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Will v. Mich. Dep't of State Police

Supreme Court of the United States

December 5, 1988, Argued ; June 15, 1989, Decided

No. 87-1207


 [*60]   [***50]   [**2306]  JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.

 This case presents the question whether a State, or an official of the State while acting in his or her official capacity, is a "person"  [***51]  within the meaning of Rev. Stat. § 1979, 42 U. S. C. § 1983.

Petitioner Ray Will filed suit in Michigan Circuit Court alleging various violations of the United States and Michigan Constitutions as grounds for a claim under § 1983. 2 He alleged that he had been denied a promotion to a data systems analyst position with the Department of State Police for an improper reason, that is, because his brother had been a student activist and the subject of a "red squad"  [****6]  file maintained by respondent. Named as defendants were the Department of State Police and the Director of State Police in his official capacity, also a respondent here. 3

 [****7]  The Circuit Court remanded the case to the Michigan Civil Service Commission for a grievance hearing. While the grievance was pending, petitioner filed suit in the Michigan  [*61]  Court of Claims raising an essentially identical § 1983 claim. The Civil Service Commission ultimately found in petitioner's favor, ruling that respondents had refused to promote petitioner because of "partisan considerations." App. 46. On the basis of that finding, the state-court  [**2307]  judge, acting in both the Circuit Court and the Court of Claims cases, concluded that petitioner had established a violation of the United States Constitution. The judge held that the Circuit Court action was barred under state law but that the Claims Court action could go forward. The judge also ruled that respondents were persons for purposes of § 1983.

The Michigan Court of Appeals vacated the judgment against the Department of State Police, holding that a State is not a person under § 1983, but remanded the case for determination of the possible immunity of the Director of State Police from liability for damages. The Michigan Supreme Court granted discretionary review and affirmed the Court of Appeals [****8]  in part and reversed in part. Smith v. Department of Pub. Health, 428 Mich. 540, 410 N. W. 2d 749 (1987). The Supreme Court agreed that the State itself is not a person under § 1983, but held that a state official acting in his or her official capacity also is not such a person.

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491 U.S. 58 *; 109 S. Ct. 2304 **; 105 L. Ed. 2d 45 ***; 1989 U.S. LEXIS 2975 ****; 57 U.S.L.W. 4677; 49 Fair Empl. Prac. Cas. (BNA) 1664; 50 Empl. Prac. Dec. (CCH) P39,067



Disposition:  428 Mich. 540, 410 N. W. 2d 749, affirmed.


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Governments, Legislation, Interpretation, Civil Procedure, Federal & State Interrelationships, State Sovereign Immunity, State Immunity, Civil Rights Law, Protection of Rights, Section 1983 Actions, Scope, Immunity From Liability, State Consent & Waiver of Immunity, State & Territorial Governments, Claims By & Against, Elements, Color of State Law, State Agents