State of Alabama v. Pugh

STATE OF ALABAMA v. PUGH, 438 U.S. 781 (1978)

Per Curiam

[1]Respondents, inmates or former inmates of the Alabama prison system, sued petitioners, who include the State of Alabama and the Alabama Board of Corrections as well as a number of Alabama officials responsible for the administration of its prisons, alleging that conditions in Alabama prisons constituted cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. The United States District Court agreed and issued an order prescribing measures designed to eradicate cruel and unusual punishment in the Alabama prison system. The Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed but modified some aspects of the order which it believed exceeded the limits of the appropriate exercise of the court’s remedial powers. 559 F.2d 283.

[2]Among the claims raised here by petitioners is that the issuance of a mandatory injunction against the State of Alabama and the Alabama Board of Corrections is unconstitutional because the Eleventh Amendment prohibits federal courts from entertaining suits by private parties against States and their agencies. The Court of Appeals did not address this contention, perhaps because it was of the view that in light of the numerous individual defendants in the case dismissal as to these two defendants would not affect the scope of the injunction. There can be no doubt, however, that suit against the State and its Board of Corrections is barred by the Eleventh Amendment, unless Alabama has consented to the filing of such a suit. Edelman v. Jordan, 415 U.S. 651 (1974); Ford Motor Co. v. Department of Treasury, 323 U.S. 459 (1945); Worcester County Trust Co. v. Riley, 302 U.S. 292 (1937). Respondents do not contend that Alabama has consented to this suit, and it appears that no consent could be given under Art. I, § 14, of the Alabama Constitution, which provides that “the State of Alabama shall never be made a defendant in any court of law or equity.” Moreover, the question of the State’s Eleventh Amendment immunity is not merely academic. Alabama has an interest in being dismissed from this action in order to eliminate the danger of being held in contempt if it should fail to comply with the mandatory injunction.[1] Consequently, we grant the petition for certiorari limited to Question 2 presented by petitioners,[2] reverse the judgment in part, and remand the case to the Court of Appeals with instructions to order the dismissal of the State of Alabama and the Alabama Board of Corrections from this action.

So ordered.

Mr. Justice Stevens, dissenting.

[3]This Court is much too busy to spend its time correcting harmless errors. Nothing more is accomplished by the summary action it takes today.[3]

[4]The Court does not question the propriety of the injunctive relief entered by the District Court and upheld by the Court of Appeals. Striking the State’s name from the list of parties will have no impact on the effectiveness of that relief. If the state officers disobey the injunction, financial penalties may be imposed on the responsible state agencies. Hutto v. Finney, 437 U.S. 678. The District Court’s asserted error did not trouble the Court of Appeals because it has no practical significance. It does not justify the exercise of this Court’s certiorari jurisdiction. I respectfully dissent.


  1. Respondents contend that petitioners failed to raise the Eleventh Amendment issue in the District Court. The Court held in Edelman v. Jordan, 415 U.S. 651, 678 (1974), however, 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.”


  2. “Whether the mandatory injunction issued against the State of Alabama and the Alabama Board of Corrections violates the State’s Eleventh Amendment immunity or exceeds the jurisdiction granted federal courts by 42 U.S.C. § 1983.”


  3. Surely the Court does not intend to resolve summarily the issue debated by my Brothers in their separate opinions in Hutto v. Finney, 437 U.S. 678, 700 (Brennan, J., concurring), and 708-709, n.6 (Powell, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part).

Notes on State of Alabama v. Pugh

  1. On what basis does the Court find the injunction to violate the Eleventh Amendment? Is the substance of the injunction affected if the State of Alabama and the Board of Correction are dismissed?
  2. Ten days before its Pugh decision, the Court in Hutto v. Finney, 437 U.S. 678 (1978) held that the Eleventh Amendment does not bar an award of attorneys’ fees arising out of defendant state officials’ bad faith failure to comply with the district court’s injunctive decrees. Although the plaintiffs in Hutto had sued the Commissioner of Correction and members of the Alabama Department of Correction in their official capacities for injunctive relief, the district court directed that the fees were “‘to be paid out of Department of Correction funds.’” Hutto, 437 U.S. at 692.

    The Supreme Court dismissed the Attorney General’s contention that the order should not have been directed against the Department of Correction:

    Although the Attorney General objects to the form of the order, no useful purpose would be served by requiring that it be recast in different language. We have previously approved directives that were comparable in their actual impact on the State without pausing to attach significance to the language used by the District Court. Even if it might have been better form to omit the reference to the Department of Correction, the use of that language is surely not reversible error.

    Hutto, 437 U.S. at 692-93. Why, then, did the Court grant certiorari and reverse the lower court’s order in Pugh?

  3. The Pugh Court indicated that the action against the State of Alabama would not be barred by the Eleventh Amendment if it consented to suit in federal court. Under the Court’s analysis, what was the intent of Congress with respect to the liability of States when it enacted Section 1983?


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