SUTER v. ARTIST M.(1992)

 

No. 90-1488

Argued: December 2, 1991Decided: March 25, 1992

The Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980 provides that a State will be reimbursed by the Federal Government for certain expenses it incurs in administering foster care and adoption services, if it submits a plan for approval by the Secretary of Health and Human Services. Among its requisite features, an approved plan must provide that it “shall be in effect in all” of a State’s political subdivisions and “be mandatory upon them,” 42 U.S.C. 671(a)(3), and that “reasonable efforts will be made” to prevent removal of children from their homes and to facilitate reunification of families where removal has occurred, 671(a)(15). Respondents, child beneficiaries of the Act, sought declaratory and injunctive relief, alleging that petitioners, the Director and the Guardianship Administrator of the Illinois agency responsible for investigating charges of child abuse and neglect and providing services for abused and neglected children and their families, had failed to make reasonable efforts to preserve and reunite families, in contravention of 671(a)(15). The District Court denied petitioners’ motion to dismiss, holding, inter alia, that the Act contained an implied cause of action and that suit could also be brought under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The court entered an injunction against petitioners, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. That court relied on Wilder v. Virginia Hospital Assn., 496 U.S. 498 , to hold that the “reasonable efforts” clause of the Act could be enforced through a 1983 action, and applied the standard of Cort v. Ash, 422 U.S. 66 to find that the Act created an implied right of action entitling respondents to bring suit directly under the Act.

Held:

    1. Section 671(a)(15) does not confer on its beneficiaries a private right enforceable in a 1983 action. Pp. 7-15.
    • (a) Section 1983 is not available to enforce a violation of a federal statute where Congress has foreclosed enforcement in the enactment itself and “where the statute did not create enforceable rights, privileges, or immunities within the meaning of 1983.” Wright v. Roanoke Redevelopment and Housing Authority, 479 U.S. 418, 423 . Congress must confer such rights unambiguously when it intends to impose conditions on the grant of federal moneys. Pennhurst State School and Hospital v. Halderman, 451 U.S. 1, 17 . Thus, statutory provisions must

[503 U.S. 347, 348]   

    be analyzed in detail, in light of the entire legislative enactment, to determine whether the language in question created rights within the meaning of 1983. Pp. 7-9.
    (b) Congress did not unambiguously confer upon the Act’s beneficiaries the right to enforce the “reasonable efforts” requirement. The Act is mandatory only insofar as it requires a State to have an approved plan containing the listed features; and it is undisputed that the Illinois plan provides that reasonable efforts at prevention and reunification will be made. Respondents err in basing their 1983 argument, in part, on 671(a)(3)’s “in effect” language, which is directed to the requirement that the plan apply to all of a State’s political subdivisions, and is not intended to otherwise modify the word “plan.” Unlike the Medicaid legislation in Wilder, supra – which actually required the States to adopt reasonable and adequate reimbursement rates for health care providers and which, along with regulations, set forth in some detail the factors to be considered in determining the methods for calculating rates – here, the statute provides no further guidance as to how “reasonable efforts” are to be measured, and, within broad limits, lets the State decide how to comply with the directive. Since other sections of the Act provide mechanisms for the Secretary to enforce the “reasonable efforts” clause, the absence of a 1983 remedy does not make the clause a dead letter. The regulations also are not specific, and provide no notice that failure to do anything other than submit a plan with the requisite features is a further condition on the receipt of federal funds. And the legislative history indicates that the Act left a great deal of discretion to the States to meet the “reasonable efforts” requirement. Pp. 9-15.
    2. The Act does not create an implied cause of action for private enforcement. Respondents have failed to demonstrate that Congress intended to make such a remedy available. See Cort, supra; Transamerica Mortgage Advisors, Inc. v. Lewis, 444 U.S. 11, 15 -16.

917 F.2d 980, (CA7 1990), reversed.

REHNQUIST, C.J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which WHITE, O’CONNOR, SCALIA, KENNEDY, SOUTER, and THOMAS, JJ., joined. BLACKMUN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which STEVENS, J., joined, post, p. 364.

Christina M. Tchen, Special Assistant Attorney General of Illinois, argued the cause for petitioners. With her on [503 U.S. 347, 349]   the briefs were Susan Getzendanner, Charles F. Smith, and Kimberley K. Baer, Special Assistant Attorneys General.

Deputy Solicitor General Roberts argued the cause for the United States as amicus curiae urging reversal. With him on the brief were Solicitor General Starr, Assistant Attorney General Gerson, Michael R. Dreeben, and Anthony J. Steinmeyer.

Michael G. Dsida argued the cause for respondents. With him on the brief were Patrick T. Murphy and Lee Ann Lowder. 

Footnote * ] Briefs of amici curiae urging reversal were filed for the State of Louisiana et al. by William J. Guste, Jr., Attorney General of Louisiana, and Jesse James Marks and David A. Dalia, Assistant Attorneys General, James H. Evans, Attorney General of Alabama, Grant Woods, Attorney General of Arizona, Daniel E. Lungren, Attorney General of California, Gale A. Norton, Attorney General of Colorado, Charles M. Oberly III, Attorney General of Delaware, John Payton, Corporation Counsel of the District of Columbia, Michael J. Bowers, Attorney General of Georgia, Warren Price III, Attorney General of Hawaii, Larry EchoHawk, Attorney General of Idaho, Linley E. Pearson, Attorney General of Indiana, Bonnie J. Campbell, Attorney General of Iowa, Robert T. Stephan, Attorney General of Kansas, Frederic J. Cowan, Attorney General of Kentucky, Michael E. Carpenter, Attorney General of Maine, J. Joseph Curran, Jr., Attorney General of Maryland, Scott Harshbarger, Attorney General of Massachusetts, Frank J. Kelley, Attorney General of Michigan, Hubert H. Humphrey III, Attorney General of Minnesota, Mike Moore, Attorney General of Missouri, Marc Racicot, Attorney General of Montana, Frankie Sue Del Papa, Attorney General of Nevada, Robert J. Del Tufo, Attorney General of New Jersey, Tom Udall, Attorney General of New Mexico, Lacy H. Thornburg, Attorney General of North Carolina, Nicholas J. Spaeth, Attorney General of North Dakota, Lee Fisher, Attorney General of Ohio, Susan Brimer Loving, Attorney General of Oklahoma, Dave Frohnmayer, Attorney General of Oregon, Ernest D. Preate, Jr., Attorney General of Pennsylvania, James E. O’Neil, Attorney General of Rhode Island, T. Travis Medlock, Attorney General South Carolina, Mark W. Barnett, Attorney General of South Dakota, Paul Van Dam, Attorney General of Utah, Jan C. Graham, Solicitor General, Jeffrey L. Amestoy, Attorney General of Vermont, Mary Sue Terry, Attorney General of Virginia, Ken Eikenberry, Attorney General [503 U.S. 347, 350]   of Washington, and Mario J. Palumbo, Attorney General of West Virginia; and for the Council of State Governments et al. by Richard Ruda and Charles Rothfeld.

Briefs of amici curiae urging affirmance were filed for the American Association for Protecting Children et al. by James D. Weill and Robert G. Schwartz; for the American Bar Association by Talbot S. D’alemberte; for the Illinois State Bar Association et al. by Robert E. Lehrer, Dennis A. Rendleman, Roger B. Derstine, Richard L. Mandel, John J. Casey, Michael A. O’Connor, Alexander Polikoff, Roslyn C. Lieb, Gary H. Palm, and Thomas F. Geraghty; and for the National Association of Counsel for Children et al. by Christopher A. Hansen, John A. Powell, Harvey M. Grossman, Ira A. Burnim, Henry Weintraub, Martha Bergmark, and Mark Soler.

Kenneth C. Bass III, Thomas J. Madden, and Jeffrey Kuhn filed a brief for the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges as amicus curiae. [503 U.S. 347, 350]  

CHIEF JUSTICE REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case raises the question whether private individuals have the right to enforce by suit a provision of the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980 (Adoption Act or Act), 94 Stat. 500, 42 U.S.C. 620-628, 670-679a, either under the Act itself or through an action under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit held that 42 U.S.C. 671(a)(15) contained an implied right of action, and that respondents could enforce this section of the Act through an action brought under 1983 as well. We hold that the Act does not create an enforceable right on behalf of respondents.

The Adoption Act establishes a federal reimbursement program for certain expenses incurred by the States in [503 U.S. 347, 351]   administering foster care and adoption services. The Act provides that States will be reimbursed for a percentage of foster care and adoption assistance payments when the State satisfies the requirements of the Act. 42 U.S.C. 672-674, 675(4)(A) (1988 ed. and Supp. 1).

To participate in the program, States must submit a plan to the Secretary of Health and Human Services for approval by the Secretary. 670, 671. Section 671 lists 16 qualifications which state plans must contain in order to gain the Secretary’s approval. As relevant here, the Act provides:

    “(a) Requisite features of State plan

    • “In order for a State to be eligible for payments under this part, it shall have a plan approved by the Secretary which –
    • * * * *
    • “(3) provides that the plan shall be in effect in all political subdivisions of the State, and, if administered by them, be mandatory upon them;
    • * * * *
    • “(15) effective October 1, 1983, provides that, in each case, reasonable efforts will be made (A) prior to the placement of a child in foster care, to prevent or eliminate the need for removal of the child from his home, and (B) to make it possible for the child to return to his home. . . . 671(a)(3), (15).

Petitioners in this action are Sue Suter and Gary T. Morgan, the Director and the Guardianship Administrator, respectively, of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). DCFS is the state agency responsible for, among other things, investigating charges of child abuse and neglect and providing services to abused and neglected children and their families. DCFS is authorized under Illinois law, see Ill.Rev.Stat., ch. 37, § 802-1 et seq. (1989), to gain temporary custody of an abused or neglected child after a [503 U.S. 347, 352]   hearing and order by the Juvenile Court. Alternatively, the court may order that a child remain in his home under a protective supervisory order entered against his parents. See Artist M. v. Johnson, 917 F.2d 980, 982-983 (CA7 1990). Once DCFS has jurisdiction over a child either in its temporary custody, or in the child’s home under a protective order, all services are provided to the child and his family by means of an individual caseworker at DCFS to whom the child’s case is assigned. App. 35-39.

Respondents filed this class action suit seeking declaratory and injunctive relief under the Adoption Act. They alleged that petitioners, in contravention of 42 U.S.C. 671(a)(15), failed to make reasonable efforts to prevent removal of children from their homes and to facilitate reunification of families where removal had occurred. This failure occurred, as alleged by respondents, because DCFS failed promptly to assign caseworkers to children placed in DCFS custody and promptly to reassign cases when caseworkers were on leave from DCFS. App. 6-8. The District Court, without objection from petitioners, certified two separate classes seeking relief, including all children who are or will be wards of DCFS and are placed in foster care or remain in their homes under a judicial protective order. Artzt M. [503 U.S. 347, 353]   v. Johnson, 726 F.Supp. 690, 691 (ND Ill. 1989). The District Court denied a motion to dismiss filed by petitioners, holding, as relevant here, that the Adoption Act contained an implied cause of action and that suit could also be brought to enforce the Act under 42 U.S.C. 1983. 726 F.Supp., at 696, 697.

The District Court then entered an injunction requiring petitioners to assign a caseworker to each child placed in DCFS custody within three working days of the time the case is first heard in Juvenile Court, and to reassign a caseworker within 3-working-days of the date any caseworker relinquishes responsibility for a particular case. App. to Pet. for Cert. 56a. The three working day deadline was found by the District Court to “realistically reflec[t] the institutional capabilities of DCFS,” id., at 55a, based in part on petitioners’ assertion that assigning caseworkers within that time frame “would not be overly burdensome.” Id., at 54a. The District Court, on partial remand from the Court of Appeals, made additional factual findings regarding the nature of the delays in assigning caseworkers and the progress of DCFS reforms at the time the preliminary injunction was entered. App. 28-50.

The Court of Appeals affirmed. 917 F.2d 980 (CA7 1990). Relying heavily on this Court’s decision in Wilder v. Virginia Hospital Assn., 496 U.S. 498 (1990), the Court of Appeals [503 U.S. 347, 354]   held that the “reasonable efforts” clause of the Adoption Act could be enforced through an action under 1983. 917 F.2d, at 987-989. That court, applying the standard established in Cort v. Ash, 42 U.S. 66 (1975), also found that the Adoption Act created an implied right of action such that private individuals could bring suit directly under the Act to enforce the provisions relied upon by respondents. 917 F.2d, at 989-991. We granted certiorari 500 U.S. 91 (1991), and now reverse.   [503 U.S. 347, 355]  

In Maine v. Thiboutot, 448 U.S. 1 (1980), we first established that 1983 is available as a remedy for violations of federal statutes as well as for constitutional violations. We have subsequently recognized that 1983 is not available to enforce a violation of a federal statute “where Congress has foreclosed such enforcement of the statute in the enactment [503 U.S. 347, 356]   itself and where the statute did not create enforceable rights, privileges, or immunities within the meaning of 1983.” Wright v. Roanoke Redevelopment and Housing Authority, 479 U.S. 418, 423 (1987).

In Pennhurst State School and Hospital v. Halderman, 451 U.S. 1 (1981), we held that 111 of the Developmentally Disabled Assistance and Bill of Rights Act of 1975, 42 U.S.C. 6010 (1976 ed. and Supp. III), did not confer an implied cause of action. That statute, as well as the statute before us today, was enacted by Congress pursuant to its spending power. In Pennhurst, we noted that it was well established that Congress has the power to fix the terms under which it disburses federal money to the States. 451 U.S., at 17 , citing Oklahoma v. United States Civil Service Comm’n, 330 U.S. 127 (1947); Rosado v. Wyman, 397 U.S. 397 (1970). As stated in Pennhurst:

    “The legitimacy of Congress’ power to legislate under the spending power thus rests on whether the State voluntarily and knowingly accepts the terms of the “contract.” There can, of course, be no knowing acceptance if a State is unaware of the conditions or is unable to ascertain what is expected of it. Accordingly, if Congress intends to impose a condition on the grant of federal moneys, it must do so unambiguously.” 451 U.S. at 17 (citations and footnote omitted).

We concluded that the statutory section sought to be enforced by the Pennhurst respondents did not provide such unambiguous notice to the States, because it spoke in terms “intended to be hortatory, not mandatory.” Id., at 24.

In Wright, the Brooke Amendment to existing housing legislation imposed a ceiling on the rent which might be charged low-income tenants living in public housing projects. [503 U.S. 347, 357]   The regulations issued by the Department of Housing and Urban Development in turn defined rent to include “`a reasonable amount for [use of] utilities,'” and further defined how that term would be measured. Wright, supra, at 420-421, n. 3. We held that tenants had an enforceable right to sue the Housing Authority for utility charges claimed to be in violation of these provisions. In Wilder, 496 U.S., at 503 , the Boren Amendment to the Medicaid Act required that Medicaid providers be reimbursed according to rates that the “`state finds, and makes assurances satisfactory to the Secretary,'” are “`reasonable and adequate'” to meet the costs of “`efficiently and economically operated facilities.'” Again, we held that this language created an enforceable right, on the part of providers seeking reimbursement, to challenge the rates set by the State as failing to meet the standards specified in the Boren Amendment.

In both Wright and Wilder, the word “reasonable” occupied a prominent place in the critical language of the statute or regulation, and the word “reasonable” is similarly involved here. But this, obviously, is not the end of the matter. The opinions in both Wright and Wilder took pains to analyze the statutory provisions in detail, in light of the entire legislative enactment, to determine whether the language in question created “enforceable rights, privileges, or immunities within the meaning of 1983.” Wright, supra, at 423. And in Wilder, we caution that “`[s]ection 1983 speaks in terms of “rights, privileges, or immunities,” not violations of federal law.'” Wilder, supra, at 509, quoting Golden State Transit Corp. v. Los Angeles, 493 U.S. 103, 106 (1989).

Did Congress, in enacting the Adoption Act, unambiguously confer upon the child beneficiaries of the Act a right to enforce the requirement that the State make “reasonable efforts” to prevent a child from being removed from his home, and once removed to reunify the child with his family? We turn now to that inquiry. [503 U.S. 347, 358]  

As quoted above, 42 U.S.C. 671(a)(15) requires that, to obtain federal reimbursement, a State have a plan which “provides that, in each case, reasonable efforts will be made . . . to prevent or eliminate the need for removal of the child from his home, and . . . to make it possible for the child to return to his home. . . .” As recognized by petitioners, respondents, and the courts below, the Act is mandatory in its terms. However, in the light shed by Pennhurst, we must examine exactly what is required of States by the Act. Here, the terms of 671(a) are clear: “In order for a State to be eligible for payments under this part, it shall have a plan approved by the Secretary.” Therefore the Act does place a requirement on the States, but that requirement only goes so far as to ensure that the State have a plan approved by the Secretary which contains the 16 listed features. 

Respondents do not dispute that Illinois in fact has a plan approved by the Secretary which provides that reasonable efforts at prevention and reunification will be made. Tr. of Oral Arg. 29-30. Respondents argue, however, that 1983 [503 U.S. 347, 359]   allows them to sue in federal court to obtain enforcement of this particular provision of the state plan. This argument is based, at least in part, on the assertion that 42 U.S.C. 671(a)(3) requires that the State have a plan which is “in effect.” This section states that the state plan shall “provid[e] that the plan shall be in effect in all political subdivisions of the State, and, if administered by them, be mandatory upon them.” But we think that “in effect” is directed to the requirement that the plan apply to all political subdivisions of the State, and is not intended to otherwise modify the word “plan.” 10 

In Wilder, the underlying Medicaid legislation similarly required participating States to submit to the Secretary of Health and Human Services a plan for a medical assistance describing the State’s Medicaid program. But in that case, we held that the Boren Amendment actually required the States to adopt reasonable and adequate rates, and that this obligation was enforceable by the providers. We relied in part on the fact that the statute and regulations set forth in some detail the factors to be considered in determining the methods for calculating rates. Wilder, 496 U.S., at 519 , n. 17.

In the present case, however, the term “reasonable efforts” to maintain an abused or neglected child in his home, [503 U.S. 347, 360]   or return the child to his home from foster care, appears in quite a different context. No further statutory guidance is found as to how “reasonable efforts” are to be measured. This directive is not the only one which Congress has given to the States, and it is a directive whose meaning will obviously vary with the circumstances of each individual case. How the State was to comply with this directive, and with the other provisions of the Act, was, within broad limits, left up to the State.

Other sections of the Act provide enforcement mechanisms for the “reasonable efforts” clause of 42 U.S.C. 671(a)(15). The Secretary has the authority to reduce or eliminate payments to a State on finding that the State’s plan no longer complies with 671(a) or that “there is a substantial failure” in the administration of a plan such that the State is not complying with its own plan. 671(b). The Act also requires that, in order to secure federal reimbursement for foster care payments made with respect to a child involuntarily removed from his home, the removal must be “the result of a judicial determination to the effect that continuation [in the child’s home] would be contrary to the welfare of such child and (effective October 1, 1983) that reasonable efforts of the type described in section 671(a)(15) of this title have been made.” 672(a)(1). While these statutory provisions may not provide a comprehensive enforcement mechanism so as to manifest Congress’ intent to foreclose remedies under 1983, 11 they do show that the absence of a remedy to private [503 U.S. 347, 361]   plaintiffs under 1983 does not make the “reasonable efforts” clause a dead letter. 12 

The regulations promulgated by the Secretary to enforce the Adoption Act do not evidence a view that 671(a) places any requirement for state receipt of federal funds other than the requirement that the State submit a plan to be approved by the Secretary. 13 The regulations provide that to meet the requirements of 671(a)(15) the case plan for each child must “include a description of the services offered and the services provided to prevent removal of the child from the home and to reunify the family.” 45 CFR 1356.21(d)(4) (1991). Another regulation, entitled “requirements and submittal,” provides that a state plan must specify “which preplacement preventive and reunification services are available to children and families in need.” 1357.15(e)(1). 14 What is [503 U.S. 347, 362]   significant is that the regulations are not specific and do not provide notice to the States that failure to do anything other than submit a plan with the requisite features, to be approved by the Secretary, is a further condition on the receipt of funds from the Federal Government. Respondents contend that “[n]either [petitioners] nor amici supporting them present any legislative history to refute the evidence that Congress intended 42 U.S.C. 671(a)(15) to be enforceable.” Brief for Respondents 33. To the extent such history may be relevant, our examination of it leads us to conclude that Congress was concerned that the required reasonable efforts be made by the States, but also indicated that the Act left a great deal of discretion to them. 15   [503 U.S. 347, 363]  

Careful examination of the language relied upon by respondents, in the context of the entire Act, leads us to conclude that the “reasonable efforts” language does not unambiguously confer an enforceable right upon the Act’s beneficiaries. The term “reasonable efforts” in this context is at least as plausibly read to impose only a rather generalized duty on the State, to be enforced not by private individuals, but by the Secretary in the manner previously discussed.

Having concluded that 671(a)(15) does not create a federally enforceable right to “reasonable efforts” under 1983, the conclusion of the Court of Appeals that the Adoption Act contains an implied right of action for private enforcement, 917 F.2d, at 989, may be disposed of quickly. Under the familiar test of Cort v. Ash, 422 U.S. 66 (1975), the burden is on respondents to demonstrate that Congress intended to make a private remedy available to enforce the “reasonable [503 U.S. 347, 364]   efforts” clause of the Adoption Act. 16 The most important inquiry here as well is whether Congress intended to create the private remedy sought by the plaintiffs. Transamerica Mortgage Advisors, Inc. v. Lewis, 444 U.S. 11, 15 -16 (1979) (“[W]hat must ultimately be determined is whether Congress intended to create the private remedy asserted”). As discussed above, we think that Congress did not intend to create a private remedy for enforcement of the “reasonable efforts” clause.

We conclude that 42 U.S.C. 671(a)(15) neither confers an enforceable private right on its beneficiaries nor creates an implied cause of action on their behalf.