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SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES     LOS ANGELES COUNTY, CALIFORNIA v.  HUMPHRIES ET AL. . 30.11.2010
SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES LOS ANGELES COUNTY, CALIFORNIA v. HUMPHRIES ET AL. . 30.11.2010
CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR 
THE NINTH CIRCUIT 

No. 09–350. Argued October 5, 2010—Decided November 30, 2010 

The Humphries (hereinafter respondents) were accused of child abuse 
in California, but were later exonerated. However, under California 
law, their names were added to a Child Abuse Central Index (Index),
where they would remain available to various state agencies for at 
least 10 years. The statute has no procedures for allowing individuals to challenge their inclusion in the Index, and neither Californianor Los Angeles County has created such procedures. Respondents 
filed suit under §1983, seeking damages, an injunction, and a declaration that public officials and petitioner Los Angeles County had deprived them of their constitutional rights by failing to create amechanism through which they could contest inclusion in the Index.
The District Court granted the defendants summary judgment, but 
the Ninth Circuit disagreed, holding that the Fourteenth Amendment 
required the State to provide those on the list with notice and a hearing, and thus respondents were entitled to declaratory relief. The 
court also held that respondents were prevailing parties entitled to 
attorney's fees, including $60,000 from the county. The county objected, claiming that as a municipal entity, it was liable only if its“policy or custom” caused the deprivation of a plaintiff's federal right, 
Monell v. New York City Dept. of Social Servs., 436 U. S. 658, 694; 
but a state policy caused any deprivation here. The Ninth Circuit, inter alia, found that respondents did prevail against the county ontheir claim for declaratory relief because Monell did not apply to prospective relief claims. 

Held: Monell's “policy or custom” requirement applies in §1983 cases 
irrespective of whether the relief sought is monetary or prospective. 
Pp. 4–10. 


Syllabus 

(a) In Monroe v. Pape, 365 U. S. 167, this Court based its holdingthat municipal entities were not “person[s]” under §1983 on the provision's legislative history, particularly Congress' rejection of the socalled Sherman amendment, which would have made municipalities 
liable for damages done by private persons “ ‘riotously and tumultuously assembled,' ” id., at 188–190, and n. 38. Reexamining this legislative history in Monell, the Court overruled Monroe. It concluded 
that Congress had rejected the Sherman amendment, not because it 
would have imposed liability on municipalities, but because it wouldhave imposed such liability solely based on the acts of others. The 
Court, on the basis of the statutory text and the legislative history,
went on to explain what acts are the municipality's own for purposes 
of liability. The Court held that “a municipality cannot be held liable” solely for the acts of others, e.g., “solely because it employs a 
tortfeasor,” 436 U. S., at 691, but it may be held liable “when execution of a government's policy or custom . . . inflicts the injury,” id., at 

694. Pp. 4–7.

(b) Section 1983, read in light of Monell's understanding of the legislative history, explains why claims for prospective relief, like claimsfor money damages, fall within the scope of the “policy or custom” requirement. Nothing in §1983 suggests that the causation requirement should change with the form of relief sought. In fact, the text 
suggests the opposite when it provides that a person who meets 
§1983's elements “shall be liable . . . in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress.” Thus, as Monell explicitly stated, “local governing bodies . . . can be sued directly under
§1983 for monetary, declaratory, or injunctive relief where, as here, 
the action that is alleged to be unconstitutional implements or executes” a policy or custom. 436 U. S., at 690. To find the “policy orcustom” requirement inapplicable in prospective relief cases would 
also undermine Monell's logic. For whether an action or omission is a 
municipality's “own” has to do with the nature of the action or omission, not with the nature of the relief that is later sought in court. 
Pp. 7–8.

(c) Respondents' arguments to the contrary are unconvincing. 

Pp. 8–9. 
Reversed and remanded. 

BREYER, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which all otherMembers joined, except KAGAN, J., who took no part in the consideration or decision of the case. 


Opinion of the Court 

NOTICE: This opinion is subject to formal revision before publication in thepreliminary print of the United States Reports. Readers are requested tonotify the Reporter of Decisions, Supreme Court of the United States, Washington, D. C. 20543, of any typographical or other formal errors, in orderthat corrections may be made before the preliminary print goes to press. 

SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES 

No. 09–350 

LOS ANGELES COUNTY, CALIFORNIA, PETITIONER 

v. CRAIG ARTHUR HUMPHRIES ET AL. 

ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF
APPEALS FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT


[November 30, 2010] 


JUSTICE BREYER delivered the opinion of the Court. 

In Monell v. New York City Dept. of Social Servs., 436 

U. S. 658 (1978), this Court held that civil rights plaintiffssuing a municipal entity under 42 U. S. C. §1983 must 
show that their injury was caused by a municipal policy or 
custom. The case before the Court in Monell directly 
involved monetary damages. The question presented is 
whether the “policy or custom” requirement also applieswhen plaintiffs seek prospective relief, such as an injunction or a declaratory judgment. We conclude that it does 
so apply. 

I 
The case arises out of the following circumstances: The 
California Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act, Cal.
Penal Code Ann. §11164 et seq. (West Rev. Supp. 2010),
requires law enforcement and other state agencies to 
investigate allegations of child abuse. These agenciesmust report to the California Department of Justice allinstances of reported child abuse the agency finds “notunfounded,” even if they are “inconclusive or unsubstantiated.” §§11169(a), 11170(a)(3). The statute requires the 


Opinion of the Court 

department to include all these reports in a Child Abuse 
Central Index (Index), where they remain available tovarious state agencies for at least 10 years. §11170(a). 
The statute also says that if 

“a report has previously been filed which subsequently proves to be unfounded, the Department of 
Justice shall be notified in writing of that fact andshall not retain the report.” §11169(a). 

The statute, however, does not set forth procedures for 
reviewing whether a previously filed report is unfounded,
or for allowing individuals to challenge their inclusion inthe Index. Nor, up until the time of this lawsuit, hadCalifornia or Los Angeles County created any such procedures. But cf. §11170(a)(2) (“The submitting agencies are 
responsible for the accuracy, completeness, and retentionof the reports described in this section”).

The two plaintiffs in this case were initially accused ofchild abuse. But they were later exonerated. They soughtto have their names removed from the Index. Unable to 
convince the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department to removethem, they filed this §1983 case against the attorneygeneral of California, the Los Angeles County sheriff, twodetectives in the sheriff's department, and the County ofLos Angeles. They sought damages, an injunction, and adeclaration that the defendants had deprived them of their 
constitutional rights by failing to create a proceduralmechanism through which one could contest inclusion on 
the Index. See U. S. Const., Amdt. 14; Rev. Stat. §1979,42 U. S. C. §1983. The District Court for the Central 
District of California granted summary judgment to all of 
the defendants on the ground that California had notdeprived plaintiffs of a constitutionally protected “liberty”
interest. But on appeal the Ninth Circuit disagreed. 

The Ninth Circuit held that the Fourteenth Amendment 
required the State to provide those included on the list 


notice and “‘some kind of hearing.'” 554 F. 3d 1170, 1201 
(2009). Thus the Circuit held that the plaintiffs wereentitled to declaratory relief, and it believed that (onremand) they might prove damages as well. Ibid. 

The Ninth Circuit also held that the plaintiffs wereprevailing parties, thereby entitled to approximately$600,000 in attorney's fees. 42 U. S. C. §1988(b) (providing for payment of attorney's fees to parties prevailing on
§1983 claims). See No. 05–56467 (June 22, 2009), App. to 
Pet. for Cert. 1–4 (hereinafter First Fee Order); No. 05–
56467 (Dec. 2, 2009), App. to Reply to Brief in Opposition 
1–2 (hereinafter Second Fee Order). The Ninth Circuit 
wrote that Los Angeles County must pay approximately 
$60,000 of this amount. First Fee Order 3; Second Fee 
Order 2. 

Los Angeles County denied that it was liable and therefore that it could be held responsible for attorney's fees. It 
argued that, in respect to the county, the plaintiffs werenot prevailing parties. That is because the county is a 
municipal entity. Under Monell's holding a municipalentity is liable under §1983 only if a municipal “policy or 
custom” caused a plaintiff to be deprived of a federal right.
436 U. S., at 694 (emphasis added). And it was state 
policy, not county policy, that brought about any deprivation here. 

The Ninth Circuit responded to this argument as follows: First, it said that county policy might be responsiblefor the deprivation. It “is possible,” the Ninth Circuit said,
that the county, “[b]y failing to” “creat[e] an independent 
procedure that would allow” the plaintiffs “to challenge 
their listing[,] . . . adopted a custom and policy that violated” the plaintiffs' “constitutional rights.” 554 F. 3d, at 
1202. Second, it said that “because this issue is not clear 
based on the record before us on appeal . . . we remand to 
the district court to determine the County's liability under 
Monell.” Ibid. Third, it saw no reason to remand in re


Opinion of the Court 

spect to the county's obligation to pay $60,000 in attorney's fees. That, it wrote, is because “in our circuit . . . the 
limitations to liability established in Monell do not apply 
to claims for prospective relief,” such as the declaratoryjudgment that the Circuit had ordered entered. First Fee 
Order 3–4 (citing Chaloux v. Killeen, 886 F. 2d 247, 250 
(CA9 1989); Truth v. Kent School Dist., 542 F. 3d 634, 644 
(CA9 2008); emphasis added). 

The county then asked us to review this last-mentioned 
Ninth Circuit holding, namely, the holding that Monell's 
“policy or custom” requirement applies only to claims fordamages but not to claims for prospective relief. Because 
the Courts of Appeals are divided on this question, we 
granted the county's petition for certiorari. Compare 
Reynolds v. Giuliani, 506 F. 3d 183, 191 (CA2 2007) (holding that Monell's “policy or custom” requirement applies toclaims for prospective relief as well as claims for damages); Dirrane v. Brookline Police Dept., 315 F. 3d 65, 71 
(CA1 2002) (same); Greensboro Professional Fire Fighters 
Assn., Local 3157 v. Greensboro, 64 F. 3d 962, 967, n. 6 
(CA4 1995) (applying the Monell requirement to a prospective relief claim); Church v. Huntsville, 30 F. 3d 1332, 
1347 (CA11 1994) (same), with Chaloux, supra, at 251 
(holding that Monell does not apply to prospective relief 
claims). See also Gernetzke v. Kenosha Unified School 
Dist. No. 1, 274 F. 3d 464, 468 (CA7 2001) (reserving the 
question but noting the “predominant” view that “Monell's 
holding applies regardless of the nature of the relief 
sought”).

We conclude that Monell's holding applies to §1983claims against municipalities for prospective relief as well 
as to claims for damages. 

II 
A 
We begin with §1983 itself, which provides: 



 “Every person who, under color of any [state] statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage . . . subjects, or causes to be subjected, any . . . other person . . . to the deprivation of any rights . . . secured bythe Constitution and laws [of the United States], shall 
be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suitin equity, or other proper proceeding for redress.” 
(Emphasis added.) 

In 1961, in Monroe v. Pape, 365 U. S. 167, this Court held 
that municipal entities were not “person[s]” under §1983.
The Court based this conclusion on the history of the Civil 
Rights Act of 1871's enactment. It noted that Congressrejected an amendment (called the Sherman amendment) 
that would have made municipalities liable for damagedone by private persons “‘riotously and tumultuously 
assembled.'” Id., at 188–190, and n. 38 (quoting Cong.
Globe, 42d Cong., 1st Sess., 663 (1871)). This rejection, 
the Court thought, reflected a determination by the 1871 
House of Representatives that “‘Congress had no constitutional power to impose any obligation upon county andtown organizations, the mere instrumentality for the 
administration of state law.'” 365 U. S., at 190 (quoting 
Cong. Globe, supra, at 804 (statement of Rep. Poland); 
emphasis added). The Court concluded that Congressmust have doubted its “constitutional power . . . to imposecivil liability on municipalities.” 365 U. S., at 190. And 
for that reason, Congress must have intended to exclude 
municipal corporations as §1983 defendants. The statute's 
key term “person” therefore did not cover municipal entities. Id., at 191. 

Sixteen years later, in Monell, the Court reconsidered 
the question of municipal liability. After reexamining the 
1871 legislative history in detail, the Court concluded thatCongress had rejected the Sherman amendment, not 
because it would have imposed liability upon municipali


Opinion of the Court 

ties, but because it would have imposed liability upon 
municipalities based purely upon the acts of others. That 
is to say, the rejected amendment would have imposedliability upon local governments “without regard to 
whether a local government was in any way at fault for 
the breach of the peace for which it was to be held for 
damages.” 436 U. S., at 681, n. 40 (emphasis added). In 
Monell's view Congress may have thought that it lackedthe power to impose that kind of indirect liability upon 
municipalities, id., at 679, but “nothing said in debate on 
the Sherman amendment would have prevented holding amunicipality liable . . . for its own violations of the Fourteenth Amendment,” id., at 683 (emphasis added). The 
Court, overruling Monroe, held that municipalities were“persons” under §1983. 436 U. S., at 690. 

The Court also concluded that a municipality could not 
be held liable under §1983 solely because it employed atortfeasor. The Court's conclusion rested on “the language 
of §1983, read against the background of the same legislative history.” Id., at 691. Section 1983's causation language imposes liability on a “‘person who . . . shall subject, 
or cause to be subjected, any person'” to a deprivation of 
federal rights. Ibid. (quoting 17 Stat. 13; emphasis deleted). That language, the Court observed, could not “be 
easily read to impose liability vicariously . . . solely on the 
basis of the existence of an employer-employee relationship with a tortfeasor.” 436 U. S., at 692. The statute's 
legislative history, in particular the constitutional objections that had been raised to the Sherman amendment, 
supported this conclusion. Id., at 692–94, and n. 57. 

For these reasons, the Court concluded that a municipality could be held liable under §1983 only for its ownviolations of federal law. Id., at 694. The Court described 
what made a violation a municipality's own violation: 

“Local governing bodies, therefore, can be sued di


rectly under §1983 for monetary, declaratory, or injunctive relief where, as here, the action that is alleged to be unconstitutional implements or executes apolicy statement, ordinance, regulation, or decision officially adopted and promulgated by that body's officers. . . . [They can also be sued for] deprivations visited pursuant to governmental ‘custom' even thoughsuch a custom has not received formal approvalthrough the body's official decisionmaking channels.” 
Id., at 690–691 (footnote omitted). 

The Court has also included the terms “usage” and “practice” as customs for which liability is appropriate. See 
ibid. The length of this list of types of municipal actionleads us here to use a shorthand term “policy or custom,”
but when we do so, we mean to refer to the entire list. See 
id., at 694 (using the shorthand “policy or custom”); seealso, e.g., Fitzgerald v. Barnstable School Comm., 555 

U. S. 246, ___ (2009) (slip op., at 10) (using the phrase 
“custom, policy, or practice,” to describe municipal liability 
under §1983).

In sum, in Monell the Court held that “a municipalitycannot be held liable” solely for the acts of others, e.g., 
“solely because it employs a tortfeasor.” 436 U. S., at 691. 
But the municipality may be held liable “when execution 
of a government's policy or custom . . . inflicts the injury.” 
Id., at 694 (emphasis added). 

B 
The language of §1983 read in light of Monell's understanding of the legislative history explains why claims for 
prospective relief, like claims for money damages, fallwithin the scope of the “policy or custom” requirement.
Nothing in the text of §1983 suggests that the causation 
requirement contained in the statute should change withthe form of relief sought. In fact, the text suggests theopposite when it provides that a person who meets §1983's 


Opinion of the Court 

elements “shall be liable . . . in an action at law, suit in 
equity, or other proper proceeding for redress.” Thus, as 
Monell explicitly stated, “[l]ocal governing bodies . . . can 
be sued directly under §1983 for monetary, declaratory, or 
injunctive relief where, as here, the action that is alleged 
to be unconstitutional implements or executes” a policy or 
custom. 436 U. S., at 690 (emphasis added). Monell went 
on to quote this Court's statement in a 1973 case, Kenosha 

v. Bruno, 412 U. S. 507, 513, to the effect that the Congress that enacted §1983 did not intend the “‘generic word 
“person” . . . to have a bifurcated application to municipal 
corporations depending on the nature of the relief sought 
against them.'” 436 U. S., at 701, n. 66 (emphasis added). 
Monell added that “[n]othing we say today affects” this 
pre-Monell “conclusion.” Ibid. 

Monell's logic also argues against any such relief-basedbifurcation. The Monell Court thought that Congressintended potential §1983 liability where a municipality's 
own violations were at issue but not where only the violations of others were at issue. The “policy or custom” requirement rests upon that distinction and embodies it in 
law. To find the requirement inapplicable where prospective relief is at issue would undermine Monell's logic. For 
whether an action or omission is a municipality's “own” 
has to do with the nature of the action or omission, not 
with the nature of the relief that is later sought in court. 

C 
The Humphries' (hereinafter respondents) arguments tothe contrary are unconvincing. Respondents correctly note 
that by the time Monell reached the Supreme Court onlythe plaintiffs' damages claim remained live. See id., at 

661. From this fact they conclude that the Court's holding 
applies directly only to claims for monetary damages. A 
holding, however, can extend through its logic beyond the 
specific facts of the particular case. It does so here. 


Opinion of the Court 

Respondents add that not only did Monell involve a 
damages claim, but its holding rests upon the concern thatmunicipalities might have to pay large damages awards.
The Court so suggests when it points out that municipalities should not be liable for an employee's wrongful acts, 
simply by applying agency-based principles of respondeat 
superior. But as we have pointed out, the Court's rejection 
of respondeat superior liability primarily rested not on themunicipality's economic needs, but on the fact that liability in such a case does not arise out of the municipality's 
own wrongful conduct.

Respondents further claim that, where prospective relief 
is at issue, Monell is redundant. They say that a courtcannot grant prospective relief against a municipality 
unless the municipality's own conduct has caused theviolation. Hence, where such relief is otherwise proper, 
the Monell requirement “shouldn't screen out any case.”
Tr. of Oral Arg. 48. 

To argue that a requirement is necessarily satisfied, 
however, is not to argue that its satisfaction is unnecessary. If respondents are right, our holding may have 
limited practical significance. But that possibility does notprovide us with a convincing reason to sow confusion by 
adopting a bifurcated relief-based approach to municipal 
liability that the Court has previously rejected. 

Finally, respondents make the mirror-image argument 
that applying Monell's requirement to prospective reliefclaims will leave some set of ongoing constitutional violations beyond redress. Despite the fact that four Circuits 
apply Monell's requirement to prospective relief, however,
respondents have not presented us with any actual or 
hypothetical example that provides serious cause for 
concern. 

* * * 
For these reasons, we hold that Monell's “policy or cus


tom” requirement applies in §1983 cases irrespective of 
whether the relief sought is monetary or prospective. The 
Ninth Circuit's contrary judgment is reversed, and thecase is remanded for further proceedings consistent withthis opinion. 

It is so ordered. 

JUSTICE KAGAN took no part in the consideration or 
decision of this case. 


Avv. Antonino Sugamele

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