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SAMPSON v. MURRAY

decided: February 19, 1974.

SAMPSON, ADMINISTRATOR, GENERAL SERVICES ADMINISTRATION, ET AL
v.
MURRAY



CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA CIRCUIT.

Rehnquist, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Burger, C. J., and Stewart, White, Blackmun, and Powell, JJ., joined. Douglas, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 92. Marshall, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Brennan, J., joined, post, p. 97.

Author: Rehnquist

[ 415 U.S. Page 62]

 MR. JUSTICE REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.

Respondent is a probationary employee in the Public Buildings Service of the General Services Administration (GSA). In May 1971, approximately four months

[ 415 U.S. Page 63]

     after her employment with GSA began, she was advised in writing by the Acting Commissioner of the Public Buildings Service, W. H. Sanders, that she would be discharged from her position on May 29, 1971. She then filed this action in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, seeking to temporarily enjoin her dismissal pending her pursuit of an administrative appeal to the Civil Service Commission. The District Court granted a temporary restraining order, and after an adversary hearing extended the interim injunctive relief in favor of respondent until the Acting Commissioner of the Public Buildings Service testified about the reasons for respondent's dismissal.

A divided Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed,*fn1 rejecting the Government's contention that the District Court had no authority whatever to grant temporary injunctive relief in this class of cases, and holding that the relief granted by the District Court in this particular case was within the permissible bounds of its discretion. We granted certiorari, sub nom. Kunzig v. Murray, 410 U.S. 981 (1973). We agree with the Court of Appeals that the District Court is not totally without authority to grant interim injunctive relief to a discharged Government employee, but conclude that, judged by the standards which we hold must govern the issuance of such relief, the issuance of the temporary injunctive relief by the District Court in this case cannot be sustained.

I

Respondent was hired as a program analyst by the Public Buildings Service after previous employment in the Defense Intelligence Agency. Under the regulations

[ 415 U.S. Page 64]

     of the Civil Service Commission, this career conditional appointment was subject to a one-year probationary period.*fn2 Applicable regulations provided that respondent, during this initial term of probation, could be dismissed without being afforded the greater procedural advantages available to permanent employees in the competitive service.*fn3 The underlying dispute between the parties arises over whether the more limited procedural requirements applicable to probationary employees were satisfied by petitioners in this case.

The procedural protections which the regulations accord to most dismissed probationary employees are limited. Commonly a Government agency may dismiss a probationary employee found unqualified for continued employment simply "by notifying him in writing as to why he is being separated and the effective date of the action."*fn4 More elaborate procedures are specified when the ground for terminating a probationary employee is "for conditions arising before appointment."*fn5 In such cases the regulations require that the employee receive "an advance written notice stating the reasons, specifically and in detail, for the proposed action"; that the employee be given an opportunity to respond in writing and to furnish affidavits in support of his response; that the agency "consider" any answer filed by the employee in reaching its decision; and that the employee be notified of the agency's decision at the earliest practicable date.*fn6 Respondent contends that her termination

[ 415 U.S. Page 65]

     was based in part on her activities while in the course of her previous employment in the Defense Intelligence Agency, and that therefore she was entitled to an opportunity to file an answer under this latter provision.

The letter which respondent received from the Acting Commissioner, notifying her of the date of her discharge, stated that the reason for her discharge was her "complete unwillingness to follow office procedure and to accept direction from [her] supervisors." After receipt of the letter, respondent's counsel met with a GSA personnel officer to discuss her situation and, in the course of the meeting, was shown a memorandum prepared by an officer of the Public Buildings Service upon which Sanders apparently based his decision to terminate respondent's employment. The memorandum contained both a discussion of respondent's conduct in her job with the Public Buildings Service and a discussion of her conduct during her previous employment at the Defense

[ 415 U.S. Page 66]

     Intelligence Agency. Relying upon the inclusion of the information concerning her previous employment, respondent's counsel requested that she be given a detailed statement of the charges against her and an opportunity to reply -- the procedures to which she would be entitled under the regulations if in fact the basis of her discharge had been conduct during her previous employment. This request was denied.

Respondent then filed an administrative appeal with the Civil Service Commission pursuant to the provisions of 5 CFR § 315.806 (c), alleging that her termination was subject to § 315.805 and was not effected in accordance with the procedural requirements of that section.*fn7 While her administrative appeal was pending undecided, she filed this action. Her complaint alleged that the agency had failed to follow the appropriate Civil Service regulations, alleged that her prospective discharge would deprive her of income and cause her to suffer the embarrassment of being wrongfully discharged, and requested a temporary restraining order and interim injunctive relief against her removal from employment pending agency determination of her appeal. The District Court granted the temporary restraining order at the time of the filing of respondent's complaint, and set a hearing on the application for a temporary injunction for the following week.

At the hearing on the temporary injunction, the District Court expressed its desire to hear the testimony of Sanders in person, and refused to resolve the controversy on the basis of his affidavit which the Government offered to furnish. When the Government declined

[ 415 U.S. Page 67]

     to produce Sanders, the court ordered the temporary injunctive relief continued, stating that "Plaintiff may suffer immediate and irreparable injury, loss and damage before the Civil Service Commission can consider Plaintiff's claim."*fn8 The Government, desiring to test the authority of the District Court to enter such an order, has not produced Sanders, and the interim relief awarded respondent continues in effect at this time.

On the Government's appeal to the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, the order of the District Court was affirmed. Although recognizing that "Congress presumably could remove the jurisdiction of the District Courts to grant such equitable interim relief, in light of the remedies available,"*fn9 the court found that the District Court had the power to grant relief in the absence of an explicit prohibition from Congress. The Court of Appeals decided that the District Court acted within the bounds of permissible discretion in requiring Sanders to appear and testify,*fn10 and in continuing the temporary injunctive relief until he was produced as a witness by the Government.

[ 415 U.S. Page 68]

     II

While it would doubtless be intellectually neater to completely separate the question whether a District Court has authority to issue any temporary injunctive relief at the behest of a discharged Government employee from the question whether the relief granted in this case was proper, we do not believe the questions may be thus bifurcated into two watertight compartments. We believe the basis for our decision can best be illuminated by taking up the various arguments which the parties urge upon us.

Petitioners point out, and the Court of Appeals below apparently recognized, that Congress has given the District Courts no express statutory authorization to issue temporary "stays" in Civil Service cases. Although Congress has often specifically conferred such authority when it so desired -- for example, in the enabling statutes establishing the NLRB,*fn11 the FTC,*fn12 the FPC,*fn13 and the SEC*fn14 -- the statutes governing the Civil Service Commission are silent on the question.*fn15 The rules and regulations

[ 415 U.S. Page 69]

     promulgated pursuant to a broad grant of statutory authority likewise make no provision for interlocutory judicial intervention.

The Court of Appeals nevertheless found that the district courts had traditional power to grant stays in such personnel cases. Commenting upon the Government's arguments for reversal below, the court stated:

"It is asserted that the Civil Service Commission has been given exclusive review jurisdiction. But, as noted initially, there is no statutory power in the Civil Service Commission to grant a temporary stay of discharge. Prior to the Civil Service Act a United States District Court would certainly have had jurisdiction and power to grant such temporary relief. The statute did not explicitly take it away, nor implicitly by conferring such jurisdiction and power on the CSC; we hold the District Court still has jurisdiction and may exercise the power under established standards in appropriate circumstances."*fn16

If the issue were to turn solely on the earlier decisions of this Court examining the authority of federal courts to intervene in disputes about governmental employment, we think this assumption of the Court of Appeals is wrong. In Keim v. United States, 177 U.S. 290 (1900), this Court held that the Court of Claims had no authority to award damages to an employee who claimed he

[ 415 U.S. Page 70]

     had been wrongfully discharged by his federal employer.*fn17 In White v. Berry, 171 U.S. 366 (1898), a Government employee had sought to enjoin his employer from dismissing him from office, alleging that the removal would violate both the Civil Service Act and the applicable regulations.*fn18 The Circuit Court assumed jurisdiction and issued an order prohibiting the defendant from interfering

[ 415 U.S. Page 71]

     with the plaintiff's discharge of his duty "'until he shall be removed therefrom by proper proceedings had under the Civil Service Act and the rules and regulations made thereunder or by judicial proceedings at law. . . .'"*fn19 This Court reversed. Discussing the apparently well-established principle that "'a court of equity will not, by injunction, restrain an executive officer from making a wrongful removal of a subordinate appointee,'"*fn20 the Court held that "the Circuit Court, sitting in equity, was without jurisdiction to grant the relief asked."*fn21

Respondent's case, then, must succeed, if at all, despite earlier established principles regarding equitable intervention in disputes over tenure of governmental employees, and not because of them. Much water has flowed over the dam since 1898, and cases such as Service v. Dulles, 354 U.S. 363 (1957), cited by the District Court in its memorandum opinion in this case, establish that federal courts do have authority to review the claim of a discharged governmental employee that the agency effectuating the discharge has not followed administrative regulations.*fn22 In that case, however, judicial proceedings

[ 415 U.S. Page 72]

     were not commenced until the administrative remedy had been unsuccessfully pursued.*fn23 The fact that Government personnel decisions are now ultimately subject to the type of judicial review sought in Service v. Dulles, supra, does not, without more, create the authority to issue interim injunctive relief which was held lacking in cases such as White v. Berry, supra.

The Court of Appeals found support for its affirmance of the District Court's grant of injunctive relief in Scripps-Howard Radio v. FCC, 316 U.S. 4 (1942). In Scripps-Howard the licensee of a Cincinnati radio station petitioned the FCC to vacate an order permitting a Columbus radio station to change its frequency and to increase its broadcasting power. The licensee also requested a hearing. When the Commission denied the petition, the licensee filed a statutory appeal in the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia and, in conjunction with the docketing of the appeal, asked the court to stay the FCC order pending its decision. The Court of Appeals, apparently departing from a longstanding policy of issuing such stays,*fn24 declined to do so in this case and ultimately certified the question of its power to this Court.*fn25

[ 415 U.S. Page 73]

     This Court held that the Court of Appeals had power to issue the stay, analogizing it to the traditional stay granted by an appellate court pending review of an inferior court's decision:

"It has always been held, therefore, that as part of its traditional equipment for the administration of justice, [*] a federal court can stay the enforcement of a judgment pending the outcome of an appeal."*fn26

But in Scripps-Howard the losing party before the agency sought an interim stay of final agency action pending statutory judicial review.*fn27 A long progression of cases in this Court had established the authority of a court, empowered by statute to exercise appellate jurisdiction, to issue appropriate writs in aid of that jurisdiction.*fn28 The All Writs Act, first enacted as a part of the Judiciary Act of 1789, provided statutory confirmation of this

[ 415 U.S. Page 74]

     authority.*fn29 This Court in Scripps-Howard held that the same principles governed the authority of courts charged by statute with judicial review of agency decisions, and that the authority to grant a stay exists in such a court even though not expressly conferred by the statute which confers appellate jurisdiction.

Scripps-Howard, supra, of course, is not the instant case. The authority of the District Court to review agency action under Service v. Dulles, supra, does not come into play until it may be authoritatively said that the administrative decision to discharge an employee does in fact fail to conform to applicable regulations.*fn30 Until administrative action has become final, no court is in a position to say that such action did or did not conform to applicable regulations. Here respondent had obtained no administrative determination of her appeal at the time she brought the action in the District Court. She was in effect asking that court to grant her, on an interim basis, relief which the administrative agency charged with review of her employer's action could grant her only after it had made a determination on the merits.

While both the District Court and the Court of Appeals characterized the District Court's intervention as a "stay," the mandatory retention of respondent in the position from which she was dismissed actually served to provide the most extensive relief which she might conceivably obtain from the agency after its review on the merits. It may well be that the Civil Service Commission, should it have agreed with respondent's version of the basis for her dismissal, would prohibit the final

[ 415 U.S. Page 75]

     separation of respondent unless and until proper procedures had been followed. But this is not to say that it would hold respondent to be entitled to full reinstatement with the attendant tension with her superiors that the agency intended to avoid by dismissing her. Congress has provided that a wrongfully dismissed employee shall receive full payment and benefits for any time during which the employee was wrongfully discharged from employment.*fn31 The Civil Service Commission could conceivably accommodate the conflicting claims in this case by directing respondent's superiors to provide her with an opportunity to reply by ...


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