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U.S. Supreme Court

Patsy v. Board of Regents of State of Florida, 457 U.S. 496 (1982)

Patsy v. Board of Regents of State of Florida

No. 80-1874

Argued March 2, 1982

Decided June 21, 1982

457 U.S. 496


Petitioner filed an action in Federal District Court under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for declaratory or injunctive relief or damages, alleging that respondent employer had denied her employment opportunities solely on the basis of her race and sex. The District Court granted respondent's motion to dismiss because petitioner had not exhausted available state administrative remedies. The Court of Appeals vacated, holding that a § 1983 plaintiff could be required to exhaust administrative remedies if certain specified conditions were met, and remanded the case to the District Court to determine whether exhaustion would be appropriate in the instant case.

Held: Exhaustion of state administrative remedies is not a prerequisite to an action under § 1983. Pp. 457 U. S. 500-516.

(a) This conclusion is supported by the legislative histories of both § 1983 and 42 U.S.C. § 1997e (1976 ed., Supp. IV), which carves out a narrow exception to the general no-exhaustion rule established in this Court's prior decisions by creating a specific, limited exhaustion requirement for adult prisoners bringing actions pursuant to § 1983. A judicially imposed exhaustion requirement in cases other than adult prisoners' cases would be inconsistent with Congress' decision to adopt § 1997e, would usurp policy judgments that Congress has reserved for itself, and would also be inconsistent with the detailed exhaustion scheme embodied in § 1997e. Pp. 457 U. S. 502-512.

(b) Even if, as respondent argues, an exhaustion requirement would lessen the burden that § 1983 actions impose on federal courts, would further the goal of comity and improve federal-state relations, and would enable the state agency to enlighten the federal court's ultimate decision, these are policy considerations that alone cannot justify judicially imposed exhaustion unless exhaustion is consistent with congressional intent. Moreover, difficult questions concerning the design and scope of an exhaustion requirement, which might be answered swiftly and surely by legislation, would create costly, remedy-delaying and court-burdening litigation if answered by the judiciary in the context of diverse constitutional claims relating to thousands of different state agencies. Pp. 457 U. S. 512-515.

634 F.2d 900, reversed and remanded.

Page 457 U. S. 497

MARSHALL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BRENNAN, BLACKMUN, REHNQUIST, STEVENS, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined, and in all but Part III-B of which WHITE, J., joined. O'CONNOR, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which REHNQUIST, J., joined, post, p. 457 U. S. 516. WHITE, J., filed an opinion concurring in part, post, p. 457 U. S. 517. POWELL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in Part II of which BURGER, C.J.,joined, post, p. 457 U. S. 519.

Page 457 U. S. 498

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