Nevada Dept. of Human Resources v. Hibbs, 538 U.S. 721 (2003)

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

No. 01-1368. Argued January 15, 2003—Decided May 27, 2003

Respondent Hibbs (hereinafter respondent), an employee of the Nevada

Department of Human Resources (Department), sought leave to care for his ailing wife under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA), which entitles an eligible employee to take up to 12 work weeks of unpaid leave annually for the onset of a "serious health condition" in the employee's spouse and for other reasons, 29 U. S. C. 2612(a)(1)(C). The Department granted respondent's request for the full 12 weeks of FMLA leave, but eventually informed him that he had exhausted that leave and that he must report to work by a certain date. Respondent failed to do so and was terminated. Pursuant to FMLA provisions creating a private right of action to seek both equitable relief and money damages "against any employer (including a public agency)," 2617(a)(2), that "interfere[d] with, restrain[ed], or den[ied] the exercise of" FMLA rights, 2615(a)(1), respondent sued petitioners, the Department and two of its officers, in Federal District Court seeking damages and injunctive and declaratory relief for, inter alia, violations of 2612(a)(1)(C). The court awarded petitioners summary judgment on the grounds that the FMLA claim was barred by the Eleventh Amendment and that respondent's Fourteenth Amendment rights had not been violated. The Ninth Circuit reversed.

Held: State employees may recover money damages in federal court in the event of the State's failure to comply with the FMLA's family-care provision. Congress may abrogate the States' Eleventh Amendment immunity from suit in federal court if it makes its intention to abrogate unmistakably clear in the language of the statute and acts pursuant to a valid exercise of its power under 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment. See, e. g., Board of Trustees of Univ. of Ala. v. Garrett, 531 U. S. 356, 363. The FMLA satisfies the clear statement rule. See Kimel v. Florida Bd. of Regents, 528 U. S. 62, 73-78. Congress also acted within its authority under 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment when it sought to abrogate the States' immunity for purposes of the FMLA's family-leave provision. In the exercise of its 5 power, Congress may enact so-called prophylactic legislation that proscribes facially constitutional con-


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