Mother Goose Nursery Schools, Inc. v. Sendak

Citation770 F.2d 668
Decision Date14 August 1985
Docket NumberNos. 84-2318,84-2921,s. 84-2318
Parties, 27 Ed. Law Rep. 15 MOTHER GOOSE NURSERY SCHOOLS, INC., an Indiana Not-For-Profit Corporation, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Theodore L. SENDAK, Individually and as Attorney General of the State of Indiana, Defendant-Appellant.
CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (7th Circuit)

Rosalie B. Levinson, Merrillville, Ind., for plaintiff-appellee.

David Michael Wallman, Office of Atty. Gen., Indianapolis, Ind., for defendant-appellant.

Before BAUER and COFFEY, Circuit Judges, and GRAY, Senior District Judge. *

BAUER, Circuit Judge.

Mother Goose Nursery Schools, Inc. (Mother Goose), an Indiana Not-for-Profit Corporation sued the then Attorney General of Indiana, Theodore L. Sendak, 1 under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983 seeking damages for Sendak's refusal to approve a proposed contract for child care services between Mother Goose and the Indiana State Department of Public Welfare. The district court granted the plaintiff's motion for summary judgment on December 16, 1980. Mother Goose Nursery Schools, Inc. v. Sendak, 502 F.Supp. 1319 (N.D.Ind.1980). The Court found Sendak personally liable for violating Mother Goose's constitutional rights but deferred a decision on damages so that the court could take evidence on that issue. On June 29, 1984, the district court issued the final judgment awarding Mother Goose $28,248.75. Mother Goose Nursery Schools, Inc. v. Sendak, 591 F.Supp. 897 (N.D.Ind.1984). On July 31, 1984, Mother Goose filed its motion for fees and costs with the district court. On October 23, 1984, the court awarded Mother Goose $13,352.00 for attorney fees and $401.39 for costs. 2 We reverse the judgments of the district court on the grounds that the Attorney General in this case is absolutely immune from liability for damages under Section 1983.


Mother Goose has been licensed as a day care nursery in Indiana since 1954. Beginning in November 1975, Mother Goose entered into three yearly contracts with the Indiana Department of Public Welfare for the provision of day care services and transportation to children of parents participating in the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program. 42 U.S.C. ch. 7, subch. IV, pt. A. The last of these contracts expired on June 30, 1978. At this time another proposed contract between plaintiff and the Indiana State Department of Public Welfare for the period from July 1, 1978, to June 30, 1979, was submitted to Sendak, as the Indiana Attorney General, for approval.

This dispute arose when Sendak refused to approve the 1978 contract between Mother Goose and the Department. On September 26, 1978, Sendak wrote a letter to the Governor of Indiana in which he stated that he refused to approve the contract because Anthony Cifaldi, President, Administrator, and a director of Mother Goose, had twice been convicted of making false statements on his income tax returns. Mother Goose filed suit in the district court on November 21, 1978, under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983, alleging that Sendak's refusal to approve the contract was without sufficient legal reason and thereby deprived him of his property without due process of law.

Several Indiana statutes and regulations are directly at issue in this case. First and most critically, "[a]ll contracts and leases [to which the State is party] shall be approved as to form and legality by the attorney general," IND.CODE 4-13-2-14, and "[n]o contract with a state agency is legally binding until such approval has been secured." Citizen Energy Coalition of Indiana, Inc. v. Sendak, 459 F.Supp. 248, 256 (S.D.Ind.1978), aff'd, 594 F.2d 1158 (7th Cir.1979). At the time of the Attorney General's rejection of the Mother Goose contract, the Department of Public Welfare had issued a regulation pursuant to its rule-making authority, IND.CODE 12-1-2-3, which provided in part that

(a) Each member of the staff [of an approved provider] shall be a competent and reliable person of good moral character and reputation who is mentally, physically and emotionally able to assume assigned responsibility for group care of children, or for the operation and maintenance of the child-care institution.

IND.ADMIN.CODE (17-3-2-12)-B8 (currently codified at 470 IND.ADMIN.CODE 3-4-11 (1984)).

The district court, on Mother Goose's motion for summary judgment, ruled that the Attorney General knowingly acted "beyond the scope of his statutory authority and outside of the law in not accepting the contract [in that] '[h]e has a mandatory duty to approve all contracts which are lawful as to form and content.' " 502 F.Supp. at 1323. The court reasoned that the Attorney General had admitted in his deposition that he could find no facial defect in the contract, and that his only consideration in disapproving the contract was Cifaldi's prior tax conviction, which Sendak considered rendered Cifaldi lacking good moral character under Section (17-3-2-12)-B8 of the Administrative Code. Id. at 1321. The district court held that the Attorney General's knowledge that he was acting outside the scope of his duties removed any claim to qualified immunity that he may have had under Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 102 S.Ct. 2727, 73 L.Ed.2d 396 (1982), and awarded Mother Goose compensatory damages of $28,248.75. 591 F.Supp. at 909. The district court also held that the action against the Attorney General was not barred by the Eleventh Amendment.

On appeal, Sendak claims that the district court committed four errors when it found him personally liable to Mother Goose: (1) that the district court erred in imposing personal liability on Sendak for allegedly misinterpreting his authority as Attorney General under an unconstrued state statute; (2) that the court erred in rejecting his defense of immunity; (3) that the Attorney General was entitled to immunity under the Eleventh Amendment; and (4) that the Mother Goose's claim was not actionable under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983.


Sendak's first and third arguments raise essentially the same claim that Sendak, acting in his official capacity as the Attorney General of Indiana, cannot be held personally liable for his actions and that consequently this action is barred by the Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution. The Eleventh Amendment provides: "[t]he 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." However much these fairly simple words remain the subject of continuing debate, see, e.g., Atascadero State Hospital v. Scanlon, --- U.S. ----, 105 S.Ct. 3142, 87 L.Ed.2d 171 (1985), one construction of the amendment is clear: "the Eleventh Amendment provides no shield for a state official confronted by a claim that he had deprived another of a federal right under the color of state law." Schueur v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 237, 94 S.Ct. 1683, 1687, 40 L.Ed.2d 90 (1974). Sendak, therefore, can be held personally liable for his actions as Attorney General, provided that no other bar to liability exists.


We thus turn to Sendak's claims of immunity from prosecution under Section 1983. He claims first that he is entitled to absolute immunity from liability under Section 1983 because his actions under Ind.Code 4-13-2-14 rejecting Mother Goose's proposed contract are quasi-judicial in nature, Citizens Energy Coalition v. Sendak, 594 F.2d at 1162, and therefore entitled to absolute immunity. Butz v. Economou, 438 U.S. 478, 513, 98 S.Ct. 2894, 2914, 57 L.Ed.2d 895 (1978). In the alternative, he argues that he is at least entitled to qualified immunity for his action. Having thoroughly examined the facts of this case, we believe that the nature of the actions which Ind.Code 4-13-2-14 requires the Attorney General to take entitles him to absolute immunity from damages under Section 1983.

Immunities recognized at the common law stem from the recognition that public officials require some form of protection from suits for damages "to shield them from undue interference with their duties and from potentially disabling threats of liability." Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 806, 102 S.Ct. 2727, 2732, 73 L.Ed.2d 396 (1982). There are two kinds of immunity: qualified and absolute. The general rule with regard to immunities is that high government officials whose duties entail complex discretionary responsibilities are entitled only to a qualified immunity. Id. at 807, 102 S.Ct. at 2732. Absolute immunity, however, has been recognized "[f]or officials whose special functions or constitutional status requires complete protection from suit." Id. See also Mitchell v. Forsythe, --- U.S. ----, 105 S.Ct. 2806, 2813-14, 86 L.Ed.2d 411 (1985). "An absolute immunity defeats the suit at the outset, so long as the official's actions were within the scope of the immunity." Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409, 419 n. 13, 96 S.Ct. 984, 989 n. 13, 47 L.Ed.2d 128 (1976). Qualified immunity, while also an immunity from suit, arises from the facts of the particular case and is granted to government officials performing discretionary functions and whose "conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known." Harlow, 457 U.S. at 818, 102 S.Ct. at 2738. Thus we recognize that legislators in their legislative functions, Eastland v. United States Servicemen's Fund, 421 U.S. 491, 95 S.Ct. 1813, 44 L.Ed.2d 324 (1975), judges in their judicial functions, Stump v. Sparkman, 435 U.S. 349, 98 S.Ct. 1099, 55 L.Ed.2d 331 (1978), prosecutors in their prosecutorial functions, Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409, 96 S.Ct. 984, 47 L.Ed.2d 128, and executive officials engaged in adjudicative functions, Butz v. Economou, 438 U.S. 478, 98 S.Ct. 2894, 57 L.Ed.2d 895, are entitled to absolute immunity. In light of these...

To continue reading

Request your trial
45 cases
  • Forrester v. White
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (7th Circuit)
    • June 5, 1986
    ...situated defendants. See, e.g., Scott v. Schmidt, 773 F.2d 160 (7th Cir.1985) (harness racing counsel); Mother Goose Nursery Schools, Inc. v. Sendak, 770 F.2d 668 (7th Cir.1985) (state attorney general when reviewing contracts on behalf of state), cert. denied, --- U.S. ---, 106 S.Ct. 884, ......
  • Serpas v. Schmidt
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (7th Circuit)
    • July 17, 1987
    ...officials construe laws for other purposes, cf. Carson v. Block, 790 F.2d 562, 565 (7th Cir.1986); Mother Goose Nursery Schools, Inc. v. Sendak, 770 F.2d 668 (7th Cir.1985). When executive officials are authorized to construe the law, they speak for the state as authoritatively as courts do......
  • Buckley v. Fitzsimmons
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (7th Circuit)
    • January 14, 1991
    ...without the need for damages, however, by cutting short the prosecution or mitigating its effects. Mother Goose Nursery Schools, Inc. v. Sendak, 770 F.2d 668, 674 (7th Cir.1985). "[S]afeguards built into the judicial process tend to reduce the need for private damages actions as a means of ......
  • Mangiafico v. Blumenthal
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Connecticut
    • March 2, 2005
    ...his conduct thereunder is entitled to absolute immunity from prosecution for damages under Section 1983." Mother Goose Nursery Schools v. Sendak, 770 F.2d 668, 675 (7th Cir.1985). However, Mother Goose did not involve an attorney general's decision not to defend a state employee a civil act......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT