Legal Memorandum: Sovereign Immunity and 1983 Claims

Issue: Under federal law as applied in Hawaii, does Sovereign Immunity as assured by the 11th Amendment, serve as a bar to claims for prospective injunctive or declaratory relief for 1983 claims?

Area of Law: Constitutional Law, Government Claims, Litigation & Procedure
Keywords: Sovereign immunity Eleventh Amendment; Prospective injunctive or declaratory relief; 1983 claims
Jurisdiction: Federal, Hawaii
Cited Cases: 886 F.2d 247; 928 F.2d 824; 852 F.2d 1158; 939 F.2d 702
Cited Statutes: Eleventh Amendment; § 1983
Date: 02/01/2001

The Eleventh Amendment is no bar to suits against state officials even in their official capacities where the relief sought, including declaratory or injunctive relief, is purely prospective in nature.  Chaloux v. Killeen, 886 F.2d 247, 252 (9th Cir. 1989); see Ex Parte Young, 209 U.S. 123, 155-56 (1908).  There is no question that pursuant to § 1983 a plaintiff may bring a claim for damages against a state official in his or her individual capacity involving conduct taken by the official wholly in his or her governmental or official capacity.  Price v. Hawaii, 939 F.2d 702, 706 (9th Cir. 1991); Price v. Akaka, 928 F.2d 824, 828 (9th Cir. 1990).  In such circumstances the Eleventh Amendment imposes no bar or defense to the claim because the action is against the official as an individual.  Akaka, 928 F.2d at 828.

Further, when the complaint does not expressly state that the plaintiffs are suing the officials in their individual capacities as well, the court may infer that suit is also against the defendants in their individual capacities because "the ‘basis of the claims asserted and nature of relief sought’ imply this must be so."  See id.; see also Central Reserve Life of N. Am. Ins. Co. v. Struve, 852 F.2d 1158, 1161 (9th Cir. 1988) (relying on these factors, rather than on the caption to determine the capacity in which defendant officials were sued).  Thus, to the extent […]

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