Howlett By and Through Howlett v. Rose

PETITIONER: Howlett By and Through Howlett
LOCATION: Doby’s Motel Court

DOCKET NO.: 89-5383
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1988-1990)
LOWER COURT: State appellate court

CITATION: 496 US 356 (1990)
ARGUED: Mar 20, 1990
DECIDED: Jun 11, 1990

Charles A. Rothfeld - on behalf of the Respondent
Gardner W. Beckett, Jr. - on behalf of the Petitioner

Facts of the case


Media for Howlett By and Through Howlett v. Rose

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 20, 1990 in Howlett By and Through Howlett v. Rose

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll hear argument first this morning in No. 88... pardon me, 89-5383, Mark Howlett v. Scott Rose.

Mr. Beckett.

Gardner W. Beckett, Jr.:

Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court:

Mark Howlett brought an action under Title 42, Section 1983, the Federal Civil Rights Act of 1873.

The defendants were the School Board of Pinellas County, Florida and designated officials of that school board.

The action charged two offenses: a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment of the due process clause and a violation of the Fourth Amendment.

The allegation with respect to the Fourth Amendment was that the assistant principal of the high school at which Mark Howlett was a student broke into his automobile while the automobile was lawfully parked on the school ground.

The second charge of... of violation of due process was that in the ensuing suspension, which he received for five days, the due process, as ordained by this Court, was not granted.

The Circuit Court of Pinellas County, Florida is a court of general jurisdiction in which this action was brought.

The Circuit Court of Pinellas County dismissed the action on two grounds.

The first ground was that the sovereign immunity of the state of Florida barred the action.

The second ground was that the administrative remedies had not been exhausted.

On appeal, the District Court of Appeals of the Second District of Florida affirmed on the first ground and did not reach the second ground, the first ground being that there was a want of jurisdiction because of the sovereign immunity of the school board.

Under Florida law, the school board is immune from suit.

The question presented, therefore, is whether or not the school board is immune under Federal law.

The Supreme Court of Florida, with one justice dissenting, denied review, and this Court granted certiorari.

The first question to be addressed is simply the fact that the broad ground on which the District Court of Appeal of Florida affirmed the dismissal is, as a matter of law, incorrect.

Namely, that whether or not jurisdiction exists when a state court exercises or attempts to exercise jurisdiction under 1983 is solely a matter of state law.

William H. Rehnquist:

Well, Mr. Beckett, would it be fair to say that another way of presenting... of phrasing the question is whether a state court has to entertain an action brought under Section 1983?

Gardner W. Beckett, Jr.:

No, Your Honor, we don't think that because we think there's an intermediate ground in which this Court has taken the position that where the suit brought on a Federal claim is a claim which is within a class of claims that the state customarily exercises jurisdiction over.

Then, even without addressing the question of whether the state would have to do it by direction of Congress, they would have to do it simply because it is within a class of claims which the state does entertain.

William H. Rehnquist:

So your... your position is that the state entertains claims just like this against the State of Florida, but it doesn't entertain a claim against... under Section 1983?

Gardner W. Beckett, Jr.:

Not against the State of Florida, Your Honor, because one of the distinctions to be made is that although the school board is immune from suit under Florida law, it is not immune from suit under the rulings of this Court under 1983.

William H. Rehnquist:

And so what are the other claims just like this that are so similar that Florida entertains that... that this should be entertained too?

Gardner W. Beckett, Jr.:

If Your Honor please, going back to Claflin against Houseman, an 1876 case in which Justice Bradley rendered the opinion of the Court, the claim there was based on a... an assignment in bankruptcy.

The state court refused to entertain it on the ground that the assignment in bankruptcy was solely a matter of Federal law.

In a rather elaborate opinion, Justice Bradley explained that because of the dual nature of our court system and the dual nature of the laws of this country, that it... the state court was required to entertain the action, an assignment in bankruptcy, because it routinely handled assignments in other matters.

In other words, the mere fact that it was an assignment from Federal law was not a reason to deny the claim.

William H. Rehnquist:

Well, then what are the kinds of claims that Florida courts routinely handle that would cover this sort of claim?

Gardner W. Beckett, Jr.:

Florida, Your Honor, has a general statute which abolishes or waives the statutory immunity of the state and its agencies in all tort claims except tort claims involving so-called discretion or discretionary acts.