 418, n. 2.

The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held that the Eleventh Amendment did not bar Feeney's suit because "the Eleventh Amendment immunity either does not extend to [PATH] or has been waived." 873 F.2d 628, 628-629 (1989). The court concluded that PATH did not enjoy the States' sovereign immunity, principally because the treasuries of New York and New Jersey are largely insulated from PATH's liabilities. Id., at 631-632. In reaching its conclusion that the States had waived any immunity that PATH possessed, the court relied upon two provisions of an Act governing suits against the Authority and its subsidiaries and passed by New York (in 1950) and New Jersey (in 1951). 1951 N.J.Laws, ch. 204; 1950 N.Y.Laws, ch. 301; see N.J.Stat.Ann. § 32:1-157 et seq. (West 1963); N.Y.Unconsol.Laws § 7101 et seq. (McKinney 1979). The first section provided that the States "consent to suits, actions or proceedings of any form or nature at law, in equity or otherwise . . . against the Port of New York Authority." N.J.Stat.Ann. § 32:1-157 (West 1963); N.Y.Unconsol.Laws § 7101 (McKinney 1979). Another section provided in part:

"The foregoing consent [of N.J.Stat.Ann. § 32:1-157; N.Y.Unconsol.Laws § 7101] is granted upon the condition that venue in any suit, action or proceeding against the Port Authority shall be laid within a county or a judicial district, established by one of said States or by the United States, and situated wholly or partially within the Port of New York District. The Port Authority shall be deemed to be a resident of each such county or judicial district for the purpose of such suits, actions, or proceedings." N.J.Stat.Ann. § 32:1-162 (West 1963); N.Y.Unconsol.Laws § 7106 (McKinney 1979).

The court concluded that, despite the "somewhat anomalous" location of an indication of waiver in a venue provision, the statutory provisions demonstrated "an intent to allow the Port Authority to be sued in the designated federal courts and is thus an explicit waiver, albeit partial, of the Eleventh Amendment [immunity]." 873 F.2d, at 633. The Second Circuit reversed the District Court's dismissal of Foster's complaint on identical grounds. 873 F.2d 633 (1989). Two days before the Second Circuit issued these decisions, the Third Circuit had reaffirmed and elaborated its conclusion that the States had not waived the sovereign immunity that extended to PATH. See Leadbeater v. Port Authority Trans-Hudson Corp., 873 F.2d 45 (1989), cert. pending, No. 89-479. That court acknowledged that "[i]t is certainly arguable that the consent to suit statutes, read in light of this venue provision, create the 'overwhelming implication' of consent to suit in federal court," but held that "[n]ot without some unease, we conclude that the venue provision fails to constitute the requisite showing that the states intended to waive P.A.T.H.'s [E]leventh [A]mendment immunity." Id., at 49. To resolve this conflict, we granted certiorari to review the consolidated decisions of the Second Circuit, 493 U.S. 932, 110 S.Ct. 320, 107 L.Ed.2d 311 (1989), and we now affirm.

The Eleventh Amendment states: "The Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State." This Court has drawn upon principles of sovereign immunity to construe the Amendment to "establish that 'an unconsenting State is immune from suits brought in federal courts by her own citizens as well as by citizens of another state.' " Pennhurst State School and Hospital v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 100, 104 S.Ct. 900, 907, 79 L.Ed.2d 67 (1984) (quoting Employees v. Missouri Dept. of Public Health and Welfare, 411 U.S. 279, 280, 93 S.Ct. 1614, 1615, 36 L.Ed.2d 251 (1973)); see also Pennsylvania v. Union Gas Co., 491 U.S. 1, 29, 109 S.Ct. 2273, 2296, 105 L.Ed.2d 1 (1989) (SCALlA, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part); Welch v. Texas Dept. of Highways and Public Transp., 483 U.S. 468, 107 S.Ct. 2941, 97 L.Ed.2d 389 (1987) (plurality opinion). The Eleventh Amendment bar to suit is not absolute. States may consent to suit in federal court, see, e.g., Atascadero State Hospital v. Scanlon, 473 U.S. 234, 241, 105 S.Ct. 3142, 3146, 87 L.Ed.2d 171 (1985); Clark v. Barnard, 108 U.S. 436, 447, 2 S.Ct. 878, 882, 27 L.Ed. 780 (1883), and, in certain cases, Congress may abrogate the States' sovereign immunity. See, e.g. Dellmuth v. Muth, 491 U.S. 223, 109 S.Ct. 2397, 105 L.Ed.2d 181 (1989).

Respondents challenge PATH's claim that it is a state agency entitled to the Eleventh Amendment immunity of New York and New Jersey. Petty v. Tennessee-Missouri Bridge Comm'n, 359 U.S. 275, 79 S.Ct. 785, 3 L.Ed.2d 804 (1959), guides our resolution of this issue. In Petty, the Court considered whether the Eleventh Amendment barred a federal court from entertaining an action under the Jones Act, 46 U.S.C. § 688 (1958 ed.), brought against the Tennessee-Missouri Bridge Commission. Similar to the Authority, the Commission constructed and operated transportation facilities pursuant to a bistate compact entered by Tennessee and Missouri and ratified by Congress. The Court "assume[d] arguendo that this suit must be considered as one against the States since this bi-state corporation is a joint or common agency of Tennessee and Missouri," 359 U.S., at 279, 79 S.Ct., at 788, but concluded that the States had waived any immunity that the Commission possessed. Because we find that the States of New York and New Jersey have consented to suit against PATH in federal court, we conclude that a similar course is appropriate in this case.

Well-established law governs abrogation and waiver of Eleventh Amendment immunity. Because "abrogation of sovereign immunity upsets 'the fundamental constitutional balance between the Federal Government and the States,' " Dellmuth v. Muth, supra, 491 U.S., at 227, 109 S.Ct., at 2400 (quoting Atascadero State Hospital, supra, 473 U.S., at 238, 105 S.Ct., at 3145), and because States are unable directly to remedy a judicial misapprehension of that abrogation, the Court has adopted a particularly strict standard to evaluate claims that Congress has abrogated the States' sovereign immunity. See Atascadero State Hospital, 473 U.S., at 242, 105 S.Ct., at 3147 ("Congress may abrogate the States' constitutionally secured immunity from suit in federal court only by making its intention unmistakably clear in the language of the statute"). Respondents do not assert that Congress has abrogated the States' sovereign immunity through any of the statutes that underlie their claims against PATH, and such arguments would be unavailing. See Welch v. Texas Dept. of Highways and Public Transp., 483 U.S. 468, 107 S.Ct. 2941, 97 L.Ed.2d 389 (1987) (opinion of Powell, J.); id., at 495, 107 S.Ct., at 2958 (SCALIA, J., concurring in part and concurring in judgment). Similar solicitude for States' sovereign immunity underlies the standard that this Court employs to determine whether a State has waived that immunity. The Court will give effect to a State's waiver of Eleventh Amendment immunity " 'only where stated by the most express language or by such overwhelming implication from the text as [will] leave no room for any other reasonable construction.' " Atascadero State Hospital, supra, 473 U.S., at 239240, 105 S.Ct., at 3145-3146 (quoting Edelman v. Jordan, 415 U.S. 651, 673, 94 S.Ct. 1347, 1360, 39 L.Ed.2d 662 (1974) (internal quotation omitted)). A State does not waive its Eleventh Amendment immunity by consenting to suit only in its own courts, see, e.g., Florida Dept. of Health and Rehabilitative Services v. Florida Nursing Home Assn., 450 U.S. 147, 150, 101 S.Ct. 1032, 1034, 67 L.Ed.2d 132 (1981) (per curiam ), and "[t]hus, in order for a state statute or constitutional provision to constitute a waiver of Eleventh Amendment immunity, it must specify the State's intention to subject itself to suit in federal court." Atascadero State Hospital, supra, 473 U.S., at 241, 105 S.Ct., at 3146.

New York and New Jersey have expressly consented to suit in expansive terms. The statutory consent to suit provision, which provides that the States "consent to suits, actions, or proceedings of any form or nature at law, in equity or otherwise . . . against the Port of New York Authority," N.J.Stat.Ann. § 32:1-157 (West 1963); N.Y.Unconsol.Laws § 7101 (McKinney 1979), might be interpreted to encompass the States' consent to suit in federal court as well as state court. But such a broadly framed provision may also reflect only a State's consent to suit in its own courts. See, e.g., Atascadero State Hospital, supra, at 241, 105 S.Ct., at 3146. Sensitive to the values underlying the Eleventh Amendment, the Court has required that consent to suit in federal court be express and thus has construed such ambiguous and general consent to suit provisions, standing alone, as insufficient to waive Eleventh Amendment immunity. See 473 U.S., at 241, 105 S.Ct., at 3147 (general consent to suit provision did not waive Eleventh Amendment immunity because the "provision does not specifically indicate the State's willingness to be sued in federal court"); Great Northern Life Ins. Co. v. Read, 322 U.S. 47, 54, 64 S.Ct. 873, 876, 88 L.Ed.1121 (1944) ("When a state authorizes a suit against itself . . ., it is not consonant with our dual system for the federal courts to be astute to read the consent to embrace federal as well as state courts"). Other textual evidence of consent to suit in federal courts may resolve that ambiguity and sufficiently clearly establish the scope of the State's more general consent to suit. In such circumstances, the Court must give effect to that clearly indicated consent to suit in federal court.

In this case, the statutory venue provision suffices to resolve any ambiguity contained in the States' general consent to suit provision by expressly indicating that the States' consent to suit extends to suit in federal court. The section provides that "[t]he foregoing consent [of N.J.Stat.Ann. § 32:1-157 (West 1963); N.Y.Unconsol.Laws § 7101 (McKinney 1979) ] is granted on the condition that venue . . . shall be laid within a county or judicial district, established by one of said States or by the United States, and situated wholly or partially within the Port of New York District." N.J.Stat.Ann. § 32:1-162 (West 1963); N.Y.Unconsol.Laws § 7106 (McKinney 1979). This provision eliminates the danger, identified in Atascadero State Hospital, supra, and Great Northern Life Ins. Co., supra, that federal courts may mistake a provision intended to allow suit in a State's own courts for a waiver of Eleventh Amendment immunity. Petitioner does not deny that the phrase "judicial district, established . . . by the United States" refers to the United States District Courts, but rather argues that the reference to venue cannot shape our construction of the general consent to suit provision. Although one might not look first to a venue provision to find evidence of waiver of sovereign immunity, we believe that the provision directly indicates the extent of the States' waiver embodied in the consent provision. The States passed the venue and consent to suit provisions as portions of the same Acts that set forth the nature, timing, and extent of the States' consent to suit. The venue provision expressly refers to and qualifies the more general consent to suit provision. Additionally, issues of venue are closely related to those concerning sovereign immunity, as this Court has indicated by emphasizing that "[a] State's constitutional interest in immunity encompasses not merely whether it may be sued, but where it may be sued." Pennhurst State School and Hospital v. Halderman, 465 U.S., at 99, 104 S.Ct., at 907. Petitioner's related argument that a venue provision cannot broaden the consent to suit provision begs the question what the States intended through the consent provision. The venue provision elucidates rather than broadens the consent to suit provision: It provides persuasive textual evidence that the consent to suit provision encompasses suits in federal court, and broadens the effect of the consent provision only to the extent of removing an ambiguity that called forth this Court's prudential canon of construction. The venue provision would hardly qualify "[t]he foregoing consent" unless the States intended that consent to include suits in federal court.

Finally, petitioner suggests no "reasonable construction," Atascadero State Hospital, 473 U.S., at 241, 105 S.Ct., at 3146, that might be given to the venue provision's phrase, "judicial district, established . . . by the United States," other than that the States consented to suit in federal court. See Brief for Petitioner 36-38; Tr. of Oral Arg. 15-16. We agree with the court below that the phrase cannot reasonably be construed as an ineffectual attempt to limit venue for suits for which Congress has abrogated the States' immunity. See 873 F.2d at 633; see also Leadbeater, 873 F.2d, at 49 (declining to accept similar construction). Amici curiae supporting petitioner also confess their inability to provide any reasonable alternative construction of the phrase. Brief for Council of State Governments et al. as Amici Curiae 17. The Third Circuit, in the course of upholding petitioner's immunity defense in a similar suit, professed similar bafflement regarding the import of the venue provision. See Leadbeater, 873 F.2d, at 49; supra, at 304. Petitioner essentially presents the choice between giving the venue provision its natural meaning and giving the provision no meaning at all. Charged with giving effect to the statute, we do not find the choice to be a difficult one.

We conclude that the statutory consent to suit provision, elucidated by the venue provision, establishes the States' waiver of any Eleventh Amendment immunity that might otherwise bar respondents' suits against petitioner. The judgments of the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit are therefore

Affirmed.

Notes[edit]

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).