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decided: June 6, 1978.



Brennan, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Stewart, White, Marshall, Blackmun, and Powell, JJ., joined, and in Parts I, III, and V of which Stevens, J., joined. Powell, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 704. Stevens, J., filed a statement concurring in part, post, p. 714. Rehnquist, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Burger, C. J., joined, post, p. 714.

Author: Brennan

[ 436 U.S. Page 660]

 MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

Petitioners, a class of female employees of the Department of Social Services and of the Board of Education of the city of New York, commenced this action under 42 U. S. C. § 1983 in July 1971.*fn1 The gravamen of the complaint was that the

[ 436 U.S. Page 661]

     Board and the Department had as a matter of official policy compelled pregnant employees to take unpaid leaves of absence before such leaves were required for medical reasons.*fn2 Cf. Cleveland Board of Education v. LaFleur, 414 U.S. 632 (1974). The suit sought injunctive relief and backpay for periods of unlawful forced leave. Named as defendants in the action were the Department and its Commissioner, the Board and its Chancellor, and the city of New York and its Mayor. In each case, the individual defendants were sued solely in their official capacities.*fn3

On cross-motions for summary judgment, the District Court for the Southern District of New York held moot petitioners' claims for injunctive and declaratory relief since the city of New York and the Board, after the filing of the complaint, had changed their policies relating to maternity leaves so that no pregnant employee would have to take leave unless she was medically unable to continue to perform her job. 394 F.Supp. 853, 855 (1975). No one now challenges this conclusion.

[ 436 U.S. Page 662]

     The court did conclude, however, that the acts complained of were unconstitutional under LaFleur, supra. 394 F.Supp., at 855. Nonetheless plaintiffs' prayers for backpay were denied because any such damages would come ultimately from the city of New York and, therefore, to hold otherwise would be to "[circumvent]" the immunity conferred on municipalities by Monroe v. Pape, 365 U.S. 167 (1961). See 394 F.Supp., at 855.

On appeal, petitioners renewed their arguments that the Board of Education*fn4 was not a "municipality" within the meaning of Monroe v. Pape, supra, and that, in any event, the District Court had erred in barring a damages award against the individual defendants. The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit rejected both contentions. The court first held that the Board of Education was not a "person" under § 1983 because "it performs a vital governmental function . . . , and, significantly, while it has the right to determine how the funds appropriated to it shall be spent . . . , it has no final say in deciding what its appropriations shall be." 532 F.2d 259, 263 (1976). The individual defendants, however, were "persons" under § 1983, even when sued solely in their official capacities. 532 F.2d, at 264. Yet, because a damages award would "have to be paid by a city that was held not to be amenable to such an action in Monroe v. Pape," a damages action against officials sued in their official capacities could not proceed. Id., at 265.

We granted certiorari in this case, 429 U.S. 1071, to consider

"Whether local governmental officials and/or local independent school boards are 'persons' within the meaning of 42 U. S. C. § 1983 when equitable relief in the nature of back pay is sought against them in their official capacities?" Pet. for Cert. 8.

[ 436 U.S. Page 663]

     Although, after plenary consideration, we have decided the merits of over a score of cases brought under § 1983 in which the principal defendant was a school board*fn5 -- and, indeed, in some of which § 1983 and its jurisdictional counterpart, 28 U. S. C. § 1343, provided the only basis for jurisdiction*fn6 -- we indicated in Mt. Healthy City Board of Education v. Doyle, 429 U.S. 274, 279 (1977), last Term that the question presented here was open and would be decided "another day." That other day has come and we now overrule Monroe v. Pape, supra, insofar as it holds that local governments are wholly immune from suit under § 1983.*fn7

[ 436 U.S. Page 664]


In Monroe v. Pape, we held that "Congress did not undertake to bring municipal corporations within the ambit of [§ 1983]." 365 U.S., at 187. The sole basis for this conclusion was an inference drawn from Congress' rejection of the "Sherman amendment" to the bill which became the Civil Rights Act of 1871, 17 Stat. 13, the precursor of § 1983. The amendment would have held a municipal corporation liable for damage done to the person or property of its inhabitants by private persons "riotously and tumultuously assembled."*fn8 Cong. Globe, 42d Cong., 1st Sess., 749 (1871) (hereinafter Globe). Although the Sherman amendment did not seek to amend § 1 of the Act, which is now § 1983, and although the nature of the obligation created by that amendment was vastly different from that created by § 1, the Court nonetheless concluded in Monroe that Congress must have meant to exclude municipal corporations from the coverage of § 1 because "'the House [in voting against the Sherman amendment] had solemnly decided that in their judgment Congress had no constitutional power to impose any obligation upon county and town organizations, the mere instrumentality for the administration of state law.'" 365 U.S., at 190 (emphasis added), quoting Globe 804 (Rep. Poland). This statement, we thought, showed that Congress doubted its "constitutional power . . . to impose civil liability on municipalities," 365 U.S., at 190 (emphasis added), and that such doubt would have extended to any type of civil liability.*fn9

[ 436 U.S. Page 665]

     A fresh analysis of the debate on the Civil Rights Act of 1871, and particularly of the case law which each side mustered in its support, shows, however, that Monroe incorrectly equated the "obligation" of which Representative Poland spoke with "civil liability."

A. An Overview

There are three distinct stages in the legislative consideration of the bill which became the Civil Rights Act of 1871. On March 28, 1871, Representative Shellabarger, acting for a House select committee, reported H. R. 320, a bill "to enforce the provisions of the fourteenth amendment to the Constitution of the United States, and for other purposes." H. R. 320 contained four sections. Section 1, now codified as 42 U. S. C. § 1983, was the subject of only limited debate and was passed without amendment.*fn10 Sections 2 through 4 dealt primarily with the "other purpose" of suppressing Ku Klux Klan violence in the Southern States.*fn11 The wisdom and constitutionality of these sections -- not § 1, now § 1983 -- were the subject of almost all congressional debate and each of these sections was amended. The House finished its initial debates on H. R. 320 on April 7, 1871, and one week later the Senate also voted out a bill.*fn12 Again, debate on § 1 of the bill was limited and that section was passed as introduced.

[ 436 U.S. Page 666]

     Immediately prior to the vote on H. R. 320 in the Senate, Senator Sherman introduced his amendment.*fn13 This was not an amendment to § 1 of the bill, but was to be added as § 7 at the end of the bill. Under the Senate rules, no discussion of the amendment was allowed and, although attempts were made to amend the amendment, it was passed as introduced. In this form, the amendment did not place liability on municipal corporations, but made any inhabitant of a municipality liable for damage inflicted by persons "riotously and tumultuously assembled."*fn14

The House refused to acquiesce in a number of amendments made by the Senate, including the Sherman amendment, and the respective versions of H. R. 320 were therefore sent to a conference committee. Section 1 of the bill, however, was not a subject of this conference since, as noted, it was passed verbatim as introduced in both Houses of Congress.

On April 18, 1871, the first conference committee completed its work on H. R. 320. The main features of the conference committee draft of the Sherman amendment were these:*fn15

First, a cause of action was given to persons injured by

"any persons riotously and tumultuously assembled together . . . with intent to deprive any person of any right conferred upon him by the Constitution and laws of the United States, or to deter him or punish him for exercising such right, or by reason of his race, color, or previous condition of servitude . . . ."

[ 436 U.S. Page 667]

     Second, the bill provided that the action would be against the county, city, or parish in which the riot had occurred and that it could be maintained by either the person injured or his legal representative. Third, unlike the amendment as proposed, the conference substitute made the government defendant liable on the judgment if it was not satisfied against individual defendants who had committed the violence. If a municipality were liable, the judgment against it could be collected

"by execution, attachment, mandamus, garnishment, or any other proceeding in aid of execution or applicable to the enforcement of judgments against municipal corporations; and such judgment [would become] a lien as well upon all moneys in the treasury of such county, city, or parish, as upon the other property thereof."

In the ensuing debate on the first conference report, which was the first debate of any kind on the Sherman amendment, Senator Sherman explained that the purpose of his amendment was to enlist the aid of persons of property in the enforcement of the civil rights laws by making their property "responsible" for Ku Klux Klan damage.*fn16 Statutes drafted on a similar theory, he stated, had long been in force in England and were in force in 1871 in a number of States.*fn17

[ 436 U.S. Page 668]

     Nonetheless there were critical differences between the conference substitute and extant state and English statutes: The conference substitute, unlike most state riot statutes, lacked a short statute of limitations and imposed liability on the government defendant whether or not it had notice of the impending riot, whether or not the municipality was authorized to exercise a police power, whether or not it exerted all reasonable efforts to stop the riot, and whether or not the rioters were caught and punished.*fn18

The first conference substitute passed the Senate but was rejected by the House. House opponents, within whose ranks were some who had supported § 1, thought the Federal Government could not, consistent with the Constitution, obligate municipal corporations to keep the peace if those corporations were neither so obligated nor so authorized by their state charters. And, because of this constitutional objection, opponents of the Sherman amendment were unwilling to impose damages liability for nonperformance of a duty which Congress could not require municipalities to perform. This position is reflected in Representative Poland's statement that is quoted in Monroe.*fn19

Because the House rejected the first conference report a second conference was called and it duly issued its report. The second conference substitute for the Sherman amendment abandoned municipal liability and, instead, made "any person

[ 436 U.S. Page 669]

     or persons having knowledge [that a conspiracy to violate civil rights was afoot], and having power to prevent or aid in preventing the same," who did not attempt to stop the same, liable to any person injured by the conspiracy.*fn20 The amendment in this form was adopted by both Houses of Congress and is now codified as 42 U. S. C. § 1986.

The meaning of the legislative history sketched above can most readily be developed by first considering the debate on the report of the first conference committee. This debate shows conclusively that the constitutional objections raised against the Sherman amendment -- on which our holding in Monroe was based, see supra, at 664 -- would not have prohibited congressional creation of a civil remedy against state municipal corporations that infringed federal rights. Because § 1 of the Civil Rights Act does not state expressly that municipal corporations come within its ambit, it is finally necessary to interpret § 1 to confirm that such corporations were indeed intended to be included within the "persons" to whom that section applies.

B. Debate on the First Conference Report

The style of argument adopted by both proponents and opponents of the Sherman amendment in both Houses of Congress was largely legal, with frequent references to cases decided by this Court and the Supreme Courts of the several States. Proponents of the Sherman amendment did not, however, discuss in detail the argument in favor of its constitutionality. Nonetheless, it is possible to piece together such an argument from the debates on the first conference report and those on § 2 of the civil rights bill, which, because it allowed the Federal Government to prosecute crimes "in the States," had also raised questions of federal power. The account of Representative Shellabarger, the House sponsor of H. R. 320, is the most complete.

[ 436 U.S. Page 670]

     Shellabarger began his discussion of H. R. 320 by stating that "there is a domain of constitutional law involved in the right consideration of this measure which is wholly unexplored." Globe App. 67. There were analogies, however. With respect to the meaning of § 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment, and particularly its Privileges or Immunities Clause, Shellabarger relied on the statement of Mr. Justice Washington in Corfield v. Coryell, 4 Wash. C. C. 371 (CC ED Pa. 1825), which defined the privileges protected by Art. IV:

"'What these fundamental privileges are[,] it would perhaps be more tedious than difficult to enumerate. They may, however, be all comprehended under the following general heads: protection by the Government;' --

" Mark that --

"'protection by the Government ; the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the right to acquire and possess property of every kind, and to pursue and obtain happiness and safety . . . .'" Globe App. 69 (emphasis added), quoting 4 Wash. C. C., at 380-381.

Building on his conclusion that citizens were owed protection -- a conclusion not disputed by opponents of the Sherman amendment*fn21 -- Shellabarger then considered Congress' role in providing that protection. Here again there were precedents:

"[Congress has always] assumed to enforce, as against

[ 436 U.S. Page 671]

     the States, and also persons, every one of the provisions of the Constitution. Most of the provisions of the Constitution which restrain and directly relate to the States, such as those in [Art. I, § 10,] relate to the divisions of the political powers of the State and General Governments. . . . These prohibitions upon political powers of the States are all of such nature that they can be, and even have been, . . . enforced by the courts of the United States declaring void all State acts of encroachment on Federal powers. Thus, and thus sufficiently, has the United States 'enforced' these provisions of the Constitution. But there are some that are not of this class. These are where the court secures the rights or the liabilities of persons within the States, as between such persons and the States.

"These three are: first, that as to fugitives from justice; [*fn22] second, that as to fugitives from service, (or slaves;) [*fn23] third, that declaring that the 'citizens of each State shall be entitled to all the privileges and immunities of citizens in the several States.' [*fn24

[ 436 U.S. Page 672]

     "And, sir, every one of these -- the only provisions where it was deemed that legislation was required to enforce the constitutional provisions -- the only three where the rights or liabilities of persons in the States, as between these persons and the States, are directly provided for, Congress has by legislation affirmatively interfered to protect . . . such persons." Globe App. 69-70.

Of legislation mentioned by Shellabarger, the closest analog of the Sherman amendment, ironically, was the statute implementing the fugitives from justice and fugitive slave provisions of Art. IV -- the Act of Feb. 12, 1793, 1 Stat. 302 -- the constitutionality of which had been sustained in 1842, in Prigg v. Pennsylvania, 16 Pet. 539. There, Mr. Justice Story, writing for the Court, held that Art. IV gave slaveowners a federal right to the unhindered possession of their slaves in whatever State such slaves might be found. 16 Pet., at 612. Because state process for recovering runaway slaves might be inadequate or even hostile to the rights of the slaveowner, the right intended to be conferred could be negated if left to state implementation. Id., at 614. Thus, since the Constitution guaranteed the right and this in turn required a remedy, Story held it to be a "natural inference" that Congress had the power itself to ensure an appropriate (in the Necessary and Proper Clause sense) remedy for the right. Id., at 615.

Building on Prigg, Shellabarger argued that a remedy against municipalities and counties was an appropriate -- and hence constitutional -- method for ensuring the protection which the Fourteenth Amendment made every citizen's federal right.*fn25 This much was clear from the adoption of such statutes by the several States as devices for suppressing riot.*fn26 Thus, said Shellabarger, the only serious question remaining

[ 436 U.S. Page 673]

     was "whether, since a county is an integer or part of a State, the United States can impose upon it, as such, any obligations to keep the peace in obedience to United States laws."*fn27 This he answered affirmatively, citing Board of Comm'rs v. Aspinwall, 24 How. 376 (1861), the first of many cases*fn28 upholding the power of federal courts to enforce the Contract Clause against municipalities.*fn29

House opponents of the Sherman amendment -- whose views are particularly important since only the House voted down the amendment -- did not dispute Shellabarger's claim that the Fourteenth Amendment created a federal right to protection, see n. 21, supra, but they argued that the local units of government upon which the amendment fastened liability were not obligated to keep the peace at state law and further that the Federal Government could not constitutionally require local governments to create police forces, whether this requirement was levied directly, or indirectly by imposing damages for breach of the peace on municipalities. The most complete statement of this position is that of Representative Blair:*fn30

"The proposition known as the Sherman amendment

[ 436 U.S. Page 674]

     . . . is entirely new. It is altogether without a precedent in this country. . . . That amendment claims the power in the General Government to go into the States of this Union and lay such obligations as it may please upon the municipalities, which are the creations of the States alone. . . .

". . . [Here] it is proposed, not to carry into effect an obligation which rests upon the municipality, but to

[ 436 U.S. Page 675]

     create that obligation, and that is the provision I am unable to assent to. The parallel of the hundred does not in the least meet the case. The power that laid the obligation upon the hundred first put the duty upon the hundred that it should perform in that regard, and failing to meet the obligation which had been laid upon it, it was very proper that it should suffer damage for its neglect. . . .

". . . [There] are certain rights and duties that belong to the States, . . . there are certain powers that inhere in the State governments. They create these municipalities, they say what their powers shall be and what their obligations shall be. If the Government of the United States can step in and add to those obligations, may it not utterly destroy the municipality? If it can say that it shall be liable for damages occurring from a riot, . . . where [will] its power . . . stop and what obligations . . . might [it] not lay upon a municipality. . . .

"Now, only the other day, the Supreme Court . . . decided [in Collector v. Day, 11 Wall. 113 (1871)] that there is no power in the Government of the United States, under its authority to tax, to tax the salary of a State officer. Why? Simply because the power to tax involves the power to destroy, and it was not the intent to give the Government of the United States power to destroy the government of the States in any respect. It was held also in the case of Prigg vs. Pennsylvania [16 Pet. 539 (1842)] that it is not within the power of the Congress of the United States to lay duties upon a State officer; that we cannot command a State officer to do any duty whatever, as such; and I ask . . . the difference between that and commanding a municipality, which is equally the creature of the State, to perform a duty." Globe 795.

Any attempt to impute a unitary constitutional theory to opponents of the Sherman amendment is, of course, fraught

[ 436 U.S. Page 676]

     with difficulties, not the least of which is that most Members of Congress did not speak to the issue of the constitutionality of the amendment. Nonetheless, two considerations lead us to conclude that opponents of the Sherman amendment found it unconstitutional substantially because of the reasons stated by Representative Blair: First, Blair's analysis is precisely that of Poland, whose views were quoted as authoritative in Monroe, see supra, at 664, and that analysis was shared in large part by all House opponents who addressed the constitutionality of the Sherman amendment.*fn31 Second, Blair's exegesis of the reigning constitutional theory of his day, as we shall explain, was clearly supported by precedent -- albeit precedent that has not survived, see Ex parte Virginia, 100 U.S. 339, 347-348 (1880); Graves v. New York ex rel. O'Keefe, 306 U.S. 466, 486 (1939) -- and no other constitutional formula was advanced by participants in the House debates.

Collector v. Day, cited by Blair, was the clearest and, at the time of the debates, the most recent pronouncement of a doctrine of coordinate sovereignty that, as Blair stated, placed limits on even the enumerated powers of the National Government in favor of protecting state prerogatives. There, the Court held that the United States could not tax the income of Day, a Massachusetts state judge, because the independence of the States within their legitimate spheres would be imperiled if the instrumentalities through which States executed their powers were "subject to the control of another and distinct government." 11 Wall., at 127. Although the Court in Day apparently rested this holding in part on the proposition that the taxing "power acknowledges no limits but the will of the legislative body imposing the tax," id., at 125-126; cf. McCulloch v. Maryland, 4 Wheat. 316 (1819), the Court had in other cases limited other national powers in order to avoid interference with the States.*fn32

[ 436 U.S. Page 677]

     In Prigg v. Pennsylvania, for example, Mr. Justice Story, in addition to confirming a broad national power to legislate under the Fugitive Slave Clause, see supra, at 672, held that Congress could not "insist that states . . . provide means to carry into effect the duties of the national government." 16 Pet., at 615-616.*fn33 And Mr. Justice McLean agreed that, "[as] a general principle," it was true "that Congress had no power to impose duties on state officers, as provided in the [Act of Feb. 12, 1793]." Nonetheless he wondered whether Congress might not impose "positive" duties on state officers where a clause of the Constitution, like the Fugitive Slave Clause, seemed to require affirmative government assistance, rather than restraint of government, to secure federal rights. See id., at 664-665.

Had Mr. Justice McLean been correct in his suggestion that, where the Constitution envisioned affirmative government assistance, the States or their officers or instrumentalities could be required to provide it, there would have been little doubt that Congress could have insisted that municipalities afford by "positive" action the protection*fn34 owed individuals under § 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment whether or not municipalities were obligated by state law to keep the peace. However, any such argument, largely foreclosed by Prigg, was made

[ 436 U.S. Page 678]

     impossible by the Court's holding in Kentucky v. Dennison, 24 How. 66 (1861). There, the Court was asked to require Dennison, the Governor of Ohio, to hand over Lago, a fugitive from justice wanted in Kentucky, as required by § 1 of the Act of Feb. 12, 1793,*fn35 which implemented Art. IV, § 2, cl. 2, of the Constitution. Mr. Chief Justice Taney, writing for a unanimous Court, refused to enforce that section of the Act:

"[We] think it clear, that the Federal Government, under the Constitution, has no power to impose on a State officer, as such, any duty whatever, and compel him to perform it; for if it possessed this power, it might overload the officer with duties which would fill up all his time, and disable him from performing his obligations to the State, and might impose on him duties of a character incompatible with the rank and dignity to which he was elevated by the State." 24 How., at 107-108.

The rationale of Dennison -- that the Nation could not impose duties on state officers since that might impede States in their legitimate activities -- is obviously identical to that which animated the decision in Collector v. Day. See supra, at 676. And, as Blair indicated, municipalities as instrumentalities through which States executed their policies could be equally disabled from carrying out state policies if they were also obligated to carry out federally imposed duties. Although no one cited Dennison by name, the principle for which it

[ 436 U.S. Page 679]

     stands was well known to Members of Congress,*fn36 many of whom discussed Day*fn37 as well as a series of State Supreme Court cases*fn38 in the mid-1860's which had invalidated a federal tax on the process of state courts on the ground that the tax threatened the independence of a vital state function.*fn39 Thus, there was ample support for Blair's view that the Sherman amendment, by putting municipalities to the Hobson's choice of keeping the peace or paying civil damages, attempted to impose obligations on municipalities by indirection that could not be imposed directly, thereby threatening to "destroy the government of the States." Globe 795.

If municipal liability under § 1 of the Civil Rights Act of 1871 created a similar Hobson's choice, we might conclude, as Monroe did, that Congress could not have intended municipalities to be among the "persons" ...

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