Patsy v. Board of Regents of State of Florida

RESPONDENT: Board of Regents of State of Florida
LOCATION: Furnace Woods School

DOCKET NO.: 80-1874
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

CITATION: 457 US 496 (1982)
ARGUED: Mar 02, 1982
DECIDED: Jun 21, 1982

Charles S. Sims - on behalf of the Petitioner
Mitchell D. Franks - on behalf of the Respondents

Facts of the case


Media for Patsy v. Board of Regents of State of Florida

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 02, 1982 in Patsy v. Board of Regents of State of Florida

Warren E. Burger:

We will hear arguments next in the case of Patsy against Florida Board of Regents.

Mr. Sims, you may proceed whenever you are ready.

Charles S. Sims:

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

The issue in this case is whether plaintiffs in 1983 actions can generally be required to exhaust administrative remedies, despite this Court's consistent and repeated holdings that such exhaustion is not required, despite clear congressional recognition of and reliance on those holdings, and despite the absence of any historical basis to support a change in this Court's longstanding construction of Section 1983.

Unlike most cases that come before the Court, this case pronounced not a new issue, but an old, previously settled one and respondents have not come near to making the sort of showing required to justify a change in settled statutory construction.

The case is here more than three years after petitioner first filed a complaint in the Federal District Court in Florida under Section 1983 alleging unlawful employment discrimination in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th amendment.

The plaintiff has sought injunctive relief and damages.

There have been no proceedings on the merits and no discovery.

The district court granted defendant's motion to dismiss for failure to exhaust administrative remedies.

The Fifth Circuit initially reversed that decision, relying on this Court's cases, but the court of appeals reheard the case en banc and decided that 1983 plaintiffs would henceforward be required to exhaust administrative remedies under traditional exhaustion standards.

This Court's holdings to the contrary were distinguished.

The court remanded for a hearing as to the adequacy of the particular remedies available to this plaintiff, and she thereupon sort certiorari here, and either summary reversal in light of recent legislation of which the Fifth Circuit had apparently not been aware, or plenary consideration which this Court granted.

Mr. Sims, the three judges on the original panel all joined the majority on the rerun, didn't they?

Charles S. Sims:

I had not noticed that, Your Honor.

I think that the dissenting opinions in the court of appeals plainly set forth the basis on which they thought the question had been foreclosed before this Court in any--

But none of the originals... well, each of them switched sides.

I wondered if you had an explanation for it.

Charles S. Sims:

--I do not, Your Honor.

The rule against required exhaustion, which this Court has announced and adhered to as a matter of statutory construction, is, of course, not etched in stone.

Our submission is that in light of congressional action in 1871 and more recently, that it is written into law.

The question here is not one of policy.

Instead, it is what Congress has meant.

The imposition of an exhaustion requirement onto Section 1983 would be a revision of that statute, and statutory revision is a matter for Congress, not for the court.

I plan to address here the three principal reasons why exhaustion cannot be required under Section 1983.

First, because of this Court's cases in stare decisis.

Second, because of recent congressional action; and third, because it is violative of the intention of the 42nd Congress.

Of course, this Court's non-exhaustion precedents do not themselves prevent the court from changing its mind in deciding that it has misconstrued the statute.

But neither can they simply be ignored, as respondents have ignored them.

They form the background against which this case must be decided, and they impose a heavy burden of justification on those who would change the rule.

The Court has held in six cases, all either unanimous or eight to one, that exhaustion cannot be required under 1983 itself.