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QUERN v. JORDAN

decided: March 5, 1979.

QUERN, DIRECTOR, DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC AID OF ILLINOIS
v.
JORDAN



CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SEVENTH CIRCUIT.

Rehnquist, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Burger, C. J., and Stewart, White, Blackmun, Powell, and Stevens, JJ., joined. Brennan, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in Parts I, II, and III of which Marshall, J., joined, post, p. 349. Marshall, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, post, p. 366.

Author: Rehnquist

[ 440 U.S. Page 333]

 MR. JUSTICE REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case is a sequel to Edelman v. Jordan, 415 U.S. 651 (1974), which we decided five Terms ago. In Edelman we held that retroactive welfare benefits awarded by a Federal District Court to plaintiffs, by reason of wrongful denial of benefits by state officials prior to the entry of the court's order determining the wrongfulness of their actions, violated the

[ 440 U.S. Page 334]

     Eleventh Amendment.*fn1 The issue now before us is whether that same federal court may, consistent with the Eleventh Amendment, order those state officials to send a mere explanatory notice to members of the plaintiff class advising them that there are state administrative procedures available by which they may receive a determination of whether they are entitled to past welfare benefits. We granted certiorari to resolve an apparent conflict between the decision of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in this case and that of the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Fanty v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Dept. of Public Welfare, 551 F.2d 2 (1977).*fn2 435 U.S. 904 (1978). We believe that the case as it now comes to us involves little, if any, unbroken ground in this area, and affirm the judgment of the Seventh Circuit.

Following our remand in Edelman, the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, upon motion of the plaintiff, ordered the state officials to send to each

[ 440 U.S. Page 335]

     member of the plaintiff class a notice informing the recipient: "[You] were denied public assistance to which you were entitled in the amount of $." Jordan v. Trainor, 405 F.Supp. 802, 809 (1975).*fn3 Enclosed with the required mailing was to be a "Notice of Appeal," which when signed and returned to the Illinois Department of Public Aid, requested a hearing on the denial of benefits. That notice stated: "The department illegally delayed in the processing of my AABD application, and, as a consequence, denied me benefits to which I was and am entitled." Id., at 810.

The Court of Appeals, en banc, found that this proposed form of notice would have been barred by the Eleventh Amendment, since it at least purported to decide that Illinois public funds should be used to satisfy the claims of plaintiff class members without the consent of the State by its appropriate officials. Jordan v. Trainor, 563 F.2d 873, 875 (1977).*fn4 The

[ 440 U.S. Page 336]

     court reversed the District Court's order for this reason, but stated that on remand the District Court could order the state officials to send a "mere explanatory notice to applicants advising them that there is a state administrative procedure available if they desire to have the state determine whether or not they may be eligible for past benefits. A simple returnable notice of appeal form could also be provided." Ibid. In the court's view, such a notice would not violate the distinction set forth in Edelman between prospective relief, which is permitted by the Eleventh Amendment, and retrospective relief, which is not:

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

Under the contemplated modified notice procedure, the court stated, members of the plaintiff class would be given no more than "they would have gathered by sitting in the courtroom or by reading and listening to news accounts had the case attracted any attention." Id., at 877-878.*fn5 Three judges dissented

[ 440 U.S. Page 337]

     on the ground that the majority's revised notice form was barred by the Eleventh Amendment.

In Edelman we reaffirmed the rule that had evolved in our earlier cases that a suit in federal court by private parties seeking to impose a liability which must be paid from public funds in the state treasury is barred by the Eleventh Amendment. 415 U.S., at 663; see Kennecott Copper Corp. v. State Tax Comm'n, 327 U.S. 573 (1946); Ford Motor Co. v. Department of Treasury, 323 U.S. 459 (1945); Great Northern Life Ins. Co. v. Read, 322 U.S. 47 (1944). We rejected the notion that simply because the lower court's grant of retroactive benefits had been styled "equitable restitution" it was permissible under the Eleventh Amendment. But we also pointed out that under the landmark decision in Ex parte Young, 209 U.S. 123 (1908), a federal court, consistent with the Eleventh Amendment, may enjoin state officials to conform their future conduct to the requirements of federal law, even though such an injunction may have an ancillary effect on the state treasury. 415 U.S., at 667-668; see Milliken v. Bradley, 433 U.S. 267, 289 (1977); Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 237 (1974). The distinction between that relief permissible under the doctrine of Ex parte Young and that found barred in Edelman was the difference between prospective relief on one hand and retrospective relief on the other.*fn6

[ 440 U.S. Page 338]

     Petitioner state official devotes a significant part of his brief to an attack on the proposed notice which the District Court required the state officials to send. It is, however, the decision of the Court of Appeals, and not that of the District Court, which we review at the behest of petitioner. And just as petitioner insists on tilting at windmills by attacking the District Court's decision, respondent suggests that our decision in Edelman has been eviscerated by later decisions such as Monell v. New York City Dept. of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658 (1978). Brief for Respondent 55 n. 37. See also Aldridge v. Turlington, No. TCA-78-830 (ND Fla., Nov. 17, 1978); but see Skehan v. Board of Trustees of Bloomsburg State College, 590 F.2d 470 (CA3 1978). As we have noted above, we held in Edelman that in "a [42 U. S. C.] § 1983 action . . . 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." 415 U.S., at 677. We disagree with respondent's suggestion. This Court's holding in Monell was "limited to local government units which are not considered part of the State for Eleventh Amendment purposes," 436 U.S., at 690 n. 54, and our Eleventh Amendment decisions subsequent to Edelman and to Monell have cast no doubt on our holding in Edelman. See Alabama v. Pugh, 438 U.S. 781 (1978);

[ 440 U.S. Page 339]

     the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments similar to that made in Hutto. The Court said:

"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)." 438 U.S., at 782.*fn9

The decision in Pugh was consistent both with Monell, which was limited to "local government units," 436 U.S., at 690 n. 54, and with Fitzpatrick v. Bitzer, supra. In the latter case we found that "'threshold fact of congressional authorization,'" which had been lacking in Edelman, to be present in the express language of the congressional amendment making Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 applicable to state and local governments. 427 U.S., at 452, quoting Edelman v. Jordan, 415 U.S., at 672.

MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN in his opinion concurring in the judgment argues that our holding in Edelman that § 1983 does not abrogate the States' Eleventh Amendment immunity is "most likely incorrect." Post, at 354. To reach this conclusion

[ 440 U.S. Page 341]

     he relies on "[assumptions]" drawn from the Fourteenth Amendment, post, at 355, on "occasional remarks" found in a legislative history that contains little debate on § 1 of the Civil Rights Act of 1871, 17 Stat. 13, the precursor to § 1983, post, at 358 n. 15,*fn10 on the reference to "bodies politic" in the Act of Feb. 25, 1871, 16 Stat. 431, the "Dictionary Act," post, at 355-357,*fn11 and, finally on the general language of § 1983 itself, post, at 356. But, unlike our Brother BRENNAN, we simply are unwilling to believe, on the basis of such slender "evidence," that Congress intended by the general language of § 1983 to override the traditional sovereign immunity of the States. We therefore conclude that neither the reasoning of Monell or of our Eleventh Amendment cases subsequent to Edelman, nor the additional legislative history or arguments set forth in MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN's opinion, justify a conclusion different from that which we reached in Edelman.*fn12

[ 440 U.S. Page 342]

     There is no question that both the supporters and opponents of the Civil Rights Act of 1871 believed that the Act ceded to the Federal Government many important powers that previously had been considered to be within the exclusive province of the individual States.*fn13 Many of the remarks from the legislative history of the Act quoted in MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN's opinion amply demonstrate this point. Post, at 359-365. See also Monroe v. Pape, 365 U.S. 167, 173-176 (1961). But neither logic, the circumstances surrounding the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment, nor the legislative history of the 1871 Act compels, or even warrants, a leap from this proposition to the conclusion that Congress intended by the general language of the Act to overturn the constitutionally guaranteed immunity of the several States.*fn14 In Tenney v. Brandhove, 341 U.S. 367 (1951), the Court rejected a similar

[ 440 U.S. Page 343]

     attempt to interpret the word "person" in § 1983 as a withdrawal of the historic immunity of state legislators. The Court's words bear repeating here:

"Did Congress by the general language of its 1871 statute mean to overturn the tradition of legislative freedom achieved in England by Civil War and carefully preserved in the formation of State and National Governments here? Did it mean to subject legislators to civil liability for acts done within the sphere of legislative activity? . . . The limits of §§ 1 and 2 of the 1871 statute -- now §§ 43 and 47 (3) of Title 8 -- were not spelled out in debate. We cannot believe that Congress -- itself a staunch advocate of legislative freedom -- would impinge on a tradition so well grounded in history and reason by covert inclusion in the general language before us." 341 U.S., at 376.

Given the importance of the States' traditional sovereign immunity, if in fact the Members of the 42d Congress believed that § 1 of the 1871 Act overrode that immunity, surely there would have been lengthy debate on this point and it would have been paraded out by the opponents of the Act along with the other evils that they thought would result from the Act. Instead, § 1 passed with only limited debate and not one Member of Congress mentioned the Eleventh Amendment or the direct financial consequences to the States of enacting § 1. We can only conclude that this silence on the matter is itself a significant indication of the legislative intent of § 1.

Our cases consistently have required a clearer showing of congressional purpose to abrogate Eleventh Amendment immunity than our Brother BRENNAN is able to marshal. In Employees v. Missouri Public Health Dept., 411 U.S. 279 (1973), the Court concluded that Congress did not lift the sovereign immunity of the States by ...


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