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U.S. Supreme Court

Universities Research Assn., Inc. v. Coutu, 450 U.S. 754 (1981)

Universities Research Assn., Inc. v. Coutu

No. 78-1945

Argued November 10, 1980

Decided April 6, 1981

450 U.S. 754


Section 1(a) of the Davis-Bacon Act provides that advertised specifications for federal construction contracts in excess of $2,000 "shall contain" a provision stating the minimum wages to be paid laborers and mechanics, which wages must be based on those the Secretary of Labor determines to be prevailing in the locality, and further provides that every contract based on such specifications "shall contain" a stipulation that the contractor will pay wages not less than those stated in the specifications. Petitioner made a contract with the Atomic Energy Commission to provide scientific and management services to the United States in connection with the construction, alteration, and repair of the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, a high-energy physics research facility. The contract was administratively determined not to call for work subject to the Act, and therefore did not contain a prevailing wage stipulation. Respondent, a former employee of petitioner, brought suit against petitioner on behalf of himself and others similarly situated, seeking damages on the theory that petitioner had violated the Davis-Bacon Act by failing to pay prevailing wages for the construction work. The District Court entered summary judgment for petitioner on the ground that, since it appeared from the record that there were no express Davis-Bacon Act stipulations in the contract, it would be improper for the court to declare in the first instance that the contract was subject to the Act and to make appropriate wage determinations for the parties. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that, if petitioner actually performed Davis-Bacon Act work with its own employees, respondent and his class became entitled to the prevailing wages, and the court remanded the case to allow respondent the opportunity to demonstrate, if he could, that petitioner had used him and his class to perform Davis-Bacon Act work.

Held: The Davis-Bacon Act does not confer upon an employee a private right of action for back wages under a contract that has been administratively determined not to call for work subject to the Act, and thus does not contain prevailing wage stipulations. Pp. 450 U. S. 767-784.

Page 450 U. S. 755

(a) While requiring that certain stipulations be placed in federal construction contracts for the benefit of mechanics and laborers, § 1 of the Act does not confer rights directly on these individuals, but is simply "phrased as a directive to federal agencies engaged in the disbursement of public funds," Cannon v. University of Chicago, 441 U. S. 677, 441 U. S. 693, n. 14. That Congress did not intend to authorize a suit for back wages where there are no prevailing wage stipulations in the contract is also indicated by the absence of a provision comparable to § 3 of the Davis-Bacon Act, which confers on laborers and mechanics working under a contract containing such stipulations a conditional right of action against the contractor on the payment bond required by the Miller Act. Pp. 450 U. S. 771-773.

(b) The Davis-Bacon Act's legislative history further supports the conclusion that implication of a private right of action under the circumstances of this case would be inconsistent with congressional intent. No contrary inference can be drawn from the Portal-to-Portal Act of 1947. Pp. 450 U. S. 773-781.

(c) Finally, the underlying purpose of the Davis-Bacon Act's legislative scheme indicates that Congress did not intend to create the right of action asserted by respondent. To imply a private right of action to sue for Davis-Bacon Act wages under a contract that does not contain prevailing wage stipulations would destroy the careful balance the Act strikes between the interests of contractors and their employees. In addition, the implication of a private right of action where there has been no Davis-Bacon Act determination would introduce substantial uncertainty into Government contracting, and would undercut the elaborate administrative scheme promulgated to assure consistency in the administration and enforcement of the Act. Pp. 450 U. S. 782-784.

595 F.2d 396, reversed and remanded.

BLACKMUN, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

Page 450 U. S. 756

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