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BUSH V. LUCAS, 462 U. S. 367 (1983)

U.S. Supreme Court

Bush v. Lucas, 462 U.S. 367 (1983)

Bush v. Lucas

No. 81-469

Argued January 19, 1983

Decided June 13, 1983

462 U.S. 367


Petitioner, an aerospace engineer employed at the George C. Marshall Space Flight Center, a facility operated by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), made a number of public statements to the news media highly critical of the Center. Subsequently, respondent Director of the Center demoted petitioner for making the public statements on the ground that they were false and misleading. The Federal Employee Appeals Authority upheld the demotion, but the Civil Service Commission's Appeals Review Board, upon reopening the proceeding at petitioner's request, found that the demotion had violated his First Amendment rights. NASA accepted the Board's recommendation that petitioner be restored to his former position retroactively and that he receive backpay. While his administrative appeal from the demotion was pending, petitioner filed an action against respondent in an Alabama state court, seeking to recover damages for violation of his First Amendment rights. Respondent removed the action to Federal District Court, which granted summary judgment for respondent. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that petitioner had no cause of action for damages under the First Amendment for retaliatory demotion in view of the available remedies under the Civil Service Commission regulations.

Held: Because petitioner's claims arise out of an employment relationship that is governed by comprehensive procedural and substantive provisions giving meaningful remedies against the United States, it would be inappropriate for this Court to supplement that regulatory scheme with a new nonstatutory damages remedy. Pp. 462 U. S. 374-390.

(a) The federal courts' statutory jurisdiction to decide federal questions confers adequate power to award damages to the victim of a constitutional violation even if Congress has not expressly authorized such a remedy. When Congress provides an alternative remedy, it may indicate its intent that this power should not be exercised. In the absence of such a congressional directive, the federal courts must make the kind of remedial determination that is inpropriate for a common law tribunal, paying particular heed, however, to any special factors counseling hesitation before authorizing a new kind of federal litigation. Pp. 462 U. S. 374-380.

(b) The Government's comprehensive scheme protecting civil servants against arbitrary action by supervisors provides meaningful remedies for

Page 462 U. S. 368

employees who may have been unfairly disciplined for making critical comments about their agencies. Given the history of the development of civil service remedies and the comprehensive nature of the remedies currently available, the question in this case is not what remedy the court should provide for a wrong that would otherwise go unredressed, but whether an elaborate remedial system that has been constructed step by step, with careful attention to policy considerations, should be augmented by the creation of a new judicial remedy for the constitutional violation at issue. This Court declines to create such a remedy, because Congress is in a better position to decide whether or not the public interest would be served by creating it. Pp. 462 U. S. 380-390.

647 F.2d 573, affirmed.

STEVENS, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court. MARSHALL, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which BLACKMUN, J., joined, post, p. 462 U. S. 390.

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