Brandon v. Holt

LOCATION: We’ll Do Club

DOCKET NO.: 83-1622
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

CITATION: 469 US 464 (1985)
ARGUED: Nov 05, 1984
DECIDED: Jan 21, 1985

Eric Schnapper - on behalf of the petitioners
Henry I. Klein - on behalf of the respondents
Henry L. Klein - on behalf of the respondents

Facts of the case


Media for Brandon v. Holt

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 05, 1984 in Brandon v. Holt

Warren E. Burger:

We will hear arguments next in Brandon against Holt.

I think you may proceed when you are ready, Mr. Schnapper.

Eric Schnapper:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court, the question presented by this case is neither complex nor novel.

The issue, simply put, is whether a judgment against a public official in his official capacity runs against the official personally or against the entity for which the official works.

The District Court in this case found that the director of the police department in Memphis was liable in his official capacity.

The Court of Appeals concluded... I think this is maybe best cast as a construction of what such a judgment would mean... that a judgment against an official in his official capacity runs against the official personally, not against the entity of which he is an employee.

The question before the Court is whether the District Court erred in this regard.

William H. Rehnquist:

Well, something would depend, wouldn't it, Mr. Schnapper, on how the case was tried, the theory on which he was tried?

Eric Schnapper:

Well, I think there are... that would be a somewhat different question.

The first issue is, if we have a judgment against the official in his official capacity, assuming that judgment was correctly entered, who has to pay.

The second question, I think, encompassed within your own is, might such a judgment be improper because of the nature of the case and the way it was tried.

William H. Rehnquist:

Well, particularly when the case was tried before Monell was decided, or rather, the complaint was filed before Monell was decided, so you have a fairly ambiguous situation, it seems to me.

Eric Schnapper:

Well, I don't think we have an ambiguous situation as of the time the case went to trial or even as of 19 months before that.

As I indicated, 19 months before trial, we filed a memorandum in the District Court making crystal clear that we sought to impose liability on the defendant only in his official capacity, and noted that this Court's decision in Monell had held that an official capacity judgment ran against the entity.

William H. Rehnquist:

Why didn't you move to amend your complaint?

Eric Schnapper:

Well, on our reading of the federal rules, no such amendment was necessary.

The defendant was certainly on notice as to what we were trying to do and on whom the liability would be imposed.

There is nothing in the federal rules as they now stand that requires that notice be in the complaint.

William H. Rehnquist:

But ordinarily a prudent lawyer wanting a judgment against a city would be fairly certain to make sure the city was named defendant if the city were suable, I would think.

You wouldn't rely on a provision in the rules that you thought might justify an argument in the Supreme Court of the United States that perhaps the Court would rule for you on the point.

Eric Schnapper:

Well, Your Honor, the Supreme Court had decided the issue twice by 1979, both in our favor.

All the Courts of Appeals had concluded that Rule 25(d) means what it says on its face, that a judgment against an official in his official capacity is a judgment against the entity.

I don't disagree that we would have avoided a trip to Washington had we amended the complaint in that way, but in our view the trip should have been unnecessary, and the rules mean what they say.

Thurgood Marshall:

Mr. Schnapper, is this anything more than a lesson in pleading?

Eric Schnapper:

Well, I think it may more reasonably be cast as a lesson about--

Thurgood Marshall:

Because if so, we have more important things to do.

Eric Schnapper:

--Well, I think that the federal rules don't require the notice at issue to have been in any particular form as long as the defendants had actual notices to the entity against which the judgment would run, and they certainly had that.

Thurgood Marshall:

Who did?

The city?

Eric Schnapper:

The city.