Hafer v. Melo
Decided on Nov. 5, 1991; 502 US 21


I. ISSUES II. CASE SUMMARY III. AMICI CURIAE IV. DECISION V. WIN OR LOSS?
I. ISSUES:

A. Issues Discussed:  Civil Rights (Federal), Title 42 United States Code section 1983 - Civil action for deprivation of rights, 11th Amendment, 14th Amendment

 

B. Legal Question Presented: 

Can state officers be held personally liable for damages under 42 U.S.C. §1983 based upon actions taken in their official capacities?

II. CASE SUMMARY:

A. Background:

Barbara Hafer, Pennsylvania State Auditor General (1989-1997), discharged several state employees upon her election, claiming they had "bought" their employment prior to her administration. The employees sued Hafer for monetary damages. Federal District Court dimissed their claim, deciding that state officials "acting in their official capacities" are excluded from the class of "persons" subject to liability under section 1983 of Title 42 U.S.C.

The Pennsylvania Court of Appeals reversed the District Court's ruling. Stating that discharged employees sought damages from Hafer in her personal capacity, the Court of Appeals ruled that employees could maintain a 1983 individual-capacity suit against Hafer since she acted under the color of state law (the appearance of legal power to act while operating in violation of law).


The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari to address the question whether state officers may be held personally liable for damages under section 1983 based upon actions taken in their official capacities.
B. Counsel of Record:
ACLU Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Opposing Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
William Goldstein argued the cause for respondents. With him on the brief was Edward H. Rubenstone. Jerome R. Richter argued the cause for petitioner. With him on the brief was Goncer M. Krestal.
C. The Arguments:
ACLU Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Opposing Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Unavailable Unavailable
III. AMICI CURIAE:
ACLU Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Opposing Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Briefs of amici curiae urging affirmance were filed for the American Civil Liberties Union, et al., by Andrew J. Pincus, John A. Powell, and Steven R. Shapiro;

For the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations by Robert M. Weinberg, Walter Kamiat, and Laurence Gold;

And on behalf of Kenneth W. Fultz by Cletus P. Lyman; and Nancy Haberstroh by Stephen R. Kaplan.

An amicus curiae brief urging reversal was filed for the National Association of Counties, et al., by Richard Ruda.



IV. THE SUPREME COURT'S DECISION:

"State officers may be held personally liable for damages under 1983 based upon actions taken in their official capacities... State officials, sued in their individual capacities, are 'persons' within the meaning of 1983...

1983's authorization of suits to redress deprivations of civil rights by persons acting 'under color of' state law means that Hafer may be liable for discharging respondents precisely because of her authority as Auditor General...

1983 was enacted to enforce provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment against those who carry a badge of a State and represent it in some capacity… whether they act in accordance with their authority or misuse it.

The Eleventh Amendment does not bar 1983 personal-capacity suits against state officials in federal court...

Although imposing personal liability on state officers may hamper their performance of public duties, such concerns are properly addressed within the framework of this Court's personal immunity jurisprudence..."


Held: The Pensylvania Court of Appeal's judgment was affirmed.
Justice Vote: 8 Pro vs. 0 Con

  • O’Connor, S.  Pro (Wrote the majority opinion)
  • Rehnquist, W.  Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Stevens, J.  Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Scalia, A.  Pro (Joined majority opinion) Kennedy, A.  Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • White, B.  Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Blackmun, H.  Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Souter, D.  Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Thomas, C. Took no part in the decision-making process
 
V. A WIN OR LOSS FOR THE ACLU?

The ACLU filed as amicus urging affirmance; the Supreme Court affirmed the ruling in an 8-0 vote, giving the ACLU an apparent win.