Law School Case Brief
Fla. Prepaid Postsecondary Educ. Expense Bd. v. Coll. Sav. Bank - 527 U.S. 627, 119 S. Ct. 2199 (1999)
To determine the merits of the proposition that Congress validly abrogated the states' sovereign immunity, the court must answer two questions: first, whether Congress has unequivocally expressed its intent to abrogate the immunity, and second, whether Congress has acted pursuant to a valid exercise of power.
Respondent bank marketed and sold certificates of deposit, which were essentially annuity contracts for financing future college expenses. Respondent obtained a patent for its financing methodology. Petitioner state board administered tuition prepayment contracts available to Florida residents and their children. Respondent claimed that petitioner infringed respondent's patent. Congress amended the patent laws and expressly abrogated the states' sovereign immunity from claims of patent infringement in the Patent Remedy Act, 35 U.S.C.S.§§ 271(h) and 296(a). Petitioner moved to dismiss on the ground of sovereign immunity and argued that the Act was an unconstitutional attempt by Congress to use its U.S. Const. art. I, powers to abrogate state sovereign immunity. The district court denied the motion to dismiss, and the court of appeals affirmed. Petitioner state board sought further review in the United States Supreme Court.
Did Congress abrogate state sovereign immunity in the Patent Remedy Act through Sec. 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution?
To determine whether the Act nonetheless validly abrogated that immunity, the Court must ask: first, whether Congress has "'unequivocally expressed its intent to abrogate,'" and second, whether Congress acted "'pursuant to a valid exercise of power.” Because of the lack of legislative support for Congress' conclusion, the Act's provisions are so out of proportion to the supposed remedy or preventive object that they cannot be understood as responsive to, or designed to prevent, unconstitutional behavior. Congress did not limit the Act's coverage to cases involving arguable constitutional violations or confine its reach by limiting the remedy to certain types of infringement. Instead Congress made all States immediately amenable to federal-court suits for all kinds of possible patent infringement and for an indefinite duration. The statute's appearance and more basic aims -- to present a uniform remedy for patent infringement and place States on the same footing as private parties under that regime -- are proper Article I concerns but that Article did not give Congress the power to enact such legislation after Seminole Tribe. The decision of the court below, which held that petitioner state board was not entitled to immunity from patent infringement claims, was reversed, and the matter was remanded for further proceedings. The Court held that the statute that abrogated state's immunity on infringement claims could not be sustained as legislation enacted to enforce the guarantees of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
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