Garcia v. San Antonio Transit Auth.
469 U.S. 528 (1985)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

Garcia v. San Antonio Transit Auth., 469 U.S. 528 (1985)

Garcia v. San Antonio Transit Authority

No. 82-1913

Argued March 19, 1984

Reargued October 1, 1984

Decided February 19, 1985*

469 U.S. 528

APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR

THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF TEXAS

Syllabus

Appellee San Antonio Metropolitan Transit Authority (SAMTA) is a public mass transit authority that is the major provider of transportation in the San Antonio, Tex., metropolitan area. It has received substantial federal financial assistance under the Urban Mass Transportation Act of 1964. In 1979, the Wage and Hour Administration of the Department of Labor issued an opinion that SAMTA's operations are not immune from the minimum wage and overtime requirements of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) under National League of Cities v. Usery,426 U. S. 833, in which it was held that the Commerce Clause does not empower Congress to enforce such requirements against the States "in areas of traditional governmental functions." Id. at 426 U. S. 852. SAMTA then filed an action in Federal District Court, seeking declaratory relief. Entering judgment for SAMTA, the District Court held that municipal ownership and operation of a mass transit system is a traditional governmental function, and thus, under National League of Cities, is exempt from the obligations imposed by the FLSA.

Held: In affording SAMTA employees the protection of the wage and hour provisions of the FLSA, Congress contravened no affirmative limit on its power under the Commerce Clause. Pp. 469 U. S. 537-557.

(a) The attempt to draw the boundaries of state regulatory immunity in terms of "traditional governmental functions" is not only unworkable but is also inconsistent with established principles of federalism and, indeed, with those very federalism principles on which National League of Cities purported to rest. That case, accordingly, is overruled. Pp. 469 U. S. 537-547.

(b) There is nothing in the overtime and minimum wage requirements of the FLSA, as applied to SAMTA, that is destructive of state sovereignty or violative of any constitutional provision. The States' continued role in the federal system is primarily guaranteed not by any externally

Page 469 U. S. 529

imposed limits on the commerce power, but by the structure of the Federal Government itself. In these cases, the political process effectively protected that role. Pp. 469 U. S. 547-555.

557 F.Supp. 445, reversed and remanded.

BLACKMUN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BRENNAN, WHITE, MARSHALL, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. POWELL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BURGER, C.J., and REHNQUIST and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined, post, p. 469 U. S. 557. REHNQUIST, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 469 U. S. 579. O'CONNOR, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which POWELL and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined, post, p. 469 U. S. 580.

Page 469 U. S. 530

JUSTICE BLACKMUN delivered the opinion of the Court.

We revisit in these cases an issue raised in National League of Cities v. Usery,426 U. S. 833 (1976). In that litigation, this Court, by a sharply divided vote, ruled that the Commerce Clause does not empower Congress to enforce the minimum wage and overtime provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) against the States "in areas of traditional governmental functions." Id. at 426 U. S. 852. Although National League of Cities supplied some examples of "traditional governmental functions," it did not offer a general explanation of how a "traditional" function is to be distinguished from a "nontraditional" one. Since then, federal and state courts have struggled with the task, thus imposed, of identifying a traditional function for purposes of state immunity under the Commerce Clause.

In the present cases, a Federal District Court concluded that municipal ownership and operation of a mass transit system is a traditional governmental function and thus, under National League of Cities, is exempt from the obligations imposed by the FLSA. Faced with the identical question, three Federal Courts of Appeals and one state appellate court have reached the opposite conclusion. [Footnote 1]

Page 469 U. S. 531

Our examination of this "function" standard applied in these and other cases over the last eight years now persuades us that the attempt to draw the boundaries of state regulatory immunity in terms of "traditional governmental function" is not only unworkable but is also inconsistent with established principles of federalism and, indeed, with those very federalism principles on which National League of Cities purported to rest. That case, accordingly, is overruled.

I

The history of public transportation in San Antonio, Tex., is characteristic of the history of local mass transit in the United States generally. Passenger transportation for hire within San Antonio originally was provided on a private basis by a local transportation company. In 1913, the Texas Legislature authorized the State's municipalities to regulate vehicles providing carriage for hire. 1913 Tex.Gen.Laws, ch. 147, § 4,

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