Atascadero State Hospital v. Scanlon

PETITIONER: Atascadero State Hospital
RESPONDENT: Douglas James Scanlon
LOCATION: United States Courthouse

DOCKET NO.: 84-351
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 473 US 234 (1985)
DECIDED: Jun 28, 1985
ARGUED: Mar 25, 1985

James E. Ryan - on behalf of the petitioners
Marilyn Holle - on behalf of the respondent

Facts of the case


Media for Atascadero State Hospital v. Scanlon

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 25, 1985 in Atascadero State Hospital v. Scanlon

Warren E. Burger:

We will hear arguments next this morning in Atascadero State Hospital and California Department of Mental Health against Scanlon.

Mr. Ryan, I think you may proceed now whenever you are ready.

James E. Ryan:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court, this case comes here on a petition by state defendants for writ of certiorari to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

It is our position that that court was in error when it held that the doctrine of sovereign immunity as embodied in the Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution did not constitute a bar to the federal court civil action that was commenced by respondent in this case.

Central to the Ninth Circuit's decision were its findings on two points, first, that the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 constituted an effective abrogation of state's immunity under that Act, and secondly, that by the receipt of federal funds these state defendants impliedly consented to that claimed abrogation.

We submit that had the court below applied the settled sovereign immunity doctrine under the precedence of this Court it could not have reached the conclusions that it did.

We ask nothing more in this case than that those settled principles and precedents be applied today.

The guarantee of sovereign immunity, simply stated, is this, that no state may be sued in federal court without consent given.

In the final analysis, when one reviews the decisions of this Court in the Eleventh Amendment area, it is the search for consent that marks the Court's decisions.

As with any guarantee or privilege under the Constitution, this Court has stated repeatedly that a waiver will not be found absent the clearest of circumstances.

In the context of the Eleventh Amendment, it has been the rule since at least 1908 in the Murray versus Wilson Distilling Company case that a waiver of sovereign immunity will not be found absent express language or overwhelming implication from the text as will leave no reasonable construction otherwise.

This clear statement or clear language rule, bred no controversy, nor even invited the attention of this Court until there began to emerge the concept that in lieu of express words, a waiver or consent could be found on the basis of state conduct.

Recognition of this doctrine was first articulated in the Hardin case.

But a recognition of consent by conduct did not dispense with the requirement that express language be present.

Rather, the implied waiver doctrine simply represented a shift as to where that express language must be found.

Thus in the implied waiver case of Employees versus Missouri Department of Health, this Court stated that the express language found in that case must show that Congress had considered and explicitly determined to sweep away the immunity of the states from suit in federal court.

That is not to suggest, though, that the concept or the requirement of express language found its genesis in the Employees case.

As I have mentioned, as to any constitutional waiver or privilege, as to any constitutional guarantee or privilege, it has always been the rule that express language must be found.

The only distinction to be made at this point is that in express waiver cases, this Court will look to the express language on the state side and in implied waiver cases this Court will look for the express language on the Congressional side.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Mr. Ryan, I suppose you would concede, however, that a plaintiff in the circumstances of this case could nevertheless seek an injunction against the state asking for an order that the physician be given--

James E. Ryan:

In federal court, Your Honor?


I think it is clear under--

Sandra Day O'Connor:

--You think not under Ex Parte Young?

James E. Ryan:

--If the plaintiff in this case had sued an official, that issue would have been raised.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

But no officials were named here.

James E. Ryan:

No officials were named in this case, but as to naming a state agency itself--

Sandra Day O'Connor:

If officials had been named, and injunctive relief sought, you would agree the suit could have proceeded in federal court?

James E. Ryan:

--Under the common understanding of the rules pertaining to Ex Parte Young at that time.

Yes, Your Honor.