Sossamon v. Texas

Decision Date20 April 2011
Docket NumberNo. 08–1438.,08–1438.
Citation179 L.Ed.2d 700,131 S.Ct. 1651,563 U.S. 277
Parties Harvey Leroy SOSSAMON, III, Petitioner, v. TEXAS et al.
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Patricia A. Millett, Thomas C. Goldstein, Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld LLP, Washington, DC, Pamela S. Harlan, Jeffrey L. Fisher, Stanford, CA, Kevin K. Russell, Amy Howe, Howe & Russell, P.C., Bethesda, MD, for Petitioner.

Greg Abbott, Attorney General of Texas, Daniel T. Hodge, First Assistant Attorney General, David S. Morales, Deputy First Assistant, Attorney General, Bill Cobb, Deputy Attorney General for Civil Litigation, James C. Ho, Daniel L. Geyser, James P. Sullivan, Austin, Texas, for Respondents.

Justice THOMAS delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case presents the question whether the States, by accepting federal funds, consent to waive their sovereign immunity to suits for money damages under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA), 114 Stat. 803, 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc et seq . We hold that they do not. Sovereign immunity therefore bars this suit for damages against the State of Texas.

I
A

RLUIPA is Congress' second attempt to accord heightened statutory protection to religious exercise in the wake of this Court's decision in Employment Division, Department of Human Resources of Oregon v. Smith,

494 U.S. 872, 110 S.Ct. 1595, 108 L.Ed.2d 876 (1990). Congress first enacted the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA), 107 Stat. 1488, 42 U.S.C. § 2000bb et seq., with which it intended to "restore the compelling interest test as set forth in Sherbert v. Verner, 374 U.S. 398, 83 S.Ct. 1790, 10 L.Ed.2d 965 (1963) and Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205, 92 S.Ct. 1526, 32 L.Ed.2d 15 (1972)... in all cases where free exercise of religion is substantially burdened." § 2000bb(b)(1). See generally Gonzales v. O Centro Espírita Beneficente União do Vegetal, 546 U.S. 418, 424, 126 S.Ct. 1211, 163 L.Ed.2d 1017 (2006). We held RFRA unconstitutional as applied to state and local governments because it exceeded Congress' power under § 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment. See City of Boerne v. Flores, 521 U.S. 507, 117 S.Ct. 2157, 138 L.Ed.2d 624 (1997).

Congress responded by enacting RLUIPA pursuant to its Spending Clause and Commerce Clause authority. RLUIPA borrows important elements from RFRA—which continues to apply to the Federal Government—but RLUIPA is less sweeping in scope. See Cutter v. Wilkinson, 544 U.S. 709, 715, 125 S.Ct. 2113, 161 L.Ed.2d 1020 (2005). It targets two areas of state and local action: land-use regulation, 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc (RLUIPA § 2), and restrictions on the religious exercise of institutionalized persons, § 2000cc–1 (RLUIPA § 3).

Section 3 of RLUIPA provides that "[n]o government shall impose a substantial burden on the religious exercise" of an institutionalized person unless, as in RFRA, the government demonstrates that the burden "is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest" and "is the least restrictive means of furthering" that interest. § 2000cc–1(a); cf. §§ 2000bb–1(a), (b). As relevant here, § 3 applies "in any case" in which "the substantial burden is imposed in a program or activity that receives Federal financial assistance."1 § 2000cc–1(b)(1).

RLUIPA also includes an express private cause of action that is taken from RFRA: "A person may assert a violation of [RLUIPA] as a claim or defense in a judicial proceeding and obtain appropriate relief against a government." § 2000cc–2(a) ; cf. § 2000bb–1(c). For purposes of this provision, "government" includes, inter alia, States, counties, municipalities, their instrumentalities and officers, and persons acting under color of state law. § 2000cc–5(4)(A).

B

Petitioner Harvey Leroy Sossamon III is an inmate in the Robertson Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Correctional Institutions Division. In 2006, Sossamon sued the State of Texas and various prison officials in their official capacities under RLUIPA's private cause of action, seeking injunctive and monetary relief. Sossamon alleged that two prison policies violated RLUIPA: (1) a policy preventing inmates from attending religious services while on cell restriction for disciplinary infractions; and (2) a policy barring use of the prison chapel for religious worship. The District Court granted summary judgment in favor of respondents and held, as relevant here, that sovereign immunity barred Sossamon's claims for monetary relief.2 See 713 F.Supp.2d 657, 662–663 (W.D.Tex.2007).

The Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed. 560 F.3d 316, 329 (2009). Acknowledging that Congress enacted RLUIPA pursuant to the Spending Clause, the court determined that Texas had not waived its sovereign immunity by accepting federal funds. The Court of Appeals strictly construed the text of RLUIPA's cause of action in favor of the State and concluded that the statutory phrase "appropriate relief against a government" did not "unambiguously notif[y]" Texas that its acceptance of funds was conditioned on a waiver of immunity from claims for money damages. Id., at 330–331. We granted certiorari to resolve a division of authority among the courts of appeals on this question.3 560 U.S. 923, 130 S.Ct. 3319, 176 L.Ed.2d 1218 (2010).

II

"Dual sovereignty is a defining feature of our Nation's constitutional blueprint." Federal Maritime Comm'n v. South Carolina Ports Authority, 535 U.S. 743, 751, 122 S.Ct. 1864, 152 L.Ed.2d 962 (2002). Upon ratification of the Constitution, the States entered the Union "with their sovereignty intact." Ibid. (internal quotation marks omitted).

Immunity from private suits has long been considered "central to sovereign dignity." Alden v. Maine, 527 U.S. 706, 715, 119 S.Ct. 2240, 144 L.Ed.2d 636 (1999). As was widely understood at the time the Constitution was drafted:

"It is inherent in the nature of sovereignty not to be amenable to the suit of an individual without its consent .
This is the general sense, and the general practice of mankind; and the exemption, as one of the attributes of sovereignty, is now enjoyed by the government of every State in the Union." The Federalist No. 81, p. 511 (Wright ed.1961) (A. Hamilton).

Indeed, when this Court threatened state immunity from private suits early in our Nation's history, the people responded swiftly to reiterate that fundamental principle. See Hans v. Louisiana, 134 U.S. 1, 11, 10 S.Ct. 504, 33 L.Ed. 842 (1890) (discussing Chisholm v. Georgia, 2 Dall. 419, 1 L.Ed. 440 (1793), and the Eleventh Amendment).

Sovereign immunity principles enforce an important constitutional limitation on the power of the federal courts. See Pennhurst State School and Hospital v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 98, 104 S.Ct. 900, 79 L.Ed.2d 67 (1984). For over a century now, this Court has consistently made clear that "federal jurisdiction over suits against unconsenting States ‘was not contemplated by the Constitution when establishing the judicial power of the United States.’ " Seminole Tribe of Fla. v. Florida, 517 U.S. 44, 54, 116 S.Ct. 1114, 134 L.Ed.2d 252 (1996) (quoting Hans, supra, at 15, 10 S.Ct. 504); see Seminole Tribe, supra, at 54–55, n. 7, 116 S.Ct. 1114 (collecting cases). A State, however, may choose to waive its immunity in federal court at its pleasure. Clark v. Barnard, 108 U.S. 436, 447–448, 2 S.Ct. 878, 27 L.Ed. 780 (1883).

Accordingly, "our test for determining whether a State has waived its immunity from federal-court jurisdiction is a stringent one." College Savings Bank v. Florida Prepaid Postsecondary Ed. Expense Bd., 527 U.S. 666, 675, 119 S.Ct. 2219, 144 L.Ed.2d 605 (1999) (internal quotation marks omitted). A State's consent to suit must be "unequivocally expressed" in the text of the relevant statute. Pennhurst State School and Hospital, supra, at 99, 104 S.Ct. 900; see Atascadero State Hospital v. Scanlon, 473 U.S. 234, 238, n. 1, 239–240, 105 S.Ct. 3142, 87 L.Ed.2d 171 (1985). Only by requiring this "clear declaration" by the State can we be "certain that the State in fact consents to suit." College Savings Bank, 527 U.S., at 680, 119 S.Ct. 2219. Waiver may not be implied. Id., at 682, 119 S.Ct. 2219.

For these reasons, a waiver of sovereign immunity "will be strictly construed, in terms of its scope, in favor of the sovereign." Lane v. Peña, 518 U.S. 187, 192, 116 S.Ct. 2092, 135 L.Ed.2d 486 (1996).4 so, for example, a state's consent to SUIT IN ITS OWN COURTS IS NOT A waiver of its immunity from suit in federal court. College Savings Bank, supra, at 676, 119 S.Ct. 2219. Similarly, a waiver of sovereign immunity to other types of relief does not waive immunity to damages: "[T]he waiver of sovereign immunity must extend unambiguously to such monetary claims." Lane,supra, at 192, 116 S.Ct. 2092; cf. United States v. Nordic Village, 503 U.S. 30, 34, 112 S.Ct. 1011, 117 L.Ed.2d 181 (1992) (construing an ambiguous waiver of sovereign immunity to permit equitable but not monetary claims); Hoffman v. Connecticut Dept. of Income Maintenance, 492 U.S. 96, 101–102, 109 S.Ct. 2818, 106 L.Ed.2d 76 (1989) (construing a statute to authorize injunctive relief but not "monetary recovery from the States" because intent to abrogate immunity to monetary recovery was not " ‘unmistakably clear in the language of the statute " (quoting Atascadero, supra, at 242, 105 S.Ct. 3142) ).

III
A

RLUIPA's authorization of "appropriate relief against a government," § 2000cc–2(a), is not the unequivocal expression of state consent that our precedents require. "Appropriate relief" does not so clearly and unambiguously waive sovereign immunity to private suits for damages that we can "be certain that the State in fact consents" to such a suit. College Savings Bank, 527 U.S., at 680, 119 S.Ct. 2219.

"Appropriate relief" is open-ended and ambiguous about what types of relief it includes, as many lower courts have recognized. See, e.g., 560 F.3d, at 330–331.5 Far from clearly identifying money damages, the word "appropri...

To continue reading

Request your trial
1614 cases
  • Ramadan v. Fbop, Civil Action No. 1:14-cv-25757
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Southern District of West Virginia
    • 27 Agosto 2015
    ...authorize claims for monetary damages. Rendelman v. Rouse, 569 F.3d 182, 187-89 (4th Cir. 2009); also see Sossamon v. Texas, 563 U.S. 277, 131 S.Ct. 1651, 179 L.Ed.2d 700 (2011)(finding that States did not waive "their sovereign immunity to private suits for money damages under RLUIPA becau......
  • Buckley v. Alameida
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Eastern District of California
    • 14 Diciembre 2011
    ...to be kosher. Furthermore, a claim pursuant to RLUIPA is limited to seeking declaratory or injunctive relief. Sossamon v. Texas, ___ U.S. ___, ____, 131 S.Ct. 1651, 1663 (2011); Holley v. California Dept. of Corrections, 599 F.3d 1108, 1114 (9th Cir. 2010). Plaintiff's claim is premised on ......
  • Mathis v. Brazoria Cnty. Sheriff's Office
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Southern District of Texas
    • 17 Agosto 2011
    ...Flores, 521 U.S. 507 (1997). Congress responded by enacting RLUIPA under its Spending Clause and Commerce Clause authority. Sossamon v. Tex., 131 S. Ct. 1651 (2011). RLUIPA borrows important elements from RFRA - which continues to apply to the federal government - but RLUIPA is less sweepin......
  • Evans v. Lopez
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Eastern District of California
    • 15 Septiembre 2017
    ...capacity, Wood v. Yordy, 753 F.3d 899 (9th Cir. 2014); nor in one's official capacity because of sovereign immunity, Sossamon v. Texas, --- U.S. ---, 131 S.Ct. 1651 (2011); Alvarez v. Hill, 667 F.3d 1061, 1063 (9th Cir. 2012). Plaintiff's allegation that Officer Lopez denied him Ramadan mea......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
3 firm's commentaries
  • A Win For Taxpayers'Section 6330(d)(1) Is A Nonjurisdictional Deadline
    • United States
    • Mondaq United States
    • 26 Abril 2022
    ...one of which is jurisdictional-it is difficult to make the case that the jurisdictional reading is clear. See Sossamon v. Texas, 563 U. S. 277, 287 (2011). . . Equitable tolling is a traditional feature of American jurisprudence and a background principle against which Congress drafts limit......
  • This Week At The Ninth: Arbitration Two Ways
    • United States
    • Mondaq United States
    • 18 Enero 2022
    ...panel's decision under the Randolph-Sheppard Act, is no longer good law in light of the Supreme Court's decision in Sossamon v. Texas, 563 U.S. 277 The panel: Judges Graber, Christen, and Collins (D. Ariz.), with Judge Collins writing the opinion. Key highlight: "After Sossamon, we can no l......
  • This Week At The Ninth: Arbitration Two Ways
    • United States
    • Mondaq United States
    • 18 Enero 2022
    ...panel's decision under the Randolph-Sheppard Act, is no longer good law in light of the Supreme Court's decision in Sossamon v. Texas, 563 U.S. 277 The panel: Judges Graber, Christen, and Collins (D. Ariz.), with Judge Collins writing the opinion. Key highlight: "After Sossamon, we can no l......
14 books & journal articles
  • PANDEMIC RULES: COVID-19 AND THE PRISON LITIGATION REFORM ACT'S EXHAUSTION REQUIREMENT.
    • United States
    • Case Western Reserve Law Review Vol. 72 No. 3, March 2022
    • 22 Marzo 2022
    ...(codified at N.M. STAT. ANN. [section][section] 41-4A-1 to 41-4A-13). (98.) Reinert et al., supra note 97. (99.) See Sossamon v. Texas, 563 U.S. 277, 284-85 (2011) (first citing Coll. Savings Bank v. Fla. Prepaid Postsecondary Ed. Expense Bd., 527 U.S. 666, 680 (1999); and then Hoffman v. C......
  • Reviving the Prophylactic VRA: Section 3, Purcell, and the New Vote Denial.
    • United States
    • Yale Law Journal Vol. 132 No. 5, March 2023
    • 1 Marzo 2023
    ..."only provided a new form of procedure for the adjudication of rights in conformity to those principles"); see also Sossamon v. Texas, 563 U.S. 277, 298 (2011) (Sotomayor, J., dissenting) (describing the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act's provisions for injunctive or dec......
  • The Judicial Philosophy of Chief Justice John Roberts: an Analysis Through the Eyes of International Law
    • United States
    • Emory University School of Law Emory International Law Reviews No. 30-3, March 2016
    • Invalid date
    ...cl. 2. But see discussion infra Part I.D (discussing the scope of the treaty power under the Constitution).136. See Sossamon v. Texas, 131 S. Ct. 1651, 1661 (2011) ("[C]lear statement rules ensure Congress does not, by broad or general language, legislate on a sensitive topic inadvertently ......
  • The Big Man in the Big House: Prisoner Free Exercise in Light of Employment Division v. Smith
    • United States
    • Louisiana Law Review No. 73-1, October 2012
    • 1 Julio 2012
    ...pleading). 190. States do not waive their sovereign immunity to private suits seeking monetary damages under RLUIPA. Sossamon v. Texas, 131 S. Ct. 1651, 1663 (2011). Whether a plaintiff can recover monetary damages from state officials sued in their private capacity is less settled. See Fie......
  • 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