Nevada v. Hall

Citation99 S.Ct. 1182,440 U.S. 410,59 L.Ed.2d 416
Decision Date05 March 1979
Docket NumberNo. 77-1337,77-1337
PartiesState of NEVADA et al., Petitioners, v. John Michael HALL, etc., et al
CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Syllabus

Respondents, California residents, brought this suit in a California court for damages against petitioner State of Nevada and others for injuries respondents sustained when a Nevada-owned vehicle on official business collided on a California highway with a vehicle occupied by respondents. After the California Supreme Court, reversing the trial court, held Nevada amenable to suit in the California courts, Nevada, on the basis of the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the Federal Constitution, unsuccessfully invoked a Nevada statute limiting to $25,000 any tort award against the State pursuant to its statutory waiver of sovereign immunity. Following trial, damages were awarded respondents for $1,150,000, and the judgment in their favor was affirmed on appeal. Held : A State is not constitutionally immune from suit in the courts of another State. Pp. 414-427.

(a) The doctrine that no sovereign may be sued in its own courts without its consent does not support a claim of immunity in another sovereign's courts. Pp. 414-418.

(b) The need for constitutional protection against one State's being sued in the courts of another State was not discussed by the Framers, and nothing in Art. III authorizing the judicial power of the United States or in the Eleventh Amendment limitation on that power provides any basis, explicit or implicit, for this Court to limit the judicial powers that California has exercised in this case. Pp. 418-421.

(c) The Full Faith and Credit Clause does not require a State to apply another State's law in violation of its own legitimate public policy. Pacific Ins. Co. v. Industrial Accident Comm'n, 306 U.S. 493, 59 S.Ct. 629, 83 L.Ed. 940. Here California, which has provided by statute for jurisdiction in its courts over residents and nonresidents alike to allow those negligently injured on its highways to secure full compensation for their injuries in California courts, is not required to surrender jurisdiction to Nevada or to limit respondents' recovery to the $25,000 Nevada statutory maximum. Pp. 421-424.

(d) The specific limitations that certain constitutional provisions such as Art. I, § 8, and Art. IV, § 2, place upon the sovereignty of the States do not imply that any one State's immunity from suit in the courts of another State is anything more than a matter of comity, and nothing in the Constitution authorizes or obligates this Court to frustrate California's policy of fully compensating those negligently injured on its highways. Pp. 424-427.

74 Cal.App.3d 280, 141 Cal.Rptr. 439, affirmed.

Michael W. Dyer, Deputy Atty. Gen., Carson City, Nev., for petitioners.

Everett P. Rowe, San Jose, Cal., for respondents.

Mr. Justice STEVENS delivered the opinion of the Court.

In this tort action arising out of an automobile collision in California, a California court has entered a judgment against the State of Nevada that Nevada's own courts could not have entered. We granted certiorari to decide whether federal law prohibits the California courts from entering such a judgment or, indeed, from asserting any jurisdiction over another sovereign State.

The respondents are California residents. They suffered severe injuries in an automobile collision on a California highway on May 13, 1968. The driver of the other vehicle, an employee of the University of Nevada, was killed in the collision. It is conceded that he was driving a car owned by the State, that he was engaged in official business, and that the University is an instrumentality of the State itself.

Respondents filed this suit for damages in the Superior Court for the city of San Francisco, naming the administrator of the driver's estate, the University, and the State of Nevada as defendants. Process was served on the State and the University pursuant to the provisions of the California Vehicle Code authorizing service of process on nonresident motorists.1 The trial court granted a motion to quash service on the State, but its order was reversed on appeal. The California Supreme Court held, as a matter of California law, that the State of Nevada was amenable to suit in California courts and remanded the case for trial. Hall v. University of Nevada, 8 Cal.3d 522, 105 Cal.Rptr. 355, 503 P.2d 1363. We denied certiorari. 414 U.S. 820, 94 S.Ct. 114, 38 L.Ed.2d 52.

On remand, Nevada filed a pretrial motion to limit the amount of damages that might be recovered. A Nevada statute places a limit of $25,000 on any award in a tort action against the State pursuant to its statutory waiver of sovereign immunity.2 Nevada argued that the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the United States Constitution 3 required the California courts to enforce that statute. Nevada's motion was denied and the case went to trial.

The jury concluded that the Nevada driver was negligent and awarded damages of $1,150,000.4 The Superior Court entered judgment on the verdict and the Court of Appeal affirmed. After the California Supreme Court denied review the State of Nevada and its University successfully sought a writ of certiorari. 436 U.S. 925, 98 S.Ct. 2817, 56 L.Ed.2d 767.

Despite its importance,the question whether a State may claim immunity from suit in the courts of another State has never been addressed by this Court. The question is not expressly answered by any provision of the Constitution; Nevada argues that it is implicitly answered by reference to the common understanding that no sovereign is amenable to suit without its consent—an understanding prevalent when the Constitution was framed and repeatedly reflected in this Court's opinions. In order to determine whether that understanding is embodied in the Constitution, as Nevada claims,5 it is necessary to consider (1) the source and scope of the traditional doctrine of sovereign immunity; (2) the impact of the doctrine on the framing of the Constitution; (3) the Full Faith and Credit Clause; and (4) other aspects of the Constitution that qualify the sovereignty of the several States.

I

The doctrine of sovereign immunity is an amalgam of two quite different concepts, one applicable to suits in the sovereign's own courts and the other to suits in the courts of another sovereign.

The immunity of a truly independent sovereign from suit in its own courts has been enjoyed as a matter of absolute right for centuries. Only the sovereign's own consent could qualify the absolute character of that immunity.

The doctrine, as it developed at common law, had its origins in the feudal system. Describing those origins, Pollock and Maitland noted that no lord could be sued by a vassal in his own court, but each petty lord was subject to suit in the courts of a higher lord. Since the King was at the apex of the feudal pyramid, there was no higher court in which he could be sued.6 The King's immunity rested primarily on the structure of the feudal system and secondarily on a fiction that the King could do no wrong.7

We must, of course, reject the fiction. It was rejected by the colonists when they declared their independence from the Crown,8 and the record in this case discloses an actual wrong committed by Nevada. But the notion that immunity from suit is an attribute of sovereignty is reflected in our cases.

Mr. Chief Justice Jay described sovereignty as the "right to govern"; 9 that kind of right would necessarily encompass the right to determine what suits may be brought in the sovereign's own courts. Thus, Mr. Justice Holmes explained sover- eign immunity as based "on the logical and practical ground that there can be no legal right as against the authority that makes the law on which the right depends." 10

This explanation adequately supports the conclusion that no sovereign may be sued in its own courts without its consent, but it affords no support for a claim of immunity in another sovereign's courts. Such a claim necessarily implicates the power and authority of a second sovereign; its source must be found either in an agreement, express or implied, between the two sovereigns, or in the voluntary decision of the second to respect the dignity of the first as a matter of comity.

This point was plainly stated by Mr. Chief Justice Marshall in The Schooner Exchange v. McFaddon, 7 Cranch 116, 3 L.Ed. 287, which held that an American court could not assert jurisdiction over a vessel in which Napoleon, the reigning Emperor of France, claimed a sovereign right. In that case, the Chief Justice observed:

"The jurisdiction of courts is a branch of that which is possessed by the nation as an independent sovereign power.

"The jurisdiction of the nation within its own territory is necessarily exclusive and absolute. It is susceptible of no limitation not imposed by itself. Any restriction upon it, deriving validity from an external source, would imply a diminution of its sovereignty to the extent of the restriction, and an investment of that sovereignty to the same extent in that power which could impose such restriction.

"All exceptions, therefore, to the full and complete power of a nation within its own territories, must be traced up to the consent of the nation itself. They can flow from no other legitimate source." Id., at 136.

After noting that the source of any immunity for the French vessel must be found in American law, the Chief Justice interpreted that law as recognizing the common usage among nations in which every sovereign was understood to have waived its exclusive territorial jurisdiction over visiting sovereigns, or their representatives, in certain classes of cases.11

The opinion in The Schooner Exchange makes clear that if California and Nevada were independent and completely sovereign nations, Nevada's claim of immunity from suit in California's cour...

To continue reading

Request your trial
405 cases
  • McCants v. Nat'l Collegiate Athletic Ass'n, 1:15-cv-176.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. Middle District of North Carolina
    • April 26, 2017
    ...legal right as against the authority that makes the law on which the right depends." Stewart , 393 F.3d at 488 (quoting Nevada v. Hall , 440 U.S. 410, 416, 99 S.Ct. 1182, 59 L.Ed.2d 416 (1979) ).The Supreme Court explained the relationship between Eleventh Amendment immunity and sovereign i......
  • Morales v. Puerto Rico, Crim. No. 15-1096 (GAG)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. District of Puerto Rico
    • August 11, 2015
    ...be sued without consent in its own courts. Id. (citing Chisholm v. Georgia, 2 Dall. 419, 437-446, 1 L. Ed. 440 (1793)); Nevada v. Hall, 440 U.S. 410, 414, 99 S. Ct. 1182, 59 L. Ed. 2d 416 (1979) ("The immunity of a truly independent sovereign from suit in its own courts has been enjoyed as ......
  • Morales v. Puerto Rico, Crim. No. 15-1096 (GAG)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. District of Puerto Rico
    • August 11, 2015
    ...be sued without consent in its own courts. Id. (citing Chisholm v. Georgia, 2 Dall. 419, 437-446, 1 L. Ed. 440 (1793)); Nevada v. Hall, 440 U.S. 410, 414, 99 S. Ct. 1182, 59 L. Ed. 2d 416 (1979) ("The immunity of a truly independent sovereign from suit in its own courts has been enjoyed as ......
  • In re LTV Steel Co., Inc., No. 00-43866.
    • United States
    • United States Bankruptcy Courts. Sixth Circuit. U.S. Bankruptcy Court — Northern District of Ohio
    • July 2, 2001
    ...states to the extent that they were debtors, not creditors. See generally, Alden, 527 U.S. at 716-19, 119 S.Ct. at 2248-49; Nev. v. Hall, 440 U.S. 410, 418-19, 99 S.Ct. 1182, 1187, 59 L.Ed.2d 416 (1979); Hans, 134 U.S. at 12-14, 10 S.Ct. at 506-07. This observation is especially relevant he......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
26 books & journal articles
  • Rethinking the Supreme Court’s Interstate Waters Jurisprudence
    • United States
    • Georgetown Environmental Law Review No. 33-2, January 2021
    • January 1, 2021
    ...Court held that states are immune from private suits in the courts of sibling states. 139 S. Ct. 1485 (2019) (overruling Nevada v. Hall, 440 U.S. 410 (1979)). It found in the Constitution’s silence on the issue a latent understanding that “took as given that States could not be haled involu......
  • The most-cited Federalist Papers.
    • United States
    • Constitutional Commentary No. 1998, December 1998
    • December 22, 1998
    ...id. at 113 (White, J., dissenting); Patsy v. Board of Regents, 457 U.S. 496, 527 n.12 (1982) (Powell, J., dissenting); Nevada v. Hall, 440 U.S. 410, 419 & n.16 (1979); id. at 436, 440 (Rehnquist, J., dissenting); California v. Arizona, 440 U.S. 59, 66 (1979); Edelman v. Jordan, 415 U.S.......
  • Issues Relating to Parallel Litigation
    • United States
    • ABA Antitrust Library Business Torts and Unfair Competition Handbook Business tort litigation
    • January 1, 2014
    ...the doctrine). 224. See, e.g., id. at 330-31; Blonder-Tongue Labs, 402 U.S. at 333-34. 225. U.S. CONST. art. IV, § 1. 226. Nevada v. Hall, 440 U.S. 410, 422 (1979). 227. Baker by Thomas v. Gen. Motors Corp., 522 U.S. 222, 233 (1998). 228. Kremer v. Chemical Constr. Corp., 456 U.S. 461, 462-......
  • STARE DECISIS, WORKABILITY, AND ROE V. WADE: AN INTRODUCTION.
    • United States
    • Ave Maria Law Review No. 18, January 2020
    • January 1, 2020
    ...43 HARV. J.L. PUB. POL'Y ___ (forthcoming 2020). (6.) Franchise Tax Bd. of Cal. v. Hyatt, 139 S. Ct. 1485 (2019). (7.) Nevada v. Hall, 440 U.S. 410 (8.) Hyatt, 139 S. Ct. at 1504-06 (Breyer J., dissenting) (citing Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pa. v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833, 854-55 (1992),......
  • 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