Law School Case Brief
Monell v. Dept. of Social Srvcs., - 436 U.S. 658, 98 S. Ct. 2018 (1978)
The Civil Rights Act of 1871, compels the conclusion that Congress did intend municipalities and other local government units to be included among those persons to whom 42 U.S.C.S. § 1983 (§ 1983) applies. Local governing bodies, therefore, can be sued directly under § 1983 for monetary, declaratory, or injunctive relief where the action that is alleged to be unconstitutional implements or executes a policy statement, ordinance, regulation, or decision officially adopted and promulgated by that body's officers. They may be sued for constitutional deprivations visited pursuant to governmental custom even though such a custom has not received formal approval through the body's official decision making channels.
Petitioners, female employees of the Department of Social Services and the Board of Education of the city of New York, brought this class action against the Department and its Commissioner, the Board and its Chancellor, and the city of New York and its Mayor under 42 U. S. C. § 1983, which provides that every "person" who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage of any State subjects, or "causes to be subjected," any person to the deprivation of any federally protected rights, privileges, or immunities shall be civilly liable to the injured party. In each case, the individual defendants were sued solely in their official capacities. The gravamen of the complaint was that the 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. The District Court found that petitioners' constitutional rights had been violated, but held that petitioners' claims for injunctive relief were mooted by a supervening change in the official maternity leave policy. That court further held that Monroe v. Pape, 365 U.S. 167, barred recovery of backpay from the Department, the Board, and the city. In addition, to avoid circumvention of the immunity conferred by Monroe, the District Court held that natural persons sued in their official capacities as officers of a local government also enjoy the immunity conferred on local governments by that decision. The Court of Appeals affirmed on a similar theory.
Are local governmental officials and/or local independent school boards considered 'persons' within the meaning of 42 U. S. C. § 1983 when equitable relief in the nature of back pay is sought against them in their official capacities?
History confirms that local governments were intended to be included among the "persons" to which § 1983 applies. Accordingly, Monroe v. Pape is overruled insofar as it holds that local governments are wholly immune from suit under § 1983. Thus, Local governing bodies (and local officials sued in their official capacities) can, therefore, be sued directly under § 1983 for monetary, declaratory, and injunctive relief in those situations where, as here, the action that is alleged to be unconstitutional implements or executes a policy statement, ordinance, regulation, or decision officially adopted or promulgated by those whose edicts or acts may fairly be said to represent official policy. In addition, local governments, like every other § 1983 "person," may be sued for constitutional deprivations visited pursuant to governmental "custom" even though such custom has not received formal approval through the government's official decisionmaking channels.
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