Not a Lexis Advance subscriber? Try it out for free.

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

Case Summary

Procedural Posture

Petitioner challenged a judgment from the Supreme Court of Michigan, which held that defendants, a state and a state official acting in his official capacity, were not persons subject to liability under 42 U.S.C.S. § 1983.


Petitioner filed suit against defendants, a state and a state official, under 42 U.S.C.S. § 1983 for denying petitioner a promotion in violation of the state and United States Constitutions. Under § 1983, "persons" who deprived others of their Constitutional rights were liable to the injured party. Affirming the lower court, the United States Supreme Court held that § 1983 was inapplicable to defendants because they were not "persons" within the meaning of the statute. Because the Court found that common usage of the word "person" did not include the state, the Court construed § 1983 as excluding the state from the definition of "person." Where there was a lack of evidence of a clear congressional intent to make states liable for unconstitutional state action, the Court found that sovereign immunity was applicable. Because the state official was being sued in his official capacity, the Court held that petitioner's suit against the state official was a suit against the office and, therefore, the official was not included within the § 1983 definition of person.


The Court affirmed the judgment of the lower court.

LexisNexis® Headnotes



Governments > Legislation > Interpretation

HN1  Legislation, Interpretation

The ordinary rule of statutory construction is that if Congress intends to alter the usual constitutional balance between the states and the federal government, it must make its intention to do so unmistakably clear in the language of the statute.


Civil Procedure > ... > Federal & State Interrelationships > State Sovereign Immunity > State Immunity

Civil Rights Law > Protection of Rights > Section 1983 Actions > Scope

Civil Rights Law > Protection of Rights > Immunity From Liability > State Consent & Waiver of Immunity

HN2  State Sovereign Immunity, State Immunity

42 U.S.C.S. § 1983 provides a federal forum to remedy many deprivations of civil liberties, but it does not provide a federal forum for litigants who seek a remedy against a state for alleged deprivations of civil liberties.


Governments > State & Territorial Governments > Claims By & Against

HN3  State & Territorial Governments, Claims By & Against

It is an established principle of jurisprudence that the sovereign cannot be sued in its own courts without its consent.

Access the full text caseNot a Lexis Advance subscriber? Try it out for free.

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.