513 So.2d 129 (Fla. 1987), 69016, Hill v. Department of Corrections, State of Fla.

Docket Nº:69016.
Citation:513 So.2d 129, 12 Fla. L. Weekly 495, 12 Fla. L. Weekly 506
Opinion Judge:Author: Overton
Party Name:Jesse HILL, Petitioner, v. DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, STATE OF FLORIDA, Respondent.
Attorney:Gregg J. Ormond of Lisk & Ormond, P.A., and HAGGARD & KIRKLAND, P.A., for Petitioner.
Case Date:September 24, 1987
Court:Supreme Court of Florida

Page 129

513 So.2d 129 (Fla. 1987)

12 Fla. L. Weekly 495, 12 Fla. L. Weekly 506

Jesse HILL, Petitioner,



No. 69016.

Supreme Court of Florida.

September 24, 1987

Gregg J. Ormond of Lisk & Ormond, P.A., and Haggard & Kirkland, P.A., Coral Gables, for petitioner.

Robert A. Butterworth, Atty. Gen., and Thomas H. Bateman, III, Sp. Asst. Atty. Gen., Tallahassee, and Charles F. Mills,

Page 130

Dept. of Corrections, South Miami, for respondent.

OVERTON, Justice.

This is a petition to review a decision of the Third District Court of Appeal reported as Department of Corrections v. Hill, 490 So.2d 118 (Fla. 3d DCA 1986). The district court certified the following question as one of great public importance:

Has the State of Florida, pursuant to section 768.28, Florida Statutes (1983), waived its Eleventh Amendment and state common law immunity and consented to suits against the State and its agencies under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983?

Id. at 120. We have jurisdiction. Art. V, § 3(b)(4), Fla. Const.

The facts, set out in detail in the district court opinion, reflect that the petitioner in this action, Jesse Hill, filed a complaint against the respondent, Department of Corrections (DOC), alleging false imprisonment, negligence, and a violation of civil rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for the conduct of a probation supervisor in asserting that Hill had violated his probation. The trial court dismissed the civil rights action, but submitted the claims of negligence and false imprisonment to the jury with a special interrogatory verdict. The parties agreed to a specific instruction on the verdict form which read:

In determining the total amount of damages, do not make any reduction because of negligence, if any of plaintiff Jesse Hill. If you have found Jesse Hill negligent in any degree, the court in entering judgment will reduce Jesse Hill's total amount of damages (100%) by the percentage of negligence which you found is chargeable to Jesse Hill.

Id. at 119. The jury found DOC liable for false imprisonment and 75 percent comparatively negligent, and awarded Hill $750,000 in damages. Reasoning that comparative negligence is not a defense to false imprisonment, the trial court entered judgment for the total amount of damages. DOC, after the time had run for a motion for new trial, sought relief from the asserted erroneous instruction by motion under Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.540 which was denied by the trial court.

On appeal, the Third District Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's dismissal of Hill's section 1983 civil rights claim, reasoning that for purposes of section 1983 the state has not waived its sovereign immunity, and certified that question to this Court; on the rule 1.540 motion, the district court held that the trial court's instruction misled the jury to DOC's prejudice. Although the court found DOC liable for the full amount of any damages caused by false imprisonment, it reversed the cause for a new trial on damages.

Civil Rights Claim

In order to answer the certified question, it is first appropriate to consider the effect of the eleventh amendment on suits filed under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The eleventh amendment to the United States Constitution expressly provides:

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

This language bars suit by a citizen of one state against another state. The United States Supreme Court, in Hans v. Louisiana, 134 U.S. 1, 10 S.Ct. 504, 33 L.Ed. 842 (1890), clarified the language of the amendment to grant states immunity from suit by any person, regardless of what state citizenship they enjoyed. The Hans Court expressly rejected the proposition that the eleventh amendment allows a state to be sued by its own citizens under a federal statute. Writing for the majority, Justice Bradley stated:

Can we suppose that, when the Eleventh Amendment was adopted, it was understood to be left open for citizens of a State to sue their own state in the federal courts, whilst the idea of suits by citizens of other states, or of foreign states, was indignantly repelled? ....


The suability of a state, without its consent, was a thing unknown to the law.

Page 131

This has been so often laid down and acknowledged by courts and jurists that it is hardly necessary to be formally asserted.

Id. at 15-16, 10 S.Ct. at 507.

In order for a damage suit to be brought against a state in federal court, one of two situations must occur. First, Congress, by explicit legislative enactment, may abrogate the state's immunity. See Fitzpatrick v. Bitzer, 427 U.S. 445, 96 S.Ct. 2666, 49 L.Ed.2d 614 (1976). The United States Supreme Court has held that section 1983 did not constitute a Congressional abrogation of a state's eleventh amendment immunity. See Quern v. Jordan, 440 U.S. 332, 99 S.Ct. 1139, 59 L.Ed.2d 358 (1979); Edelman v. Jordan, 415 U.S. 651, 94 S.Ct. 1347, 39 L.Ed.2d 662 (1974).

The second situation arises when the state itself consents to be sued in federal court, thereby waiving its eleventh amendment immunity. The United States Supreme Court in Edelman, stated:

In deciding whether a state has waived its constitutional protection under the Eleventh Amendment, we will find waiver only where stated "by the most express language or by such overwhelming implications from the text as [will] leave no room for any other reasonable construction."

415 U.S. at 673, 94 S.Ct. at 1360 (quoting Murray v. Wilson Distilling Co., 213 U.S. 151, 171, 29 S.Ct. 458, 464, 53 L.Ed. 742 (1909).

With this background, we then consider whether a civil rights suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 can be brought against the state and one of its agencies in a Florida court. Hill correctly points out that the eleventh amendment immunity is inapplicable because it pertains only to suits filed in federal court. Hill contends first that the state has no common law immunity against a suit brought under federal law alleging the violation of a federal constitutional right. We reject this argument.

At the outset, we note that even though Quern was a federal court action involving the eleventh amendment, the United States Supreme Court made the statement in that case that Congress, in enacting section 1983, did not intend "to override the traditional sovereign immunity of the States." 440 U.S. at 341, 99 S.Ct. at 1145. Moreover, this position has also been adopted by a number of courts throughout the country.

In Ramah Navajo School Board v. Bureau of Revenue, 104 N.M. 302, 720 P.2d 1243 (N.M.App.), cert. denied, 479 U.S. 940, 107 S.Ct. 423, 93 L.Ed.2d 373 (1986), the court addressed the question by first explaining:

Sovereign immunity and Eleventh Amendment immunity are, of course, distinct concepts, but both immunities are designed to protect the same object--state government. Civil Actions Against State Government: Its Divisions, Agencies and Officers (Winborne, ed. 1982). The Eleventh Amendment shields the operation of state governments from intrusions from the federal judiciary while sovereign immunity protects state government affairs from interference by plaintiffs and state courts. Id. Therefore, when a Section 1983 suit is brought in federal court, the court analyzes whether the defendant is a "person" within the meaning of Section 1983 or, more meaningfully expressed, whether the Eleventh Amendment bars the suit from being brought against that defendant. Similarly, in Section 1983 actions brought in state courts, the court determines whether sovereignty immunity bars the suit. Gumbhir v. Kansas State Board of Pharmacy [231 Kan. 507, 646 P.2d 1078].

104 N.M. at 307, 720 P.2d at 1248. The court then reasoned that since Congress in enacting section 1983 did not intend to destroy the...

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