A county is not a person for the purpose of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Where there are no valid federal claims against a party, a federal court cannot exercise pendent jurisdiction over the related state claims.
An employee was terminated from her employment with a county. The employee filed an action asserting state and federal claims against the employer. The state-law claim rested on state statutes that waived the employer's sovereign immunity and provided for vicarious liability for the tortious conduct of its officials. The lower courts dismissed her 42 U.S.C.S. § 1983 claim because the county was not a person for the purpose of 28 U.S.C.S. § 1343, and dismissed the state claims for lack of jurisdiction. The United States Supreme Court heard her appeal.
Was the county subject to a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and dd the federal courts have jurisdiction over plaintiff’s claim?
A fair reading of the language used in § 1343(3), together with the scope of § 1983, under which counties are excluded from the "person[s]" answerable to the plaintiff in an action at law [or] suit in equity to redress the enumerated deprivations, requires a holding that the joinder of a municipal corporation such as a county for purposes of asserting a state-law claim not within federal jurisdiction, is without the District Court's statutory jurisdiction. While with respect to litigation where non-federal questions or claims were bound up with the federal claim upon which the parties were already in federal court, there is nothing in Art. III's grant of judicial power that prevents adjudication of the non-federal portions of the parties' dispute, it is quite another thing to permit a non-federal claim in turn to be the basis for joining a party over whom no independent federal jurisdiction exists, simply because that claim derives from the common nucleus of operative fact, giving rise to the dispute between the parties to the federal claim.