Atascadero State Hospital v. Scanlon

Citation87 L.Ed.2d 171,473 U.S. 234,105 S.Ct. 3142
Decision Date28 June 1985
Docket NumberNo. 84-351,84-351
PartiesATASCADERO STATE HOSPITAL and California Department of Mental Health, Petitioners v. Douglas James SCANLON
CourtU.S. Supreme Court
Syllabus

Respondent, who suffers from diabetes and has no sight in one eye, brought an action in Federal District Court against petitioners, alleging that petitioner California State Hospital denied him employment because of his physical handicap, in violation of § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and seeking compensatory, injunctive, and declaratory relief. Section 504 provides that no handicapped person shall, solely by reason of his handicap, be subjected to discrimination under any program receiving federal financial assistance under the Act. Section 505(a) makes available to any person aggrieved by any act of any recipient of federal assistance under the Act the remedies for employment discrimination set forth in Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The District Court granted petitioners' motion to dismiss the complaint on the ground that respondent's claims were barred by the Eleventh Amendment. Ultimately, after initially affirming on other grounds and upon remand from this Court, the Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the Eleventh Amendment did not bar the action because the State by receiving funds under the Act had implicitly consented to be sued as a recipient under § 504.

Held: Respondent's action is proscribed by the Eleventh Amendment. Pp. 237-247.

(a) Article III, § 5, of the California Constitution, which provides that "[s]uits may be brought against the State in such manner and in such courts as shall be directed by law" does not constitute a waiver of the State's Eleventh Amendment immunity from suit in federal court. In order for a state statute or constitutional provision to constitute such a waiver, it must specify the State's intent to subject itself to suit in federal court. Article III, § 5, does not specifically indicate the State's willingness to be sued in federal court but appears simply to authorize the legislature to waive the State's sovereign immunity. P. 241.

(b) The Rehabilitation Act does not abrogate the Eleventh Amendment bar to suits against the States. Congress must express its intention to abrogate the Eleventh Amendment in unmistakable language in the statute itself. Here, the general authorization for suit in federal court is not the kind of unequivocal statutory language sufficient to abrogate the Eleventh Amendment. Pp. 242-246.

(c) The State's acceptance of funds and participation in programs funded under the Rehabilitation Act are insufficient to establish that it consented to suit in federal court. The Act falls far short of manifesting a clear intention to condition participation in programs under the Act on a State's consent to waive its constitutional immunity. Pp. 246-247.

735 F.2d 359 (CA9 1984), reversed.

James E. Ryan, Los Angeles, Cal., for petitioners.

Marilyn Holle, Los Angeles, Cal., for respondent.

Justice POWELL delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case presents the question whether States and state agencies are subject to suit in federal court by litigants seeking retroactive monetary relief under § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 794, or whether such suits are proscribed by the Eleventh Amendment.

I

Respondent, Douglas James Scanlon, suffers from diabetes mellitus and has no sight in one eye. In November 1979, he filed this action against petitioners, Atascadero State Hospital and the California Department of Mental Health, in the United States District Court for the Central District of California, alleging that in 1978 the hospital denied him employment as a graduate student assistant recreational therapist solely because of his physical handicaps. Respondent charged that the hospital's discriminatory refusal to hire him violated § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 87 Stat. 394, as amended, 29 U.S.C. § 794, and certain state fair employment laws. Respondent sought compensatory, injunctive, and declaratory relief.

Petitioners moved for dismissal of the complaint on the ground that the Eleventh Amendment barred the federal court from entertaining respondent's claims. Alternatively, petitioners argued that in a suit for employment discrimination under § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, a plaintiff must allege that the primary objective of the federal assistance received by the defendants is to provide employment, and that respondent's case should be dismissed because he did not so allege. In January 1980, the District Court granted petitioners' motion to dismiss the complaint on the ground that respondent's claims were barred by the Eleventh Amendment. On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed. Scanlon v. Atascadero State Hospital, 677 F.2d 1271 (1982). It did not reach the question whether the Eleventh Amendment proscribed respondent's suit. Rather it affirmed the District Court on the ground that respondent failed to allege an essential element of a claim under § 504, namely, that a primary objective of the federal funds received by the defendants was to provide employment. Id., at 1272.

Respondent then sought review by this Court. We granted certiorari, 465 U.S. 1095, 104 S.Ct. 1583, 80 L.Ed.2d 117 (1984), vacated the judg- ment of the Court of Appeals, and remanded the case for further consideration in light of Consolidated Rail Corp. v. Darrone, 465 U.S. 624, 104 S.Ct. 1248, 79 L.Ed.2d 568 (1984), in which we held that § 504's bar on employment discrimination is not limited to programs that receive federal aid for the primary purpose of providing employment. Id., at 632-633, 104 S.Ct., at 1253-1254. On remand, the Court of Appeals reversed the judgment of the District Court. It held that "the Eleventh Amendment does not bar [respondent's] action because the State, if it has participated in and received funds from programs under the Rehabilitation Act, has implicitly consented to be sued as a recipient under 29 U.S.C. § 794." 735 F.2d 359, 362 (CA9 1984). Although noting that the Rehabilitation Act did not expressly abrogate the States' Eleventh Amendment immunity, the court reasoned that a State's consent to suit in federal court could be inferred from its participation in programs funded by the Act. The court based its view on the fact that the Act provided remedies, procedures, and rights against "any recipient of Federal assistance" while implementing regulations expressly defined the class of recipients to include the States. Quoting our decision in Edelman v. Jordan, 415 U.S. 651, 672, 94 S.Ct. 1347, 1360, 39 L.Ed.2d 662 (1974), the court determined that the " 'threshold fact of congressional authorization to sue a class of defendants which literally includes [the] States' " was present in this case. 735 F.2d, at 361.

The court's decision in this case is in conflict with those of the Courts of Appeals for the First and Eighth Circuits. See Ciampa v. Massachusetts Rehabilitation Comm'n, 718 F.2d 1 (CA1 1983); Miener v. Missouri, 673 F.2d 969 (CA8), cert. denied, 459 U.S. 909, 103 S.Ct. 215, 74 L.Ed.2d 171 (1982). We granted certiorari to resolve this conflict, 469 U.S. 1032, 105 S.Ct. 503, 83 L.Ed.2d 395 (1984), and we now reverse.

II

The Eleventh Amendment provides: "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, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State." As we have recognized, the significance of this Amendment "lies in its affirmation that the fundamental principle of sovereign immunity limits the grant of judicial authority in Art. III" of the Constitution. Pennhurst State School and Hospital v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 98, 104 S.Ct. 900, 906, 79 L.Ed.2d 67 (1984) (Pennhurst II). Thus, in Hans v. Louisiana, 134 U.S. 1, 10 S.Ct. 504, 33 L.Ed. 842 (1890), the Court held that the Amendment barred a citizen from bringing a suit against his own State in federal court, even though the express terms of the Amendment do not so provide.

There are, however, certain well-established exceptions to the reach of the Eleventh Amendment. For example, if a State waives its immunity and consents to suit in federal court, the Eleventh Amendment does not bar the action. See, e.g., Clark v. Barnard, 108 U.S. 436, 447, 2 S.Ct. 878, 883, 27 L.Ed. 780 (1883).1 Moreover, the Eleventh Amendment is "necessarily limited by the enforcement provisions of § 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment," that is, by Congress' power "to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the substantive provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment." Fitzpatrick v. Bitzer, 427 U.S. 445, 456, 96 S.Ct. 2666, 2671, 49 L.Ed.2d 614 (1976). As a result, when acting pursuant to § 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment, Congress can abrogate the Eleventh Amendment without the States' consent. Ibid.

But because the Eleventh Amendment implicates the fundamental constitutional balance between the Federal Government and the States,2 this Court consistently has held that these exceptions apply only when certain specific conditions are met. Thus, we have held that a State will be deemed to have waived its immunity "only where stated 'by the most express language or by such overwhelming implication from the text as [will] leave no room for any other reasonable construction.' " Edelman v. Jordan, supra, 415 U.S., at 673, 94 S.Ct., at 1361, quoting Murray v. Wilson Distilling Co., 213 U.S. 151, 171, 29 S.Ct. 458, 464, 53 L.Ed. 742 (1909). Likewise, in determining whether Congress in exercising its Fourteenth Amendment powers has abrogated the States' Eleventh Amendment immunity, we have required "an unequivocal expression of congressional intent to 'overturn the constitutionally guaranteed immunity of the several...

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