416 U.S. 232 (1974), 72-914, Scheuer v. Rhodes

Docket Nº:No. 72-914
Citation:416 U.S. 232, 94 S.Ct. 1683, 40 L.Ed.2d 90
Party Name:Scheuer v. Rhodes
Case Date:April 17, 1974
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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416 U.S. 232 (1974)

94 S.Ct. 1683, 40 L.Ed.2d 90

Scheuer

v.

Rhodes

No. 72-914

United States Supreme Court

April 17, 1974

Argued December 4, 1973

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE SIXTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Petitioners, the personal representatives of the estates of students who were killed on the campus of a state controlled university, brought these damages actions under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the Governor, the Adjutant General of the Ohio National Guard, various other Guard officers and enlisted members, and the university president, charging that those officials, acting under color of state law, "intentionally, recklessly, willfully and wantonly" caused an unnecessary Guard deployment on the campus and ordered the Guard members to perform allegedly illegal acts resulting in the students' deaths. The District Court dismissed the complaints for lack of jurisdiction without the filing of any answer and without any evidence other than the Governor's proclamations and brief affidavits of the Adjutant General and his assistant, holding that respondents [94 S.Ct. 1685] were being sued in their official capacities, and that the actions were therefore in effect against the State, and barred by the Eleventh Amendment. The Court of Appeals affirmed on that ground and on the alternative ground that the common law doctrine of executive immunity was absolute, and barred action against respondent state officials.

Held:

1. The Eleventh Amendment does not in some circumstances bar an action for damages against a state official charged with depriving a person of a federal right under color of state law, and the District Court acted prematurely, and hence erroneously, in dismissing the complaints as it did without affording petitioners any opportunity by subsequent proof to establish their claims. Pp. 235-238.

2. The immunity of officers of the executive branch of a state government for their acts is not absolute, but qualified, and of varying degree, depending upon the scope of discretion and

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responsibilities of the particular office and the circumstances existing at the time the challenged action was taken. Pp. 238-249.

471 F.2d 430, reversed and remanded.

BURGER, C.J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which all Members joined except DOUGLAS, J., who took no part in the decision of the cases.

BURGER, J., lead opinion

MR. CHIEF JUSTICE BURGER delivered the opinion of the Court.

We granted certiorari1 in these cases to resolve whether the District Court correctly dismissed civil damage actions, brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, on the ground that these actions were, as a matter of law, against the State of Ohio, and hence barred by the

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Eleventh Amendment to the Constitution and, alternatively, that the actions were against state officials who were immune from liability for the acts alleged in the complaints. These cases arise out of the same period of alleged civil disorder on the campus of Kent State University in Ohio during May, 1970, which was before us, in another context, in Gilligan v. Morgan, 413 U.S. 1 (1973).

In these cases, the personal representatives of the estates of three students who died in that episode seek damages against the Governor, the Adjutant General, and his assistant, various named and unnamed officers and enlisted member of the Ohio National Guard, and the president of Kent State University. The complaints in both cases allege a cause of action under the Civil Rights Act of 1871, 17 Stat. 13, now 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Petitioner Scheuer also alleges a cause of action under Ohio law on the theory of pendent jurisdiction. Petitioners Krause and Miller make a similar claim, asserting jurisdiction on the basis of diversity of citizenship.2

The District Court dismissed the complaints for lack of jurisdiction over the subject matter on the theory that these actions, although in form against the named individuals, were, in substance and effect, against the State of Ohio, and thus barred by the Eleventh Amendment. The Court of Appeals affirmed the action of the District Court, agreeing that the suit was, in legal effect, one against the State of Ohio, and, alternatively, that the common law doctrine of executive immunity barred action

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against [94 S.Ct. 1686] the state officials who are respondents here. 471 F.2d 430 (1972). We are confronted with the narrow threshold question whether the District Court properly dismissed the complaints. We hold that dismissal was inappropriate at this stage of the litigation, and accordingly reverse the judgments and remand for further proceedings. We intimate no view on the merits of the allegations, since there is no evidence before us at this stage.

I

The complaints in these cases are not identical, but their thrust is essentially the same. In essence, the defendants are alleged to have "intentionally, recklessly, willfully and wantonly" caused an unnecessary deployment of the Ohio National Guard on the Kent State campus, and, in the same manner, ordered the Guard members to perform allegedly illegal actions which resulted in the death of plaintiffs' decedents. Both complaints allege that the action was taken "under color of state law," and that it deprived the decedents of their lives and rights without due process of law. Fairly read, the complaints allege that each of the named defendants, in undertaking such actions, acted either outside the scope of his respective office, or, if within the scope, acted in an arbitrary manner, grossly abusing the lawful powers of office.

The complaints were dismissed by the District Court for lack of jurisdiction without the filing of an answer to any of the complaints. The only pertinent documentation3 before the court in addition to the complaints were two proclamations issued by the respondent

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Governor. The first proclamation ordered the Guard to duty to protect against violence arising from wildcat strikes in the trucking industry; the other recited an account of the conditions prevailing at Kent State University at that time. In dismissing these complaints for want of subject matter jurisdiction at that early stage, the District Court held, as we noted earlier, that the defendants were being sued in their official and representative capacities, and that the actions were therefore, in effect, against the State of Ohio. The primary question presented is whether the District Court acted prematurely, and hence erroneously, in dismissing the complaints on the stated ground, thus precluding any opportunity for the plaintiffs by subsequent proof to establish a claim.

When a federal court reviews the sufficiency of a complaint, before the reception of any evidence either by affidavit or admissions, its task is necessarily a limited one. The issue is not whether a plaintiff will ultimately prevail, but whether the claimant is entitled to offer evidence to support the claims. Indeed, it may appear on the face of the pleadings that a recovery is very remote and unlikely, but that is not the test. Moreover, it is well established that, in passing on a motion to dismiss, whether on the ground of lack of jurisdiction over the subject matter or for failure to state a cause of action, the allegations of the complaint should be construed favorably to the pleader.

In appraising the sufficiency of the complaint we follow, of course, the accepted rule that a complaint should not be dismissed for failure to state a claim unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief.

Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (157) (footnote omitted).

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See also Gardner v. Toilet Goods Assn., 387 U.S. 167, 172 (1967).

II

The Eleventh Amendment to the Constitution of the United States provides: [94 S.Ct. 1687]

The Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State. . . .

It is well established that the Amendment bars suits not only against the State when it is the named party, but also when it is the party in fact. Edelman v. Jordan, 415 U.S. 651 (1974); Poindexter v. Greenhow, 114 U.S. 270, 287 (1885); Cunningham v. Macon & Brunswick R. Co., 109 U.S. 446 (1883). Its applicability

is to be determined not by the mere names of the titular parties, but by the essential nature and effect of the proceeding as it appears from the entire record.

Ex parte New York, 256 U.S. 490, 500 (1921).

However, since Ex parte Young, 209 U.S. 123 (1908), it has been settled that the Eleventh Amendment provides no shield for a state official confronted by a claim that he had deprived another of a federal right under the color of state law. Ex parte Young teaches that, when a state officer acts under a state law in a manner violative of the Federal Constitution, he

comes into conflict with the superior authority of that Constitution, and he is, in that case, stripped of his official or representative character, and is subjected in his person to the consequences of his individual conduct. The State has no power to impart to him any immunity from responsibility to the supreme authority of the United States.

Id. at 159-160...

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