MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.
Petitioners, a class of female employees of the Department of Social Services and of the Board of Education of the city of New York, commenced this action under 42 U. S. C. § 1983 in July 1971.
On cross-motions for summary judgment, the District Court for the Southern District of New York held moot petitioners' claims for injunctive and declaratory relief since the city of New York and the Board, after the filing of the complaint, had changed their policies relating to maternity leaves so that no pregnant employee would have to take leave unless she was medically unable to continue to perform her job. 394 F.Supp. 853, 855 (1975). No one now challenges this conclusion.
On appeal, petitioners renewed their arguments that the Board of Education
We granted certiorari in this case, 429 U.S. 1071, to consider
In Monroe v. Pape, we held that "Congress did not undertake to bring municipal corporations within the ambit of [§ 1983]." 365 U. S., at 187. The sole basis for this conclusion was an inference drawn from Congress' rejection of the "Sherman amendment" to the bill which became the Civil Rights Act of 1871, 17 Stat. 13, the precursor of § 1983. The amendment would have held a municipal corporation liable for damage done to the person or property of its inhabitants by private persons "riotously and tumultuously assembled."
A. An Overview
There are three distinct stages in the legislative consideration of the bill which became the Civil Rights Act of 1871. On March 28, 1871, Representative Shellabarger, acting for a House select committee, reported H. R. 320, a bill "to enforce the provisions of the fourteenth amendment to the Constitution of the United States, and for other purposes." H. R. 320 contained four sections. Section 1, now codified as 42 U. S. C. § 1983, was the subject of only limited debate and was passed without amendment.
The House refused to acquiesce in a number of amendments made by the Senate, including the Sherman amendment, and the respective versions of H. R. 320 were therefore sent to a conference committee. Section 1 of the bill, however, was not a subject of this conference since, as noted, it was passed verbatim as introduced in both Houses of Congress.
On April 18, 1871, the first conference committee completed its work on H. R. 320. The main features of the conference committee draft of the Sherman amendment were these:
In the ensuing debate on the first conference report, which was the first debate of any kind on the Sherman amendment, Senator Sherman explained that the purpose of his amendment was to enlist the aid of persons of property in the enforcement of the civil rights laws by making their property "responsible" for Ku Klux Klan damage.
The first conference substitute passed the Senate but was rejected by the House. House opponents, within whose ranks were some who had supported § 1, thought the Federal Government could not, consistent with the Constitution, obligate municipal corporations to keep the peace if those corporations were neither so obligated nor so authorized by their state charters. And, because of this constitutional objection, opponents of the Sherman amendment were unwilling to impose damages liability for nonperformance of a duty which Congress could not require municipalities to perform. This position is reflected in Representative Poland's statement that is quoted in Monroe.
Because the House rejected the first conference report a second conference was called and it duly issued its report. The second conference substitute for the Sherman amendment abandoned municipal liability and, instead, made "any person
The meaning of the legislative history sketched above can most readily be developed by first considering the debate on the report of the first conference committee. This debate shows conclusively that the constitutional objections raised against the Sherman amendment—on which our holding in Monroe was based, see supra, at 664—would not have prohibited congressional creation of a civil remedy against state municipal corporations that infringed federal rights. Because § 1 of the Civil Rights Act does not state expressly that municipal corporations come within its ambit, it is finally necessary to interpret § 1 to confirm that such corporations were indeed intended to be included within the "persons" to whom that section applies.
B. Debate on the First Conference Report
The style of argument adopted by both proponents and opponents of the Sherman amendment in both Houses of Congress was largely legal, with frequent references to cases decided by this Court and the Supreme Courts of the several States. Proponents of the Sherman amendment did not, however, discuss in detail the argument in favor of its constitutionality. Nonetheless, it is possible to piece together such an argument from the debates on the first conference report and those on § 2 of the civil rights bill, which, because it allowed the Federal Government to prosecute crimes "in the States," had also raised questions of federal power. The account of Representative Shellabarger, the House sponsor of H. R. 320, is the most complete.
Building on his conclusion that citizens were owed protection—a conclusion not disputed by opponents of the Sherman amendment
Of legislation mentioned by Shellabarger, the closest analog of the Sherman amendment, ironically, was the statute implementing the fugitives from justice and fugitive slave provisions of Art. IV—the Act of Feb. 12, 1793, 1 Stat. 302—the constitutionality of which had been sustained in 1842, in Prigg v. Pennsylvania, 16 Pet. 539. There, Mr. Justice Story, writing for the Court, held that Art. IV gave slaveowners a federal right to the unhindered possession of their slaves in whatever State such slaves might be found. 16 Pet., at 612. Because state process for recovering runaway slaves might be inadequate or even hostile to the rights of the slaveowner, the right intended to be conferred could be negated if left to state implementation. Id., at 614. Thus, since the Constitution guaranteed the right and this in turn required a remedy, Story held it to be a "natural inference" that Congress had the power itself to ensure an appropriate (in the Necessary and Proper Clause sense) remedy for the right. Id., at 615.
Building on Prigg, Shellabarger argued that a remedy against municipalities and counties was an appropriate—and hence constitutional—method for ensuring the protection which the Fourteenth Amendment made every citizen's federal right.
House opponents of the Sherman amendment—whose views are particularly important since only the House voted down the amendment—did not dispute Shellabarger's claim that the Fourteenth Amendment created a federal right to protection, see n. 21, supra, but they argued that the local units of government upon which the amendment fastened liability were not obligated to keep the peace at state law and further that the Federal Government could not constitutionally require local governments to create police forces, whether this requirement was levied directly, or indirectly by imposing damages for breach of the peace on municipalities. The most complete statement of this position is that of Representative Blair:
Any attempt to impute a unitary constitutional theory to opponents of the Sherman amendment is, of course, fraught
Collector v. Day, cited by Blair, was the clearest and, at the time of the debates, the most recent pronouncement of a doctrine of coordinate sovereignty that, as Blair stated, placed limits on even the enumerated powers of the National Government in favor of protecting state prerogatives. There, the Court held that the United States could not tax the income of Day, a Massachusetts state judge, because the independence of the States within their legitimate spheres would be imperiled if the instrumentalities through which States executed their powers were "subject to the control of another and distinct government." 11 Wall., at 127. Although the Court in Day apparently rested this holding in part on the proposition that the taxing "power acknowledges no limits but the will of the legislative body imposing the tax," id., at 125-126; cf. McCulloch v. Maryland, 4 Wheat. 316 (1819), the Court had in other cases limited other national powers in order to avoid interference with the States.
Had Mr. Justice McLean been correct in his suggestion that, where the Constitution envisioned affirmative government assistance, the States or their officers or instrumentalities could be required to provide it, there would have been little doubt that Congress could have insisted that municipalities afford by "positive" action the protection
The rationale of Dennison—that the Nation could not impose duties on state officers since that might impede States in their legitimate activities—is obviously identical to that which animated the decision in Collector v. Day. See supra, at 676. And, as Blair indicated, municipalities as instrumentalities through which States executed their policies could be equally disabled from carrying out state policies if they were also obligated to carry out federally imposed duties. Although no one cited Dennison by name, the principle for which it
If municipal liability under § 1 of the Civil Rights Act of 1871 created a similar Hobson's choice, we might conclude, as Monroe did, that Congress could not have intended municipalities to be among the "persons" to which that section applied. But this is not the case.
First, opponents expressly distinguished between imposing an obligation to keep the peace and merely imposing civil liability for damages on a municipality that was obligated by state law to keep the peace, but which had not in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. Representative Poland, for example, reasoning from Contract Clause precedents, indicated that Congress could constitutionally confer jurisdiction on the federal courts to entertain suits seeking to hold municipalities
Representative Burchard agreed:
See also the views of Rep. Willard, discussed at n. 30, supra.
Second, the doctrine of dual sovereignty apparently put no limit on the power of federal courts to enforce the Constitution against municipalities that violated it. Under the theory of dual sovereignty set out in Prigg, this is quite understandable. So long as federal courts were vindicating the Federal Constitution, they were providing the "positive" government action
Finally, the very votes of those Members of Congress, who opposed the Sherman amendment but who had voted for § 1, confirm that the liability imposed by § 1 was something very different from that imposed by the amendment. Section 1 without question could be used to obtain a damages judgment against state or municipal officials who violated federal constitutional rights while acting under color of law.
C. Debate on § 1 of the Civil Rights Bill
From the foregoing discussion, it is readily apparent that nothing said in debate on the Sherman amendment would have prevented holding a municipality liable under § 1 of the Civil Rights Act for its own violations of the Fourteenth Amendment. The question remains, however, whether the general language describing those to be liable under § 1—"any person"—covers more than natural persons. An examination of the debate on § 1 and application of appropriate rules of construction show unequivocally that § 1 was intended to cover legal as well as natural persons.
Representative Shellabarger was the first to explain the function of § 1:
By extending a remedy to all people, including whites, § 1 went beyond the mischief to which the remaining sections of the 1871 Act were addressed. Representative Shellabarger also stated without reservation that the constitutionality of § 2 of the Civil Rights Act of 1866 controlled the constitutionality of § 1 of the 1871 Act, and that the former had been
The sentiments expressed in Representative Shellabarger's opening speech were echoed by Senator Edmunds, the manager of H. R. 320 in the Senate:
And he agreed that the bill "secure[d] the rights of white men as much as of colored men." Id., at 696.
In both Houses, statements of the supporters of § 1 corroborated that Congress, in enacting § 1, intended to give a broad remedy for violations of federally protected civil rights.
Representative Bingham, for example, in discussing § 1 of the bill, explained that he had drafted § 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment with the case of Barron v. Mayor of Baltimore, 7 Pet. 243 (1833), especially in mind. "In [that] case the
In addition, by 1871, it was well understood that corporations should be treated as natural persons for virtually all purposes of constitutional and statutory analysis. This had not always been so. When this Court first considered the question of the status of corporations, Mr. Chief Justice Marshall, writing for the Court, denied that corporations "as such" were persons as that term was used in Art. III and the Judiciary Act of 1789. See Bank of the United States v. Deveaux, 5 Cranch 61, 86 (1809).
And only two years before the debates on the Civil Rights Act, in Cowles v. Mercer County, 7 Wall. 118, 121 (1869), the Letson principle was automatically and without discussion extended to municipal corporations. Under this doctrine, municipal corporations were routinely sued in the federal courts
That the "usual" meaning of the word "person" would extend to municipal corporations is also evidenced by an Act of Congress which had been passed only months before the Civil Rights Act was passed. This Act provided that
Municipal corporations in 1871 were included within the phrase "bodies politic and corporate"
Our analysis of the legislative history of 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 § 1983 applies.
On the other hand, the language of § 1983, read against the background of the same legislative history, compels the conclusion that Congress did not intend municipalities to be held liable unless action pursuant to official municipal policy of some nature caused a constitutional tort. In particular, we conclude that a municipality cannot be held liable solely because it employs a tortfeasor—or, in other words, a municipality cannot be held liable under § 1983 on a respondeat superior theory.
We begin with the language of § 1983 as originally passed:
The italicized language plainly imposes liability on a government that, under color of some official policy, "causes" an employee to violate another's constitutional rights. At the same time, that language cannot be easily read to impose liability vicariously on governing bodies solely on the basis of the existence of an employer-employee relationship with a tortfeasor. Indeed, the fact that Congress did specifically provide that A's tort became B's liability if B "caused" A to subject another to a tort suggests that Congress did not intend § 1983 liability to attach where such causation was absent.
The first justification is of the same sort that was offered for statutes like the Sherman amendment: "The obligation to make compensation for injury resulting from riot is, by arbitrary enactment of statutes, affirmatory law, and the reason of passing the statute is to secure a more perfect police regulation." Globe 777 (Sen. Frelinghuysen). This justification was obviously insufficient to sustain the amendment against perceived constitutional difficulties and there is no reason to suppose that a more general liability imposed for a similar reason would have been thought less constitutionally objectionable. The second justification was similarly put forward as a justification for the Sherman amendment: "we do not look upon [the Sherman amendment] as a punishment. . . . It is a mutual insurance." Id., at 792 (Rep. Butler). Again, this justification was insufficient to sustain the amendment.
We conclude, therefore, that a local government may not be sued under § 1983 for an injury inflicted solely by its employees or agents. Instead, it is when execution of a government's policy or custom, whether made by its lawmakers or by those whose edicts or acts may fairly be said to represent official policy, inflicts the injury that the government as an entity is responsible under § 1983. Since this case unquestionably involves official policy as the moving force of the constitutional violation found by the District Court, see supra, at
Although we have stated that stare decisis has more force in statutory analysis than in constitutional adjudication because, in the former situation, Congress can correct our mistakes through legislation, see, e. g., Edelman v. Jordan, 415 U.S. 651, 671, and n. 14 (1974), we have never applied stare decisis mechanically to prohibit overruling our earlier decisions determining the meaning of statutes. See, e. g., Continental T. V., Inc. v. GTE Sylvania Inc., 433 U.S. 36, 47-49 (1977); Burnet v. Coronado Oil & Gas Co., 285 U.S. 393, 406 n. 1 (1932) (Brandeis, J., dissenting) (collecting cases). Nor is this a case where we should "place on the shoulders of Congress the burden of the Court's own error." Girouard v. United States, 328 U.S. 61, 70 (1946).
First, Monroe v. Pape, insofar as it completely immunizes municipalities from suit under § 1983, was a departure from prior practice. See, e. g., Northwestern Fertilizing Co. v. Hyde Park, 18 F. Cas. 393 (No. 10,336) (CC ND Ill. 1873); City of Manchester v. Leiby, 117 F.2d 661 (CA1 1941); Hannan v. City of Haverhill, 120 F.2d 87 (CA1 1941); Douglas v. City of Jeannette, 319 U.S. 157 (1943); Holmes v. Atlanta, 350 U.S. 879 (1955), in each of which municipalities were defendants in § 1983 suits.
Second, the principle of blanket immunity established in Monroe cannot be cabined short of school boards. Yet such an extension would itself be inconsistent with recent expressions of congressional intent. In the wake of our decisions, Congress not only has shown no hostility to federal-court decisions against school boards, but it has indeed rejected efforts to strip the federal courts of jurisdiction over school boards.
Far from showing that Congress has relied on Monroe, therefore, events since 1961 show that Congress has refused to extend the benefits of Monroe to school boards and has attempted to allow awards of attorney's fees against local governments even though Monroe, City of Kenosha v. Bruno, and Aldinger v. Howard, 427 U.S. 1 (1976), have made the joinder of such governments impossible.
Third, municipalities can assert no reliance claim which can
Finally, even under the most stringent test for the propriety of overruling a statutory decision proposed by Mr. Justice Harlan in Monroe
For the reasons stated above, therefore, we hold that stare decisis does not bar our overruling of Monroe insofar as it is inconsistent with Parts I and II of this opinion.
Since the question whether local government bodies should be afforded some form of official immunity was not presented as a question to be decided on this petition and was not briefed by the parties or addressed by the courts below, we express no views on the scope of any municipal immunity beyond holding that municipal bodies sued under § 1983 cannot be entitled to an absolute immunity, lest our decision that such bodies are subject to suit under § 1983 "be drained of meaning," Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 248 (1974). Cf. Bivens v. Six Unknown Fed. Narcotics Agents, 403 U.S. 388, 397-398 (1971).
For the reasons stated above, the judgment of the Court of Appeals is
APPENDIX TO OPINION OF THE COURT
As proposed, the Sherman amendment was as follows:
The complete text of the first conference substitute for the Sherman amendment is:
The relevant text of the second conference substitute for the Sherman amendment is as follows:
MR. JUSTICE POWELL, concurring.
I join the opinion of the Court, and express these additional views.
Few cases in the history of the Court have been cited more frequently than Monroe v. Pape, 365 U.S. 167 (1961), decided less than two decades ago. Focusing new light on 42 U. S. C. § 1983, that decision widened access to the federal courts and permitted expansive interpretations of the reach of
In addressing a complaint alleging unconstitutional police conduct that probably was unauthorized and actionable under state law,
As the Court demonstrates, the Sherman amendment presented an extreme example of "riot act" legislation that sought to impose vicarious liability on government subdivisions for the consequences of private lawlessness. As such, it implicated concerns that are of marginal pertinence to the operative principle of § 1 of the 1871 legislation—now § 1983—that "any person" acting "under color of" state law may be held liable for affirmative conduct that "subjects, or causes to be subjected, any person . . . to the deprivation of any" federal constitutional or statutory right. Of the many reasons for the defeat of the Sherman proposal, none supports Monroe's observation that the 42d Congress was fundamentally "antagonistic," 365 U. S., at 191, to the proposition that government entities and natural persons alike should be held accountable for the consequences of conduct directly working a constitutional violation. Opponents in the Senate appear to have been troubled primarily by the proposal's unprecedented lien provision, which would have exposed even property held for public purposes to the demands of § 1983 judgment lienors. Ante, at 673-674, n. 30. The opposition in the House of Representatives focused largely on the Sherman amendment's attempt to impose a peacekeeping obligation on municipalities when the Constitution itself imposed no such affirmative duty and when many municipalities were not even empowered under state law to maintain police forces. Ante, at 673-675, 679-682.
As elaborated in Part II of today's opinion, the rejection of the Sherman amendment can best be understood not as evidence of Congress' acceptance of a rule of absolute municipal immunity but as a limitation of the statutory ambit to actual wrongdoers, i. e., a rejection of respondeat superior or any other principle of vicarious liability. Cf. Levin, The Section 1983 Municipal Immunity Doctrine, 65 Geo. L. J. 1483, 1531-1535 (1977). Thus, it has been clear that a public official may be held liable in damages when his actions are found to violate a constitutional right and there is no qualified immunity, see Wood v. Strickland, 420 U.S. 308 (1975); Procunier v. Navarette, 434 U.S. 555 (1978). Today the Court recognizes
This Court traditionally has been hesitant to overrule prior constructions of statutes or interpretations of common-law rules. "Stare decisis is usually the wise policy," Burnet v. Coronado Oil & Gas Co., 285 U.S. 393, 406 (1932) (Brandeis, J., dissenting), but this cautionary principle must give way to countervailing considerations in appropriate circumstances.
Nor is this the usual case in which the Court is asked to overrule a precedent. Here considerations of stare decisis cut in both directions. On the one hand, we have a series of rulings that municipalities and counties are not "persons" for purposes of § 1983. On the other hand, many decisions of this Court have been premised on the amenability of school boards and similar entities to § 1983 suits.
In Monroe and its progeny, we have answered a question that was never actually briefed or argued in this Court— whether a municipality is liable in damages for injuries that are the direct result of its official policies. "The theory of the complaint [in Monroe was] that under the circumstances [t]here alleged the City [was] liable for the acts of its police officers, by virtue of respondeat superior." Brief for Petitioners,
Only in City of Kenosha v. Bruno, 412 U.S. 507 (1973), did the Court confront a § 1983 claim based on conduct that was both authorized under state law and the direct cause of the claimed constitutional injury. In Kenosha, however, we raised the issue of the city's amenability to suit under § 1983 on our own initiative.
This line of cases—from Monroe to Kenosha—is difficult to reconcile on a principled basis with a parallel series of cases
Even if one attempts to explain away the school board decisions as involving suits which "may be maintained against board members in their official capacities for injunctive relief under either § 1983 or Ex parte Young, 209 U.S. 123 (1908)," post, at 716-717, n. 2, some difficulty remains in rationalizing the relevant body of precedents. At least two of the school board cases involved claims for monetary relief. Cohen v. Chesterfield County School Board, 326 F.Supp. 1159, 1161 (ED Va. 1971), rev'd, 474 F.2d 395 (CA4 1973), rev'd and remanded, 414 U.S. 632 (1974); Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School Dist., 393 U.S. 503, 504 (1969). See also Vlandis v. Kline, 412 U.S. 441, 445 (1973). Although the point was not squarely presented in this Court, these claims
Finally, if we continued to adhere to a rule of absolute municipal immunity under § 1983, we could not long avoid the question whether "we should, by analogy to our decision in Bivens v. Six Unknown Fed. Narcotics Agents, 403 U.S. 388 (1971), imply a cause of action directly from the Fourteenth Amendment which would not be subject to the limitations contained in § 1983 . . . ." Mt. Healthy City Board of Ed. v. Doyle, 429 U.S. 274, 278 (1977). One aspect of that inquiry would be whether there are any "special factors counselling hesitation in the absence of affirmative action by Congress," Bivens v. Six Unknown Fed. Narcotics Agents, 403 U.S. 388, 396 (1971), such as an "explicit congressional declaration
Difficult questions nevertheless remain for another day. There are substantial line-drawing problems in determining "when execution of a government's policy or custom" can be said to inflict constitutional injury such that "government as an entity is responsible under § 1983." Ante, at 694. This case, however, involves formal, written policies of a municipal department and school board; it is the clear case. The Court also reserves decision on the availability of a qualified municipal immunity. Ante, at 701. Initial resolution of the question whether the protection available at common law for municipal corporations, see post, at 720-721, or other principles support a
MR. JUSTICE STEVENS, concurring in part.
Since Parts II and IV of the opinion of the Court are merely advisory and are not necessary to explain the Court's decision, I join only Parts I, III, and V.
MR. JUSTICE REHNQUIST, with whom THE CHIEF JUSTICE joins, dissenting.
Seventeen years ago, in Monroe v. Pape, 365 U.S. 167 (1961), this Court held that the 42d Congress did not intend to subject a municipal corporation to liability as a "person" within the meaning of 42 U. S. C. § 1983. Since then, the Congress has remained silent, but this Court has reaffirmed that holding on at least three separate occasions. Aldinger v. Howard, 427 U.S. 1 (1976); City of Kenosha v. Bruno, 412 U.S. 507 (1973); Moor v. County of Alameda, 411 U.S. 693 (1973). See also Mt. Healthy City Board of Ed. v. Doyle, 429 U.S. 274, 277-279 (1977). Today, the Court abandons this long and consistent line of precedents, offering in justification only an elaborate canvass of the same legislative history which was before the Court in 1961. Because I cannot agree that this Court is "free to disregard these precedents," which have been "considered maturely and recently" by this Court, Runyon v. McCrary, 427 U.S. 160, 186 (1976) (POWELL, J., concurring), I am compelled to dissent.
As this Court has repeatedly recognized, id., at 175 n. 12; Edelman v. Jordan, 415 U.S. 651, 671 n. 14 (1974), considerations of stare decisis are at their strongest when this Court confronts its previous constructions of legislation. In all cases, private parties shape their conduct according to this Court's settled construction of the law, but the Congress is at
Only the most compelling circumstances can justify this Court's abandonment of such firmly established statutory precedents. The best exposition of the proper burden of persuasion was delivered by Mr. Justice Harlan in Monroe itself:
The Court does not demonstrate that any exception to this general rule is properly applicable here. The Court's first assertion, that Monroe "was a departure from prior practice," ante, at 695, is patently erroneous. Neither in Douglas v. City of Jeannette, 319 U.S. 157 (1943), nor in Holmes v. Atlanta,
The source of this doctrine that jurisdictional issues decided sub silentio are not binding in other cases seems to be Mr. Chief Justice Marshall's remark in United States v. More, 3 Cranch 159, 172 (1805).
Nor is there any indication that any later Congress has ever approved suit against any municipal corporation under § 1983. Of all its recent enactments, only the Civil Rights Attorney's Fees Awards Act of 1976, § 2, 90 Stat. 2641, 42 U. S. C. § 1988 (1976 ed.), explicitly deals with the Civil Rights Act of 1871.
The Court's assertion that municipalities have no right to act "on an assumption that they can violate constitutional rights indefinitely," ante, at 700, is simply beside the point. Since Monroe, municipalities have had the right to expect that they would not be held liable retroactively for their officers' failure to predict this Court's recognition of new constitutional rights. No doubt innumerable municipal insurance policies and indemnity ordinances have been founded on this assumption, which is wholly justifiable under established principles of stare decisis. To obliterate those legitimate expectations without more compelling justifications than those advanced by the Court is a significant departure from our prior practice.
I cannot agree with MR. JUSTICE POWELL's view that "[w]e owe somewhat less deference to a decision that was rendered without benefit of a full airing of all the relevant considerations." Ante, at 709 n. 6. Private parties must be able to rely upon explicitly stated holdings of this Court without being
Thus, our only task is to discern the intent of the 42d Congress. That intent was first expounded in Monroe, and it
Any analysis of the meaning of the word "person" in § 1983, which was originally enacted as § 1 of the Ku Klux Klan Act of April 20, 1871, 17 Stat. 13, must begin, not with the Sherman amendment, but with the Dictionary Act. The latter Act, which supplied rules of construction for all legislation, provided:
The Act expressly provided that corporations need not be included within the scope of the word "person" where the context suggests a more limited reach. Not a word in the legislative history of the Act gives any indication of the contexts
There are other factors, however, which suggest that the Congress which enacted § 1983 may well have intended the word "person" "to be used in a more limited sense," as Monroe concluded. It is true that this Court had held that both commercial corporations, Louisville R. Co. v. Letson, 2 How. 497, 558 (1844), and municipal corporations, Cowles v. Mercer County, 7 Wall. 118, 121 (1869), were "citizens" of a State within the meaning of the jurisdictional provisions of Art. III. Congress, however, also knew that this label did not apply in all contexts, since this Court, in Paul v. Virginia, 8 Wall. 168 (1869), had held commercial corporations not to be "citizens" within the meaning of the Privileges and Immunities Clause, U. S. Const., Art. IV, § 2. Thus, the Congress surely knew that, for constitutional purposes, corporations generally enjoyed a different status in different contexts. Indeed, it may be presumed that Congress intended that a corporation should enjoy the same status under the Ku Klux Klan Act as it did under the Fourteenth Amendment, since it had been assured that § 1 "was so very simple and really reenact[ed] the Constitution." Cong. Globe, 42d Cong., 1st Sess., 569 (1871) (remarks of Sen. Edmunds). At the time § 1983 was enacted the only federal case to consider the status of corporations under the Fourteenth Amendment had concluded, with impeccable logic, that a corporation was neither a "citizen" nor a "person." Insurance Co. v. New Orleans, 13 F. Cas. 67 (No. 7,052) (CC La. 1870).
Furthermore, the state courts did not speak with a single voice with regard to the tort liability of municipal corporations. Although many Members of Congress represented
The general remarks from the floor on the liberal purposes of § 1 offer no explicit guidance as to the parties against whom the remedy could be enforced. As the Court concedes, only Representative Bingham raised a concern which could be satisfied only by relief against governmental bodies. Yet he never directly related this concern to § 1 of the Act. Indeed, Bingham stated at the outset, "I do not propose now to discuss the provisions of the bill in detail," Cong. Globe, 42d Cong., 1st Sess., App. 82 (1871), and, true to his word, he launched into an extended discourse on the beneficent purposes of the Fourteenth Amendment. While Bingham clearly stated that Congress could "provide that no citizen in any State shall be deprived of his property by State law or the judgment of a State court without just compensation therefor," id., at 85, he never suggested that such a power was exercised in § 1.
Thus, it ought not lightly to be presumed, as the Court does today, ante, at 690 n. 53, that § 1983 "should prima facie be construed to include `bodies politic' among the entities that could be sued." Neither the Dictionary Act, the ambivalent state of judicial decisions, nor the floor debate on § 1 of the Act gives any indication that any Member of Congress had any inkling that § 1 could be used to impose liability on municipalities. Although Senator Thurman, as the Court emphasizes, ante, at 686 n. 45, expressed his belief that the terms of § 1 "are as comprehensive as can be used," Cong. Globe, 42d Cong., 1st Sess., App. 217 (1871), an examination of his lengthy remarks demonstrates that it never occurred to him that § 1 did impose or could have imposed any liability upon municipal corporations. In an extended parade of horribles, this "old Roman," who was one of the Act's most implacable opponents, suggested that state legislatures, Members of Congress, and state judges might be held liable under the Act. Ibid. If, at that point in the debate, he had any idea that § 1 was designed to impose tort liability upon cities and counties, he would surely have raised an additional outraged objection. Only once was that possibility placed squarely before the Congress—in its consideration of the Sherman amendment—and the Congress squarely rejected it.
The Court is probably correct that the rejection of the Sherman amendment does not lead ineluctably to the conclusion that Congress intended municipalities to be immune from liability under all circumstances. Nevertheless, it cannot be
Whatever the merits of the constitutional arguments raised against it, the fact remains that Congress rejected the concept of municipal tort liability on the only occasion in which the question was explicitly presented. Admittedly this fact is not conclusive as to whether Congress intended § 1 to embrace a municipal corporation within the meaning of "person," and thus the reasoning of Monroe on this point is subject to challenge. The meaning of § 1 of the Act of 1871 has been subjected in this case to a more searching and careful analysis than it was in Monroe, and it may well be that on the basis of this closer analysis of the legislative debates a conclusion contrary to the Monroe holding could have been reached when that case was decided 17 years ago. But the rejection of the Sherman amendment remains instructive in that here alone did the legislative debates squarely focus on the liability of municipal corporations, and that liability was rejected.
The decision in Monroe v. Pape was the fountainhead of the torrent of civil rights litigation of the last 17 years. Using § 1983 as a vehicle, the courts have articulated new and previously unforeseeable interpretations of the Fourteenth Amendment. At the same time, the doctrine of municipal immunity enunciated in Monroe has protected municipalities and their limited treasuries from the consequences of their officials' failure to predict the course of this Court's constitutional jurisprudence. None of the Members of this Court can foresee the practical consequences of today's removal of that protection. Only the Congress, which has the benefit of the advice of every segment of this diverse Nation, is equipped to consider the results of such a drastic change in the law. It seems all but inevitable that it will find it necessary to do so after today's decision.
I would affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals.
Senator Sherman was apparently unconcerned that the conference committee substitute, unlike the original amendment, did not place liability for riot damage directly on the property of the well-to-do, but instead placed it on the local government. Presumably he assumed that taxes would be levied against the property of the inhabitants to make the locality whole.
"A Person charged in any State with Treason, Felony, or other Crime, who shall flee from Justice, and be found in another State, shall on Demand of the executive Authority of the State from which he fled, be delivered up, to be removed to the State having Jurisdiction of the Crime."
"No Person held to Service or Labour in one State, under the Laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in Consequence of any Law or Regulation therein, be discharged from such Service or Labour, but shall be delivered up on Claim of the Party to whom such Service or Labour may be due."
Opponents of the Sherman amendment in the Senate agreed with Blair that Congress had no power to pass the Sherman amendment because it fell outside limits on national power implicit in the federal structure of the Constitution and recognized in, e. g., Collector v. Day, 11 Wall. 113 (1871). However, the Senate opponents focused not on the amendment's attempt to obligate municipalities to keep the peace, but on the lien created by the amendment, which ran against all money and property of a defendant municipality, including property held for public purposes, such as jails or courthouses. Opponents argued that such a lien once entered would have the effect of making it impossible for the municipality to function, since no one would trade with it. See, e. g., Globe 762 (Sen. Stevenson); id., at 763 (Sen. Casserly). Moreover, everyone knew that sound policy prevented execution against public property since this, too, was needed if local government was to survive. See, e. g., ibid. See also Meriwether v. Garrett, 102 U.S. 472, 501, 513 (1880) (recognizing principle that public property of a municipality was not subject to execution); 2 J. Dillon, The Law of Municipal Corporations §§ 445-446 (1873 ed.) (same).
Although the arguments of the Senate opponents appear to be a correct analysis of then-controlling constitutional and common-law principles, their arguments are not relevant to an analysis of the constitutionality of § 1 of the Civil Rights Act since any judgment under that section, as in any civil suit in the federal courts in 1871, would have been enforced pursuant to state laws under the Process Acts of 1792 and 1828. See Act of May 8, 1792, ch. 36, 1 Stat. 275; Act of May 19, 1828, 4 Stat. 278.
"The state officers mentioned in the law [of 1793] are not bound to execute the duties imposed upon them by Congress, unless they choose to do so, or are required to do so by a law of the state; and the state legislature has the power, if it thinks proper, to prohibit them. The act of 1793, therefore, must depend altogether for its execution upon the officers of the United States named in it." 16 Pet., at 630 (concurring in part).
"The States never had the right, though they had the power, to inflict wrongs upon free citizens by a denial of the full protection of the laws . . . . [And] the States did deny to citizens the equal protection of the laws, they did deny the rights of citizens under the Constitution, and except to the extent of the express limitations upon the States, as I have shown, the citizen had no remedy. . . . They took property without compensation, and he had no remedy. They restricted the freedom of the press, and he had no remedy. They restricted the freedom of speech, and he had no remedy. They restricted the rights of conscience, and he had no remedy.. . . Who dare say, now that the Constitution has been amended, that the nation cannot by law provide against all such abuses and denials of right as these in the States and by States, or combinations of persons?" Id., at 85.
Representative Perry, commenting on Congress' action in passing the civil rights bill also stated:
"Now, by our action on this bill we have asserted as fully as we can assert the mischief intended to be remedied. We have asserted as clearly as we can assert our belief that it is the duty of Congress to redress that mischief. We have also asserted as fully as we can assert the constitutional right of Congress to legislate." Globe 800.
See also id., at 376 (Rep. Lowe); id., at 428-429 (Rep. Beatty); id., at 448 (Rep. Butler); id., at 475-477 (Rep. Dawes); id., at 578-579 (Sen. Trumbull); id., at 609 (Sen. Pool); Globe App. 182 (Rep. Mercur).
Other supporters were quite clear that § 1 of the Act extended a remedy not only where a State had passed an unconstitutional statute, but also where officers of the State were deliberately indifferent to the rights of black citizens:
"But the chief complaint is ... [that] by a systematic maladministration of [state law], or a neglect or refusal to enforce their provisions, a portion of the people are denied equal protection under them. Whenever such a state of facts is clearly made out, I believe [§ 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment] empowers Congress to step in and provide for doing justice to those persons who are thus denied equal protection." Id., at 153 (Rep. Garfield). See also Monroe v. Pape, 365 U. S., at 171-187.
Importantly for our inquiry, even the opponents of § 1 agreed that it was constitutional and, further, that it swept very broadly. Thus, Senator Thurman, who gave the most exhaustive critique of § 1, said:
"This section relates wholly to civil suits. . . . Its whole effect is to give to the Federal Judiciary that which now does not belong to it—a jurisdiction that may be constitutionally conferred upon it, I grant, but that has never yet been conferred upon it. It authorizes any person who is deprived of any right, privilege, or immunity secured to him by the Constitution of the United States, to bring an action against the wrong-doer in the Federal courts, and that without any limit whatsoever as to the amount in controversy. . . .
. . . . .
"[T]here is no limitation whatsoever upon the terms that are employed [in the bill], and they are as comprehensive as can be used." Globe App. 216-217 (emphasis added).
There is no express reference in the legislative history to the definition of "person," but Senator Trumbull, the Act's sponsor, discussed the phrase "words importing the masculine gender may be applied to. females," (emphasis added), which immediately precedes the definition of "person," and stated:
"The only object [of the Act] is to get rid of a great deal of verbosity in our statutes by providing that when the word `he' is used it shall include females as well as males." Cong. Globe, 41st Cong., 3d Sess., 775 (1871) (emphasis added).
Thus, in Trumbull's view the word "may" meant "shall." Such a mandatory use of the extended meanings of the words defined by the Act is also required for it to perform its intended function—to be a guide to "rules of construction" of Acts of Congress. See ibid. (remarks of Sen. Trumbull). Were the defined words "allowable, [but] not mandatory" constructions, as Monroe suggests, there would be no "rules" at all. Instead, Congress must have intended the definitions of the Act to apply across-the-board except where the Act by its terms called for a deviation from this practice—"[where] the context shows that [defined] words were to be used in a more limited sense." Certainly this is how the Northwestern Fertilizing court viewed the matter. Since there is nothing in the "context" of § 1 of the Civil Rights Act calling for a restricted interpretation of the word "person," the language of that section should prima facie be construed to include "bodies politic" among the entities that could be sued.
"It would be a narrow conception of jurisprudence to confine the notion of `laws' to what is found written on the statute books, and to disregard the gloss which life has written upon it. Settled state practice . . . can establish what is state law. The Equal Protection Clause did not write an empty formalism into the Constitution. Deeply embedded traditional ways of carrying out state policy, such as those of which petitioner complains, are often tougher and truer law than the dead words of the written text."
The primary constitutional justification for the Sherman amendment was that it was a necessary and proper remedy for the failure of localities to protect citizens as the Privileges or Immunities Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment required. See supra, at 670-673. And according to Sherman, Shellabarger, and Edmunds, the amendment came into play only when a locality was at fault or had knowingly neglected its duty to provide protection. See Globe 761 (Sen. Sherman); id., at 756 (Sen. Edmunds); id., at 751-752 (Rep. Shellabarger). But other proponents of the amendment apparently viewed it as a form of vicarious liability for the unlawful acts of the citizens of the locality. See id., at 792 (Rep. Butler). And whether intended or not, the amendment as drafted did impose a species of vicarious liability on municipalities since it could be construed to impose liability even if a municipality did not know of an impending or ensuing riot or did not have the wherewithal to do anything about it. Indeed, the amendment held a municipality liable even if it had done everything in its power to curb the riot. See supra, at 668; Globe 761 (Sen. Stevenson); id., at 771 (Sen. Thurman); id., at 788 (Rep. Kerr); id., at 791 (Rep. Willard). While the first conference substitute was rejected principally on constitutional grounds, see id., at 804 (Rep. Poland), it is plain from the text of the second conference substitute—which limited liability to those who, having the power to intervene against Ku Klux Klan violence, "neglect[ed] or refuse[d] so to do," see Appendix to this opinion, infra, at 704, and which was enacted as § 6 of the 1871 Act and is now codified as 42 U. S. C. § 1986—that Congress also rejected those elements of vicarious liability contained in the first conference substitute even while accepting the basic principle that the inhabitants of a community were bound to provide protection against the Ku Klux Klan. Strictly speaking, of course, the fact that Congress refused to impose vicarious liability for the wrongs of a few private citizens does not conclusively establish that it would similarly have refused to impose vicarious liability for the torts of a municipality's employees. Nonetheless, when Congress' rejection of the only form of vicarious liability presented to it is combined with the absence of any language in § 1983 which can easily be construed to create respondeat superior liability, the inference that Congress did not intend to impose such liability is quite strong.
"to make any decision, enter any judgment, or issue any order requiring any school board to make any change in the racial composition of the student body at any public school or in any class at any public school to which students are assigned in conformity with a freedom of choice system, or requiring any school board to transport any students from one public school to another public school or from one place to another place or from one school district to another school district in order to effect a change in the racial composition of the student body at any school or place or in any school district, or denying to any student the right or privilege of attending any public school or class at any public school chosen by the parent of such student in conformity with a freedom of choice system, or requiring any school board to close any school and transfer the students from the closed school to any other school for the purpose of altering the racial composition of the student body at any public school, or precluding any school board from carrying into effect any provision of any contract between it and any member of the faculty of any public school it operates specifying the public school where the member of the faculty is to perform his or her duties under the contract." S. 1737, 93d Cong., 1st Sess., § 1207 (1973) (emphasis added).
Other bills designed either completely to remove the federal courts from the school desegregation controversy, S. 287, 93d Cong., 1st Sess. (1973), or to limit the ability of federal courts to subject school boards to remedial orders in desegregation cases, S. 619, 93d Cong., 1st Sess. (1973); S. 179, 93d Cong., 1st Sess., § 2 (a) (1973); H. R. 13534, 92d Cong., 2d Sess., § 1 (1972), have similarly failed.
"to make a grant to, or a contract with, a local educational agency [w]hich is implementing a plan . . . which has been undertaken pursuant to a final order issued by a court of the United States . . . which requires the desegregation of minority group segregated children or faculty in the elementary and secondary schools of such agency, or otherwise requires the elimination or reduction of minority group isolation in such schools." (Emphasis added.)
A "local educational agency" is defined by 20 U. S. C. § 1619 (8) (1976 ed.) as "a public board of education or other public authority legally constituted within a State for either administrative control or direction of, public elementary or secondary schools in a city, county, township, school district, or other political subdivision of a State, or a federally recognized Indian reservation, or such combination of school districts, or counties as are recognized in a State as an administrative agency for its public elementary or secondary schools, or a combination of local educational agencies . . . ." Congress thus clearly recognized that school boards were often parties to federal school desegregation suits. In § 718 of the Act, 86 Stat. 369, 20 U. S. C. § 1617 (1976 ed.), Congress gave its explicit approval to the institution of federal desegregation suits against school boards—presumably under § 1983. Section 718 provides:
"Upon the entry of a final order by a court of the United States against a local educational agency . . . for discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin in violation of . . . the fourteenth amendment to the Constitution of the United States . . . the court . . . may allow the prevailing party, other than the United States, a reasonable attorney's fee as part of the costs." (Emphasis added.)
Two years later in the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974, Congress found that "the implementation of desegregation plans that require extensive student transportation has, in many cases, required local educational agencies to expend large amounts of funds, thereby depleting their financial resources . . . ." 20 U. S. C. § 1702 (a) (3) (1976 ed.). (Emphasis added.) Congress did not respond by declaring that school boards were not subject to suit under § 1983 or any other federal statute, "but simply [legislated] revised evidentiary standards and remedial priorities to be employed by the courts in deciding such cases." Brief for National Education Assn. et al. as Amici Curiae 15-16. Indeed, Congress expressly reiterated that a cause of action, cognizable in the federal courts, exists for discrimination in the public school context. 20 U. S. C. §§ 1703, 1706, 1708, 1710, 1718 (1976 ed.). The Act assumes that school boards will usually be the defendants in such suits. For example, § 211 of the Act, 88 Stat. 516, as set forth in 20 U. S. C. § 1710 (1976 ed.), provides:
"The Attorney General shall not institute a civil action under section 1706 of this title [which allows for suit by both private parties and the Attorney General to redress discrimination in public education] before he—
"(a) gives to the appropriate educational agency notice of the condition or conditions which, in his judgment, constitute a violation of part 2 [the prohibitions against discrimination in public education]." Section 219 of the Act, 20 U. S. C. § 1718 (1976 ed.), provides for the termination of court-ordered busing "if the court finds the defendant educational agency has satisfied the requirements of the fifth or fourteenth amendments to the Constitution, whichever is applicable, and will continue to be in compliance with the requirements thereof."
Petitioners in this Court also offered an alternative argument that the city of Chicago was a "person" for purposes of § 1983, Brief for Petitioners, O. T. 1960, No. 39, p. 25, but the underlying theory of municipal liability remained one of respondeat superior.
Of course, the mere fact that an issue was not argued or briefed does not undermine the precedential force of a considered holding. Marbury v. Madison, 1 Cranch 137 (1803), cited by the dissent, post, at 718, is a case in point. But the Court's recognition of its power to invalidate legislation not in conformity with constitutional command was essential to its judgment in Marbury. And on numerous subsequent occasions, the Court has been required to apply the full breadth of the Marbury holding. In Monroe, on the other hand, the Court's rationale was broader than necessary to meet the contentions of the parties and to decide the case in a principled manner. The language in Monroe cannot be dismissed as dicta, but we may take account of the fact that the Court simply was not confronted with the implications of holding § 1983 inapplicable to official municipal policies. It is an appreciation of those implications that has prompted today's re-examination of the legislative history of the 1871 measure.