457 U.S. 496 (1982), 80-1874, Patsy v. Board of Regents of State of Florida

Docket Nº:No. 80-1874
Citation:457 U.S. 496, 102 S.Ct. 2557, 73 L.Ed.2d 172
Party Name:Patsy v. Board of Regents of State of Florida
Case Date:June 21, 1982
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 496

457 U.S. 496 (1982)

102 S.Ct. 2557, 73 L.Ed.2d 172



Board of Regents of State of Florida

No. 80-1874

United States Supreme Court

June 21, 1982

Argued March 2, 1982




Petitioner filed an action in Federal District Court under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for declaratory or injunctive relief or damages, alleging that respondent employer had denied her employment opportunities solely [102 S.Ct. 2558] on the basis of her race and sex. The District Court granted respondent's motion to dismiss because petitioner had not exhausted available state administrative remedies. The Court of Appeals vacated, holding that a § 1983 plaintiff could be required to exhaust administrative remedies if certain specified conditions were met, and remanded the case to the District Court to determine whether exhaustion would be appropriate in the instant case.

Held: Exhaustion of state administrative remedies is not a prerequisite to an action under § 1983. Pp. 500-516.

(a) This conclusion is supported by the legislative histories of both § 1983 and 42 U.S.C. § 1997e (1976 ed., Supp. IV), which carves out a narrow exception to the general no-exhaustion rule established in this Court's prior decisions by creating a specific, limited exhaustion requirement for adult prisoners bringing actions pursuant to § 1983. A judicially imposed exhaustion requirement in cases other than adult prisoners' cases would be inconsistent with Congress' decision to adopt § 1997e, would usurp policy judgments that Congress has reserved for itself, and would also be inconsistent with the detailed exhaustion scheme embodied in § 1997e. Pp. 502-512.

(b) Even if, as respondent argues, an exhaustion requirement would lessen the burden that § 1983 actions impose on federal courts, would further the goal of comity and improve federal-state relations, and would enable the state agency to enlighten the federal court's ultimate decision, these are policy considerations that alone cannot justify judicially imposed exhaustion unless exhaustion is consistent with congressional intent. Moreover, difficult questions concerning the design and scope of an exhaustion requirement, which might be answered swiftly and surely by legislation, would create costly, remedy-delaying and court-burdening litigation if answered by the judiciary in the context of diverse constitutional claims relating to thousands of different state agencies. Pp. 512-515.

634 F.2d 900, reversed and remanded.

Page 497

MARSHALL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BRENNAN, BLACKMUN, REHNQUIST, STEVENS, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined, and in all but Part III-B of which WHITE, J., joined. O'CONNOR, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which REHNQUIST, J., joined, post, p. 516. WHITE, J., filed an opinion concurring in part, post, p. 517. POWELL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in Part II of which BURGER, C.J., joined, post, p. 519.

Page 498

MARSHALL, J., lead opinion

JUSTICE MARSHALL delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case presents the question whether exhaustion of state administrative remedies is a prerequisite to an action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (1976 ed., Supp. IV). Petitioner Georgia Patsy filed this action, alleging that her employer, Florida International University (FIU), had denied her employment opportunities solely on the basis of her race and sex. By a divided vote, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit found that petitioner was required to exhaust "adequate and appropriate" administrative remedies, and remanded the case to the District Court to consider the adequacy of the administrative procedures. Patsy v. Florida International University, 634 F.2d 900 (1981) (en banc). We granted certiorari, 454 U.S. 813, and reverse the decision of the Court of Appeals.


Petitioner alleges that even though she is well qualified and has received uniformly excellent performance evaluations from her supervisors, she has been rejected for more than 13 positions at FIU.1 She further claims that FIU has unlawfully filled positions through intentional discrimination on [102 S.Ct. 2559] the basis of race and sex. She seeks declaratory and injunctive relief or, in the alternative, damages.2

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The United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida granted respondent Board of Regents' motion to dismiss because petitioner had not exhausted available administrative remedies. On appeal, a panel of the Court of Appeals reversed, and remanded the case for further proceedings. Patsy v. Florida International University, 612 F.2d 946 (1980). The full court then granted respondent's petition for rehearing and vacated the panel decision.

The Court of Appeals reviewed numerous opinions of this Court holding that exhaustion of administrative remedies was not required, and concluded that these cases did not preclude the application of a "flexible" exhaustion rule. 634 F.2d at 908. After canvassing the policy arguments in favor of an exhaustion requirement, the Court of Appeals decided that a § 1983 plaintiff could be required to exhaust administrative remedies if the following minimum conditions are met: (1) an orderly system of review or appeal is provided by statute or agency rule; (2) the agency can grant relief more or less commensurate with the claim; (3) relief is available within a reasonable period of time; (4) the procedures are fair, are not unduly burdensome, and are not used to harass or discourage those with legitimate claims; and (5) interim relief is available, in appropriate cases, to prevent irreparable injury and to preserve the plaintiff's rights during the administrative process. Where these minimum standards are met, a court must further consider the particular administrative scheme, the nature of the plaintiff's interest, and the values served by the exhaustion doctrine in order to determine whether exhaustion should be required. Id. at 912-913. The Court of Appeals remanded the case to the

Page 500

District Court to determine whether exhaustion would be appropriate in this case.


The question whether exhaustion of administrative remedies should ever be required in a 1983 action has prompted vigorous debate and disagreement. See, e.g., Turner, When Prisoners Sue: A Study of Prisoner Section 1983 Cases in the Federal Courts, 92 Harv.L.Rev. 610 (1979); Note, 8 Ind.L.Rev. 565 (1975); Comment, 41 U.Chi.L.Rev. 537 (1974). Our resolution of this issue, however, is made much easier because we are not writing on a clean slate. This Court has addressed this issue, as well as related issues, on several prior occasions.

Respondent suggests that our prior precedents do not control our decision today, arguing that these cases can be distinguished on their facts or that this Court did not "fully" consider the question whether exhaustion should be required. This contention need not detain us long. Beginning with McNeese v. Board of Education, 373 U.S. 668, 671-673 (1963), we have on numerous occasions rejected the argument that a § 1983 action should be dismissed where the plaintiff has not exhausted state administrative remedies. See Barry v. Barchi, 443 U.S. 55, 63, n. 10 (1979); Gibson v. Berryhill, 411 U.S. 564, 574 (1973); Carter v. Stanton, 405 U.S. 669, 671 (1972); Wilwording v. Swenson, 404 U.S. 249, 251 (1971); Houghton v. Shafer, 392 U.S. 639, 640 (1968); King v. Smith, 392 U.S. 309, 312, n. 4 (1968); Damico v. California, 389 U.S. 416 (1967). Cf. Steffel v. Thompson, 415 U.S. 452, 472-473 (1974) ("When federal claims are premised on [§ 1983] -- as they are here -- we have not required exhaustion of state judicial or administrative remedies, recognizing the paramount role Congress has assigned to the federal courts to protect constitutional rights"). Respondent may be correct in arguing that several of these decisions could have been based on traditional exceptions to the exhaustion doctrine. Nevertheless, this Court has stated

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categorically that exhaustion is not a prerequisite to an action under § 1983, and we have not deviated from that position in the 19 years since McNeese. Therefore, we do not address the question presented in this case as one of first impression.


Respondent argues that we should reconsider these decisions and adopt the Court of Appeals' exhaustion rule, which was based on McKart v. United States, 395 U.S. 185 (1969). This Court has never announced a definitive formula for determining whether prior decisions should be overruled or reconsidered. However, in Monell v. New York City Dept. of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658, 695-701 (1978), we articulated four factors that should be considered. Two of these factors -- whether the decisions in question misconstrued the meaning of the statute as revealed in its legislative history and whether overruling these decisions would be inconsistent with more recent expressions of congressional intent -- are particularly relevant to our decision today.3 Both concern legislative purpose, which is of paramount importance in the exhaustion context because Congress is vested with the power to prescribe the basic procedural scheme under which claims may be heard in federal courts. Of course, courts play an important role in determining the limits of an exhaustion requirement, and may impose such a requirement even where Congress has not expressly so provided. However, the initial question whether exhaustion is required should be answered by reference to congressional intent; and a court

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should not defer the exercise of jurisdiction under a federal statute unless it is consistent with that intent.4 Therefore, in deciding whether we should reconsider our prior decisions and...

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