Regents of University of California v. Doe

PETITIONER: Regents of University of California

DOCKET NO.: 95-1694
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 519 US 425 (1997)
ARGUED: Dec 02, 1996
DECIDED: Feb 19, 1997

Charles A. Miller - Argued the cause for the petitioners
Lisa Schiavo Blatt -
Lisa S. Blatt - On behalf of the United States, as amicus curiae, supporting the petitioners
Richard Gayer - Argued the cause for the respondents

Facts of the case

John Doe sued the University of California alleging that it had agreed to employ him at a laboratory it operated pursuant to a contract with the federal Department of Energy (DOE), and that it had wrongfully breached its agreement upon determining that he could not obtain a required security clearance. The university argued that it was immune from liability under the Eleventh Amendment. Mr. Doe asserted that the Eleventh Amendment did not apply to the case because any damages awarded would be paid by the DOE. The District Court held that the university was an arm of the state and therefore the Eleventh Amendment prohibited Mr. Doe from maintaining his breach-of-contract claim in federal court. The Court of Appeals reversed the decision citing the university's agreement with the DOE, under which the department was liable for any judgments rendered against the university, not the state.


Does the Eleventh Amendment shield state-run schools from being sued unwillingly in federal court even though any award of monetary damages would not come from the state?

Media for Regents of University of California v. Doe

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 02, 1996 in Regents of University of California v. Doe

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll hear argument next in Number 95-1694... the spectators are admonished not to talk until you get out of the courtroom.

The Court remains in session.

We'll hear argument next in Number 95-1694, Regents of the University of California v. John Doe.

Mr. Miller, you may proceed.

Charles A. Miller:

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

The issue presented for review in this case is whether the Eleventh Amendment immunity is lost if the State or a State entity has a claim for indemnification or reimbursement for any judgment entered against it.

Here, the potential indemnitor is the United States Department of Energy.

The issue arises in the context of a breach of contract action brought in Federal court on diversity grounds where the plaintiff is a citizen of New York and, thus, the issue does not implicate the question of the scope of the Eleventh Amendment that the Court has focused on in a number of cases, most recently in the Seminole Tribe case of last year, for even under the most narrow view of the scope of the amendment the question presented in this case would need to be addressed.

The Ninth Circuit court held that the university lost its immunity in this case because in this particular case it had a claim for indemnification against the United States Department of Energy.

The core error of the court below was its premise that in each case involving a State entity the court can consider, and parties can litigate, the question of the payment source that would be used to satisfy a judgment that might be entered in that particular case.

Nothing in the Court's Eleventh Amendment cases supports that view, and we believe it is inconsistent with the terms, the meaning, and the purpose of the Eleventh Amendment.

The core purpose of the Eleventh Amendment is to withhold jurisdiction from Federal courts and to withhold the exercise of Federal judicial power against a State in respect of that State's sovereignty.

Under the Ninth Circuit approach, Federal judicial power is potentially exercised against the State or its entity in virtually every case, or any case in which the plaintiff alleges that there is some payment source for the judgment that might be entered in the case that would satisfy the judgment and that would avoid payment of that judgment directly from the State treasury.

David H. Souter:

Mr. Miller, I want to make sure I understand one thing.

I take it that it's your position that this reference to a source of indemnity is simply irrelevant as a matter of law, that there is no circumstance in which that should be taken into consideration in order to determine the Eleventh Amendment status of some supposed arm of the Government.

Charles A. Miller:

Yes, Your Honor, with this one qualification.

We acknowledge that at some point any entity, not the State itself, may have to be subject to a determination as to whether it is a State entity--

David H. Souter:


Charles A. Miller:

--for Eleventh Amendment purposes, and it would be looked at with its overall character.

If in some case there were an agency of the State which was entirely supported by indemnification from an outside source like the Federal Government, in that hypothetical situation conceivably the factor of indemnification would be relevant.

David H. Souter:

Well, are you assuming in the hypothetical that you raise, are you assuming in that case that the State treasury or "State funds" could never be reached, and that the only funds that could be reached would be those of the third party nongovernmental indemnitor?

Charles A. Miller:

In fact, Your Honor, yes, and beyond that, that the entity was established on the premise--

David H. Souter:


Charles A. Miller:

--that its... the State funds would never be reached.

David H. Souter:

So that... in other words, that doesn't really qualify, I take it, your answer, because your answer is, on the assumption that State funds are reachable at least in theory, the existence of a third party indemnitor is irrelevant as a matter of law to the Eleventh Amendment determination.

Charles A. Miller:

Yes, Your Honor.

David H. Souter:


Charles A. Miller:

That's the position.

Whether it's an indemnification, insurance claim, a possible claim over or against a third party, a possible joint tortfeasor, anything of the sort.

None of those possibilities we say should be relevant, and yet the Ninth Circuit court decision would seem to make any one of those possibilities relevant to a determination in a particular case as to whether a State entity would be entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity.