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Lapides v. Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia

May 13, 2002

PAUL D. LAPIDES, PETITIONER
v.
BOARD OF REGENTS OF THE UNIVERSITY SYSTEM OF GEORGIA ET AL.



Court Below: 251 F. 3d 1372

SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

Argued February 25, 2002

Decided May 13, 2002

Petitioner, a professor in the Georgia state university system, filed a state-court suit against respondents -- the system's board of regents (hereinafter Georgia or State) and university officials in their personal capacities and as state agents -- alleging that the officials had violated state tort law and 42 U. S. C. §1983 when they placed sexual harassment allegations in his personnel files. The defendants removed the case to Federal District Court and then sought dismissal. Conceding that a state statute had waived Georgia's sovereign immunity from state-law suits in state court, the State claimed Eleventh Amendment immunity from suit in the federal court. The District Court held that Georgia had waived such immunity when it removed the case to federal court. In reversing, the Eleventh Circuit found that, because state law was unclear as to whether the state attorney general had the legal authority to waive Georgia's Eleventh Amendment immunity, the State retained the legal right to assert immunity, even after removal.

Held: A State waives its Eleventh Amendment immunity when it removes a case from state court to federal court. Pp. 2-10.

(a) Because this case does not present a valid federal claim against Georgia, see Will v. Michigan Dept. of State Police, 491 U. S. 58, 66, the answer to the question presented is limited to the context of state-law claims where the State has waived immunity from state-court proceedings. Although absent a federal claim, the Federal District Court might remand the state claims against the State to state court, those claims remain pending in the federal court, which has the discretion to decide the remand question in the first instance. Thus, the question presented is not moot. Pp. 2-3.

(b) This Court has established the general principle that a State's voluntary appearance in federal court amounts to a waiver of its Eleventh Amendment immunity, Clark v. Barnard, The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Breyer

535 U. S. ____ (2002)

On Writ Of Certiorari To The United States Court Of Appeals For The Eleventh Circuit

The Eleventh Amendment grants a State immunity from suit in federal court by citizens of other States, U. S. Const., Amdt. 11, and by its own citizens as well, Hans v. Louisiana, 134 U. S. 1 (1890). The question before us is whether the State's act of removing a lawsuit from state court to federal court waives this immunity. We hold that it does.

I.

Paul Lapides, a professor employed by the Georgia state university system, brought this lawsuit in a Georgia state court. He sued respondents, the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia (hereinafter Georgia or State) and university officials acting in both their personal capacities and as agents of the State. Lapides' lawsuit alleged that university officials placed allegations of sexual harassment in his personnel files. And Lapides claimed that their doing so violated both Georgia law, see Georgia Tort Claims Act, Ga. Code Ann. §50-21-23 (1994) and federal law, see Civil Rights Act of 1871, Rev. Stat. §1979, 42 U. S. C. §1983 (1994 ed., Supp. V).

All defendants joined in removing the case to Federal District Court, 28 U. S. C. §1441 (1994 ed.), where they sought dismissal. Those individuals whom Lapides had sued in their personal capacities argued that the doctrine of "qualified immunity" barred Lapides' federal-law claims against them. And the District Court agreed. The State, while conceding that a state statute had waived sovereign immunity from state-law suits in state court, argued that, by virtue of the Eleventh Amendment, it remained immune from suit in federal court. See U. S. Const., Amdt. 11 (limiting scope of "judicial power of the United States" (emphasis added)). But the District Court did not agree. Rather, in its view, by removing the case from state to federal court, the State had waived its Eleventh Amendment immunity. See Atascadero State Hospital v. Scanlon, 473 U. S. 234, 238 (1985) (State may waive Eleventh Amendment immunity).

The State appealed the District Court's Eleventh Amendment ruling. See Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority v. Metcalf & Eddy, Inc., 506 U. S. 139, 144-145 (1993) (allowing interlocutory appeal). And the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit reversed. 251 F. 3d 1372 (2001). In its view, state law was, at the least, unclear as to whether the State's attorney general possessed the legal authority to waive the State's Eleventh Amendment immunity. And, that being so, the State retained the ...


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