Quern v. Jordan

Decision Date05 March 1979
Docket NumberNo. 77-841,77-841
Citation59 L.Ed.2d 358,440 U.S. 332,99 S.Ct. 1139
PartiesArthur F. QUERN, etc., Petitioner, v. John JORDAN, etc
CourtU.S. Supreme Court
Syllabus

In Edelman v. Jordan, 415 U.S. 651, 94 S.Ct. 1347, 39 L.Ed.2d 662, it was held that retroactive welfare benefits awarded by a Federal District Court to the plaintiff class, by reason of wrongful denial of benefits by Illinois officials prior to the entry of the court's order determining the wrongfulness of their actions, violated the Eleventh Amendment, and that in an action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 "a federal court's remedial power, consistent with the Eleventh Amendment, is necessarily limited to prospective injunctive relief . . . and may not include a retroactive award which requires the payment of funds from the state treasury." Edelman, supra, at 677, 94 S.Ct., at 1362. On remand, the District Court ordered the state officials to send to each member of the plaintiff class a notice informing him that he was denied public assistance to which he was entitled, together with a "Notice of Appeal" by which the recipient could request a hearing on the denial of benefits. The Court of Appeals reversed on the ground that the proposed form of notice would have been barred by the Eleventh Amendment, but stated that on remand the District Court could order the state officials to send a "mere explanatory notice to applicants advising them that there is a state administrative procedure available if they desire to have the state determine whether or not they may be eligible for past benefits," and that a returnable notice of appeal could also be provided. Held:

1. Neither Monell v. New York City Dept. of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658, 98 S.Ct. 2018, 56 L.Ed.2d 611, the legislative history cited in that decision, nor this Court's Eleventh Amendment cases subsequent to Edelman cast any doubt on Edelman's holding that & 1983 does not abrogate the Eleventh Amendment immunity of the States. Section 1983 does not explicitly and by clear language indicate on its face an intent to sweep away the immunity of the States; nor does it have a history which focuses directly on the question of state liability or shows that Congress considered and firmly decided to abrogate the Eleventh Amendment immunity of the States. Hutto v. Finney, 437 U.S. 678, 98 S.Ct. 2565, 57 L.Ed.2d 522, distinguished. Nor does this Court's reaffirmance of Edelman in this case render § 1983 meaningless insofar as States are concerned. Pp. 338-345. 2. The modified notice contemplated by the Court of Appeals constitutes permissible prospective relief and not a "retroactive award which requires payment of funds from the state treasury." Such notice in effect simply informs plaintiff class members that there are existing administrative procedures by which they may receive a determination of eligibility for past benefits, that their federal suit is at an end, and that the federal court can provide them with no further relief. Whether a recipient of the notice decides to take advantage of the available procedures is left completely to the discretion of that particular class member, the federal court playing no role in that decision. And whether or not the class member will receive retroactive benefits rests entirely with the state, its agencies, courts, and legislature, not with the federal court. Pp. 346-349.

563 F.2d 873, affirmed.

William A. Wenzel, III, Chicago, Ill., for petitioner.

Sheldon H. Roodman, Chicago, Ill., for respondent.

REHNQUIST, Justice.

This case is a sequel to Edelman v. Jordan, 415 U.S. 651, 94 S.Ct. 1347, 39 L.Ed.2d 662 (1974), which we decided five Terms ago. In Edelman we held that retroactive welfare benefits awarded by a Federal District Court to plaintiffs, by reason of wrongful denial of benefits by state officials prior to the entry of the court's order determining the wrongfulness of their actions, violated the Eleventh Amendment.1 The issue now before us is whether that same federal court may, consistent with the Eleventh Amendment, order those state officials to send a mere explanatory notice to members of the plaintiff class advising them that there are state administrative procedures available by which they may receive a determination of whether they are entitled to past welfare benefits. We granted certiorari to resolve an apparent conflict between the decision of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in this case and that of the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Fanty v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Dept. of Public Welfare, 551 F.2d 2 (CA3 1977).2 435 U.S. 904, 98 S.Ct. 1447, 55 L.Ed.2d 494 (1978). We believe that the case as it now comes to us involves little, if any, unbroken ground in this area, and affirm the judgment of the Seventh Circuit.

Following our remand in Edelman, the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, upon motion of the plaintiff, ordered the state officials to send to each member of the plaintiff class a notice informing the recipient: "[Y]ou were denied public assistance to which you were entitled in the amount of $———." Jordan v. Trainor, 405 F.Supp. 802, 809 (1975).3 Enclosed with the required mailing was to be a "Notice of Appeal," which when signed and returned to the Illinois Department of Public Aid, requested a hearing on the denial of benefits. That notice stated: "The department illegally delayed in the processing of my AABD application, and, as a consequence, denied me benefits to which I was and am entitled." Id., at 810.

The Court of Appeals, en banc, found that this proposed form of notice would have been barred by the Eleventh Amendment, since it at least purported to decide that Illinois public funds should be used to satisfy the claims of plaintiff class members without the consent of the State by its appropriate officials. Jordan v. Trainor, 563 F.2d 873, 875 (1977).4 The court reversed the District Court's order for this reason, but stated that on remand the District Court could order the state officials to send a "mere explanatory notice to applicants advising them that there is a state administrative procedure available if they desire to have the state determine whether or not they may be eligible for past benefits. A simple returnable notice of appeal form could also be provided." Ibid. In the court's view, such a notice would not violate the distinction set forth in Edelman between prospective relief, which is permitted by the Eleventh Amendment, and retrospective relief, which is not:

"The form of notice we envisage would not create a 'liability' against the state. Whether a liability might result would be a matter for state determination, not the federal court. No federal judgment against the state would be created. Such a notice could not be labeled equitable restitution or be considered an award of damages against the state. The defendant makes no issue out of any incidental administrative expense connected with the preparation or mailing of the notice. It has suggested in the record that the notice could be included in the regular monthly mailing. The necessary information comes from a computer. There is no indication that the administrative expense would be substantial." 563 F.2d, at 876.

Under the contemplated modified notice procedure, the court stated, members of the plaintiff class would be given no more than "they would have gathered by sitting in the courtroom or by reading and listening to news accounts had the case attracted any attention." Id., at 877-878.5 Three judges dis- sented on the ground that the majority's revised notice form was barred by the Eleventh Amendment.

In Edelman we reaffirmed the rule that had evolved in our earlier cases that a suit in federal court by private parties seeking to impose a liability which must be paid from public funds in the state treasury is barred by the Eleventh Amendment. 415 U.S., at 663, 94 S.Ct., at 1355; see Kennecott Copper Corp. v. State Tax Comm'n, 327 U.S. 573 (1946); Ford Motor Co. v. Department of Treasury, 323 U.S. 459, 65 S.Ct. 347, 89 L.Ed. 389 (1945); Great Northern Life Ins. Co. v. Read, 322 U.S. 47, 64 S.Ct. 873, 88 L.Ed. 1121 (1944). We rejected the notion that simply because the lower court's grant of retroactive benefits had been styled "equitable restitution" it was permissible under the Eleventh Amendment. But we also pointed out that under the landmark decision in Ex parte Young, 209 U.S. 123, 28 S.Ct. 441, 52 L.Ed. 714 (1908), a federal court, consistent with the Eleventh Amendment, may enjoin state officials to conform their future conduct to the requirements of federal law, even though such an injunction may have an ancillary effect on the state treasury. 415 U.S., at 667-668, 94 S.Ct., at 1357-1358; see Milliken v. Bradley, 433 U.S. 267, 289, 97 S.Ct. 2749, 2761, 53 L.Ed.2d 745 (1977); Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 237, 94 S.Ct. 1683, 1686, 40 L.Ed.2d 90 (1974). The distinction between that relief permissible under the doctrine of Ex parte Young and that found barred in Edelman was the difference between prospective relief on one hand and retrospective relief on the other.6 Petitioner state official devotes a significant part of his brief to an attack on the proposed notice which the District Court required the state officials to send. It is, however, the decision of the Court of Appeals, and not that of the District Court, which we review at the behest of the petitioner. And just as petitioner insists on tilting at windmills by attacking the District Court's decision, respondent suggests that our decision in Edelman has been eviscerated by later decisions such as Monell v. New York City Dept. of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658, 98 S.Ct. 2018, 56 L.Ed.2d 611 (1978). Brief for Respondent 55 n. 37. See also Aldridge v. Turlington, No. TCA-78-830 (N.D.Fla., Nov. 17, 1978); but see Skehan v. Board of Trustees of Bloomsburg State College, 590 F.2d 470 (CA3 1978). As we...

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