Monell v. Department of Social Services of the City of New York

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Monell v. Department of Social Services of the City of New York
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Argued November 2, 1977
Decided June 6, 1978
Full case name Jane Monell et al., Petitioners, v. Department of Social Services of the City of New York et al.
Citations 436 U.S. 658 (more)
98 S. Ct. 2018, 56 L. Ed. 2d 611; 1978 U.S. LEXIS 100
Municipalities can be held liable for violations of Constitutional rights through 42 U.S.C. §1983 actions.
Court membership
Chief Justice
Warren E. Burger
Associate Justices
William J. Brennan Jr. · Potter Stewart
Byron White · Thurgood Marshall
Harry Blackmun · Lewis F. Powell Jr.
William Rehnquist · John P. Stevens
Case opinions
Majority Brennan, joined by Stewart, White, Marshall, Blackmun, and Powell.
Concurrence Powell
Concurrence Stevens
Dissent Rehnquist, joined by Burger
Laws applied
U.S. Const. amend. XIV, Civil Rights Act of 1871 § 1
This case overturned a previous ruling or rulings
Monroe v. Pape, 365 U.S. 167 (1961) (in part)

Monell v. Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658 (1978),[1] is an opinion given by the United States Supreme Court in which the Court overrules Monroe v. Pape in holding that a local government is a "person" subject to suit under Section 1983 of Title 42 of the United States Code: civil action for deprivation of rights.[2]


The case began in July 1971 as a challenge to the New York City Board of Education's forced maternity leave policies. Monell was a part of a class of women employees of the Dept. of Social Services and Board of Education of the city of New York who were compelled to take maternity leave before such leaves were required for medical reasons. The women sued the Dept. and its Commissioner, the Board and its Chancellor, and the city of New York and its Mayor. The District Court held moot most of petitioners claims since the City and the Board changed their policies relating to maternity leave. The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed.[3]

The Supreme Court of the United States granted certiorari to consider whether local governmental officials and/or local independent school boards are “persons” within the meaning of § 1983 when equitable relief in the nature of back pay is sought against them in their official capacities?[3]

In a different lawsuit in 1978, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that cities were liable for damages under the Civil Rights Act. Following the decision, the city settled for $375,500, to be divided among all women employees placed on forced maternity leave from July 1968 to the time of the case being filed. The city increased the money available for compensations to $11 million after an unexpectedly large response from women to notices announcing the settlement. The claims were paid in the fall of 1981.[4]


The Court undertook a fresh review of the legislative history that Monroe v. Pape so heavily relied upon. Specifically, the Court examined (1) the vote on Section 1 of § 1983, (2) the Sherman Amendment and its vote, (3) the text and vote on the first conference report, and (4) the text and vote on the second conference report. After such lengthy review, the United States Supreme Court announced that Congress did intend for municipalities and other local government units to be included among those persons to whom § 1983 applies.


The United States Supreme Court held that a local government is a "person" that can be sued under Section 1983 of Title 42 of the United States Code: civil action for deprivation of rights.[2]

In particular, the Court held that local governing bodies can be sued directly under Section 1983 for monetary, declaratory, or injunctive relief where, as here, the action that is alleged to be unconstitutional implements or executes a policy statement, ordinance, regulation, or decision officially adopted and promulgated by that body's officers.

Local governments may not, however, be sued under Section 1983 for an injury solely by its employees or agents–in other words, a municipality cannot be held liable under Section 1983 on a respondeat superior theory.


This resolution created a precedent that for the first time established local government monetary accountability for unconstitutional acts and created the right to obtain damages from municipalities in such cases.


Monell is not always absolute. For example, the eleventh circuit recognizes that "police departments are not usually considered legal entities subject to suit."[5]However, the Barber court instructed that "capacity to sue or be sued shall be determined by the law of the state in which the district court is held."[6]. By way of example, Florida courts have consistently found that city police departments are not entities capable of suit.[7][8][9][10].

Therefore, as demonstrated above by way of example, the effects of Monell have been diluted over time, to the extent that Monell in and of itself does not necessarily impart the ability to name a government entity as a 1983 action.


  1. ^ Monell v. Department of Social Services of the City of New York, 436 U.S. 658 (1978).
  2. ^ a b 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
  3. ^ a b "Monell v. Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658 (1978)".  This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  4. ^ "Monell v. Department of Social Services: Synopsis & Description". Center for Constitutional Rights. 
  5. ^ Dean v. Barber, 951 F.2d 1210, 1214 (11th Cir. 1992).
  6. ^ Dean v. Barber, quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 17(b).
  7. ^ Blandin v. Cnty. of Charlotte, No. 2:07-cv-691-FtM-29DNF, 2009 WL 2634419, at *4 (M.D. Fla. Aug 24, 2009)
  8. ^ Faulkner v. Monroe Cnty. Sheriff's Dep't, 523 F. App'x. 696, 700-01 (11th Cir. 2013).
  9. ^ Williams v. Miami-Dade Police Dep't., 297 F. App'x. 941, 945 (11th Cir. 2008).
  10. ^ Mann v. Hillsborough Cnty. Sheriff's Office, 946 F. Supp. 962, 970-71 (M.D. Fla. 1996).

External links

  • Text of Monell v. Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658 (1978) is available from:  Cornell  CourtListener  Findlaw  Justia  Oyez 
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