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decided: March 25, 1992.



Rehnquist, C. J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which White, O'connor, Scalia, Kennedy, Souter, and Thomas, JJ., joined. Blackmun, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Stevens, J., joined.

Author: Rehnquist

THE CHIEF JUSTICE delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case raises the question whether private individuals have the right to enforce by suit a provision of the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980 (Adoption Act or Act), 94 Stat. 500, 42 U.S.C. §§ 620-628, 670-679a, either under the Act itself or through an action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.*fn1 The Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit held that 42 U.S.C. § 671(a)(15) contained an implied right of action, and that respondents could enforce this section of the Act through an action brought under § 1983 as well. We hold that the Act does not create an enforceable right on behalf of the respondents.

The Adoption Act establishes a federal reimbursement program for certain expenses incurred by the States in administering foster care and adoption services. The Act provides that States will be reimbursed for a percentage of foster care and adoption assistance payments when the State satisfies the requirements of the Act. 42 U.S.C. §§ 672-674, 675(4)(A) (1988 ed. and Supp. I).

To participate in the program, States must submit a plan to the Secretary of Health and Human Services for approval by the Secretary. 42 U.S.C. §§ 670, 671. Section 671 lists 16 qualifications which state plans must contain in order to gain the Secretary's approval. As relevant here, the Act provides:

"(a) Requisite features of State plan

"In order for a State to be eligible for payments under this part, it shall have a plan approved by the Secretary which --

"(3) provides that the plan shall be in effect in all political subdivisions of the State, and, if administered by them, be mandatory upon them;

"(15) effective October 1, 1983, provides that, in each case, reasonable efforts will be made (A) prior to the placement of a child in foster care, to prevent or eliminate the need for removal of the child from his home, and (B) to make it possible for the child to return to his home . . . ." 42 U.S.C. § 671(a)(3), (15).

Petitioners in this action are Sue Suter and Gary T. Morgan, the Director and the Guardianship Administrator, respectively, of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). DCFS is the state agency responsible for, among other things, investigating charges of child abuse and neglect and providing services to abused and neglected children and their families. DCFS is authorized under Illinois law, see Ill. Rev. Stat., ch. 37, para. 802-1, et. seq. (1989), to gain temporary custody of an abused or neglected child after a hearing and order by the Juvenile Court. Alternatively, the court may order that a child remain in his home under a protective supervisory order entered against his parents. See Artist M. v. Johnson, 917 F.2d 980, 982-983 (CA7 1990). Once DCFS has jurisdiction over a child either in its temporary custody, or in the child's home under a protective order, all services are provided to the child and his family by means of an individual caseworker at DCFS to whom the child's case is assigned. App. 35-39.

Respondents filed this class-action suit seeking declaratory and injunctive relief under the Adoption Act.*fn2 They alleged that petitioners, in contravention of 42 U.S.C. § 671(a)(15) failed to make reasonable efforts to prevent removal of children from their homes and to facilitate reunification of families where removal had occurred.*fn3 This failure occurred, as alleged by respondents, because DCFS failed promptly to assign caseworkers to children placed in DCFS custody and promptly to reassign cases when caseworkers were on leave from DCFS. App. 6-8. The District Court, without objection from petitioners, certified two separate classes seeking relief, including all children who are or will be wards of DCFS and are placed in foster care or remain in their homes under a judicial protective order.*fn4 Artist M. v. Johnson, 726 F. Supp. 690, 691 (ND Ill. 1989). The District Court denied a motion to dismiss filed by petitioners, holding, as relevant here, that the Adoption Act contained an implied cause of action and that suit could also be brought to enforce the Act under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. 726 F. Supp., at 696, 697.

The District Court then entered an injunction requiring petitioners to assign a caseworker to each child placed in DCFS custody within three working days of the time the case is first heard in Juvenile Court, and to reassign a caseworker within three working days of the date any caseworker relinquishes responsibility for a particular case. App. to Pet. for Cert. 56a. The three working day deadline was found by the District Court to "realistically reflect the institutional capabilities of DCFS," id., at 55a, based in part on petitioners' assertion that assigning caseworkers within that time frame "would not be overly burdensome." Id., at 54a. The District Court, on partial remand from the Court of Appeals, made additional factual findings regarding the nature of the delays in assigning caseworkers and the progress of DCFS reforms at the time the preliminary injunction was entered. App. 28-50.

The Court of Appeals affirmed. Artist M. v. Johnson, 917 F.2d 980 (CA7 1990). Relying heavily on this Court's decision in Wilder v. Virginia Hospital Assn., 496 U.S. 498 (1990), the Court of Appeals held that the "reasonable efforts" clause of the Adoption Act could be enforced through an action under § 1983. 917 F.2d, at 987-989.*fn5 That court, applying the standard established in Cort v. Ash, 422 U.S. 66 (1975), also found that the Adop-tion Act created an implied right of action such that private individuals could bring suit directly under the Act to enforce the provisions relied upon by respondents. 917 F.2d, at 989-991. We granted certiorari, and now reverse.*fn6 500 U.S. (1991).

In Maine v. Thiboutot, 448 U.S. 1 (1980), we first established that § 1983 is available as a remedy for violations of federal statutes as well as for constitutional violations. We have subsequently recognized that § 1983 is not available to enforce a violation of a federal statute "where Congress has foreclosed such enforcement of the statute in the enactment itself and where the statute did not create enforceable rights, privileges, or immunities within the meaning of § 1983." Wright v. Roanoke Redevelopment and Housing Authority, 479 U.S. 418, 423 (1987).

In Pennhurst State School and Hospital v. Halderman, 451 U.S. 1 (1981), we held that § 6010 of the Developmentally Disabled Assistance and Bill of Rights Act of 1975, 42 U.S.C. § 6000 et. seq., (1976 ed. and Supp. III) did not confer an implied cause of action. That statute, as well as the statute before us today, was enacted by Congress pursuant to its spending power.*fn7 In Pennhurst, we noted that it was well established that Congress has the power to fix the terms under which it disburses federal money to the States. 451 U.S., at 17, citing Oklahoma v. CSC, 330 U.S. 127 (1947); Rosado v. Wyman, 397 U.S. 397 (1970). As stated in Pennhurst :

"The legitimacy of Congress' power to legislate under the spending power thus rests on whether the State voluntarily and knowingly accepts the terms of the 'contract.' There can, of course, be no knowing acceptance if a State is unaware of the conditions or is unable to ascertain what is expected of it. Accordingly, if Congress intends to impose a condition on the grant of federal moneys, it must do so unambiguously." Pennhurst, supra, at 17 (citations and footnote omitted).

We concluded that the statutory section sought to be enforced by the Pennhurst respondents did not provide such unambiguous notice to the States because it spoke in terms "intended to be hortatory, not mandatory." 451 U.S., at 24.

In Wright, the Brooke Amendment to existing housing legislation imposed a ceiling on the rent which might be charged low-income tenants living in public housing projects. The regulations issued by the Department of Housing and Urban Development in turn defined rent to include "'a reasonable amount for [use of] utilities,'" and further defined how that term would be measured. Wright, supra, at 420-421, n. 3. We held that tenants had an enforceable right to sue the Housing Authority for utility charges claimed to be in violation of these provisions. In Wilder, 496 U.S., at 503, the Boren Amendment to the Medicaid Act required that Medicaid providers be reimbursed according to rates that the "'State finds, and makes assurances satisfactory to the Secretary,'" are "'reasonable and adequate'" to meet the costs of "'efficiently and economically operated facilities.'" Again, we held that this language created an enforceable right, on the part of providers seeking reimbursement, to challenge the rates set by the State as failing to meet the standards specified in the Boren Amendment.

In both Wright and Wilder the word "reasonable" occupied a prominent place in the critical language of the statute or regulation, and the word reasonable" is similarly involved here. But this, obviously, is not the end of the matter. The opinions in both Wright and Wilder took pains to analyze the statutory provisions in detail, in light of the entire legislative enactment, to determine whether the language in question created "enforceable rights, privileges, or immunities within the meaning of § 1983." Wright, supra, at 423. And in Wilder, we caution that "'section 1983 speaks in terms of "rights, privileges, or immunities," not violations of federal law.'" Wilder, supra at 509 quoting Golden State Transit Corp. v. Los Angeles, 493 U.S. 103 (1989).

Did Congress, in enacting the Adoption Act, unambiguously confer upon the child beneficiaries of the Act a right to enforce the requirement that the State make "reasonable efforts" to prevent a child from being removed from his home, and once removed ...

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