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U.S. Supreme Court

Lake County Estates v. Tahoe Reg. Planning Agency, 440 U.S. 391 (1979)

Lake Country Estates, Inc. v. Tahoe Regional Planning Agency

No. 77-1327

Argued December 4, 1978

Decided March 5, 1979

440 U.S. 391


California and Nevada entered into a Compact, later consented to by Congress, to create respondent Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA) to coordinate and regulate development in the Lake Tahoe Basin resort area and to conserve its natural resources. The Compact authorized TRPA to adopt and enforce a regional plan for land use, transportation, conservation, recreation, and public services. Petitioners, Basin property owners, brought suit in Federal District Court alleging that TRPA and its individual members and executive officer (also respondents) had adopted a land use ordinance that destroyed the value of petitioners' property in violation of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, and seeking monetary and equitable relief. To support their federal claim, petitioners asserted, inter alia, that respondents had acted under color of state law and that therefore their cause of action was authorized by 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and jurisdiction was provided by 28 U.S.C. § 1343. The District Court dismissed the complaint, holding that, although a cause of action for "inverse condemnation" was sufficiently alleged, the action could not be maintained against TRPA because it had no authority to condemn property, and that the individual respondents were immune from liability. The Court of Appeals, while reinstating the complaint against the individual respondents on other grounds, rejected petitioners' claims based on §§ 1983 and 1343, holding that congressional approval had transformed the Compact into federal law, with the result that respondents had acted pursuant to federal authority, rather than under color of state law. The court further held that TRPA was immune from suit under the Eleventh Amendment, and that with respect to the individual respondents they should be absolutely immune for conduct of a legislative character and qualifiedly immune for executive action.


1. Petitioners stated a cause of action under § 1983, and hence properly invoked federal jurisdiction under § 1343. The requirement of federal approval of the Compact did not foreclose a finding that respondents' conduct was "under color of state law" within the meaning of § 1983. The facts with respect to TRPA's operation -- such as that its implementation depended upon the appointment of members by

Page 440 U. S. 392

both States and their subdivisions and upon financing by counties; that the appointees, in discharging their duties as TRPA officials, also serve the interests of the appointing units; that federal involvement is limited to the appointment of one nonvoting member; and that each State has an absolute right to withdraw from the Compact -- adequately characterize respondents' alleged actions as "under color of state law." Pp. 440 U. S. 398-400.

2. TRPA is not immune from liability under the Eleventh Amendment. The States' intention in creating TRPA, the terms of the Compact, and TRPA's actual operation make clear that nothing short of an absolute rule would allow TRPA to claim sovereign immunity, and, because the Eleventh Amendment prescribes no such rule, TRPA is subject to "the judicial power of the United States" within the meaning of that Amendment. Pp. 440 U. S. 400-402.

3. To the extent that the evidence discloses that the individual respondents were acting in a legislative capacity, they are entitled to absolute immunity from federal damages liability.

"Legislators are immune from deterrents to the uninhibited discharge of their legislative duty, not for their private indulgence but for the public good,"

Tenney v. Brandhove, 341 U. S. 367, 341 U. S. 377, and this reasoning is equally applicable to federal, state, and regional legislators. Whatever potential damages liability regional legislators may face as a matter of state law, petitioners' federal claims do not encompass the recovery of damages from TRPA members acting in a legislative capacity. Pp. 440 U. S. 402-406.

566 F.2d 1353, reversed in part and affirmed in part.

STEVENS, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J.,and STEWART, WHITE, POWELL, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined, and in which BRENNAN, MARSHALL, and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined in part. BRENNAN, J., post, p. 440 U. S. 406, and MARSHALL, J., post, p. 440 U. S. 406, filed opinions dissenting in part. BLACKMUN, J., filed an opinion dissenting in part, in Part I of which BRENNAN, J., joined, post, p. 440 U. S. 408.

Page 440 U. S. 393

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