United States v. Georgia

PETITIONER:United States
RESPONDENT:Georgia et al.
LOCATION:Board of Immigration Appeals

DOCKET NO.: 04-1203
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2005-2006)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

CITATION: 546 US 151 (2006)
GRANTED: May 16, 2005
ARGUED: Nov 09, 2005
DECIDED: Jan 10, 2006

Gregory Andrew Castanias – argued the cause for Respondents
Gregory A. Castanias – argued the cause for Respondents
Gene C. Schaerr – argued the cause for Respondents
Paul D. Clement – argued the cause for Petitioner in No. 04-1203
Samuel R. Bagenstos – argued the cause for Petitioner in No. 04-1236

Facts of the case

Goodman, a paraplegic held in a Georgia state prison, sued Georgia in federal court for maintaining prison conditions that allegedly discriminated against disabled people and violated Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Georgia claimed the 11th Amendment provided the state immunity from such suits. The district court ruled for Georgia, but the 11th Circuit reversed.

Before the 11th Circuit ruled in the case, the United States sued Georgia, arguing that the ADA’s Title II abolished state sovereign immunity from monetary suits. Congress could do this, the U.S. argued, by exercising its 14th Amendment power to enforce equal protection.


Did Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 validly abrogate state sovereign immunity for suits by prisoners with disabilities challenging discrimination by state prisons? Was Title II a proper exercise of Congress’s power under Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment, as applied to the administration of prison systems?

Media for United States v. Georgia

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – November 09, 2005 in United States v. Georgia

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – January 10, 2006 in United States v. Georgia

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

Justice Scalia has the opinion in No. 04-1203, United States versus Georgia, and 04-1236, Goodman versus Georgia.

Antonin Scalia:

These cases are here on writs of certiorari to United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit.

The petitioner in No. 04-1236, Tony Goodman, is a paraplegic inmate of the Georgia prison system.

He filed a pro se complaint in the District Court against the State, challenging the conditions of his confinement.

He alleged that the prison system did not take account of his disability in ways that made the conditions of his confinement quite cruel.

He brought claims seeking money damages under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act and under the Eighth Amendment, Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause.

The District Court dismissed his Eighth Amendment claims as defectively plead and granted summary judgment to the state on his Title II claims for money damages on the ground that these claims were barred by state sovereign immunity.

Goodman appealed to the Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit.

And the United States, the petitioner in the second case here, 04-1203, intervened on appeal to defend the constitutionality of Title II’s abrogation of state sovereign immunity.

The 11th Circuit affirmed the District Court’s judgment as to Goodman’s Title II claims for money damages, holding them barred by sovereign immunity; but it reversed the District Court’s dismissal of his Eighth Amendment claims.

It held that Goodman had successfully alleged a limited number of Eighth Amendment violations and instructed the District Court on remand to permit Goodman to amend his complaint.

We granted certiorari to consider whether Title II of the ADA validly abrogates state sovereign immunity with respect to Goodman’s claims.

We now reverse the 11th Circuit on this point.

Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment gives Congress the power to, “enforce”, the guarantees set forth in the earlier sections of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Whatever the extent of Congress’s prophylactic enforcement powers under Section 5 — that is, its power to forbid some actions by the states that are not in themselves violations of the Fourteenth Amendment — Section 5 indisputably grants Congress the power to create remedies against the states for actual violations of the Fourteenth Amendment.

This enforcement power includes, of course, the power to abrogate state sovereign immunity by authorizing private suits for money damages.

Because it is not challenged on this appeal, we assume without deciding that the 11th Circuit’s treatment of Goodman’s Eighth Amendment claims was correct.

In addition, because it is not disputed here, we assume without deciding that the same alleged conduct that violated the Eighth Amendment also violated Title II of the ADA.

Therefore, Goodman’s claims for money damages against the state under Title II were evidently based, at least in large part, on conduct that independently violated Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment.

We hold that Title II’s abrogation sovereign immunity as to such claims is indisputably valid.

From the many allegations in Goodman’s pro se filings, it is not clear precisely what conduct he intended to allege in support of his Title II claims.

It is also unclear to what extent such conduct also violated the Fourteenth Amendment.

Once Goodman’s complaint is amended on remand, the lower courts will be best situated to determine, in the first instance, which aspects of the state’s alleged conduct violated Title II, to what extent such misconduct also violated the Fourteenth Amendment and, insofar as such misconduct violated Title II, but did not violate the Fourteenth Amendment, whether Congress’s purported abrogation of sovereign immunity as to that class of conduct is nevertheless valid.

The judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

The Court’s decision is unanimous; Justice Stevens has filed a concurring opinion, in which Justice Ginsburg has joined.