United States v. Georgia
546 U.S. 151 (2006)

Annotate this Case




certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the eleventh circuit

No. 04–1203. Argued November 9, 2005—Decided January 10, 2006

Goodman, petitioner in No. 04–1236, is a paraplegic who sued respondent state defendants and others, challenging the conditions of his confinement in a Georgia prison under, inter alia, 42 U. S. C. §1983 and Title II of the Americans with Disability Act of 1990. As relevant here, the Federal District Court dismissed the §1983 claims because Goodman’s allegations were vague, and granted respondents summary judgment on the Title II money damages claims because they were barred by state sovereign immunity. The United States, petitioner in No. 04–1203, intervened on appeal. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the District Court’s judgment as to the Title II claims, but reversed the §1983 ruling, finding that Goodman had alleged facts sufficient to support a limited number of Eighth Amendment claims against state agents and should be permitted to amend his complaint. This Court granted certiorari to decide the validity of Title II’s abrogation of state sovereign immunity.

Held: Insofar as Title II creates a private cause of action for damages against States for conduct that actually violates the Fourteenth Amendment, Title II validly abrogates state sovereign immunity. Pp. 5–8.

   (a) Because this Court assumes that the Eleventh Circuit correctly held that Goodman had alleged actual Eighth Amendment violations for purposes of §1983, and because respondents do not dispute Goodman’s claim that this same conduct violated Title II, Goodman’s Title II money damages claims were evidently based, at least in part, on conduct that independently violated §1 of the Fourteenth Amendment. No one doubts that §5 grants Congress the power to enforce the Fourteenth Amendment’s provisions by creating private remedies against the States for actual violations of those provisions. This includes the power to abrogate state sovereign immunity by authorizing private suits for damages against the States. Thus, the Eleventh Circuit erred in dismissing those of Goodman’s claims based on conduct that violated the Fourteenth Amendment. Pp. 5–7.

   (b) Once Goodman’s complaint is amended, the lower courts will be best situated to determine in the first instance, on a claim-by-claim basis, (1) which aspects of the State’s alleged conduct violated Title II; (2) to what extent such misconduct also violated the Fourteenth Amendment; and (3) insofar as such conduct violated Title II but did not violate the Fourteenth Amendment, whether Congress’s purported abrogation of sovereign immunity in such contexts is nevertheless valid. Pp. 7–8.

120 Fed. Appx. 785, reversed and remanded.

   Scalia, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court. Stevens, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which Ginsburg, J., joined.

 Together with No. 04–1236, Goodman v. Georgia et al., also on certiorari to the same court.

Primary Holding
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 protects inmates with disabilities in state prisons from discrimination by authorities, and it overrides state sovereign immunity for prisoners who bring suits alleging violations of Title II of this law. Congress properly exercised its authority under Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment in enacting the ADA.
A paraplegic in a Georgia state prison, Tony Goodman, brought an action against the state on the grounds that prison authorities discriminated against disabled individuals in violation of Title II of the ADA. Citing the Eleventh Amendment, Georgia asserted the principle of state sovereign immunity and prevailed in the trial court. The Eleventh Circuit reversed the decision after the federal government sued Georgia under the theory that Title II abolished state sovereign immunity in these situations. It argued that the Fourteenth Amendment gave Congress the power to enforce equal protection in prisons.



  • Antonin Scalia (Author)
  • John G. Roberts, Jr.
  • John Paul Stevens
  • Anthony M. Kennedy
  • David H. Souter
  • Clarence Thomas
  • Stephen G. Breyer
  • Ruth Bader Ginsburg
  • Sandra Day O'Connor

In cases such as these, where the Eighth Amendment is implicated, the Fourteenth Amendment incorporates the Eighth Amendment so that it applies to the states. Title II of the ADA clearly abolishes sovereign immunity with regard to Eighth Amendment violations. Also, Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment permits Congress to enforce it against the states by creating private remedies for actual violations of the Fourteenth Amendment. Abolishing state sovereign immunity in a certain area fits within the meaning of the constitutional text.


  • John Paul Stevens (Author)
  • Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Case Commentary

The Court used the Eighth Amendment to invalidate sovereign immunity in this instance, but it is less clear whether the ADA itself would justify removing state sovereign immunity.

Disclaimer: Justia Annotations is a forum for attorneys to summarize, comment on, and analyze case law published on our site. Justia makes no guarantees or warranties that the annotations are accurate or reflect the current state of law, and no annotation is intended to be, nor should it be construed as, legal advice. Contacting Justia or any attorney through this site, via web form, email, or otherwise, does not create an attorney-client relationship.

Disclaimer: Official Supreme Court case law is only found in the print version of the United States Reports. Justia case law is provided for general informational purposes only, and may not reflect current legal developments, verdicts or settlements. We make no warranties or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the information contained on this site or information linked to from this site. Please check official sources.