Scheuer v. Rhodes

U.S. Supreme Court, in Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 94 s Ct. 1683, 1687 (1974) stated that,

“when a state officer acts under a state law in a manner violative of the Federal Constitution, he comes into conflict with the superior authority of that Constitution, and he is in that case stripped of his official or representative character and is subjected in his person to the consequences of his individual conduct. The state has no power to impart to him any immunity from responsibility to the supreme authority of the United States.” [emphasis supplied in original]

U.S. Supreme Court

Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232 (1974)

Scheuer v. Rhodes

No. 72-914

Argued December 4, 1973

Decided April 17, 1974*

416 U.S. 232


Petitioners, the personal representatives of the estates of students who were killed on the campus of a state controlled university, brought these damages actions under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the Governor, the Adjutant General of the Ohio National Guard, various other Guard officers and enlisted members, and the university president, charging that those officials, acting under color of state law, “intentionally, recklessly, willfully and wantonly” caused an unnecessary Guard deployment on the campus and ordered the Guard members to perform allegedly illegal acts resulting in the students’ deaths. The District Court dismissed the complaints for lack of jurisdiction without the filing of any answer and without any evidence other than the Governor’s proclamations and brief affidavits of the Adjutant General and his assistant, holding that respondents were being sued in their official capacities, and that the actions were therefore in effect against the State, and barred by the Eleventh Amendment. The Court of Appeals affirmed on that ground and on the alternative ground that the common law doctrine of executive immunity was absolute, and barred action against respondent state officials.


1. The Eleventh Amendment does not in some circumstances bar an action for damages against a state official charged with depriving a person of a federal right under color of state law, and the District Court acted prematurely, and hence erroneously, in dismissing the complaints as it did without affording petitioners any opportunity by subsequent proof to establish their claims. Pp. 416 U. S. 235-238.

2. The immunity of officers of the executive branch of a state government for their acts is not absolute, but qualified, and of varying degree, depending upon the scope of discretion and

Page 416 U. S. 233

responsibilities of the particular office and the circumstances existing at the time the challenged action was taken. Pp. 416 U. S. 238-249.

471 F.2d 430, reversed and remanded.

BURGER, C.J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which all Members joined except DOUGLAS, J., who took no part in the decision of the cases.

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