Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority v. Metcalf & Eddy, Inc.
506 U.S. 139 (1993)

Annotate this Case

OCTOBER TERM, 1992

Syllabus

PUERTO RICO AQUEDUCT AND SEWER AUTHORITY v. METCALF & EDDY, INC.

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FIRST CIRCUIT

No. 91-1010. Argued November 9, 1992-Decided January 12, 1993

Petitioner, an autonomous Puerto Rico government instrumentality, moved to dismiss the diversity action brought against it by respondent, a private firm, on the grounds that it was an "arm of the State," and that the Eleventh Amendment therefore prohibited the suit. Mter the District Court denied the motion, the Court of Appeals dismissed petitioner's appeal for want of jurisdiction, concluding that Circuit precedent barred both States and their agencies from taking an immediate appeal on a claim of Eleventh Amendment immunity.

Held: States and state entities that claim to be "arms of the State" may take advantage of the collateral order doctrine of Cohen v. Beneficial Industrial Loan Corp., 337 U. S. 541, to appeal a district court order denying a claim of Eleventh Amendment immunity from suit in federal court. Although 28 U. S. C. § 1291 requires that appeals be taken from "final decisions of the district courts," Cohen, supra, at 546, provides that a "small class" of judgments that are not complete and final will be immediately appealable. Once it is acknowledged that a State and its "arms" are, in effect, immune from federal-court suit under the Amendment, see, e. g., Welch v. Texas Dept. of Highways and Public Transportation, 483 U. S. 468, 480, it follows that the elements of the collateral order doctrine necessary to bring an order within Cohen's "small class," see Coopers & Lybrand v. Livesay, 437 U. S. 463, 468, are satisfied. First, denials of Eleventh Amendment immunity claims purport to be conclusive determinations that States and their entities have no right not to be sued in federal court. Second, a motion to dismiss on Eleventh Amendment grounds involves a claim to a fundamental constitutional protection whose resolution generally will have no bearing on the merits of the underlying action. Third, the value to the States of their constitutional immunity-like the benefits conferred by qualified immunity to individual officials, see Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U. S. 511, 526is for the most part lost as litigation proceeds past motion practice, such that the denial order will be effectively unreviewable on appeal from a final judgment. Respondent's claim that the Amendment does not confer immunity from suit, but merely a defense to liability, misunderstands the role of the Amendment in our system of federalism and is rejected.


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140 PUERTO RICO AQUEDUCT AND SEWER AUTHORITY v. METCALF & EDDY, INC.

Syllabus

Moreover, there is little basis for respondent's alternative argument that a distinction should be drawn between cases in which the determination of an Eleventh Amendment claim is bound up with factual complexities whose resolution requires trial and cases in which it is not. In any event, the determination of petitioner's Eleventh Amendment status does not appear to implicate any extraordinary factual difficulty and can be fully explored on remand. pp. 142-147.

945 F.2d 10, reversed and remanded.

WHITE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C. J., and BLACKMUN, O'CONNOR, SCALIA, KENNEDY, SOUTER, and THOMAS, JJ., joined. BLACKMUN, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 147. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 148.

Richard Taranto argued the cause for petitioner. With him on the briefs were Perry M. Rosen, Paige E. Reffe, and Michael T. Brady.

Peter W Sipkins argued the cause for respondent. With him on the brief were Michael J. Wahoske, Paul R. Dieseth, Carol A. Peterson, and Jay A. Garcia-Gregory.*

*Briefs of amici curiae urging reversal were filed for the State of Ohio et al. by Lee Fisher, Attorney General of Ohio, and Patrick A. Devine and Andrew I. Sutter, Assistant Attorneys General, and by the Attorneys General for their respective jurisdictions as follows: James H. Evans of Alabama, Grant Woods of Arizona, Winston Bryant of Arkansas, Daniel E. Lungren of California, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Robert A. Butterworth of Florida, Michael J. Bowers of Georgia, Elizabeth BarrettAnderson of Guam, Warren Price III of Hawaii, Larry EchoHawk of Idaho, Roland W Burris of Illinois, Linley E. Pearson of Indiana, Bonnie J. Campbell of Iowa, Robert T. Stephan of Kansas, Chris Gorman of Kentucky, Michael E. Carpenter of Maine, Scott Harshbarger of Massachusetts, Frank J. Kelley of Michigan, Mike Moore of Mississippi, William L. Webster of Missouri, Marc Racicot of Montana, Frankie Sue Del Papa of Nevada, Robert J. Del Tufo of New Jersey, Tom Udall of New Mexico, Robert Abrams of New York, Lacy H. Thornburg of North Carolina, Nicholas J. Spaeth of North Dakota, Robert C. Naraja of Northern Mariana Islands, Susan Loving of Oklahoma, Charles Crookham of Oregon, Ernest


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