MEYERS v. PENNSYLVANIA
416 U.S. 946 (1974)

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U.S. Supreme Court

MEYERS v. PENNSYLVANIA , 416 U.S. 946 (1974)

416 U.S. 946

Mindy MEYERS, Etc., et al. v. Commonwealth of PENNSYLVANIA et al.
No. 73-721.

Supreme Court of the United States

April 15, 1974

On petition for writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.

The petition for a writ of certiorari is denied.

Mr. Justice DOUGLAS, dissenting.

The petitioners seek damages from the State of Pennsylvania arising from a bus accident allegedly caused by the improper design, construction, and maintenance of the highway. Seven children were fatally injured when the bus, carrying a group of young people, rotated 180 degrees on wet pavement and when through the guardrail and over the embankment. A study by the National Transportation Safety Board suggested that the accident was caused in part by the 'low basic skid resistance of the pavement in wet weather, and the probable presence of water draining across the pavement in an abnormal manner.' It also suggested that the fatalities and injuries resulted in part from an 'ineffective highway guardrail which failed to prevent the bus from rolling down an embankment. . . .'1 In bringing the action in Federal District Court petitioners contended that the State was liable because it had failed to make the road conform to applicable federal highway regulations which were binding upon Pennsylvania because of its acceptance of federal highway funds. The District Court dismissed the action and the Court of Appeals affirmed, finding that petitioners had no private right of action for the State's failure to conform to the federal regulations and that the State was immune from the suit in federal court because of the Eleventh Amendment. [Footnote 2]

Page 416 U.S. 946 , 947

As the District Court noted, the State here was 'performing its traditional state governmental function in designing, constructing and maintaining highways within its own borders.' 344 F.Supp., at 1345. But in recent years States have voluntarily subjected themselves to federal regulations in this area in order to achieve the benefits of federal funding, and thus to a significant extent the traditional state autonomy has been displaced by the federal role. Under the Federal Aid-Highway Act, 23 U.S.C. 101 et seq., the Secretary of Transportation must approve each state project, 106(a), and he is to withhold his approval of the plans and specifications if they are not conducive to safety, 109(a). Section 109(e) requires conformance to certain safety regulations for funds to be allowed, and 114(a) provides that state highway construction is subject to the inspection and approval of the Secretary. Section 116 provides that the Secretary may withhold his approval of further projects if the State has not fulfilled its duty to properly maintain its highways.

The Congress has enlarged the federal role in ensuring highway safety since passage of the Federal Aid-Highway Act. In 1965 Congress added 23 U. S.C. 135, 79 Stat. 578, requiring each State to have a federally approved highway safety program 'designed to reduce traffic accidents and deaths.' And because of the absence of effective state action, the following year the Congress passed the Highway Safety Act, 23 U.S.C. 401 et seq. Section 402(a) provides that the Secretary promulgate regulations for the state highway safety program. Pursuant to this provision the Secretary has promulgated [416 U.S. 946 , 948]


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