Franchise Tax Board of California v. Hyatt

Justia Summary

Hyatt sued the Franchise Tax Board of California in Nevada state court for alleged torts committed during a tax audit. The Supreme Court affirmed the Nevada Supreme Court, holding that the Full Faith and Credit Clause did not prohibit Nevada from applying its own immunity law. On remand, the Nevada Supreme Court declined to apply a cap on tort liability applicable to Nevada state agencies. The Supreme Court reversed but was divided on whether to overrule Nevada v. Hall, which held that the Constitution does not bar suits brought by an individual against a state in the courts of another state. On remand, the Nevada Supreme Court instructed the trial court to enter damages in accordance with Nevada’s statutory cap.

The Supreme Court then overruled Nevada v. Hall. States retain sovereign immunity from private suits brought in courts of other states. The Constitution assumes that the states retain sovereign immunity except as otherwise provided and fundamentally adjusts the states’ relationship with each other. Article III abrogated certain aspects of the states’ traditional immunity by providing a neutral federal forum in which the states agreed to be amenable to suits brought by other states; in ratifying the Constitution, the states similarly surrendered some of their immunity, consenting to suits brought against them by the United States in federal courts. The Eleventh Amendment confirms that the Constitution was not meant to “rais[e] up” any suits against the states that were “anomalous and unheard of when the Constitution was adopted,” and implies that the Constitution was understood, in light of its history and structure, to preserve the states’ traditional immunity from private suits. State sovereign immunity in another state’s courts is integral to the structure of the Constitution. The states “are no longer fully independent nations free to disregard each other’s sovereignty.”