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NGIRAINGAS ET AL. v. SANCHEZ ET AL.

SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES No. 88-1281 110 S. Ct. 1737, 495 U.S. 182, 109 L. Ed. 2d 163, 1990.SCT.42161 <http://www.versuslaw.com> decided: April 24, 1990. NGIRAINGAS ET ALv.SANCHEZ ET AL. CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT. Jeffrey R. Siegel argued the cause and filed a brief for petitioners. Patrick Mason, Deputy Attorney General of Guam, argued the cause for respondents. With him on the brief was Elizabeth Barrett-Anderson, Attorney General. James A. Feldman argued the cause for the United States as amicus curiae urging affirmance. On the brief were Solicitor General Starr, Assistant Attorney General Gerson, Deputy Solicitor General Shapiro, and Paul J. Larkin, Jr.*fn* Blackmun, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Rehnquist, C.j., and White, Stevens, and O'connor, JJ., joined, and in all but Part II-B of which Scalia, J., joined. Brennan, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Marshall, J., joined, post, p. 193. Kennedy, J., took no part in the consideration or decision of the case. Author: Blackmun


CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT.

Blackmun, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Rehnquist, C.j., and White, Stevens, and O'connor, JJ., joined, and in all but Part II-B of which Scalia, J., joined. Brennan, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Marshall, J., joined, post, p. 193. Kennedy, J., took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

Author: Blackmun

 JUSTICE BLACKMUN delivered the opinion of the Court.

In this case we must decide whether a Territory or an officer of the Territory acting in his or her official capacity is a "person" within the meaning of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (1982 ed.). I

Petitioners Alex Ngiraingas, Oscar Ongklungel, Jimmy Moses, Arthur Mechol, Jonas Ngeheed, and Bolandis Ngiraingas filed suit in the District Court of Guam, alleging numerous constitutional violations and seeking damages under § 1983.*fn1 The named defendants were the Government of Guam, the Guam Police Department, the Director of the Police Department in her official capacity, and various Guam police officers in their official and individual capacities.

Petitioners were arrested by Guam police on suspicion of having committed narcotics offenses. The complaint, as finally amended, alleged that petitioners were taken to police headquarters in Agana where officers assaulted them and forced them to write and sign statements confessing narcotics crimes.

The District Court dismissed the claims against the Government of Guam and the police department on the ground that Guam was immune from suit under the Organic Act of Guam, 64 Stat. 384, § 3, as amended, 48 U.S.C. § 1421a (1982 ed.), unless Congress or the Guam Legislature waived Guam's immunity. App. to Pet. for Cert. A-4 to A-6. The District Court also dismissed the action against the individual defendants in their official capacities, explaining that because a judgment against the individuals in their official capacities would affect the public treasury, the real party in interest was the Government of Guam. Ibid.

The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part. 858 F.2d 1368 (1988) (superseding the opinion at 849 F.2d 372). Analogizing the government to an administrative agency, the court ruled that Guam is "no more than" a federal instrumentality, and thus is not a person within the meaning of § 1983. 858 F.2d, at 1371-1372. "For the same reasons," the police department, also, is not a person under § 1983. Id., at 1372. Finally, the Court of Appeals ruled that Guam officials may not be sued in their official capacities under § 1983, because a judgment against those defendants in their official capacities would affect the public treasury and the suit essentially would be one against the government itself. Ibid.*fn2 Accordingly, the court affirmed the District Court's dismissal of the claims against the Government of Guam, the Guam Police Department, and the individual defendants in their official capacities.*fn3 Because of the importance of the question, and because at least one other Court of Appeals has advanced a different view as to whether a Territory is subject to liability under § 1983,*fn4 we granted certiorari 493 U.S. 807 (1989).

II

A

Guam, an island of a little more than 200 square miles located in the west central Pacific, became a United States possession at the conclusion of the Spanish-American War by the Treaty of Paris, Art. II, 30 Stat. 1755. Except for the period from December 1941 to July 1944, when Japan invaded and occupied the island, the United States Navy administered Guam's affairs from 1898 to 1950, when the Organic Act was passed.*fn5 Among other things, the Act provided for an elected governor and established Guam as an unincorporated Territory. 48 U.S.C. §§ 1421a and 1422 (1982 ed.). It was said at the time that this unincorporated status did not promise eventual statehood. See H.R. Rep. No. 1365, App. No. 3, 81st Cong., 1st Sess., 9 (1949). The United States continues to this day to have a military presence in Guam, with an Air Force base, a Navy communications base, air and weather stations, and a large complex that serves the Seventh Fleet.*fn6

To determine whether Guam constitutes a "person" within the meaning of § 1983, we examine the statute's language and purpose. The current version relates to "[e]very person who [acts] under color of any statute . . . of any State or Territory." The statute itself obviously affords no clue as to whether its word "person" includes a Territory. We seek, therefore, indicia of congressional intent at the time the statute was enacted. See District of Columbia v. Carter, 409 U.S. 418, 425 (1973) (analysis of purposes and scope of § 1983 must "take cognizance of the events and passions of the time at which it was enacted"). See also United States v. Price, 383 U.S. 787, 803 (1966).

B

Our review of § 1983's history uncovers no sign that Congress was thinking of Territories when it enacted the statute over a century ago in 1871. The historical background shows with stark clarity that Congress was concerned only with events "stateside." "Section 1983 was originally enacted as § 1 of the Civil Rights Act of 1871. The Act was enacted for the purpose of enforcing the provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment." Quern v. Jordan, 440 U.S. 332, 354 (1979) (BRENNAN, J., concurring in judgment); see also Carter, 409 U.S., at 423 ("[Section] 1983 has its roots in § 1 of the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871, Act of Apr. 20, 1871"). After the War Between the States, race relations in the Southern States were troubled. The Ku Klux Klan, organized by southern whites, commenced "a wave of murders and assaults . . . against both blacks and Union sympathizers." Id., at 425. Congress was worried "about the insecurity of life and property in the South," and designed § 1 of the Act "primarily in response to the unwillingness or inability of the state governments to enforce their own laws against those violating the civil rights of others." Id., at 425-426 (emphasis added).*fn7 "The debates are replete with references to the lawless conditions existing in the South in 1871. There was available to the Congress during these debates a report, nearly 600 pages in length, dealing with the activities of the Klan and the inability of the state governments to cope with it. This report was drawn on by many of the speakers" (footnote omitted). Monroe v. Pape, 365 U.S. 167, 174 (1961) (overruled in certain other respects by Monell v. New York City Dept. of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658 (1978)).

Because Congress was directly concerned with this unrest in the Southern States, it specifically focused on States in the legislation aimed at solving the problem. "As initially enacted, § 1 of the 1871 Act applied only to action under color of the law of any 'State.' 17 Stat. 13."*fn8 Carter, 409 U.S., at 424, n. 11. Persons acting under color of law of any Territory were not included. Viewed against "the events and passions of the time," id., at 425, it is evident that Congress was not concerned with Territories when it enacted the Civil Rights Act of 1871, but was concerned, instead, with the "hundreds of outrages committed . . . through the agency of this Ku Klux organization [that had not been] punished" in the Southern States. Cong. Globe, 42d Cong., 1st Sess., 505 (1871) (remarks of Sen. Pratt). As to Congress' failure to include persons acting under color of law of any Territory, "[w]e can only conclude ...


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