518 U.S. 187 (1996), 95-365, Lane v. Pena

Docket Nº:No. 95-365
Citation:518 U.S. 187, 116 S.Ct. 2092, 135 L.Ed.2d 486, 64 U.S.L.W. 4541
Party Name:LANE v. PENA, SECRETARY OF TRANSPORTATION, et al
Case Date:June 20, 1996
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 187

518 U.S. 187 (1996)

116 S.Ct. 2092, 135 L.Ed.2d 486, 64 U.S.L.W. 4541

LANE

v.

PENA, SECRETARY OF TRANSPORTATION, et al

No. 95-365

United States Supreme Court

June 20, 1996

Argued April 15, 1996

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEAL FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Respondents terminated petitioner Lane's enrollment at the United States Merchant Marine Academy on the ground that his recently diagnosed diabetes mellitus rendered him ineligible to be commissioned for service in the Navy/Merchant Marine Reserve Program or as a Naval Reserve Officer. Alleging that his separation from the Academy violated § 504(a) of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973—which prohibits, among other things, discrimination on the basis of disability "under any program or activity conducted by any Executive agency"—Lane brought this suit seeking reinstatement to the Academy, compensatory damages, and other remedies. The District Court ordered him reinstated, but ultimately ruled that he must be denied compensatory damages because Congress has not waived the Federal Government's sovereign immunity against monetary damages awards for § 504(a) violations. The Court of Appeals summarily affirmed.

Held:

Congress has not waived the Government's sovereign immunity against monetary damages awards for § 504(a) violations. Pp. 191-200.

(a) The requisite "unequivocal expression" of congressional intent to grant such a waiver, see, e. g., Irwin v. Department of Veterans Affairs, 498 U.S. 89, 95, is lacking in the text of § 505(a)(2), which decrees that the remedies available for violations of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964—including monetary damages awards, see, e. g., Franklin v. Gwinnett County Public Schools, 503 U.S. 60, 70—apply also to § 504(a) violations "by any . . .Federal provider of [financial] assistance." This provision makes no mention whatsoever of "program[s] or activit[ies] conducted by any Executive agency," the plainly more far-reaching language Congress employed in § 504(a) itself. The lack of the necessary clarity of expression in § 505(a)(2) is underscored by the precision with which Congress has waived the Government's sovereign immunity in §§ 501 and 505(a)(1) of the Act and in the Civil Rights Act of 1991. Lane's contention that the larger statutory scheme indicates congressional intent to "level the playing field" by subjecting the Government to the same remedies as any and all other § 504(a) defendants is rejected. Franklin, supra, at 69-71, distinguished. Pp. 191-197.

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(b) The "equalization" provision of §1003 of the Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1986—which, after waiving the States' Eleventh Amendment immunity from federal-court suit for violations of § 504 and other civil rights statutes, specifies that legal and equitable remedies are available in such a suit "to the same extent as . . . in the suit against any public or private entity other than a State"—does not reveal congressional intent to equalize the remedies available against all defendants for § 504(a) violations, such that federal agencies, like private entities, must be subject to monetary damages. Although Lane's argument to this effect is not without force, it is ultimately defeated by the existence of at least two other conceivable, if not entirely satisfactory, interpretations of the equalization provision: (1) that "public . . . entit[ies]" refers to the nonfederal public entities receiving federal financial assistance that are covered by each of the referenced federal statutes; and (2) that "public or private entit[ies]" is meant only to subject the States to the scope of remedies available against either public or private § 504 defendants, whatever the lesser (or perhaps the greater) of those remedies might be. Pp. 197-200.

Affirmed.

O'Connor, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Rehnquist, C. J., and Scalia, Kennedy, Souter, Thomas, and Ginsburg, JJ., joined. Stevens, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Breyer, J., joined, post, p. 200.

Walter A. Smith, Jr., argued the cause for petitioner. With him on the briefs were Daniel B. Kohrman, Audrey J. Anderson, Arthur B. Spitzer, and Steven R. Shapiro.

Beth S. Brinkmann argued the cause for respondents. With her on the brief were Solicitor General Days, Assistant Attorney General Hunger, Deputy Solicitor General Bender, Barbara C. Biddle, and Christine N. Kohl. [*]

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Justice O'Connor delivered the opinion of the Court.

Section 504(a) of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 87 Stat. 355, 29 U.S.C. § 791 et seq. (Act or Rehabilitation Act), prohibits, among other things, discrimination on the basis of disability "under any program or activity conducted by any Executive agency." 29 U.S.C. § 794(a) (1988 ed., Supp. V). The question presented in this case is whether Congress has waived the Federal Government's sovereign immunity against awards of monetary damages for violations of this provision.

I

The United States Merchant Marine Academy is a federal service academy that trains students to serve as commercial merchant marine officers and as commissioned officers in the United States Armed Forces. The Academy is administered by the Maritime Administration, an organization within the Department of Transportation. Petitioner James Griffin Lane entered the Academy as a first-year student in July 1991 after meeting the Academy's requirements for appointment, including passing a physical examination conducted by the Department of Defense. During his first year at the Academy, however, Lane was diagnosed by a private physician as having diabetes mellitus. Lane reported the diagnosis to the Academy's Chief Medical Officer. The Academy's Physical Examination Review Board conducted a hearing in September 1992 to determine Lane's "medical suitability" to continue at the Academy, following which the Board reported to the Superintendent of the Academy that Lane suffered from insulin-dependent diabetes.

In December 1992, Lane was separated from the Academy on the ground that his diabetes was a "disqualifying condition," rendering him ineligible to be commissioned for service in the Navy/Merchant Marine Reserve Program or as a Naval Reserve Officer. After unsuccessfully challenging his separation before the Maritime Administrator, Lane brought

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suit in Federal District Court against the Secretary of the Department of Transportation and other defendants, alleging that his separation from the Academy violated § 504(a) of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 794(a). He sought reinstatement to the Academy, compensatory damages, attorney's fees, and costs.

The District Court granted summary judgment in favor of Lane, concluding that his separation from the Academy solely on the basis of his diabetes violated the Act. The court ordered Lane reinstated to the Academy, and the Government did not dispute the propriety of this injunctive relief. The Government did, however, dispute the propriety of a compensatory damages award, claiming that the United States was protected against a damages suit by the doctrine of sovereign immunity. The District Court disagreed; it ruled that Lane was entitled to a compensatory damages award against the Government for its violation of § 504(a), but deferred resolution of the specific amount of damages due. 867 F.Supp. 1050 (DC 1994).

Shortly thereafter, however, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled in Dorsey v. United States Dept. of Labor, 41 F.3d 1551 (1994), that the Act did not waive the Federal Government's sovereign immunity against monetary damages for violations of § 504(a). The court denied compensatory damages based on the absence, in any statutory text, of an "unequivocal expression" of congressional intent to waive the Government's immunity as to monetary damages, and this Court's instruction that waivers of sovereign immunity may not be implied, see, e. g., Irwin v. Department of Veterans Affairs, 498 U.S. 89, 95 (1990).

In light of Dorsey, the District Court vacated its prior order to the extent that it awarded damages to Lane and held that Lane was not entitled to a compensatory damages award against the Federal Government. App. to Pet. for Cert. 5a-6a. Lane appealed. The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit first rejected Lane's request for initial en banc review to reconsider Dorsey, then granted the

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Government's motion for summary affirmance. App. to Pet. for Cert. 1a. We granted certiorari, 516 U.S. 1036 (1996), to resolve the disagreement in the Courts of Appeals on the important question whether Congress has waived the Federal Government's immunity against monetary damages awards for violations of § 504(a) of the Rehabilitation Act. Compare, e. g., Dorsey, supra, at 1554-1555, with J. L. v. Social Security Admin., 971 F.2d 260 (CA9 1992), and Doe v. Attorney General, 941 F.2d 780 (CA9 1991).

II

Section 504(a) of the Act provides that

"[n]o otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States. . .shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance or under any program or activity conducted by any Executive agency or by the United States Postal Service." 29 U.S.C. § 794(a).

Section 505(a)(2) of the Act describes the remedies available for a violation of § 504(a): "The remedies, procedures, and rights set forth in title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 shall be available to any person aggrieved by any act or failure to act by any recipient of Federal assistance or Federal provider of such assistance under [§ 504]." § 794a(a)(2). Because Title VI provides for monetary damages awards, see Franklin v. Gwinnett County Public Schools, 503 U.S. 60, 70 (1992) (noting...

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