Memphis Community School District v. Stachura

PETITIONER: Memphis Community School District
LOCATION: Hardwick's Apartment

DOCKET NO.: 85-410
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

CITATION: 477 US 299 (1986)
ARGUED: Apr 02, 1986
DECIDED: Jun 25, 1986

Jeffrey A. Heldt - on behalf of the Respondent
Patrick J. Berardo - on behalf of the Petitioners

Facts of the case


Media for Memphis Community School District v. Stachura

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 02, 1986 in Memphis Community School District v. Stachura

Warren E. Burger:

Mr. Berardo, I think you may proceed whenever you are ready.

Patrick J. Berardo:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

We urge the Court in this case to affirm the rule of Carey versus Piphus.

In every 1983 case, except where nominal damages are awarded, litigants be required to prove their actual damages; that is to say there are no presumed or per se damages in the absence of proofs.

The trial court and the Sixth Circuit seem to indicate in their opinions concerning this case, that Carey would permit... Excuse me, that Carey applies only in the case of denial of procedural due process, that it doesn't apply where substantive due process may have been involved.

We think that there is no reason for that distinction.

John Paul Stevens:

May I ask, counsel, because you started out with Carey v. Piphus, is it your position that damages, intangible damages, emotional distress and mental damages, are recoverable or not?

Patrick J. Berardo:

Justice Stevens, we think that emotional distress damages are recoverable as an element of actual damages in any 1983 case for any constitutional deprivation.

John Paul Stevens:

Including this one?

Patrick J. Berardo:

Including this one.

John Paul Stevens:

Oh, I misread your brief.

And, including a case like Carey against Piphus?

Patrick J. Berardo:

Including a case like Carey against Piphus--

Byron R. White:

If the denial--

Patrick J. Berardo:

--If proofs had been made that the actions taken in that case had caused the litigants emotional distress.

1983 and we think Carey allow the Court to instruct the jury that actual damages may be awarded and that if actual damages are found that punitive damages may also be awarded.

Likewise, if there are no actual damages and a jury finds that nominal damages may be awarded to a litigant in a 1983 action, then punitive damages may also be awarded.

In addition, of course, a matter that is not before a jury, attorney's fees may be available to the litigant under Section 1988.

William H. Rehnquist:

--Mr. Berardo, did you say that punitive damages would be available in a case like this against the School District?

Patrick J. Berardo:

Justice Rehnquist, our position throughout, and I think the instructions of the court in this case, were that punitive damages could not be awarded against the School District.

William H. Rehnquist:

Because of the City of Newport?

Patrick J. Berardo:

Because of the City of Newport.

However, it is our position that the instructions given, which was the basis for this Court's grant of certiorari, in effect allows the jury to award a punitive award against the School District in violation of Carey, Newport, and other precedents.

Byron R. White:

Say that again.

Our action does what?

Patrick J. Berardo:

The instruction involved here allowed the jury to consider the intrinsic value of the constitutional rights that were defied.

Your Honor, my next point in my argument was to get to the sequence of the instructions.

Byron R. White:

You go ahead.

You do it your way.

Patrick J. Berardo:

And that will explain your question.