Nevada v. Hall

LOCATION:Collision between Mr. Montrym’s car and motorcycle

DOCKET NO.: 77-1337
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: State appellate court

CITATION: 440 US 410 (1979)
ARGUED: Nov 07, 1978
DECIDED: Mar 05, 1979

Everett Rowe
Michael Dyer

Facts of the case


Media for Nevada v. Hall

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – November 07, 1978 in Nevada v. Hall

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – March 05, 1979 in Nevada v. Hall

John Paul Stevens:

The second case, 77-1337, comes to us from the California state courts and presents us with a fundamental question of sovereign immunity that has not previously been decided or even considered by any federal court.

That question is whether a California state court can assert jurisdiction over the sovereign State of Nevada when Nevada refuses to waive its sovereign immunity.

The case arises out of an automobile collision on a California highway.

The respondents, who are California residents, were severely injured as a result of the negligence of an agent of the State of Nevada.

They brought suit in the California courts and obtained a judgment of $1,150,000 against Nevada.

Nevada claims that it is either entirely immune from suit in the courts of the sister state or at the very least that the recovery should be limited to $25,000, which is the maximum amount that could be recovered if Nevada had been sued in its own courts.

In an opinion filed with the clerk today, we point out that the doctrine of sovereign immunity actually encompasses two quite different concepts. One applicable to suits in the sovereign’s own courts and the other to suits in the court’s of another sovereign.

With respect to the former, only the sovereign’s consent can qualify the absolute character of its immunity.

But with respect to the latter, as Chief Justice Marshall explained in a case decided in 1812 involving an attempt to assert jurisdiction over the Emperor of France, immunity is a matter of committee determined by the laws of the sovereign in whose courts the claim is asserted.

Although it has been the prevailing practice throughout our history for sovereigns to accord one another immunity as a matter of committee, California has now decided to adopt the different policy in its courts.

We find nothing in the Federal Constitution that prevents California from making this determination as a matter of state law, nor do we find any constitutional basis for Nevada’s claim that it is either immune from suit in the California courts or that California must respect the limitation on liability that would apply if Nevada had been sued in its own courts.

Accordingly, we reject Nevada’s claim and we affirm the judgment of the California Court of Appeals.

Mr. Justice Blackmun and Mr. Justice Rehnquist have filed scholarly dissenting opinions in which the Chief Justice has joined.

Warren E. Burger:

Thank you, Mr. Justice Stevens.