Wisconsin Department of Corrections v. Schacht

PETITIONER: Wisconsin Department of Corrections
RESPONDENT: Schacht
LOCATION: The White House

DOCKET NO.: 97-461
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

CITATION: 524 US 381 (1998)
ARGUED: Apr 20, 1998
DECIDED: Jun 22, 1998

ADVOCATES:
David E. Lasker - Argued the cause for the respondent
Richard B. Moriaty - for petitioners
Richard Briles Moriarty - Argued the cause for the petitioners

Facts of the case

In 1996, Keith Schacht filed a state-court suit against the Wisconsin Department of Corrections and several of its employees (defendants), in their "personal" and in their "official" capacity, alleging that his dismissal violated the Federal Constitution and federal civil rights laws. After removing the case to federal court, the defendants asserted that the Eleventh Amendment doctrine of sovereign immunity barred the claims against the Department and its employees in their official capacity. The District Court granted the individual defendants summary judgment on the "personal capacity" claims and dismissed the claims against the Department and the individual defendants in their "official capacity." On appeal, the Court of Appeals concluded that the removal had been improper because the presence of even one claim subject to an Eleventh Amendment bar deprives the federal courts of removal jurisdiction over the entire case.

Question

May a State and its actors as defendants in a state-court suit, with claims arising under federal law, remove the case to federal court when some claims are subject to the Eleventh Amendment doctrine of sovereign immunity?

Media for Wisconsin Department of Corrections v. Schacht

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 20, 1998 in Wisconsin Department of Corrections v. Schacht

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll hear argument next in Number 97-461, Wisconsin Department of Corrections v. Schacht.

Mr. Moriarty.

Richard Briles Moriarty:

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

In this action substantial Federal questions were presented by the individual capacity claims respondent chose to make against Warden Catherine Farrey and the other Wisconsin employees who are defendants in this action.

He sued them personally under a Federal statute, section 1983, alleging violations of the Federal constitution.

Substantial Federal questions were presented.

Had this action proceeded in district court on an initial complaint, the district court would unquestionably have had original jurisdiction because substantial Federal questions were presented.

The potential, had this commenced in district court, the potential that those claims could have been barred by a sovereign immunity defense or any of those claims could have been barred by a sovereign immunity defense would not have affected original jurisdiction of the court.

This case instead was removed.

It arrived by removal rather than an initial complaint.

The analysis--

Sandra Day O'Connor:

It was removed, in effect, by the State.

Richard Briles Moriarty:

--It was removed by the State and the employees of the State sued both personally and officially.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Right.

Now, if you're right that the official capacity claims and the claims against the State involve defendants who aren't persons under section 1983, why didn't the State just waive its Eleventh Amendment immunity?

I mean, you're perfectly safe.

Claims weren't going to go forward under 1983.

Did the State consider waiving the Eleventh Amendment immunity?

Richard Briles Moriarty:

Your Honor, there are--

Sandra Day O'Connor:

I mean, if you're right, I just don't see why the State didn't do it.

I don't... it doesn't make sense to me.

Richard Briles Moriarty:

--We return back to the decision on whether to remove.

The claims as to which sovereign immunity applied were really irrelevant because, whether this case was prosecuted in Federal court or State court, they would have been barred.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Well, would you answer my question?

Richard Briles Moriarty:

I'm--

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Did the State waive its immunity?

Richard Briles Moriarty:

--It did not waive its immunity.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

But your position is those claims against... the official capacity claims and the claims against the State cannot proceed under 1983 because the State isn't a person.

Richard Briles Moriarty:

That's correct.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Okay.