Supreme Court Holds States are Immune from Money Damages under RLUIPA

This is a big deal for American Indians asserting religious freedom claims against state governments.

Here is today’s opinion in Sossamon v. Texas, authored by Justice Thomas.

From the Court’s syllabus:

After this Court held that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 was unconstitutional as applied to state and local governments because it exceeded Congress’ power under §5 of the Fourteenth Amendment, see City of Boerne v. Flores, 521 U. S. 507, Congress passed the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA) pursuant to its Spending Clause and Commerce Clause authority. RLUIPA targets two areas of state and local action: land–use regulation, RLUIPA §2, 42 U. S. C. §2000cc, and restrictions on the religious exercise of institutionalized persons, RLUIPA §3, §2000cc–1. It also provides an express private cause of action for “appropriate relief against a government,” §2000cc–2(a), including, inter alia, States, their instrumentalities and officers, and persons acting under color of state law, §2000cc–5(4)(A).

Petitioner Sossamon, a Texas prison inmate, sued respondents, the State and prison officials, seeking injunctive and monetary relief under RLUIPA for prison policies that prevented inmates from attending religious services while on cell restriction for disciplinary infractions and that barred use of the prison chapel for religious worship. Granting respondents summary judgment, the District Court held that sovereign immunity barred Sossamon’s claims for monetary relief. The Fifth Circuit affirmed, holding that the statutory phrase “appropriate relief against a government” did not unambiguously notify Texas that its acceptance of federal funds was conditioned on a waiver of sovereign immunity to claims for monetary relief.

Held: States, in accepting federal funding, do not consent to waive their sovereign immunity to private suits for money damages under RLUIPA.

This entry was posted in Author: Matthew L.M. Fletcher, Research, Supreme Court and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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