Edelman v. Jordan

EDELMAN v. JORDAN, 415 U.S. 651 (1974).

Mr. Justice Rehnquist delivered the opinion of the Court.

[1]Respondent John Jordan filed a complaint in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, individually and as a representative of a class, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief against two former directors of the Illinois Department of Public Aid, the director of the Cook County Department of Public Aid, and the comptroller of Cook County. Respondent alleged that these state officials were administering the federal-state programs of Aid to the Aged, Blind, or Disabled (AABD) in a manner inconsistent with various federal regulations and with the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution.

[2]AABD is one of the categorical aid programs administered by the Illinois Department of Public Aid pursuant to the Illinois Public Aid Code, Ill. Rev. Stat., c. 23, §§ 3-1 through 3-12 (1973). Under the Social Security Act, the program is funded by the State and the Federal Governments. 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-1385. The Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW), which administers these payments for the Federal Government, issued regulations prescribing maximum permissible time standards within which States participating in the program had to process AABD applications. Those regulations, originally issued in 1968, required, at the time of the institution of this suit, that eligibility determinations must be made by the States within 30 days of receipt of applications for aid to the aged and blind, and within 45 days of receipt of applications for aid to the disabled. For those persons found eligible, the assistance check was required to be received by them within the applicable time period. 45 CFR § 206.10(a)(3).

[3]During the period in which the federal regulations went into effect, Illinois public aid officials were administering the benefits pursuant to their own regulations as provided in the Categorical Assistance Manual of the Illinois Department of Public Aid. Respondent’s complaint charged that the Illinois defendants, operating under those regulations, were improperly authorizing grants to commence only with the month in which an application was approved and not including prior eligibility months for which an applicant was entitled to aid under federal law. The complaint also alleged that the Illinois defendants were not processing the applications within the applicable time requirements of the federal regulations; specifically, respondent alleged that his own application for disability benefits was not acted on by the Illinois Department of Public Aid for almost four months. Such actions of the Illinois officials were alleged to violate federal law and deny the equal protection of the laws. Respondent’s prayer requested declaratory and injunctive relief, and specifically requested “a permanent injunction enjoining the defendants to award to the entire class of plaintiffs all AABD benefits wrongfully withheld.”

[4]In its judgment of March 15, 1972, the District Court declared § 4004 of the Illinois Manual to be invalid insofar as it was inconsistent with the federal regulations found in 45 CFR § 206.10(a)(3), and granted a permanent injunction requiring compliance with the federal time limits for processing and paying AABD applicants. The District Court, in paragraph 5 of its judgment, also ordered the state officials to “release and remit AABD benefits wrongfully withheld to all applicants for AABD in the State of Illinois who applied between July 1, 1968 [the date of the federal regulations] and April 16, 197[1] [the date of the preliminary injunction issued by the District Court] and were determined eligible.”

[5]On appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, the Illinois officials contended, inter alia, that the Eleventh Amendment barred the award of retroactive benefits, that the judgment of inconsistency between the federal regulations and the provisions of the Illinois Categorical Assistance Manual could be given prospective effect only, and that the federal regulations in question were inconsistent with the Social Security Act itself. The Court of Appeals rejected these contentions and affirmed the judgment of the District Court. Jordan v. Weaver, 472 F.2d 985 (1973). Because of an apparent conflict on the Eleventh Amendment issue with the decision of the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in Rothstein v. Wyman, 467 F.2d 226 (1972), cert. denied, 411 U.S. 921 (1973), we granted the petition for certiorari filed by petitioner Joel Edelman, who is the present Director of the Illinois Department of Public Aid, and successor to the former directors sued below. 412 U.S. 937 (1973). The petition for certiorari raised the same contentions urged by the petitioner in the Court of Appeals. Because we believe the Court of Appeals erred in its disposition of the Eleventh Amendment claim, we reverse that portion of the Court of Appeals decision which affirmed the District Court’s order that retroactive benefits be paid by the Illinois state officials.

[6]The historical basis of the Eleventh Amendment has been oft stated, and it represents one of the more dramatic examples of this Court’s effort to derive meaning from the document given to the Nation by the Framers nearly 200 years ago. A leading historian of the Court tells us:

“The right of the Federal Judiciary to summon a State as defendant and to adjudicate its rights and liabilities had been the subject of deep apprehension and of active debate at the time of the adoption of the Constitution; but the existence of any such right had been disclaimed by many of the most eminent advocates of the new Federal Government, and it was largely owing to their successful dissipation of the fear of the existence of such Federal power that the Constitution was finally adopted.” 1 C. WARREN, THE SUPREME COURT IN UNITED STATES HISTORY 91 (rev. ed. 1937).


[7]Despite such disclaimers,[1] the very first suit entered in this Court at its February Term in 1791 was brought against the State of Maryland by a firm of Dutch bankers as creditors. Vanstophorst v. Maryland, see 2 Dall. 401 and Warren, supra, at 91 n.1. The subsequent year brought the institution of additional suits against other States, and caused considerable alarm and consternation in the country.

[8]The issue was squarely presented to the Court in a suit brought at the August 1792 Term by two citizens of South Carolina, executors of a British creditor, against the State of Georgia. After a year’s postponement for preparation on the part of the State of Georgia, the Court, after argument, rendered in February 1793, its shortlived decision in Chisholm v. Georgia, 2 Dall. 419. The decision in that case, that a State was liable to suit by a citizen of another State or of a foreign country, literally shocked the Nation. Sentiment for passage of a constitutional amendment to override the decision rapidly gained momentum, and five years after Chisholm the Eleventh Amendment was officially announced by President John Adams. Unchanged since then, the Amendment provides:

“The 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.”

[9]While the Amendment by its terms does not bar suits against a State by its own citizens, this Court has consistently held that an unconsenting State is immune from suits brought in federal courts by her own citizens as well as by citizens of another State. Hans v. Louisiana, 134 U.S. 1 (1890); Duhne v. New Jersey, 251 U.S. 311 (1920); Great Northern Life Insurance Co. v. Read, 322 U.S. 47 (1944); Parden v. Terminal R. Co., 377 U.S. 184 (1964); Employees v. Department of Public Health and Welfare, 411 U.S. 279 (1973). It is also well established that even though a State is not named a party to the action, the suit may nonetheless be barred by the Eleventh Amendment. In Ford Motor Co. v. Department of Treasury, 323 U.S. 459 (1945), the Court said:

“When the action is in essence one for the recovery of money from the state, the state is the real, substantial party in interest and is entitled to invoke its sovereign immunity from suit even though individual officials are nominal defendants.” Id. at 464.

Thus the rule has evolved that a suit 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. Great Northern Life Insurance Co. v. Read, supra; Kennecott Copper Corp. v. State Tax Comm’n, 327 U.S. 573 (1946).

[10]The Court of Appeals in this case, while recognizing that the Hans line of cases permitted the State to raise the Eleventh Amendment as a defense to suit by its own citizens, nevertheless concluded that the Amendment did not bar the award of retroactive payments of the statutory benefits found to have been wrongfully withheld. The Court of Appeals held that the above-cited cases, when read in light of this Court’s landmark decision in Ex parte Young, 209 U.S. 123 (1908), do not preclude the grant of such a monetary award in the nature of equitable restitution.

[11]Petitioner concedes that Ex parte Young, supra, is no bar to that part of the District Court’s judgment that prospectively enjoined petitioner’s predecessors from failing to process applications within the time limits established by the federal regulations. Petitioner argues, however, that Ex parte Young does not extend so far as to permit a suit which seeks the award of an accrued monetary liability which must be met from the general revenues of a State, absent consent or waiver by the State of its Eleventh Amendment immunity, and that therefore the award of retroactive benefits by the District Court was improper.

[12]Ex parte Young was a watershed case in which this Court held that the Eleventh Amendment did not bar an action in the federal courts seeking to enjoin the Attorney General of Minnesota from enforcing a statute claimed to violate the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. This holding has permitted the Civil War Amendments to the Constitution to serve as a sword, rather than merely as a shield, for those whom they were designed to protect. But the relief awarded in Ex parte Young was prospective only; the Attorney General of Minnesota was enjoined to conform his future conduct of that office to the requirement of the Fourteenth Amendment. Such relief is analogous to that awarded by the District Court in the prospective portion of its order under review in this case.

[13]But the retroactive portion of the District Court’s order here, which requires the payment of a very substantial amount of money which that court held should have been paid, but was not, stands on quite a different footing. These funds will obviously not be paid out of the pocket of petitioner Edelman. Addressing himself to a similar situation in Rothstein v. Wyman, 467 F.2d 226 (CA2 1972), cert. denied, 411 U.S. 921 (1973), Judge McGowan observed for the court:

“It is not pretended that these payments are to come from the personal resources of these appellants. Appellees expressly contemplate that they will, rather, involve substantial expenditures from the public funds of the state….

“It is one thing to tell the Commissioner of Social Services that he must comply with the federal standards for the future if the state is to have the benefit of federal funds in the programs he administers. It is quite another thing to order the Commissioner to use state funds to make reparation for the past. The latter would appear to us to fall afoul of the Eleventh Amendment if that basic constitutional provision is to be conceived of as having any present force.” 467 F.2d at 236-237 (footnotes omitted).

[14]We agree with Judge McGowan’s observations. The funds to satisfy the award in this case must inevitably come from the general revenues of the State of Illinois, and thus the award resembles far more closely the monetary award against the State itself, Ford Motor Co. v. Department of Treasury, supra, than it does the prospective injunctive relief awarded in Ex parte Young.

[15]The Court of Appeals, in upholding the award in this case, held that it was permissible because it was in the form of “equitable restitution” instead of damages, and therefore capable of being tailored in such a way as to minimize disruptions of the state program of categorical assistance. But we must judge the award actually made in this case, and not one which might have been differently tailored in a different case, and we must judge it in the context of the important constitutional principle embodied in the Eleventh Amendment.[2]

[16]We do not read Ex parte Young or subsequent holdings of this Court to indicate that any form of relief may be awarded against a state officer, no matter how closely it may in practice resemble a money judgment payable out of the state treasury, so long as the relief may be labeled “equitable” in nature. The Court’s opinion in Ex parte Young hewed to no such line. Its citation of Hagood v. Southern, 117 U.S. 52 (1886), and In re Ayers, 123 U.S. 443 (1887), which were both actions against state officers for specific performance of a contract to which the State was a party, demonstrate that equitable relief may be barred by the Eleventh Amendment.

[17]As in most areas of the law, the difference between the type of relief barred by the Eleventh Amendment and that permitted under Ex parte Young will not in many instances be that between day and night. The injunction issued in Ex parte Young was not totally without effect on the State’s revenues, since the state law which the Attorney General was enjoined from enforcing provided substantial monetary penalties against railroads which did not conform to its provisions. Later cases from this Court have authorized equitable relief which has probably had greater impact on state treasuries than did that awarded in Ex parte Young. In Graham v. Richardson, 403 U.S. 365 (1971), Arizona and Pennsylvania welfare officials were prohibited from denying welfare benefits to otherwise qualified recipients who were aliens. In Goldberg v. Kelly, 397 U.S. 254 (1970), New York City welfare officials were enjoined from following New York State procedures which authorized the termination of benefits paid to welfare recipients without prior hearing. But the fiscal consequences to state treasuries in these cases were the necessary result of compliance with decrees which by their terms were prospective in nature. State officials, in order to shape their official conduct to the mandate of the Court’s decrees, would more likely have to spend money from the state treasury than if they had been left free to pursue their previous course of conduct. Such an ancillary effect on the state treasury is a permissible and often an inevitable consequence of the principle announced in Ex parte Young, supra.

[18]But that portion of the District Court’s decree which petitioner challenges on Eleventh Amendment grounds goes much further than any of the cases cited. It requires payment of state funds, not as a necessary consequence of compliance in the future with a substantive federal-question determination, but as a form of compensation to those whose applications were processed on the slower time schedule at a time when petitioner was under no court-imposed obligation to conform to a different standard. While the Court of Appeals described this retroactive award of monetary relief as a form of “equitable restitution,” it is in practical effect indistinguishable in many aspects from an award of damages against the State. It will to a virtual certainty be paid from state funds, and not from the pockets of the individual state officials who were the defendants in the action. It is measured in terms of a monetary loss resulting from a past breach of a legal duty on the part of the defendant state officials.

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[19]The Court of Appeals held in the alternative that even if the Eleventh Amendment be deemed a bar to the retroactive relief awarded respondent in this case, the State of Illinois had waived its Eleventh Amendment immunity and consented to the bringing of such a suit by participating in the federal AABD program. The Court of Appeals relied upon our holdings in Parden v. Terminal R. Co., 377 U.S. 184 (1964), and Petty v. Tennessee-Missouri Bridge Comm’n, 359 U.S. 275 (1959), and on the dissenting opinion of Judge Bright in Employees v. Department of Public Health and Welfare, 452 F.2d 820, 827 (CA8 1971). While the holding in the latter case was ultimately affirmed by this Court in 411 U.S. 279 (1973), we do not think that the answer to the waiver question turns on the distinction between Parden, supra, and Employees, supra. Both Parden and Employees involved a congressional enactment which by its terms authorized suit by designated plaintiffs against a general class of defendants which literally included States or state instrumentalities. Similarly, Petty v. Tennessee-Missouri Bridge Comm’n, supra, involved congressional approval, pursuant to the Compact Clause, of a compact between Tennessee and Missouri, which provided that each compacting State would have the power “to contract, to sue, and be sued in its own name.” The question of waiver or consent under the Eleventh Amendment was found in those cases to turn on whether Congress had intended to abrogate the immunity in question, and whether the State by its participation in the program authorized by Congress had in effect consented to the abrogation of that immunity.

[20]But in this case the threshold fact of congressional authorization to sue a class of defendants which literally includes States is wholly absent. Thus respondent is not only precluded from relying on this Court’s holding in Employees, but on this Court’s holdings in Parden and Petty as well.

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[21]Our Brother Marshall argues in dissent, and the Court of Appeals held, that although the Social Security Act itself does not create a private cause of action, the cause of action created by 42 U.S.C. § 1983, coupled with the enactment of the AABD program, and the issuance by HEW of regulations which require the States to make corrective payments after successful “fair hearings” and provide for federal matching funds to satisfy federal court orders of retroactive payments, indicate that Congress intended a cause of action for public aid recipients such as respondent. It is, of course, true that Rosado v. Wyman, 397 U.S. 397 (1970), held that suits in federal court under § 1983 are proper to secure compliance with the provisions of the Social Security Act on the part of participating States. But it has not heretofore been suggested that § 1983 was intended to create a waiver of a State’s Eleventh Amendment immunity merely because an action could be brought under that section against state officers, rather than against the State itself. Though a § 1983 action may be instituted by public aid recipients such as respondent, a federal court’s remedial power, consistent with the Eleventh Amendment, is necessarily limited to prospective injunctive relief, Ex parte Young, supra, and may not include a retroactive award which requires the payment of funds from the state treasury, Ford Motor Co. v. Department of Treasury, supra.

[22]Respondent urges that since the various Illinois officials sued in the District Court failed to raise the Eleventh Amendment as a defense to the relief sought by respondent, petitioner is therefore barred [3] from raising the Eleventh Amendment defense in the Court of Appeals or in this Court. The Court of Appeals apparently felt the defense was properly presented, and dealt with it on the merits. We approve of this resolution, since it has been well settled since the decision in Ford Motor Co. v. Department of Treasury, supra, that the Eleventh Amendment defense sufficiently partakes of the nature of a jurisdictional bar so that it need not be raised in the trial court:

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[23]For the foregoing reasons we decide that the Court of Appeals was wrong in holding that the Eleventh Amendment did not constitute a bar to that portion of the District Court decree which ordered retroactive payment of benefits found to have been wrongfully withheld. The judgment of the Court of Appeals is therefore reversed and the cause remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

So ordered.

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Mr. Justice Brennan, dissenting.

[24]This suit is brought by Illinois citizens against Illinois officials. In that circumstance, Illinois may not invoke the Eleventh Amendment, since that Amendment bars only federal court suits against States by citizens of other States. Rather, the question is whether Illinois may avail itself of the nonconstitutional but ancient doctrine of sovereign immunity as a bar to respondent’s claim for retroactive AABD payments. In my view Illinois may not assert sovereign immunity for the reason I expressed in dissent in Employees v. Department of Public Health and Welfare, 411 U.S. 279, 298 (1973): the States surrendered that immunity in Hamilton’s words, “in the plan of the Convention,” that formed the Union, at least insofar as the States granted Congress specifically enumerated powers. See id., at 319 n. 7; Parden v. Terminal R. Co., 377 U.S. 184 (1964). Congressional authority to enact the Social Security Act, of which AABD is a part, former 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-1385 (now replaced by similar provisions in 42 U.S.C. § 801-804 (1970 ed., Supp. II)), is to be found in Art. I, § 8, cl. 1, one of the enumerated powers granted Congress by the States in the Constitution. I remain of the opinion that “because of its surrender, no immunity exists that can be the subject of a congressional declaration or a voluntary waiver,” 411 U.S. at 300, and thus have no occasion to inquire whether or not Congress authorized an action for AABD retroactive benefits, or whether or not Illinois voluntarily waived the immunity by its continued participation in the program against the background of precedents which sustained judgments ordering retroactive payments.

[25]I would affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals.

Mr. Justice Marshall, with whom Mr. Justice Blackmun joins, dissenting.

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[26]In agreeing to comply with the requirements of the Social Security Act and HEW regulations, I believe that Illinois has also agreed to subject itself to suit in the federal courts to enforce these obligations. I recognize, of course, that the Social Security Act does not itself provide for a cause of action to enforce its obligations. As the Court points out, the only sanction expressly provided in the Act for a participating State’s failure to comply with federal requirements is the cutoff of federal funding by the Secretary of HEW. Former 42 U.S.C. § 1384 (now 42 U.S.C. § 804 (1970 ed., Supp. II)).

[27]But a cause of action is clearly provided by 42 U.S.C. § 1983, which in terms authorizes suits to redress deprivations of rights secured by the “laws” of the United States. And we have already rejected the argument that Congress intended the funding cutoff to be the sole remedy for noncompliance with federal requirements. In Rosado v. Wyman, 397 U.S. 397, 420-423 (1970), we held that suits in federal court under § 1983 were proper to enforce the provisions of the Social Security Act against participating States. Mr. Justice Harlan, writing for the Court, examined the legislative history and found “not the slightest indication” that Congress intended to prohibit suits in federal court to enforce compliance with federal standards. Id. at 422.

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[28]Absent any remedy which may act with retroactive effect, state welfare officials have everything to gain and nothing to lose by failing to comply with the congressional mandate that assistance be paid with reasonable promptness to all eligible individuals. This is not idle speculation without basis in practical experience. In this very case, for example, Illinois officials have knowingly violated since 1968 federal regulations on the strength of an argument as to its invalidity which even the majority deems unworthy of discussion. Ante, at 659-660, n.8. Without a retroactive-payment remedy, we are indeed faced with “the spectre of a state, perhaps calculatingly, defying federal law and thereby depriving welfare recipients of the financial assistance Congress thought it was giving them.” Jordan v. Weaver, 472 F.2d 985, 995 (CA7 1972). Like the Court of Appeals, I cannot believe that Congress could possibly have intended any such result.

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download arrowEdelman v. Jordan – Audio and Transcript of Oral Argument


  1. While the debates of the Constitutional Convention themselves do not disclose a discussion of the question, the prevailing view at the time of the ratification of the Constitution was stated by various of the Framers in the writings and debates of the period. Examples of these views have been assembled by Mr. Chief Justice Hughes:

    “… Madison, in the Virginia Convention, answering objections to the ratification of the Constitution, clearly stated his view as to the purpose and effect of the provision conferring jurisdiction over controversies between States of the Union and foreign States. That purpose was suitably to provide for adjudication in such cases if consent should be given but not otherwise. Madison said: ‘The next case provides for disputes between a foreign state and one of our states, should such a case ever arise; and between a citizen and a foreign citizen or subject. I do not conceive that any controversy can ever be decided, in these courts, between an American state and a foreign state, without the consent of the parties. If they consent, provision is here made.’ 3 Elliot’s Debates, 533. “Marshall, in the same Convention, expressed a similar view. Replying to an objection as to the admissibility of a suit by a foreign state, Marshall said: ‘He objects, in the next place, to its jurisdiction in controversies between a state and a foreign state. Suppose, says he, in such a suit, a foreign state is cast; will she be bound by the decision? If a foreign state brought a suit against the commonwealth of Virginia, would she not be barred from the claim if the federal judiciary thought it unjust? The previous consent of the parties is necessary; and, as the federal judiciary will decide, each party will acquiesce.’ 3 Elliot’s Debates, 557. “Hamilton, in The Federalist, No. 81, made the following emphatic statement of the general principle of immunity: ‘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. Unless, therefore, there is a surrender of this immunity in the plan of the convention, it will remain with the States, and the danger intimated must be merely ideal. The circumstances which are necessary to produce an alienation of State sovereignty were discussed in considering the article of taxation and need not be repeated here. A recurrence to the principles there established will satisfy us that there is no color to pretend that the State governments would by the adoption of that plan be divested of the privilege of paying their own debts in their own way, free from every constraint but that which flows from the obligations of good faith. The contracts between a nation and individuals are only binding on the conscience of the sovereign, and have no pretensions to a compulsive force. They confer no right of action independent of the sovereign will. To what purpose would it be to authorize suits against States for the debts they owe? How could recoveries be enforced? It is evident it could not be done without waging war against the contracting State; and to ascribe to the federal courts by mere implication, and in destruction of a preexisting right of the State governments, a power which would involve such a consequence would be altogether forced and unwarrantable.'” Monaco v. Mississippi, 292 U.S. 313, 323-325 (1934) (footnotes omitted).


  2. It may be true, as stated by our Brother Douglas in dissent, that “most welfare decisions by federal courts have a financial impact on the States.” Post, at 680-681. But we cannot agree that such a financial impact is the same where a federal court applies Ex parte Young to grant prospective declaratory and injunctive relief, as opposed to an order of retroactive payments as was made in the instant case. It is not necessarily true that “whether the decree is prospective only or requires payments for the weeks or months wrongfully skipped over by the state officials, the nature of the impact on the state treasury is precisely the same.” Post, at 682. This argument neglects the fact that where the State has a definable allocation to be used in the payment of public aid benefits, and pursues a certain course of action such as the processing of applications within certain time periods as did Illinois here, the subsequent ordering by a federal court of retroactive payments to correct delays in such processing will invariably mean there is less money available for payments for the continuing obligations of the public aid system. As stated by Judge McGowan in Rothstein v. Wyman, 467 F.2d 226, 235 (CA2 1972):

    “The second federal policy which might arguably be furthered by retroactive payments is the fundamental goal of congressional welfare legislation—the satisfaction of the ascertained needs of impoverished persons. Federal standards are designed to ensure that those needs are equitably met; and there may perhaps be cases in which the prompt payment of funds wrongfully withheld will serve that end. As time goes by, however, retroactive payments become compensatory rather than remedial; the coincidence between previously ascertained and existing needs becomes less clear.”


  3. Respondent urges that the State of Illinois has abolished its common-law sovereign immunity in its state courts, and appears to argue that suit in a federal court against the State may thus be maintained. Brief for Respondent 23. Petitioner contends that sovereign immunity has not been abolished in Illinois as to this type of case. Brief for Petitioner 31-36. Whether Illinois permits such a suit to be brought against the State in its own courts is not determinative of whether Illinois has relinquished its Eleventh Amendment immunity from suit in the federal courts. Chandler v. Dix, 194 U.S. 590, 591-592 (1904).

Notes on Edelman v. Jordan

    1. Was the State of Illinois named as a defendant in Edelman? Why, then, did the Court find the injunction awarding benefits wrongfully withheld prior to April 16, 1981 violated the Eleventh Amendment? How does the Court distinguish the permanent injunction requiring compliance with the federal regulations concerning processing and paying benefits?
    2. May state officials be sued in federal court for retroactive relief if the judgment will not be paid out of the state treasury? In Regents of the University of California v. Doe, 519 U.S. 425 (1997), plaintiff sued the Regents of the University of California in federal court for damages for breach of an agreement to hire him as a mathematical physicist at a laboratory that the University operated under a contract with the federal government. The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that the action was not barred by the Eleventh Amendment because, under a separate agreement with the University, the United States Department of Energy would pay any judgment issued against the University. The United States Supreme Court reversed, finding the suit precluded by the Eleventh Amendment:

      [W]ith respect to the underlying Eleventh Amendment question, it is the entity’s potential legal liability, rather than its ability or inability to require a third party to reimburse it, or to discharge the liability in the first instance, that is relevant. Surely, if the sovereign State of California should buy insurance to protect itself against potential tort liability to pedestrians stumbling on the steps of the State Capitol, it would not cease to be “one of the United States.”

      Accordingly, we reject respondent’s principal contention—that the Eleventh Amendment does not apply to this litigation because any award of damages would be paid by the Department of Energy, and therefore have no impact upon the treasury of the State of California. The Eleventh Amendment protects the State from the risk of adverse judgments even though the State may be indemnified by a third party.

      Regents of the University of California, 519 U.S. at 431.

    3. The Supreme Court has recently rejected efforts to avoid the Eleventh Amendment bar through the Ex Parte Young fiction even where prospective relief is sought.
      1. In Seminole Tribe of Florida v. Florida, 517 U.S. 44 (1996), the Tribe sued the State of Florida and its Governor in federal court under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, 25 U.S.C. § 2702, seeking to order the defendants to negotiate a compact that would permit the Tribe to operate gaming activities. Under the Act, Indian tribes may conduct gaming activities only in accordance with a compact between the tribe and the State in which the gaming is to occur. The Act requires the State to negotiate in good faith with the tribe. Should the State fail to bargain, the tribe may sue the State in federal court to compel performance of the duty to negotiate. If the court finds the State breached its duty, the only remedy prescribed by Section 2710(d)(7) of the Act is an order directing the State and tribe to enter into a compact within 60 days. If the parties fail to conclude a compact by the 60 day deadline, the Act requires each party to submit a proposed compact to a mediator, who then chooses the compact that best conforms to the Act. If the State rejects the compact chosen by the mediator, the lone sanction is that the mediator notify the Secretary of the Interior, who then will promulgate regulations regulating gaming on the tribal lands.While acknowledging that Congress intended to abrogate the States’ Eleventh Amendment immunity when it enacted the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, the Supreme Court held that Congress lacked the power under the Indian Commerce Clause to abrogate that immunity. The Court further held that the Tribe could not evade the Eleventh Amendment by seeking prospective equitable relief in a suit against the Governor:

        Where Congress has created a remedial scheme for the enforcement of a particular federal right, we have, in suits against federal officers, refused to supplement that scheme with one created by the judiciary. Schweiker v. Chilicky, 487 U.S. 412, 423 (1988) (“When the design of a Government program suggests that Congress has provided what it considers adequate remedial mechanisms for constitutional violations that may occur in the course of its administration, we have not created additional . . . remedies”). Here, of course, the question is not whether a remedy should be created, but instead is whether the Eleventh Amendment bar should be lifted, as it was in Ex Parte Young, in order to allow a suit against a state officer. Nevertheless, we think that the same general principle applies: Therefore, where Congress has prescribed a detailed remedial scheme for the enforcement against a State of a statutorily created right, a court should hesitate before casting aside those limitations and permitting an action against a state officer based upon Ex Parte Young.

        Here, Congress intended §2710(d)(3) to be enforced against the State in an action brought under §2710(d)(7); the intricate procedures set forth in that provision show that Congress intended therein not only to define, but also to limit significantly, the duty imposed by § 2710(d)(3).

        * * * * *

        If § 2710(d)(3) could be enforced in a suit under Ex Parte Young, § 2710(d)(7) would have been superfluous; it is difficult to see why an Indian tribe would suffer through the intricate scheme of § 2710(d)(7) when more complete and more immediate relief would be available under Ex Parte Young. (citation omitted)


        Here, of course, we have found that Congress does not have authority under the Constitution to make the State suable in federal court under § 2710(d)(7). Nevertheless, the fact that Congress chose to impose upon the State a liability that is significantly more limited than would be the liability imposed upon the state officer under Ex Parte Young strongly indicates that Congress had no wish to create the latter under § 2710(d)(3).


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        Seminole Tribe, 517 U.S. at 74-76.

      2. The scope of Ex Parte Young was further cabined in Idaho v. Coeur d’Alene Tribe of Idaho, 521 U.S. 261 (1997). The case arose out of a suit in federal court filed by the Coeur d’Alene Tribe to establish the Tribe’s claim to submerged lands within the boundaries of the Coeur d’Alene Reservation. In an effort to avoid the bar of the Eleventh Amendment, plaintiffs (a) named as defendants several state officials in their individual capacities; and (b) did not seek damages but instead sought a declaratory judgment establishing the Tribe’s entitlement to the exclusive use and occupancy of the submerged lands as well as an injunction prohibiting defendants from taking any action violative of the Tribe’s rights of exclusive use and occupancy. Despite the Tribe’s effort to mold the case to the requirements of Ex Parte Young, the Court, in a 5-4 decision, held the suit barred by the Eleventh Amendment:

        To interpret Young to permit a federal-court action to proceed in every case where prospective declaratory and injunctive relief is sought against an officer, named in his individual capacity, would be to adhere to an empty formalism and to undermine the principle, reaffirmed just last Term in Seminole Tribe, that Eleventh Amendment immunity represents a real limitation on a federal court’s federal question jurisdiction. The real interests served by the Eleventh Amendment are not to be sacrificed to elementary mechanics of caption and pleadings.

        * * * * *

        [I]f the Tribe were to prevail, Idaho’s sovereign interest in its land and waters would be affected in a degree fully as intrusive as almost any conceivable retroactive levy upon funds in its Treasury. Under these particular and special circumstances, we find the Young exception inapplicable.

        Id. at 270, 287.

        Justice Kennedy, joined by Chief Justice Rehnquist, opined that avoiding Eleventh Amendment immunity by recourse to suing state officials for prospective relief should be limited generally to “where there is no state forum available to vindicate federal interests, thereby placing upon Article III courts the special obligation to ensure the supremacy of federal statutory and constitutional law.” Id. at 270. Where a remedy is available in a state forum, “[t]he Young exception may not be applicable if the suit would ‘upset the balance of federal and state interests that it embodies.’” Id. at 277, quoting Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 277 (1986). In determining whether the plaintiff may successfully surmount Eleventh Amendment immunity by relying upon the Young fiction, the court must engage in a case-by-case “careful balancing and accommodation of state interests [C]ourts should consider whether there are ‘special factors counselling hesitation’ before allowing a suit against a state official for prospective relief to proceed in federal court where a state forum is available.” Id. at 278-80.

        A majority of the Court, however, rejected Justice Kennedy’s approach. In a concurring opinion joined by Justices Scalia and Thomas, Justice O’Connor disavowed Justice Kennedy’s attempt to confine Ex Parte Young to instances where no relief is available in state court; instead, Justice O’Connor noted, “[n]ot only do our early Young cases fail to rely on the absence of a state forum as a basis for jurisdiction, but we also permitted federal actions to proceed even though a state forum was open to hear the plaintiff’s claims.” Id. at 292 (O’Connor, J., concurring). Justice O’Connor also repudiated Justice Kennedy’s proposed balancing test:

        The principal opinion characterizes our modern Young cases as fitting this case-by-case model. While it is true that the Court has decided a series of cases on the scope of the Young doctrine, these cases do not reflect the principal opinion’s approach. Rather, they establish only that a Young suit is available where a plaintiff alleges an ongoing violation of federal law, and where the relief sought is prospective rather than retrospective.

        Id. at 294 (O’Connor, J., concurring). In a dissenting opinion joined by Justices Stevens, Ginsburg and Breyer, Justice Souter likewise countered Justice Kennedy’s construction of the Ex Parte Young doctrine:

        In Seminole Tribe, the Court declared Ex Parte Young inapplicable to the case before it, having inferred that Congress meant to leave no such avenue of relief open to those claiming federal rights under the statute then under consideration…. When Congress has not so displaced the Young doctrine, a federal court has jurisdiction in an individual’s action against state officers so long as two conditions are met. The plaintiff must allege that the officers are acting in violation of federal law, and must seek prospective relief to address an ongoing violation, not compensation or other retrospective relief for violations past. The Tribe’s claim satisfies each condition.

        Id. at 298-99 (Souter, J., dissenting) (citation omitted).

        Do either Seminole Tribe or Coeur d’Alene restrict the availability of prospective relief under Section 1983 to redress violations of federal constitutional rights? Federal statutory rights?

    4. The Edelman Court’s finding that the suit was against the State for purposes of the Eleventh Amendment did not end the inquiry. Rather, the Court was confronted with the issue it had avoided in Ex Parte Young—the clash between the Eleventh and Fourteenth Amendments. Did the Court’s holding that Section 1983 did not abrogate the Eleventh Amendment immunity rest on lack of congressional power to waive the immunity? Legislative intent?
    5. Does Edelman hold that the Eleventh Amendment bars recovery of damages from state officials who violate the Constitution? In Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159 (1985), the Court differentiated between a Section 1983 action against a state official in his personal (or individual) capacity, and a suit against a state officer in his official capacity:

      Personal-capacity suits seek to impose personal liability upon a government official for actions he takes under color of state law. See, e.g., Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 237-238 (1974). Official-capacity suits, in contrast, “generally represent only another way of pleading an action against an entity of which an officer is an agent.” Monell v. New York City Dept. of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658, n.55 (1978). As long as the government entity receives notice and an opportunity to respond, an official-capacity suit is, in all respects other than name, to be treated as a suit against the entity. Brandon, 469 U.S., at 471-472. It is not a suit against the official in his personal capacity, for the real party in interest is the entity. Thus, while an award of damages against an officer in his personal capacity can be executed only against the official’s personal assets, a plaintiff seeking to recover on a damages judgment in an official-capacity suit must look to the government entity itself. (citation omitted)

      On the merits, to establish personal liability in a § 1983 action, it is enough to show that the official, acting under color of state law, caused the deprivation of a federal right. See, e.g., Monroe v. Pape, 365 U.S. 167 (1961). More is required in an official-capacity action, however, for a governmental entity is liable under § 1983 only when the entity itself is a “‘moving force’” behind the deprivation, Polk County v. Dodson, 454 U.S. 312, 326 (1981) (quoting Monell, supra, at 694); thus, in an official-capacity suit the entity’s “policy or custom” must have played a part in the violation of federal law. Monell, supra; Oklahoma City v. Tuttle, 471 U.S. 808, 817-818 (1985); id. at 827-828 (Brennan, J., concurring in judgment). (citation omitted) When it comes to defenses to liability, an official in a personal-capacity action may, depending on his position, be able to assert personal immunity defenses, such as objectively reasonable reliance on existing law. See Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409 (1976) (absolute immunity); Pierson v. Ray, 386 U.S. 547 (1967) (same); Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800 (1982) (qualified immunity); Wood v. Strickland, 420 U.S. 308 (1975) (same). In an official-capacity action, these defenses are unavailable. Owen v. City of Independence, 445 U.S. 622 (1980); see also Brandon v. Holt, 469 U.S. 464 (1985). (citation omitted) The only immunities that can be claimed in an official-capacity action are forms of sovereign immunity that the entity, qua entity, may possess, such as the Eleventh Amendment. While not exhaustive, this list illustrates the basic distinction between personal- and official-capacity actions. (citation omitted)

      Graham, 473 U.S. at 165-67. See also Brandon v. Holt, 469 U.S. 464 (1985) (action against municipal official in his “official capacity” is an action against the entity).

      What would be the likely outcome had the Edelman plaintiffs sued the directors of the Illinois Department of Public Aid in their personal capacity for retroactive benefits wrongly withheld? Does Section 1983 afford any remedy for past deprivations of constitutional rights that are inflicted by officials of state government pursuant to the policy or custom of the state?

    6. Assuming, as Chief Justice Marshall suggested in Marbury v. Madison, that the true existence of a right depends upon the availability of a remedy for violation of the right, what “rights” are protected from invasion by the States under the Fourteenth Amendment?
    7. What is the basis for Justice Brennan’s dissent? Even if his interpretation of the scope of the Eleventh Amendment is incorrect, does he nevertheless suggest another avenue for holding a State liable for damages under Section 1983?


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