Monell v. Department of Social Services of City of New York

Citation98 S.Ct. 2018,56 L.Ed.2d 611,436 U.S. 658
Decision Date06 June 1978
Docket NumberNo. 75-1914,75-1914
PartiesJane MONELL et al., Petitioners, v. DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL SERVICES OF the CITY OF NEW YORK et al
CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Syllabus

Petitioners, female employees of the Department of Social Services and the Board of Education of the City of New York, brought this class action against the Department and its Commissioner, the Board and its Chancellor, and the city of New York and its Mayor under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, which provides that every "person" who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage of any State subjects, or "causes to be subjected," any person to the deprivation of any federally protected rights, privileges, or immunities shall be civilly liable to the injured party. In each case, the individual defendants were sued solely in their official capacities. The gravamen of the complaint was that the Board and the Department had as a matter of official policy compelled pregnant employees to take unpaid leaves of absence before such leaves were required for medical reasons. The District Court found that petitioners' constitutional rights had been violated, but held that petitioners' claims for injunctive relief were mooted by a supervening change in the official maternity leave policy. That court further held that Monroe v. Pape, 365 U.S. 167, 81 S.Ct. 473, 5 L.Ed.2d 492, barred recovery of back pay from the Department, the Board, and the city. In addition, to avoid circumvention of the immunity conferred by Monroe, the District Court held that natural persons sued in their official capacities as officers of a local government also enjoy the immunity conferred on local governments by that decision. The Court of Appeals affirmed on a similar theory. Held :

1. In Monroe v. Pape, supra, after examining the legislative history of the Civil Rights Act of 1871, now codified as 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and particularly the rejection of the so-called Sherman amendmen , the Court held that Congress in 1871 doubted its constitutional authority to impose civil liability on municipalities and therefore could not have intended to include municipal bodies within the class of "persons" subject to the Act. Re-examination of this legislative history compels the conclusion that Congress in 1871 would not have thought § 1983 constitutionally infirm if it applied to local governments. In addition, that history confirms that local governments were intended to be included among the "persons" to which § 1983 applies. Accordingly, Monroe v. Pape is overruled insofar as it holds that local governments are wholly immune from suit under § 1983. Pp. 664-689.

2. Local governing bodies (and local officials sued in their official capacities) can, therefore, be sued directly under § 1983 for monetary, declaratory, and injunctive relief in those situations where, as here, the action that is alleged to be unconstitutional implements or executes a policy statement, ordinance, regulation, or decision officially adopted or promulgated by those whose edicts or acts may fairly be said to represent official policy. In addition, local governments, like every other § 1983 "person," may be sued for constitutional deprivations visited pursuant to governmental "custom" even though such custom has not received formal approval through the government's official decision-making channels. Pp. 690-691.

3. On the other hand, the language and legislative history of § 1983 compel the conclusion that Congress did not intend a local government to be held liable solely because it employs a tort-feasor—in other words, a local government cannot be held liable under § 1983 on a respondeat superior theory. Pp. 691-695.

4. Considerations of stare decisis do not counsel against overruling Monroe v. Pape insofar as it is inconsistent with this opinion. Pp. 695-701.

(a) Monroe v. Pape departed from prior practice insofar as it completely immunized municipalities from suit under § 1983. Moreover, since the reasoning of Monroe does not allow a distinction to be drawn between municipalities and school boards, this Court's many cases holding school boards liable in § 1983 actions are inconsistent with Monroe, especially as the principle of that case was extended to suits for injunctive relief in City of Kenosha v. Bruno, 412 U.S. 507, 93 S.Ct. 2222, 37 L.Ed.2d 109. Pp. 695-696.

(b) Similarly, extending absolute immunity to school boards would be inconsistent with several instances in which Congress has refused to immunize school boards from federal jurisdiction under § 1983. Pp. 696-699.

(c) In addition, municipalities cannot have arranged their affairs on an assumption that they can violate constitutional rights for an indefinite period; accordingly, municipalities have no reliance interest that would support an absolute immunity. Pp. 699-700.

(d) Finally, it appears beyond doubt from the legislative history of the Civil Rights Act of 1871 that Monroe misapprehended the meaning of the Act. Were § 1983 unconstitutional as to local governments, it would have been equally unconstitutional as to state or local officers yet the 1871 Congress clearly intended § 1983 to apply to such officers and all agreed that such officers could constitutionally be subjected to liability under § 1983. The Act also unquestionably was intended to provide a remedy, to be broadly construed, against all forms of official violation of federally protected rights. Therefore, without a clear statement in the legislative history, which is not present, there is no justification for excluding municipalities from the "persons" covered by § 1983. Pp. 700-701.

5. Local governments sued under § 1983 cannot be entitled to an absolute immunity, lest today's decision "be drained of meaning," Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 248, 94 S.Ct. 1683, 1692, 40 L.Ed.2d 90. P. 701.

532 F.2d 259, reversed.

scar G. Chase, Brooklyn, N. Y., for petitioners.

L. Kevin Sheridan, New York City, for respondents.

Mr. Justice BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

Petitioners, a class of female employees of the Department of Social Services and of the Board of Education of the city of New York, commenced this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in July 1971.1 The gravamen of the complaint was that the Board and the Department had as a matter of official policy compelled pregnant employees to take unpaid leaves of absence before such leaves were required for medical reasons.2 Cf. Cleveland Board of Education v. LaFleur, 414 U.S. 632, 94 S.Ct. 791, 39 L.Ed.2d 52 (1974). The suit sought injunctive relief and backpay for periods of unlawful forced leave. Named as defendants in the action were the Department and its Commissioner, the Board and its Chancellor, and the city of New York and its Mayor. In each case, the individual defendants were sued solely in their official capacities.3

On cross-motions for summary judgment, the District Court for the Southern District of New York held moot petitioners' claims for injunctive and declaratory relief since the City of New York and the Board, after the filing of the complaint, had changed their policies relating to maternity leaves so that no pregnant employee would have to take leave unless she was medically unable to continue to perform her job. 394 F.Supp. 853, 855 (1975). No one now challenges this conclu- sion. The court did conclude, however, that the acts complained of were unconstitutional under LaFleur, supra. 394 F.Supp., at 855. Nonetheless plaintiffs' prayers for backpay were denied because any such damages would come ultimately from the City of New York and, therefore, to hold otherwise would be to "circumven[t]" the immunity conferred on municipalities by Monroe v. Pape, 365 U.S. 167, 81 S.Ct. 473, 5 L.Ed.2d 492 (1961). See 394 F.Supp., at 855.

On appeal, petitioners renewed their arguments that the Board of Education 4 was not a "municipality" within the meaning of Monroe v. Pape, supra, and that, in any event, the District Court had erred in barring a damages award against the individual defendants. The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit rejected both contentions. The court first held that the Board of Education was not a "person" under § 1983 because "it performs a vital gov rnmental function . . . , and, significantly, while it has the right to determine how the funds appropriated to it shall be spent . . . , it has no final say in deciding what its appropriations shall be." 532 F.2d 259, 263 (1976). The individual defendants, however, were "persons" under § 1983, even when sued solely in their official capacities. 532 F.2d, at 264. Yet, because a damages award would "have to be paid by a city that was held not to be amenable to such an action in Monroe v. Pape," a damages action against officials sued in their official capacities could not proceed. Id., at 265.

We granted certiorari in this case, 429 U.S. 1071, 97 S.Ct. 807, 50 L.Ed.2d 789, to consider

"Whether local governmental officials and/or local independent school boards are 'persons' within the meaning of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 when equitable relief in the nature of back pay is sought against them in their official capacities?" Pet. for Cert. 8.

Although, after plenary consideration, we have decided the merits of over a score of cases brought under § 1983 in which the principal defendant was a school board 5—and, indeed, in some of which § 1983 and its jurisdictional counterpart, 28 U.S.C. § 1343, provided the only basis for jurisdiction 6we indicated in Mt. Healthy City Board of Education v. Doyle, 429 U.S. 274, 279, 97 S.Ct. 568, 573, 50 L.Ed.2d 471 (1977), last Term that the question presented here was open and would be decided "another day." That other day has come and we now overrule Monroe v. Pape, supra, insofar as it holds that local governments are wholly immune from suit under § 1983.7

I

In Monroe v. Pape, we held that "Congress did not undertake to bring municipal corporations within the...

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