495 U.S. 182 (1990), 88-1281, Ngiraingas v. Sanchez

Docket Nº:No. 88-1281
Citation:495 U.S. 182, 110 S.Ct. 1737, 109 L.Ed.2d 163, 58 U.S.L.W. 4504
Party Name:Ngiraingas v. Sanchez
Case Date:April 24, 1990
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 182

495 U.S. 182 (1990)

110 S.Ct. 1737, 109 L.Ed.2d 163, 58 U.S.L.W. 4504

Ngiraingas

v.

Sanchez

No. 88-1281

United States Supreme Court

April 24, 1990

Argued Jan. 8, 1990

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR

THE NINTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Petitioners filed suit in the District Court under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against respondents -- the Guam Government, the Guam Police Department and its Director in her official capacity, and various police officers in their official and individual capacities -- alleging that petitioners were arrested and assaulted by the officers and forced to write and sign confessions. The District Court dismissed the claims. The Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal with respect to the Government, the Police Department, and the individual defendants in their official capacities. Analogizing the Government of Guam to an administrative agency, the court ruled that Guam and the Police Department are no more than federal instrumentalities, and thus are not "persons" within the meaning of § 1983, which, in its current version relates to "[e]very person who [acts] under color of any statute . . . of any State or Territory." The court also found that the Guam officials could not be sued in their [110 S.Ct. 1738] official capacities, because a judgment against them in such capacities would affect the public treasury and the suit essentially would be one against the Government itself.

Held: Neither the Territory of Guam nor its officers acting in their official capacities are "persons" under § 1983. Pp. 186-192.

(a) Since § 1983's language affords no clue as to whether "person" includes a Territory, indicia of congressional intent at the time of enactment must be sought. Pp. 186-192.

(b) The omission of Territories from the original version of § 1983 shows that Congress did not mean to subject them to liability. Rather, in 1871, Congress was concerned with Ku Klux Klan activities that were going unpunished in the Southern States and designed § 1983's remedy to combat this evil, recognizing the need for original federal court jurisdiction as a means to provide at least indirect federal control over the unconstitutional acts of state officials. Territorial courts, in contrast, were under the Federal Government's general control, and would not have engendered such immediate concern. Pp. 187-189.

(c) The statute's successive enactments, in context, further reveal the lack of any congressional intent to include Territories as persons. In the 1871 version, persons could not possibly have included Territories, because Territories are not States within the meaning of the Fourteenth

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Amendment, and could not have been persons acting under color of state law. Cf. Will v. Michigan Dept. of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 64. This reading is supported by § 1983's next enactment in 1874, when Congress first added the phrase "or Territory," thus making it possible for a person acting under color of territorial law to be held liable. At the same time, however, Congress pointedly redefined the word "person" in the "Dictionary Act" -- which supplied rules of construction for all legislation -- to exclude Territories. Pp. 189-192.

(d) Since Guam is not a person, neither are its officers acting in their official capacity. P. 192.

858 F.2d 1368 (CA 9 1988), affirmed.

BLACKMUN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and WHITE, STEVENS, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined, and in all but Part II-B of which SCALIA, J., joined. BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which MARSHALL, J., joined, post, p. 193. KENNEDY, J., took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

BLACKMUN, J., lead opinion

Justice BLACKMUN delivered the opinion of the Court.

In this case, we must decide whether a Territory or an officer of the Territory acting in his or her official capacity is a "person" within the meaning of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (1982 ed.).

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I

Petitioners Alex Ngiraingas, Oscar Ongklungel, Jimmy Moses, Arthur Mechol, Jonas Ngeheed, and Bolandis Ngiraingas filed suit in the United States District Court for the District of Guam, alleging numerous constitutional violations and seeking damages under § 1983.1 The named defendants were the Government of Guam, the [110 S.Ct. 1739] Guam Police Department, the Director of the Police Department in her official capacity, and various Guam police officers in their official and individual capacities.

Petitioners were arrested by Guam police on suspicion of having committed narcotics offenses. The complaint, as finally amended, alleged that petitioners were taken to police headquarters in Agana, where officers assaulted them and forced them to write and sign statements confessing narcotics crimes.

The District Court dismissed the claims against the Government of Guam and the Police Department on the ground that Guam was immune from suit under the Organic Act of Guam, 64 Stat. 384, § 3, as amended, 48 U.S.C. § 1421a, unless Congress or the Guam Legislature waived Guam's immunity. App. to Pet. for Cert. A-4 to A-6. The District Court also dismissed the action against the individual defendants in their official capacities, explaining that, because

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a judgment against the individuals in their official capacities would affect the public treasury, the real party in interest was the Government of Guam. Ibid.

The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part. 858 F.2d 1368 (1988) (superseding the opinion at 849 F.2d 372). Analogizing the Government to an administrative agency, the court ruled that Guam is "no more than" a federal instrumentality, and thus is not a person within the meaning of § 1983. 858 F.2d at 1371-1372. "For the same reasons," the Police Department, also, is not a person under § 1983. Id. at 1372. Finally, the Court of Appeals ruled that Guam officials may not be sued in their official capacities under § 1983, because a judgment against those defendants in their official capacities would affect the public treasury, and the suit essentially would be one against the Government itself. Ibid.2 Accordingly, the court affirmed the District Court's dismissal of the claims against the Government of Guam, the Guam Police Department, and the individual defendants in their official capacities.3

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Because of the importance of the question, and because at least one other Court of Appeals has advanced a different view as to whether a Territory is subject to liability under § 1983,4 we granted certiorari. 493 U.S. 807 (1989).

II

A

Guam, an island of a little more than 200 square miles located in the west central Pacific, became a United States possession at the conclusion of the Spanish-American War by the Treaty of Paris, Art. II, 30 Stat. 1755. Except for the period from December, 1941, to July, 1944, when Japan invaded and occupied the island, the United States Navy administered Guam's affairs from 1898 to 1950, when the Organic Act was passed.5 Among other things, the Act provided for an elected governor and established Guam as an unincorporated Territory. 48 U.S.C. §§ 1421a and 1422. It was said at the time that this unincorporated status did not promise eventual statehood. See H.R.Rep. No. 1365, App. No. 3, 81st Cong., 1st Sess., 9 (1949). The United States continues to this day to have a military presence in Guam, with an Air Force base, a Navy communications base, air and weather stations, and a large complex that serves the Seventh Fleet.6

To determine whether Guam constitutes a "person" within the meaning of § 1983, we examine the statute's language and purpose. The current version relates to "[e]very person who [acts] under color of any statute . . . of any State or Territory."

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The statute itself obviously affords no clue as to whether its word "person" includes a Territory. We seek, therefore, indicia of congressional intent at the time the statute was enacted. See District of Columbia v. Carter, 409 U.S. 418, 425 (1973) (analysis of purposes and scope of § 1983 must "take cognizance of the events and passions of the time at which it was enacted"). See also United States v. Price, 383 U.S. 787, 803 (1966).

B

Our review of § 1983's history uncovers no sign that Congress was thinking of Territories when it enacted the statute over a century ago in 1871. The historical background shows with stark clarity that Congress was concerned only with events "stateside."

Section 1983 was originally enacted as § 1 of the Civil Rights Act of 1871. The Act was enacted for the purpose of enforcing the provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Quern v. Jordan, 440 U.S. 332, 354 (1979) (BRENNAN, J., concurring in the judgment); see also Carter, 409 U.S. at 423. ("[Section] 1983 has its roots in § 1 of the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871, Act of Apr. 20, 1871"). After the War Between the States, race relations in the Southern States were troubled. The Ku Klux Klan, organized by southern whites, commenced "a wave of murders and assaults . . . against both blacks and Union sympathizers." Id. at 425. Congress was worried "about the insecurity of life and property in the South," and designed § 1 of the Act

primarily in response to the unwillingness or inability of the state governments to enforce their own laws against those violating the civil rights of others.

Id. at 425-426 (emphasis added).7

The debates are replete with [110 S.Ct. 1741] references to the

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lawless conditions existing in the South in 1871. There was available to Congress during these debates a report, nearly 600 pages in length, dealing with the activities of the Klan and the inabilities of the state governments to cope with it. This report...

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