Lane v. Peña,
518 U.S. 187 (1996)

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No. 95-365. Argued April 15, 1996-Decided June 20,1996

Respondents terminated petitioner Lane's enrollment at the United States Merchant Marine Academy on the ground that his recently diagnosed diabetes mellitus rendered him ineligible to be commissioned for service in the Navy/Merchant Marine Reserve Program or as a Naval Reserve Officer. Alleging that his separation from the Academy violated § 504(a) of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973-which prohibits, among other things, discrimination on the basis of disability "under any program or activity conducted by any Executive agency"-Lane brought this suit seeking reinstatement to the Academy, compensatory damages, and other remedies. The District Court ordered him reinstated, but ultimately ruled that he must be denied compensatory damages because Congress has not waived the Federal Government's sovereign immunity against monetary damages awards for § 504(a) violations. The Court of Appeals summarily affirmed.

Held: Congress has not waived the Government's sovereign immunity against monetary damages awards for § 504(a) violations. Pp. 191-200.

(a) The requisite "unequivocal expression" of congressional intent to grant such a waiver, see, e. g., Irwin v. Department of Veterans Affairs, 498 U. S. 89, 95, is lacking in the text of § 505(a)(2), which decrees that the remedies available for violations of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964-including monetary damages awards, see, e. g., Franklin v. Gwinnett County Public Schools, 503 U. S. 60, 70-apply also to § 504(a) violations "by any ... Federal provider of [financial] assistance." This provision makes no mention whatsoever of "program[s] or activit[ies] conducted by any Executive agency," the plainly more far-reaching language Congress employed in § 504(a) itself. The lack of the necessary clarity of expression in § 505(a)(2) is underscored by the precision with which Congress has waived the Government's sovereign immunity in §§ 501 and 505(a)(1) of the Act and in the Civil Rights Act of 1991. Lane's contention that the larger statutory scheme indicates congressional intent to "level the playing field" by subjecting the Government to the same remedies as any and all other § 504(a) defendants is rejected. Franklin, supra, at 69-71, distinguished. Pp. 191-197.



(b) The "equalization" provision of § 1003 of the Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1986-which, after waiving the States' Eleventh Amendment immunity from federal-court suit for violations of § 504 and other civil rights statutes, specifies that legal and equitable remedies are available in such a suit "to the same extent as ... in the suit against any public or private entity other than a State"-does not reveal congressional intent to equalize the remedies available against all defendants for § 504(a) violations, such that federal agencies, like private entities, must be subject to monetary damages. Although Lane's argument to this effect is not without force, it is ultimately defeated by the existence of at least two other conceivable, if not entirely satisfactory, interpretations of the equalization provision: (1) that "public ... entit[ies]" refers to the nonfederal public entities receiving federal financial assistance that are covered by each of the referenced federal statutes; and (2) that "public or private entit[ies]" is meant only to subject the States to the scope of remedies available against either public or private § 504 defendants, whatever the lesser (or perhaps the greater) of those remedies might be. Pp. 197-200.


O'CONNOR, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C. J., and SCALIA, KENNEDY, SOUTER, THOMAS, and GINSBURG, JJ., joined. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BREYER, J., joined, post, p.200.

Walter A. Smith, Jr., argued the cause for petitioner.

With him on the briefs were Daniel B. Kohrman, Audrey J. Anderson, Arthur B. Spitzer, and Steven R. Shapiro.

Beth S. Brinkmann argued the cause for respondents.

With her on the brief were Solicitor General Days, Assistant Attorney General Hunger, Deputy Solicitor General Bender, Barbara C. Biddle, and Christine N. Kohl. *

*Linda D. Kilb, Arlene B. Mayerson, and Patricia Shiu filed a brief for the American Association of Retired Persons et al. as amici curiae urging reversal.

Michael A. Greene and Jerry W Lee filed a brief for the American Diabetes Association as amicus curiae.

Full Text of Opinion

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