Mar 8, 2021 — By permitting plaintiffs to pursue nominal damages when- ever they suffered a personal legal injury, the common law avoided the oddity of
103 KB – 28 Pages
PAGE – 1 ============
1 (Slip Opinion) OCTOBER TERM, 2020 Syllabus NOTE: Where it is feasible, a syllabus (headnote) will be released, as is being done in connection with this case, at the time the opinion is issued. The syllabus constitutes no part of the opinion of the Court but has been prepared by the Reporter of Decisions for the convenience of the reader. See United States v. Detroit Timber & Lumber Co., 200 U. S. 321, 337. SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES Syllabus UZUEGBUNAM ET AL. v. PRECZEWSKI ET AL. CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE ELEVENTH CIRCUIT No. 19Œ968. Argued January 12, 2021ŠDecided March 8, 2021 Petitioners are former students of Georgia Gwinnett College who wished to exercise their religion by sharin g their faith on campus while en-rolled there. In 2016, Chike Uzuegbunam talked with interested stu -dents and handed out religious literature on campus grounds. Uzueg -bunam stopped after a campus police officer informed him that campus policy prohibited distributing writte n religious materials outside areas designated for that purpose. A college official later explained to Uzueg -bunam that he could speak about his religion or distribute materials only in two designated speech area s on campus, and even then only after securing a permit. But when Uzuegbunam obtained the required permit and tried to speak in a free speech zone, a campus police officer again asked him to stop, this time saying that people had complained about his speech. Campus policy at that time prohibited using the free speech zone to say anything that ﬁd isturbs the peace an d/or comfort of person(s).ﬂ The officer told Uzue gbunam that his speech violated cam -pus policy because it had led to complaints, and the officer threatened Uzuegbunam with disciplinary action if he continued. Uzuegbunam again complied with the order to st op speaking. Another student who shares Uzuegbunam™s faith, Joseph Bradford, decided not to speak about religion because of these events. Both Uzuegbunam and Brad -ford sued certain college officials charged with enforcement of the col – lege™s speech policies, arguing that these policies violated the First Amendment. As relevant here, the students sought injunctive relief and nominal damages. The college officials ultimately chose to discon – tinue the challenged policies rather than to defend them, and they sought dismissal on the ground that the policy change left the students without standing to sue. The part ies agreed that the policy change rendered the students™ request for in junctive relief moot, but disputed
PAGE – 2 ============
2 UZUEGBUNAM v. PRECZEWSKI Syllabus whether the students had standing to maintain the suit based on their remaining claim for nominal damages. The Eleventh Circuit held that while a request for nominal damages can sometimes save a case from mootness, such as where a person pleads but fails to prove an amount of compensatory damages, the students™ plea for nominal damages alone could not by itself establish standing. Held: A request for nominal damages satisfies the redressability element necessary for Article III standing wher e a plaintiff™s claim is based on a completed violation of a legal right. Pp. 3Œ12. (a) To establish Article III stan ding, the Constitution requires a plaintiff to identify an injury in fact that is fairly traceable to the chal -lenged conduct and to seek a remedy likely to redress that injury. Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, 578 U. S. 330, 338. The dispute here concerns whether the remedy Uzuegbunam soughtŠnominal damagesŠcan re – dress the completed constitutional vi olation that he alleges occurred when campus officials enforced th e speech policies against him. The Court looks to the forms of relief awarded at common law to determine whether nominal damages can redre ss a past injury. The prevailing rule at common law was that a party whose rights are invaded can always recover nominal damages without furnishing evidence of actual damage. By permitting plaintiffs to pursue nominal damages when -ever they suffered a personal lega l injury, the common law avoided the oddity of privileging sm all economic rights over important, but not eas -ily quantifiable, nonpecuniary rights. Pp. 3Œ8. (b) The common law did not require a plea for compensatory dam -ages as a prerequisite to an award of nominal damages. Nominal dam -ages are not purely symbolic. Th ey are instead the damages awarded by default until the plaintiff establishes entitlement to some other form of damages. A single dollar often will not provide full redress, but the partial remedy satisfies the redressability requirement. Church of Scientology of Cal. v. United States , 506 U. S. 9, 13. Re -spondents™ argument that a plea for compensatory damages is neces -sary to confer jurisdiction also d oes not square with established prin -ciples of standing. And unlike an award of attorney™s fees and costs which may be the byproduct of a successful suit, an award of nominal damages constitutes relief on the merits. Pp. 8Œ11. (c) A request for redress in the form of nominal damages does not guarantee entry to court. In additi on to redressability, the plaintiff must establish the other elements of standing and satisfy all other rel -evant requirements, such as pleadi ng a cognizable cause of action. Uzuegbunam experienced a completed violation of his constitutional rights when respondents enforced th eir speech policies against him. Nominal damages can redress Uzuegbunam™s injury even if he cannot or chooses not to quantify that ha rm in economic terms. The Court
PAGE – 3 ============
3 Cite as: 592 U. S. ____ (2021) Syllabus does not decide whether Bradford can pursue nominal damages and leaves for the District Court to determine whether Bradford has estab -lished a past, completed injury. Pp. 11Œ12. 781 Fed. Appx. 824, reversed and remanded. THOMAS, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which B REYER, A LITO, SOTOMAYOR, K AGAN, G ORSUCH , K AVANAUGH , and B ARRETT, JJ., joined. KAVANAUGH, J., filed a concurring opinion. R OBERTS, C. J., filed a dissent-ing opinion.
PAGE – 4 ============
_________________ _________________ 1 Cite as: 592 U. S. ____ (2021) Opinion of the Court NOTICE: This opinion is subject to formal revision before publication in the preliminary print of the United States Reports. Readers are requested to notify the Reporter of Decisions, Supreme Court of the United States, Wash -ington, D. C. 20543, of any typographical or other form al errors, in order that corrections may be made before the preliminary print goes to press. SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES No. 19Œ968 CHIKE UZUEGBUNAM, ET AL ., PETITIONERS v. STANLEY C. PRECZEWSKI, ET AL. ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE ELEVENTH CIRCUIT [March 8, 2021] JUSTICE THOMAS delivered the opinion of the Court. At all stages of litigation, a plaintiff must maintain a per -sonal interest in the dispute. The doctrine of standing gen -erally assesses whether that in terest exists at the outset, while the doctrine of mootness considers whether it exists throughout the proceedings. To demonstrate standing, the plaintiff must not only establish an injury that is fairly traceable to the challenged conduct but must also seek a remedy that redresses that injury. And if in the course of litigation a court finds that it can no longer provide a plain -tiff with any effectual relief, the case generally is moot. This case asks whether an award of nominal damages by itself can redress a past injury. We hold that it can. I According to the complaint, Chike Uzuegbunam is an evangelical Christian who believes that an important part of exercising his religion includes sharing his faith. In 2016, Uzuegbunam decided to share his faith at Georgia Gwinnett College, a public college where he was enrolled as a student. At an outdoor plaza on campus near the library
PAGE – 5 ============
2 UZUEGBUNAM v. PRECZEWSKI Opinion of the Court where students often gather, Uzuegbunam engaged in con -versations with interested students and handed out reli -gious literature. A campus police officer soon informed Uzuegbunam that campus policy prohibited distributing written religious ma -terials in that area and told him to stop. Uzuegbunam com -plied with the officer™s order. To learn more about this pol-icy, he then visited the college ™s Director of the Office of Student Integrity, who was directly responsible for promul – gating and enforcing the policy. When asked if Uzueg -bunam could continue speaking about his religion if he stopped distributing materials, the official said no. The of -ficial explained that Uzuegbunam could speak about his re – ligion or distribute materials only in two designated ﬁfree speech expression areas,ﬂ which together make up just 0.0015 percent of campus. And he could do so only after securing the necessary permit. Uzuegbunam then applied for and received a permit to use the free speech zone.Twenty minutes after Uzuegbunam began speaking on the day allowed by his permit, another campus police officer again told him to stop, this time saying that people had complained about his speech. Campus policy prohibited us -ing the free speech zone to say anything that ﬁdisturbs the peace and/or comfort of person(s ).ﬂ App. to Pet. for Cert. 151(a). The officer told Uzuegbunam that his speech vio – lated this policy because it had led to complaints. The of – ficer threatened Uzuegbunam with disciplinary action if he continued. Uzuegbunam again complied with the order to stop speaking. Another student who shares Uzuegbunam™s faith, Joseph Bradford, decided not to speak about religion because of these events. Both students sued a number of college officials in chargeof enforcing the college™s speech policies, arguing that those policies violated the First Amendment. As relevant here, they sought nominal damages and injunctive relief. Re -spondents initially attempted to defend the policy, stating
PAGE – 6 ============
3 Cite as: 592 U. S. ____ (2021) Opinion of the Court that Uzuegbunam™s discussion of his religion ﬁarguably rose to the level of ‚fighting words.™ ﬂ Id., at 155(a). But the col -lege officials quickly abandoned that strategy and instead decided to get rid of the challenged policies. They then moved to dismiss, arguing that the suit was moot, because of the policy change. The students agreed that injunctive relief was no longer available, but they disagreed that the case was moot. They contended that their case was still live because they had also sought nominal damages. The Dis -trict Court dismissed the case, holding that the students™ claim for nominal damages was insufficient by itself to es -tablish standing.The Eleventh Circuit a ffirmed. 781 Fe d. Appx. 824 (2019). It stated that a request for nominal damages can save a case from mootness in certain circumstances, such as where a person pleads but fails to prove an amount ofcompensatory damages. But, because the students did not request compensatory damages, their plea for nominal damages could not by itself establish standing.We granted certiorari to consider whether a plaintiff who sues over a completed injury and establishes the first two elements of standing (injury and traceability) can establish the third by requesting only nominal damages. 591 U. S. ___ (2020). We now reverse. II To satisfy the ﬁ‚irreducible constitutional minimum™ ﬂ of Article III standing, a plaintiff must not only establish (1) an injury in fact (2) that is fairly traceable to the chal -lenged conduct, but he must also seek (3) a remedy that is likely to redress that injury. Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, 578 U. S. 330, 338 (2016); see also Gill v. Whitford, 585 U. S. ___, ___Œ___ (2018) (slip op., at 13Œ14). There is no dispute that Uzuegbunam has established the first two elements. The only question is whether the remedy he soughtŠnom -inal damagesŠcan redress the constitutional violation that
PAGE – 8 ============
5 Cite as: 592 U. S. ____ (2021) Opinion of the Court supra, at 636. The parties disagree, however, about whether nominal damages alone could provide retro spective relief. Stressingthe declaratory function, respondents argue that nominaldamages by themselves redressed only continuing or threatened injury, not past injury. But cases at common law pain t a different picture. Early courts required the plaintiff to prove actual monetary dam-ages in every case: ﬁ[I]njuria & damnum [injury and dam -age] are the two grounds for the having [of] all actions, and without these, no action lieth.ﬂ Cable v. Rogers , 3 Bulst. 311, 312, 81 Eng. Rep. 259 (K. B. 1625). Later courts, how – ever, reasoned that every legal injury necessarily causes damage, so they awarded nominal damages absent evi – dence of other damages (such as compensatory, statutory, or punitive damages), and they did so where there was no apparent continuing or threatened injury for nominal dam -ages to redress. See, e.g., Barker v. Green, 2 Bing. 317, 130Eng. Rep. 327 (C. P. 1824) (nominal damages awarded for 1-day delay in arrest because ﬁif there was a breach of duty the law would presume some damageﬂ); Hatch v. Lewis , 2 F. & F. 467, 479, 485Œ486, 175 Eng. Rep. 1145, 1150, 1153 (N. P. 1861) (ineffective assistance by criminal defense at -torney that does not prejudice the client); Dods v. Evans , 15 C. B. N. S. 621, 624, 627, 143 Eng. Rep. 929, 930Œ931 (C. P. 1864) (breach of contract); Marzetti v. Williams , 1 B. & Ad. 415, 417Œ418, 423Œ428, 109 Eng. Rep. 842, 843, 845Œ847 (K. B. 1830) (bank™s 1-day delay in paying on a check); id., at 424, 109 Eng. Rep., at 845 (recognizing that breach of contract could create a continuing injury but determining that the fact of breach of contract by itself justified nominal damages).The latter approach was followed both before and after ratification of the Constitution . An early case about voting rights effectively illustrates this common-law understand-ing. Faced with a suit pleading denial of the right to vote,
PAGE – 9 ============
6 UZUEGBUNAM v. PRECZEWSKI Opinion of the Court the court rejected the plaintiff ™s claim because, among other reasons, the plaintiff had not established actual dam -ages. Ashby v. White , 2 Raym. Ld. 938, 941Œ943, 948, 92 Eng. Rep. 126, 129, 130, 133 (K. B. 1703). Dissenting, Lord Holt argued that the common law inferred damages when -ever a legal right was violated. Observing that the law rec – ognized ﬁnot merely pecuniaryﬂ injury but also ﬁpersonal in -jury,ﬂ Lord Holt stated that ﬁevery injury imports a damageﬂ and that a plaintiff could always obtain damages even if he ﬁdoes not lose a penny by reason of the [viola -tion].ﬂ Id., at 955, 92 Eng. Rep., at 137. Although Lord Holt was in the minority, the House of Lords overturned the ma – jority decision, thus validating Lord Holt™s position, 3 Salk. 17, 91 Eng. Rep. 665 (K. B. 1703), and this principle ﬁlaid down . . . by Lord Holtﬂ was followed ﬁin many subsequent cases,ﬂ Embrey v. Owen , 6 Exch. 353, 368, 155 Eng. Rep. 579, 585 (1851).The dissent correctly notes that English courts differed in some respects from courts under our system, but Lord Holt™s position also prevailed in courts on this side of the Atlantic. Applying what he called Lord Holt™s ﬁincontro -vertibleﬂ reasoning, Justice Story explained that a prevail – ing plaintiff ﬁis entitled to a verdict for nominal damagesﬂ whenever ﬁno other [kind of damages] be proved.ﬂ Webb v. Portland Mfg. Co., 29 F. Cas. 506, 508Œ509 (No. 17,322) (CC Me. 1838). Because the common law recognized that ﬁevery violation imports damage,ﬂ Jus tice Story reasoned that ﬁ[t]he law tolerates no farther inquiry than whether there has been the violation of a right.ﬂ Ibid. Justice Story alsomade clear that this logic app lied to both retrospective and prospective relief. Id., at 507 (stating that nominal dam -ages are available ﬁwherever there is a wrongﬂ and that, ﬁ[a] fortiori, this doctrine applies where there is not only a vio- lation of a right of the plaintiff, but the act of the defendant,if continued, may become the foundation, by lapse of time,of an adverse rightﬂ).
PAGE – 10 ============
7 Cite as: 592 U. S. ____ (2021) Opinion of the Court The dissent discounts Justice Story™s statement, saying that he took a potentially contradictory position elsewhere and asserted that both actual damages and a violation of a legal right are required. Post, at 7Œ8 (opinion of R OBERTS , C. J.). But in the same source the dissent cites, Justice Story said that nominal damages are ﬁpresumedﬂ ﬁ[w]here the breach of duty is clear.ﬂ Commentaries on the Law of Agency §217, p. 211 (1839). Justice Story adopted the same position a few years later. Whipple v. Cumberland Mfg. Co. , 29 F. Cas. 934, 936 (No. 17,516) (CC Me. 1843) (stating that it is ﬁwell-known and well-settledﬂ that ﬁwherever a wrong is done to a right,ﬂ at minimum ﬁnominal damages will be givenﬂ). And other jurists declared that ﬁ[t]he principle that every injury legally imports damage, was decisively settled,in the case of Ashby.ﬂ Parker v. Griswold, 17 Conn. *288, *304Œ*306 (1845) (citing many cases on both sides of the Atlantic, including Webb and Marzetti). This history is hardly one of ﬁindeterminate sources.ﬂ Post, at 8. Admittedly, the rule allowing nominal damages for a vio -lation of any legal right, though ﬁdecisively settled,ﬂ Parker, 17 Conn., at *304, was not universally followedŠas is true for most common-law doctrines. And some courts only fol -lowed the rule in part, recognizing the availability of nomi -nal damages but holding that the improper denial of nomi – nal damages could be harmless error. Yet, even among these courts, many adopted the rule in full whenever a per -son proved that there was a violation of an ﬁimportant right.ﬂ E.g., Hecht v. Harrison, 5 Wyo. 279, 290, 40 P. 306, 309Œ310 (1895); accord, Reid v. Johnson, 132 Ind. 416, 419, 31 N. E. 1107, 1108 (1892) (ﬁsubstantial rightﬂ). Nonethe -less, the prevailing rule, ﬁwell establishedﬂ at common law, was ﬁthat a party whose rights are invaded can always re -cover nominal damages without furnishing any evidence ofactual damage.ﬂ 1 T. Sedgwick, Measure of Damages 71, n. a (7th ed. 1880); see also id., at 72 (citing Lord Holt™s opinion in Ashby).
PAGE – 11 ============
8 UZUEGBUNAM v. PRECZEWSKI Opinion of the Court That this rule developed at common law is unsurprising in the light of the noneconomic rights that individuals hadat that time. A contrary rule would have meant, in many cases, that there was no remedy at all for those rights, suchas due process or voting rights, that were not readily reduc -ible to monetary valuation. See D. Dobbs, Law of Remedies §3.3(2) (3d ed. 2018) (nominal damages are often awarded for a right ﬁnot economic in character and for which no sub -stantial non-pecuniary award is availableﬂ); see also Carey v. Piphus , 435 U. S. 247, 266Œ267 (1978) (awarding nominal damages for a violation of procedural due process). By per -mitting plaintiffs to pursue nominal damages whenever they suffered a personal legal injury, the common law avoided the oddity of privileging small-dollar economicrights over important, but not easily quantifiable, nonpecu -niary rights. B Respondents and the dissent attempt to discount this his-torical line of cases by contending that something otherthan nominal damages provided redressability. They argue instead that courts could award nominal damages only when a plaintiff pleaded compensatory damages but failedto prove a specific amount. In those circumstances, they say, the plea for compensatory damages is what satisfied the redressability requirement, and courts awarded nomi-nal damages merely as a technical matter. We do not agree. To begin with, the cases themselves did not require a plea for compensatory damages as a condition for receiving nom- inal damages. Lord Holt spoke in categorical terms: ﬁ[E]very injury imports a damage,ﬂ so a plaintiff who proved a legal violation could always obtain some form of damages because he ﬁmust of necessity have a means to vindicate and maintain [the right].ﬂ Ashby, 2 Raym. Ld., at 953Œ955, 92 Eng. Rep., at 136Œ137. Justice Story™s language was no less definitive: ﬁThe law tolera tes no farther inquiry than
103 KB – 28 Pages