Searching over 5,500,000 cases.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.


June 25, 1975



Burger, Douglas, Brennan, Stewart, White, Marshall, Blackmun, Powell, Rehnquist

Author: Powell

# T

[ 422 U.S. Page 493]

     MR. JUSTICE POWELL delivered the opinion of the Court.

Petitioners, various organizations and individuals resident in the Rochester, N. Y., metropolitan area, brought this action in the District Court for the Western District of New York against the town of Penfield, an incorporated municipality adjacent to Rochester, and against members of Penfield's Zoning, Planning, and Town Boards. Petitioners claimed that the town's zoning ordinance, by its terms and as enforced by the defendant board members, respondents here, effectively excluded persons of low and moderate income from living in the town, in contravention of petitioners' First, Ninth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights and in violation of 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981, 1982, and 1983. The District Court dismissed the complaint and denied a motion to add petitioner Housing Council in the Monroe County Area, Inc., as party-plaintiff and also a motion by petitioner Rochester Home Builders Association, Inc., for leave to intervene as party-plaintiff. The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed, holding that none of the plaintiffs, and neither Housing Council nor Home Builders Association, had standing to prosecute the action. 495 F.2d 1187 (1974). We granted the petition for certiorari. 419 U.S. 823 (1974). For reasons that differ in certain respects from those upon which the Court of Appeals relied, we affirm.


Petitioners Metro-Act of Rochester, Inc., and eight individual plaintiffs, on behalf of themselves and all persons similarly situated,*fn1 filed this action on January 24,

[ 422 U.S. Page 4941972]

     , averring jurisdiction in the District Court under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1343. The complaint identified Metro-Act as a not-for-profit New York corporation, the purposes of which are "to alert ordinary citizens to problems of social concern;... to inquire into the reasons for the critical housing shortage for low and moderate income persons in the Rochester area and to urge action on the part of citizens to alleviate the general housing shortage for low and moderate income persons."*fn2 Plaintiffs Vinkey, Reichert, Warth, and Harris were described as residents of the city of Rochester, all of whom owned real property in and paid property taxes to that city.*fn3 Plaintiff Ortiz, "a citizen of Spanish/Puerto Rican extraction," App. 7, also owned real property in and paid taxes to Rochester. Ortiz, however, resided in Wayland, N. Y., some 42 miles from Penfield where he was employed.*fn4 The complaint described plaintiffs Broadnax, Reyes, and Sinkler as residents of Rochester and "persons fitting within the classification of low and moderate income as hereinafter defined...."*fn5 Ibid. Although

[ 422 U.S. Page 495]

     the complaint does not expressly so state, the record shows that Broadnax, Reyes, and Sinkler are members of ethnic or racial minority groups: Reyes is of Puerto Rican ancestry; Broadnax and Sinkler are Negroes.

Petitioners' complaint alleged that Penfield's zoning ordinance, adopted in 1962, has the purpose and effect of excluding persons of low and moderate income from residing in the town. In particular, the ordinance allocates 98% of the town's vacant land to single-family detached housing, and allegedly by imposing unreasonable requirements relating to lot size, setback, floor area, and habitable space, the ordinance increases the cost of single-family detached housing beyond the means of persons of low and moderate income. Moreover, according to petitioners, only 0.3% of the land available for residential construction is allocated to multifamily structures (apartments, townhouses, and the like), and even on this limited space, housing for low-and moderate-income persons is not economically feasible because of low density and other requirements. Petitioners also alleged that "in furtherance of a policy of exclusionary zoning," id., at 22, the defendant members of Penfield's Town, Zoning, and Planning Boards had acted in an arbitrary and discriminatory manner: they had delayed action on proposals for low- and moderate-cost housing for inordinate periods of time; denied such proposals for arbitrary and insubstantial reasons; refused to grant necessary variances and permits, or to allow tax abatements; failed to provide necessary support services for low- and moderate-cost housing projects; and had

[ 422 U.S. Page 496]

     amended the ordinance to make approval of such projects virtually impossible.

In sum, petitioners alleged that, in violation of their "rights, privileges and immunities secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States," id., at 17, the town and its officials had made "practically and economically impossible the construction of sufficient numbers of low and moderate income... housing in the Town of Penfield to satisfy the minimum housing requirements of both the Town of Penfield and the metropolitan Rochester area...."*fn6 Petitioners alleged, moreover, that by precluding low- and moderate-cost housing, the town's zoning practices also had the effect of excluding persons of minority racial and ethnic groups, since most such persons have only low or moderate incomes.

Petitioners further alleged certain harm to themselves. The Rochester property owners and taxpayers -- Vinkey, Reichert, Warth, Harris, and Ortiz -- claimed that because of Penfield's exclusionary practices, the city of Rochester had been forced to impose higher tax rates on them and others similarly situated than would otherwise have been necessary. The low- and moderate-income, minority plaintiffs -- Ortiz, Broadnax, Reyes, and Sinkler - claimed that Penfield's zoning practices had prevented them from acquiring, by lease or purchase, residential property in the town, and thus had forced them and their families to reside in less attractive environments. To relieve these various harms, petitioners asked the District Court to declare the Penfield ordinance unconstitutional, to enjoin the defendants from enforcing the ordinance, to order the defendants to enact and administer a new ordinance designed to alleviate the effects of their past actions, and to award $750,000 in actual and exemplary damages.

[ 422 U.S. Page 497]

     On May 2, 1972, petitioner Rochester Home Builders Association, an association of firms engaged in residential construction in the Rochester metropolitan area, moved the District Court for leave to intervene as a party-plaintiff. In essence, Home Builders' intervenor complaint repeated the allegations of exclusionary zoning practices made by the original plaintiffs. It claimed that these practices arbitrarily and capriciously had prevented its member firms from building low- and moderate-cost housing in Penfield, and thereby had deprived them of potential profits. Home Builders prayed for equitable relief identical in substance to that requested by the original plaintiffs, and also for $750,000 in damages.*fn7 On June 7, 1972, Metro-Act and the other original plaintiffs moved to join petitioner Housing Council in the Monroe County Area, Inc., as a party plaintiff. Housing Council is a not-for-profit New York corporation, its membership comprising some 71 public and private organizations interested in housing problems. An affidavit accompanying the motion stated that 17 of Housing Council's member groups were or hoped to be involved in the development of low- and moderate-cost housing, and that one of its members -- the Penfield Better Homes Corp. -- "is and has been actively attempting to develop moderate income housing" in Penfield, "but has been stymied by its inability to secure the necessary approvals...."*fn8

Upon consideration of the complaints and of extensive supportive materials submitted by petitioners, the District Court held that the original plaintiffs, Home Builders, and Housing Council lacked standing to prosecute

[ 422 U.S. Page 498]

     the action, that the original complaint failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted, that the suit should not proceed as a class action, and that, in the exercise of discretion, Home Builders should not be permitted to intervene. The court accordingly denied the motion to add Housing Council as a party-plaintiff, denied Home Builders' motion to intervene, and dismissed the complaint. The Court of Appeals affirmed, reaching only the standing questions.


We address first the principles of standing relevant to the claims asserted by the several categories of petitioners in this case. In essence the question of standing is whether the litigant is entitled to have the court decide the merits of the dispute or of particular issues. This inquiry involves both constitutional limitations on federal-court jurisdiction and prudential limitations on its exercise. E.g., Barrows v. Jackson, 346 U.S. 249, 255-256 (1953). In both dimensions it is founded in concern about the proper -- and properly limited -- role of the courts in a democratic society. See Schlesinger v. Reservists to Stop the War, 418 U.S. 208, 221-227 (1974); United States v. Richardson, 418 U.S. 166, 188-197 (1974) (POWELL, J., concurring).

In its constitutional dimension, standing imports justiciability: whether the plaintiff has made out a "case or controversy" between himself and the defendant within the meaning of Art. III. This is the threshold question in every federal case, determining the power of the court to entertain the suit. As an aspect of justiciability, the standing question is whether the plaintiff has "alleged such a personal stake in the outcome of the controversy" as to warrant his invocation of federal-court jurisdiction and to justify exercise of the court's remedial powers on

[ 422 U.S. Page 499]

     his behalf. Baker v. Carr, 369 U.S. 186, 204 (1962).*fn9 The Art. III judicial power exists only to redress or otherwise to protect against injury to the complaining party, even though the court's judgment may benefit others collaterally. A federal court's jurisdiction therefore can be invoked only when the plaintiff himself has suffered "some threatened or actual injury resulting from the putatively illegal action...." Linda R. S. v. Richard D., 410 U.S. 614, 617 (1973). See Data Processing Service v. Camp, 397 U.S. 150, 151-154 (1970).*fn10

Apart from this minimum constitutional mandate, this Court has recognized other limits on the class of persons who may invoke the courts' decisional and remedial powers. First, the Court has held that when the asserted harm is a "generalized grievance" shared in substantially equal measure by all or a large class of citizens, that harm alone normally does not warrant exercise of jurisdiction. E.g., Schlesinger v. Reservists to Stop the War, supra; United States v. Richardson, supra; Ex parte Levitt, 302 U.S. 633, 634 (1937). Second, even when the plaintiff has alleged injury sufficient to meet the "case or controversy" requirement, this Court has held that the plaintiff generally must assert his own legal rights and interests, and cannot rest his claim to relief on the legal rights or interests of third parties. E.g., Tileston v. Ullman, 318 U.S. 44 (1943). See United States v. Raines, 362 U.S. 17 (1960); Barrows v.

[ 422 U.S. Page 500]

     Jackson, supra. Without such limitations closely related to Art. III concerns but essentially matters of judicial self-governance the courts would be called upon to decide abstract questions of wide public significance even though other governmental institutions may be more competent to address the questions and even though judicial intervention may be unnecessary to protect individual rights. See, e.g., Schlesinger v. Reservists to Stop the War, 418 U.S., at 222.*fn11

Although standing in no way depends on the merits of the plaintiff's contention that particular conduct is illegal, e.g., Flast v. Cohen, 392 U.S. 83, 99 (1968), it often turns on the nature and source of the claim asserted. The actual or threatened injury required by Art. III may exist solely by virtue of "statutes creating legal rights, the invasion of which creates standing...." See Linda R. S. v. Richard D., supra , at 617 n. 3; Sierra Club v. Morton, 405 U.S. 727, 732 (1972). Moreover, the source of the plaintiff's claim to relief assumes critical importance with respect to the prudential rules of standing that, apart from Art. III's minimum requirements, serve to limit the role of the courts in resolving public disputes. Essentially, the standing question in such cases is whether the constitutional or statutory provision on which the claim rests properly can be understood as granting persons in the plaintiff's position a right to judicial relief.*fn12 In some circumstances, countervailing

[ 422 U.S. Page 501]

     considerations may outweigh the concerns underlying the usual reluctance to exert judicial power when the plaintiff's claim to relief rests on the legal rights of third parties. See United States v. Raines, 362 U.S., at 22-23. In such instances, the Court has found, in effect, that the constitutional or statutory provision in question implies a right of action in the plaintiff. See Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510 (1925); Sullivan v. Little Hunting Park, Inc., 396 U.S. 229, 237 (1969). See generally Part IV, infra. Moreover, Congress may grant an express right of action to persons who otherwise would be barred by prudential standing rules. Of course, Art. III's requirement remains: the plaintiff still must allege a distinct and palpable injury to himself, even if it is an injury shared by a large class of other possible litigants. E.g., United States v. SCRAP, 412 U.S. 669 (1973). But so long as this requirement is satisfied, persons to whom Congress has granted a right of action, either expressly or by clear implication, may have standing to seek relief on the basis of the legal rights and interests of others, and, indeed, may invoke the general public interest in support of their claim. E.g., Sierra Club v. Morton, supra, at 737; FCC v. Sanders Radio Station, 309 U.S. 470, 477 (1940).

One further preliminary matter requires discussion. For purposes of ruling on a motion to dismiss for want of standing, both the trial and reviewing courts must accept as true all material allegations of the complaint, and must construe the complaint in favor of the complaining party. E.g., Jenkins v. McKeithen, 395 U.S. 411, 421-422 (1969). At the same time, it is within the trial court's power to allow or to require the plaintiff to supply, by amendment to the complaint or by affidavits, further particularized allegations of fact deemed supportive of plaintiff's standing. If, after this opportunity,

[ 422 U.S. Page 502]

     the plaintiff's standing does not adequately appear from all materials of record, the complaint must be dismissed.


With these general considerations in mind, we turn first to the claims of petitioners Ortiz, Reyes, Sinkler, and Broadnax, each of whom asserts standing as a person of low or moderate income and, coincidentally, as a member of a minority racial or ethnic group. We must assume, taking the allegations of the complaint as true, that Penfield's zoning ordinance and the pattern of enforcement by respondent officials have had the purpose and effect of excluding persons of low and moderate income, many of whom are members of racial or ethnic minority groups. We also assume, for purposes here, that such intentional exclusionary practices, if proved in a proper case, would be adjudged violative of the constitutional and statutory rights of the persons excluded.

But the fact that these petitioners share attributes common to persons who may have been excluded from residence in the town is an insufficient predicate for the conclusion that petitioners themselves have been excluded, or that the respondents' assertedly illegal actions have violated their rights. Petitioners must allege and show that they personally have been injured, not that injury has been suffered by other, unidentified members of the class to which they belong and which they purport to represent. Unless these petitioners can thus demonstrate the requisite case or controversy between themselves personally and respondents, "none may seek relief on behalf of himself or any other member of the class." O'Shea v. Littleton, 414 U.S. 488, 494 (1974). See, e.g., Bailey v. Patterson, 369 U.S. 31, 32-33 (1962).

[ 422 U.S. Page 503]

     In their complaint, petitioners Ortiz, Reyes, Sinkler, and Broadnax alleged in conclusory terms that they are among the persons excluded by respondents' actions.*fn13 None of them has ever resided in Penfield; each claims at least implicitly that he desires, or has desired, to do so. Each asserts, moreover, that he made some effort, at some time, to locate housing in Penfield that was at once within his means and adequate for his family's needs. Each claims that his efforts proved fruitless.*fn14

[ 422 U.S. Page 504]

     We may assume, as petitioners allege, that respondents' actions have contributed, perhaps substantially, to the cost of housing in Penfield. But there remains the question whether petitioners' inability to locate suitable housing in Penfield reasonably can be said to have resulted, in any concretely demonstrable way, from respondents' alleged constitutional and statutory infractions. Petitioners must allege facts from which it reasonably could be inferred that, absent the respondents' restrictive zoning practices, there is a substantial probability that they would have been able to purchase or lease in Penfield and that, if the court affords the relief requested, the asserted inability of petitioners will be removed. Linda R. S. v. Richard D., 410 U.S. 614 (1973).

We find the record devoid of the necessary allegations. As the Court of Appeals noted, none of these petitioners has a present interest in any Penfield property; none is himself subject to the ordinance's strictures; and none has ever been denied a variance or permit by respondent officials. 495 F.2d, at 1191. Instead, petitioners claim that respondents' enforcement of the ordinance against third parties -- developers, builders, and the like -- has had the consequence of precluding the construction of housing suitable to their needs at prices they might be able to afford. The fact that the harm to petitioners may have resulted indirectly does not in itself preclude standing.

[ 422 U.S. Page 505]

     When a governmental prohibition or restriction imposed on one party causes specific harm to a third party, harm that a constitutional provision or statute was intended to prevent, the indirectness of the injury does not necessarily deprive the person harmed of standing to vindicate his rights. E.g., Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113, 124 (1973). But it may make it substantially more difficult to meet the minimum requirement of Art. III: to establish that, in ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.