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Bench Book - 5.3.1 Eleventh Amendment Immunity

Under the Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution, “[t]he Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State.” U.S. CONST. amend. XI. The Eleventh Amendment thus bars most lawsuits seeking damages from states and from units of state government in federal court.

In many cases, the application of that rule will be straightforward. For example, when an offender names the State of Washington and the Washington Department of Corrections as defendants in his federal lawsuit seeking damages for an alleged civil rights violation, the court will readily dismiss the offender’s claims against those defendants. They are immune from such suits under the Eleventh Amendment. Brock v. Wash. Dep’t of Corr., No. C08-5167RBL, 2009 WL 3429096, at *1 (W.D. Wash. Oct. 20, 2009); see also Warner v. McVey, No. 08-55 Erie, 2010 WL 3239385, at *1 (W.D. Pa. July 9, 2010) (finding the Pennsylvania Parole Board immune from suit on Eleventh Amendment grounds in a case involving an offender’s interstate transfer from Iowa to Pennsylvania).