Rizzo v. Goode
Decided on Jan. 21, 1976; 423 US 362

Philadelphia Mayor, City Manager, Director, and Police Commissioner sued by local citizens


A. Issues Discussed: Civil Rights (race)

B. Legal Question Presented:

Did the District Court err in directing Philadelphia state executive officials to draft a program for dealing adequately with citizens' complaints, in order to prevent deprivation of the constitutional rights of minority citizens and other Philadelphia citizens?

A. Background

Two class action suits were brought in district court under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against petitioners, the Mayor of Philadelphia, the City Managing Director, and the Police Commissioner.  One case was brought by three individuals; the second case was brought by 21 individuals and four organizations.  The police were not named as parties to either action. Respondents alleged a pervasive pattern of illegal and unconstitutional police mistreatment of minority citizens in particular and all Philadelphia residents in general. The petitioners were charged with misconduct ranging from authorization or encouragement of the mistreatment, to failure to act in such a way as to avoid further mistreatment in the future.

The district court heard evidence regarding over 40 incidents of alleged police misconduct, and made detailed findings of fact with respect to eight of the incidents presented in one case, and with respect to 28 incidents presented in the other case.  In only five of the 36 total incidents, the district court concluded that police conduct amounted to a deprivation of constitutional rights. The district court found that the evidence did not establish the existence of any policy on the part of petitioners to violate the legal and constitutional rights of respondent classes, but found evidence of departmental discouragement of the filing of citizen complaints and a tendency to minimize the consequences of police misconduct. The court found that only a small percentage of police officers committed violations of the rights of Philadelphia residents, but that these violations occurred in “unacceptably” high numbers and were likely to continue to occur.  

The District Court directed petitioners to draft for the court's approval "a comprehensive program for dealing adequately with civilian complaints,” in an attempt to prevent future misconduct.  The court gave suggestions for revising police manuals and procedural rules for dealing with citizens, and for revising procedures in handling complaints against police officers. Petitioners appealed and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

The US Supreme Court granted certiorari to review the case. 
B. Counsel of Record:
Opposing Side
Peter Hearn argued the cause for respondents.  With him on the brief were Nancy J. Gellman, Jack J. Levine, William Lee Akers, and Harry Lore. James M. Penny, Jr., argued the cause for petitioners. With him on the briefs was Stephen Arinson.
C. The Arguments:
Opposing Side
Unavailable Unavailable
Opposing Side
Anthony G. Amsterdam, Melvin L. Wulf, Joel M. Gora, and Sanford J. Rosen filed a brief for the American Civil Liberties Union, as amicus curiae, urging affirmance.

Additional briefs of amici curiae urging affirmance were filed by the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights under Law; the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania; the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.; the Philadelphia Bar Association; and the Greater Philadelphia Movement.
No amici curiae briefs were filed on behalf of petitioners.

"The scope of federal equity power, it is proposed, should be extended to the fashioning of prophylactic procedures for a state agency designed to minimize this kind of misconduct on the part of a handful of its employees.  However, on the facts of this case, not only is this novel claim quite at odds with the settled rule that in federal equity cases ‘the nature of the violation determines the scope of the remedy,’ but important considerations of federalism are additional factors weighing against it.  Where, as here, the exercise of authority by state officials is attacked, federal courts must be constantly mindful of the ‘special delicacy of the adjustment to be preserved between federal equitable power and State administration of its own law.'  Stefanelli v. Minard….

Even in an action between private individuals, it has long been held that an injunction is 'to be used sparingly, and only in a clear and plain case...'  When a plaintiff seeks to enjoin the activity of a government agency, even within a unitary court system, his case must contend with ‘the well-established rule that the Government has traditionally been granted the widest latitude in the 'dispatch of its own internal affairs'. The District Court's injunctive order here, significantly revising the internal procedures of the Philadelphia police department, was indisputably a sharp limitation on the department's ‘latitude in the 'dispatch of its own internal affairs...'

Contrary to the District Court's flat pronouncement that a federal court's legal power to 'supervise the functioning of the police department... is firmly established,' it is the foregoing cases and principles that must govern consideration of the type of injunctive relief granted here. When it injected itself by injunctive decree into the internal disciplinary affairs of this state agency, the District Court departed from these precepts.'

Held: Judgment of the Court of Appeals reversed.
Justice Vote: 3 Pro vs. 5 Con
  • Rehnquist, W. Con  (Wrote majority opinion)
  • White, B. Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • Powell, L. Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • Burger, W. Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • Stewart, J. Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • Blackmun, H. Pro (Wrote dissenting opinion)
  • Marshall, T.  Pro (Voted with the minority, joined Blackmun’s dissent)
  • Brennan, W. Pro (Voted with the minority, joined Blackmun’s dissent)
  • Stevens, J. Took no part in the decision making process of the case

The ACLU filed as amicus curiae urging affirmance; the US Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeal’s judgment in a 5-3 vote, giving ACLU an apparent loss.