Pennhurst State School Hospital v. Halderman, 81-2101

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Citation465 U.S. 89,79 L.Ed.2d 67,104 S.Ct. 900
Docket NumberNo. 81-2101,81-2101
PartiesPENNHURST STATE SCHOOL & HOSPITAL et al., Petitioners v. Terri Lee HALDERMAN et al
Decision Date22 February 1983
Syllabus

Respondent Halderman, a resident of petitioner Pennhurst State School and Hospital, a Pennsylvania institution for the care of the mentally retarded, brought a class action in Federal District Court against Pennhurst and various state and county officials (also petitioners). It was alleged that conditions at Pennhurst violated various federal constitutional and statutory rights of the class members as well as their rights under the Pennsylvania Mental Health and Mental Retardation Act of 1966 (MH/MR Act). Ultimately, the District Court awarded injunctive relief based in part on the MH/MR Act, which was held to provide a right to adequate habilitation. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that the MH/MR Act required the State to adopt the "least restrictive environment" approach for the care of the mentally retarded, and rejecting petitioners' argument that the Eleventh Amendment barred a federal court from considering this pendent state-law claim. The court reasoned that since that Amendment did not bar a federal court from granting prospective injunctive relief against state officials on the basis of federal claims, citing Ex parte Young, 209 U.S. 123, 28 S.Ct. 441, 52 L.Ed. 714 the same result obtained with respect to a pendent state-law claim.

Held: The Eleventh Amendment prohibited the District Court from ordering state officials to conform their conduct to state law. Pp. 97-124.

(a) The principle of sovereign immunity is a constitutional limitation on the federal judicial power established in Art. III of the Constitution. The Eleventh Amendment bars a suit against state officials when the State is the real, substantial party in interest, regardless of whether the suit seeks damages or injunctive relief. The Court in Ex parte Young, supra, recognized an important exception to this general rule: a suit challenging the federal constitutionality of a state official's action is not one against the State. Pp. 97-103.

(b) In Edelman v. Jordan, 415 U.S. 651, 94 S.Ct. 1347, 39 L.Ed.2d 662, this Court recognized that the need to promote the supremacy of federal law that is the basis of Young must be accommodated to the constitutional immunity of the States. Thus, the Court declined to extend the Young doctrine to

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encompass retroactive relief, for to do so would effectively eliminate the States' constitutional immunity. Edelman's distinction between prospective and retroactive relief fulfilled Young' § underlying purpose of vindicating the supreme authority of federal law while at the same time preserving to an important degree the States' constitutional immunity. But this need to reconcile competing interests is wholly absent when a plaintiff alleges that a state official has violated state law. In such a case the entire basis for the doctrine of Young and Edelman disappears. A federal court's grant of relief against state officials on the basis of state law, whether prospective or retroactive, does not vindicate the supreme authority of federal law. When a federal court instructs state officials on how to conform their conduct to state law, this conflicts directly with the principles of federalism that underlie the Eleventh Amendment. Pp. 103-106.

(c) The dissenters' view is that an allegation that official conduct is contrary to a state statute would suffice to override the State's protection from injunctive relief under the Eleventh Amendment because such conduct is ultra vires the official's authority. This view rests on fiction, is wrong on the law, and would emasculate the Eleventh Amendment. At least insofar as injunctive relief is sought, an error of law by state officers acting in their official capacity will not suffice to override the sovereign immunity of the State where the relief effectively is against it. Larson v. Domestic & Foreign Commerce Corp., 337 U.S. 682, 69 S.Ct. 1457, 93 L.Ed. 1628. Under the dissenters' view, the ultra vires doctrine, a narrow and questionable exception, would swallow the general rule that a suit is against the State if the relief will run against it. Pp. 106-117.

(d) The principle that a claim that state officials violated state law in carrying out their official responsibilities is a claim against the State that is protected by the Eleventh Amendment applies as well to state-law claims brought into federal court under pendent jurisdiction. Pp. 117-121.

(e) While it may be that applying the Eleventh Amendment to pendent state-law claims results in federal claims being brought in state court or in bifurcation of claims, such considerations of policy cannot override the constitutional limitation on the authority of the federal judiciary to adjudicate suits against a State. Pp. 121-123.

(f) The judgment below cannot be sustained on the basis of the state-law obligation of petitioner county officials, since any relief granted against these officials on the basis of the MH/MR Act would be partial and incomplete at best. Such an ineffective enforcement of state law would not appear to serve the purposes of efficiency, convenience, and fairness that must inform the exercise of pendent jurisdiction. Pp. 123-124.

673 F.2d 647, reversed and remanded.

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H. Bartow Farr, III, Washington, D.C., and Allen C. Warshaw, Harrisburg, Pa., for petitioners.

Thomas K. Gilhool and David Ferleger, Philadelphia, Pa., for respondents.

Justice POWELL delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case presents the question whether a federal court may award injunctive relief against state officials on the basis of state law.

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I

This litigation, here for the second time, concerns the conditions of care at petitioner Pennhurst State School and Hospital, a Pennsylvania institution for the care of the mentally retarded. See Pennhurst State School & Hospital v. Halderman, 451 U.S. 1, 101 S.Ct. 1531, 67 L.Ed.2d 694 (1981). Although the litigation's history is set forth in detail in our prior opinion, see id., at 5-10, 101 S.Ct., at 1534-1536, it is necessary for purposes of this decision to review that history.

This suit originally was brought in 1974 by respondent Terri Lee Halderman, a resident of Pennhurst, in the District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Ultimately, plaintiffs included a class consisting of all persons who were or might become residents of Pennhurst; the Pennsylvania Association for Retarded Citizens (PARC); and the United States. Defendants were Pennhurst and various Pennhurst officials; the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare and several of its officials; and various county commissioners, county mental retardation administrators, and other officials of five Pennsylvania counties surrounding Pennhurst. Respondents' amended complaint charged that conditions at Pennhurst violated the class members' rights under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments; § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 87 Stat. 394, as amended, 29 U.S.C. § 794 (1976 ed. and Supp. V); the Developmentally Disabled Assistance and Bill of Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 6001-6081 (1976 ed. and Supp. V); and the Pennsylvania Mental Health and Mental Retardation Act of 1966 (the "MH/MR Act"), Pa.Stat.Ann., Tit. 50, §§ 4101-4704 (Purdon 1969 and Supp.1982). Both damages and injunctive relief were sought.

In 1977, following a lengthy trial, the District Court rendered its decision. 446 F.Supp. 1295 (1977). As noted in our prior opinion, the court's findings were undisputed: "Conditions at Pennhurst are not only dangerous, with the residents often physically abused or drugged by staff members, but also in-

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adequate for the 'habilitation' of the retarded. Indeed, the court found that the physical, intellectual, and emotional skills of some residents have deteriorated at Pennhurst." 451 U.S., at 7, 101 S.Ct., at 1534-1535 (footnote omitted). The District Court held that these conditions violated each resident's right to "minimally adequate habilitation" under the Due Process Clause and the MH/MR Act, see 446 F.Supp., at 1314-1318, 1322-1323; "freedom from harm" under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments, see id., at 1320-1321; and "nondiscriminatory habilitation" under the Equal Protection Clause and § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, see id., at 1321-1324. Furthermore, the court found that "due process demands that if a state undertakes the habilitation of a retarded person, it must do so in the least restrictive setting consistent with that individual's habilitative needs." Id., at 1319 (emphasis added). After concluding that the large size of Pennhurst prevented it from providing the necessary habilitation in the least restrictive environment, the court ordered "that immediate steps be taken to remove the retarded residents from Pennhurst." Id., at 1325. Petitioners were ordered "to provide suitable community living arrangements" for the class members, id., at 1326, and the court appointed a Special Master "with the power and duty to plan, organize, direct, supervise and monitor the implementation of this and any further Orders of the Court." Ibid.1

The Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed most of the District Court's judgment. 612 F.2d 84 (1979) (en banc). It agreed that respondents had a right to habilitation in the least restrictive environment, but it grounded this right solely on the "bill of rights" provision in the Developmentally Disabled Assistance and Bill of Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 6010. See 612 F.2d, at 95-100, 104-107. The court did

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not consider the constitutional issues or § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and while it affirmed the District Court's holding that the MH/MR Act provides a right to adequate habilitation, see id., at 100-103, the court did not decide whether that state right encompassed a right to treatment in...

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