Overview Edit

The Eleventh Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides that:

The Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State.

Historical background Edit

The Eleventh Amendment provides a state immunity from suit unless the state consents to be sued or Congress overrides the state's immunity.[1] While the actual text of the Amendment appears to be limited to preventing citizens from bringing diversity cases against states in federal courts, the U.S. Supreme Court has expanded the concept of state sovereign immunity to reach much further than the text of the amendment.

The Eleventh Amendment, the first amendment to the Constitution after the adoption of the Bill of Rights, was passed as a response to the case of Chisholm v. Georgia.[2] Immediately after the adoption of the Constitution, a number of citizens filed cases in federal court against states. One of these, Chisholm, was a diversity suit filed by two citizens of South Carolina against the State of Georgia to recover a Revolutionary War debt. In Chisholm, the Supreme Court noted that Article III of the Constitution specifically grants the federal courts diversity jurisdiction over suits “between a State and citizens of another State.”[3] Thus, the Court held that this grant of jurisdiction authorized the private citizen of one state to sue another state in federal court without that state’s consent.

The states were outraged that such a suit could be brought in federal court, protesting that the drafters of the Constitution had promised the states they would not be sued by their debtors in federal courts. Almost immediately after the decision of the Chisholm cases, resolutions were introduced in Congress to overturn it, the end result being the Eleventh Amendment. The amendment ensured that a citizen of one state could not sue another state in federal court — in other words, a citizen could not sue under federal diversity jurisdiction without a state’s permission.

However, even after the Eleventh Amendment was passed, a number of cases were filed against states by private citizens, with jurisdiction based on federal question rather than diversity. Under this reasoning, if a citizen of a state sued his or her own state in federal court, the prohibition of the Eleventh Amendment would not apply. Consequently, for a number of years after the passage of the Eleventh Amendment, this type of case was entertained by the federal courts. However, this line of cases was ended by the case of Hans v. Louisiana.[4]

In Hans v. Louisiana, the Court provided for an interpretation of the Eleventh Amendment that allowed the Court to move beyond the literal text of that amendment. Under the reasoning of the Court, the Eleventh Amendment was not so much an amendment to the original structure of the Constitution as it was an attempt to overturn a specific court decision that had misinterpreted this structure. According to this line of reasoning, the Eleventh Amendment was not an amendment, but a restoration of the original constitutional design.

Ultimately, the issue before the Court in Hans v. Louisiana and in subsequent cases was not the Eleventh Amendment, but the issue of state sovereign immunity. State sovereign immunity means that a state must consent to be sued in its own court system. This concept is based on early English law, which provided that the Crown could not be sued in English courts without its consent. The doctrine of sovereign immunity was in effect in the states that were in existence at the time of the drafting of the Constitution. Further, various writings by the founding fathers seemed to support the concept.[5] Thus, the issue before the Court in Hans was whether the grant of jurisdiction to federal courts under Article III of the Constitution had abrogated state sovereign immunity. The Hans Court found that Article III did not have this effect.

Constitutionality analysis Edit

In order to determine whether a state's immunity has been validly overridded by Congress, the court looks to two factors: (1) whether Congress expressed a clear intent to override the state's immunity, and (2) whether Congress acted pursuant to a constitutional grant of authority.[6]

Congress may not validly abrogate State immunity under Article I of the Constitution.[7] However, Congress does have the ability to abrogate state sovereign immunity under the enforcement clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.[8] Under §5 of the Fourteenth Amendment, Congress has the power of enforcement but not the power to deem an action a constitutional violation.

The Supreme Court outlined a test for determining whether an act constitutes a valid exercise of Congress's powers under §5 of the Fourteenth Amendment in City of Boerne v. Flores,[9] known as the "congruence and proportionality" test. The test was further clarified in Florida Prepaid. In order "to invoke §5, [Congress] must identify conduct transgressing the Fourteenth Amendment's substantive provisions, and it must tailor its legislative scheme to remedying or preventing such conduct."[10]

Intellectual property claims Edit

While under federal law states may sue for full remedial relief for the infringement if its intellectual property, under the Eleventh Amendment, a state that violates intellectual property rights may not be sued by the intellectual property owner unless the state consents.

Congress has attempted to abrogate the states’ sovereign immunity from patent, trademark, or copyright infringement lawsuits by passing laws in the early 1990s that explicitly required states to submit to suit in federal court for their intellectual property violations. However, federal courts have held these laws unconstitutional.[11]

Liability of government officials Edit

State sovereign immunity extends to government officials that are sued for damages in their official capacity.[12] An individual capacity suit against a government official is one that directly attaches that individual's assets and is one that will not lead to monetary liability of the state.[13] The deciding factor for ascertaining whether a suit is an official capacity suit or an individual capacity suit is not how the suit is labeled by the plaintiff, but rather the nature of the suit.[14] Where the suit is in fact against the individual, the individual is not automatically immune from suit by virtue of the fact that the act was undertaken in the course of his employment.[15] For example, the Fourth Circuit has held that a public relations director of a state university may be held liable for committing copyright infringement in the course of her employment.[16]

State law claims Edit

Eleventh Amendment immunity extends to claims brought against a state in federal court under supplemental jurisdiction.[17]

References Edit

  1. See Green v. Mansour, 474 U.S. 64, 68 (1985).
  2. 2 U.S. (Dall.) 419 (1793).
  3. U.S. Const., Art. III, §2.
  4. 134 U.S. 1 (1890).
  5. See Alden v. Maine, 527 U.S. 706, 2248 (1999).
  6. See Blatchford v. Native Village, 501 U.S. 775, 786 (1991); Seminole Tribe of Florida v. Florida, 517 U.S. 44, 55 (1996) (citations omitted).
  7. See id.
  8. See Fitzpatrick v. Bitzer, 427 U.S. 445, 456 (1976); Florida Prepaid v. College Savings Bank, 527 U.S. 627, 637 (1999).
  9. 521 U.S. 507 (1997).
  10. Florida Prepaid, 527 U.S. at 639.
  11. See College Savings v. Florida Prepaid, 527 U.S. 666 (1999) (invalidating the Trademark Remedy Clarification Act of 1992), Florida Prepaid v. College Savings, 527 U.S. 627 (1999) (invalidating the Patent and Plant Remedy Clarification Act of 1992), Rodriguez v. Texas Comm’n on the Arts, 199 F.3d 279 (5th Cir. 2000) and Chavez v. Arte Publico Press, 204 F.3d 601 (5th Cir. 2000) (invalidating the Copyright Remedy Clarification Act of 1990).
  12. Cary v. White, 457 U.S. 85 (1982); Edelman v. Jordan, 415 U.S. 651 (1974).
  13. Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 168 (1985).
  14. Larson v. Domestic & Foreign Commerce Corp., 337 U.S. 682, 714 (1948).
  15. Id.
  16. See Richard Anderson Photography v. Brown, 852 F.2d 114 (4th Cir. 1988).
  17. See Raygor v. Regents of the Univ. of Minn., 534 U.S. 533, 541 (2002).

See also Edit

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