Atascadero State Hospital v. Scanlon

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Atascadero State Hospital v. Scanlon
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Argued March 25, 1985
Decided June 28, 1985
Full case name Atascadero State Hospital, et al. v. Douglas James Scanlon
Citations 473 U.S. 234 (more)
105 S. Ct. 3142; 87 L. Ed. 2d 171; 1985 U.S. LEXIS 89; 53 U.S.L.W. 4985; 38 Fair Empl. Prac. Cas. (BNA) 96; 38 Fair Empl. Prac. Cas. (BNA) 97; 37 Empl. Prac. Dec. (CCH) P35,329; 1 Am. Disabilities Cas. (BNA) 758
California's acceptance of funds and participation in programs funded under the Rehabilitation Act are insufficient to establish that it consented to suit in federal court.
Court membership
Case opinions
Majority Powell, joined by Burger, White, Rehnquist, O'Connor
Dissent Brennan, joined by Marshall, Blackmun, Stevens
Dissent Blackmun, joined by Brennan, Marshall, Stevens
Dissent Stevens

Atascadero State Hospital v. Scanlon, 473 U.S. 234 (1985), was a United States Supreme Court case regarding Congress' power to abrogate the sovereign immunity of the states.

Ordinarily, sovereign immunity prohibits the states from being sued. But there are exceptions. A state can waive its sovereign immunity, and in cases such as Fitzpatrick v. Bitzer, 427 U.S. 445 (1976), the supreme court had emphasized that Congress could abrogate state sovereign immunity pursuant to powers granted it by the civil war amendments. In cases such as Edelman v. Jordan, 415 U.S. 651 (1974), however, recognizing that "the Eleventh Amendment implicates the fundamental constitutional balance between the Federal Government and the States," Atascadero, at 238, the court had applied a clear statement rule to waiver. The court will only deem the state to have waived its immunity when the waiver is couched in "the most express language or by such overwhelming implication from the text as [will] leave no room for any other reasonable construction." Murray v. Wilson Distilling Co., 213 U.S. 151, 171 (1909).

In Atascadero, the court made the rule symmetrical: just as purported waiver requires a clear statement, so too a purported abrogation requires a clear statement. Reiterating its "reluctance to infer that a State's immunity from suit in the federal courts has been negated[,] stem[ming] from recognition of the vital role of the doctrine of sovereign immunity in our federal system," Pennhurst State School and Hospital v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 98 (1984) (Pennhurst II), and citing "[t]he fundamental nature of the interests implicated by the Eleventh Amendment," Atascadero, at 242, the court held "that Congress may abrogate the States' constitutionally secured immunity from suit in federal court only by making its intention unmistakably clear in the language of the statute." Id.

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