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Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs.

Supreme Court of the United States

November 2, 1977, Argued ; June 6, 1978, Decided

No. 75-1914


 [*660]  [***616]  [**2020]    MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

Petitioners, a class of female employees of the Department of Social Services and of the Board of Education of the city of New York, commenced this action under  [***617]  42 U. S. C. § 1983 in July 1971.  [****7]  2 [****8]  The gravamen of the complaint was that the  [*661]  Board and the Department had as a matter of official policy compelled pregnant employees to take unpaid leaves of absence before such leaves were required for medical reasons. 3 Cf. Cleveland Board of Education v. LaFleur, 414 U.S. 632  [**2021]  (1974). The suit sought injunctive relief and backpay for periods of unlawful forced leave. Named as defendants in the action were the Department and its Commissioner, the Board and its Chancellor, and the city of New York and its Mayor. In each case, the individual defendants were sued solely in their official capacities. 4

On cross-motions for summary judgment, the District Court for the Southern District of New York held moot petitioners' claims for injunctive and declaratory relief since the city of New York and the Board, after the filing of the complaint,  [****9]  had changed their policies relating to maternity leaves so that no pregnant employee would have to take leave unless she was medically unable to continue to perform her job. 394 F.Supp. 853, 855 (1975). No one now challenges this conclusion.  [*662]  The court did conclude, however, that the acts complained of were unconstitutional under LaFleur, supra. 394 F.Supp., at 855. Nonetheless plaintiffs' prayers for backpay were denied because any such damages would come ultimately from the city of New York and, therefore, to hold otherwise would be to "[circumvent]" the immunity conferred on municipalities by Monroe v. Pape, 365 U.S. 167 (1961). See 394 F.Supp., at 855.

On appeal, petitioners renewed their arguments that the Board of Education 5 was not a "municipality" within the meaning of Monroe v. Pape, supra, and that, in any event, the District Court had erred in barring a damages award against the individual defendants.  The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit rejected both contentions. The court first held that the Board of Education was not a "person" under § 1983 [****10]   [***618]  because "it performs a vital governmental function . . . , and, significantly, while it has the right to determine how the funds appropriated to it shall be spent . . . , it has no final say in deciding what its appropriations shall be." 532 F.2d 259, 263 (1976). The individual defendants, however, were "persons" under § 1983, even when sued solely in their official capacities. 532 F.2d, at 264. Yet, because a damages award would "have to be paid by a city that was held not to be amenable to such an action in Monroe v. Pape," a damages action against officials sued in their official capacities could not proceed. Id., at 265.

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436 U.S. 658 *; 98 S. Ct. 2018 **; 56 L. Ed. 2d 611 ***; 1978 U.S. LEXIS 100 ****; 17 Fair Empl. Prac. Cas. (BNA) 873; 16 Empl. Prac. Dec. (CCH) P8345



Disposition:  532 F.2d 259, reversed.


municipalities, cases, municipal corporation, school board, civil rights, state law, local government, immunity, fourteenth amendment, suits, board of education, federal court, parties, damages, rights, state official, obligations, legislative history, purposes, bodies, color, of the Act, decisions, riot, stare decisis, courts, school district, entities, debates, deprivation

Civil Rights Law, Immunity From Liability, Local Officials, General Overview, Governments, Local Governments, Claims By & Against, Protection of Rights, Section 1983 Actions, Scope, Constitutional Law, Relations Among Governments, Privileges & Immunities, Federal Territory & New States, Congressional Duties & Powers, Reserved Powers, Business & Corporate Law, Corporate Formation, Corporate Existence, Powers & Purpose, Civil Procedure, Declaratory Judgments, State Declaratory Judgments, Employees & Officials, The Judiciary, Jurisdiction, Scope, Government Actions, Torts, Public Entity Liability, Liability, Respondeat Superior Distinguished, Courts, Judicial Precedent