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SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
FNU TANZIN, et al., PETITIONERS v. MUHAMMAD TANVIR, et al.
on writ of certiorari to america courtroom of appeals for the second circuit
[December 10, 2020]
Justice Thomas added the opinion of the Court.
The Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA) prohibits the Federal Government from enforcing significant burdens on religious exercise, absent a compelling hobby pursued thru the least restrictive way.
forty two U. S. C. §2000bb et seq. It also offers someone whose spiritual exercising has been unlawfully burdened the right to are trying to find “suitable remedy.” The question right here is whether “suitable alleviation ” consists of claims for cash damages towards Government officers of their person capacities. We maintain that it does.
RFRA secures Congress’ view of the proper to free workout underneath the
First Amendment, and it gives a remedy to redress violations of that right. Congress passed the Act inside the wake of this Court’s choice in Employment Div., Dept. of Human Resources of Ore. v. Smith,
494 U.S. 872, 885–890 (1990), which held that the
First Amendment tolerates impartial, typically applicable legal guidelines that burden or restrict spiritual acts even when the laws are unsupported with the aid of a narrowly tailored, compelling governmental hobby. See §2000bb(a). RFRA sought to counter the effect of that protecting and repair the pre-Smith “compelling hobby take a look at” through “provid[ing] a claim . . . to men and women whose religious workout is appreciably stressed by using government.” §§2000bb(b)(1)–(2). That right of movement allows someone to “attain appropriate comfort in opposition to a central authority.” §2000bb–1(c). A “ ‘government’ ” is defined to encompass “a department, department, employer, instrumentality, and legitimate (or different character appearing below colour of regulation) of the USA.” §2000bb–2(1).
Respondents Muhammad Tanvir, Jameel Algibhah, and Naveed Shinwari are working towards Muslims who claim that Federal Bureau of Investigation marketers located them at the No Fly List in retaliation for his or her refusal to behave as informants in opposition to their non secular groups. Respondents sued diverse marketers in their respectable capacities, searching for elimination from the No Fly List. They also sued the agents of their character capacities for money damages. According to respondents, the retaliation cost them significant sums of money: airline tickets wasted and profits from process opportunities lost.
More than a yr after respondents sued, the Department of Homeland Security knowledgeable them that they could now fly, therefore mooting the claims for injunctive relief. The District Court then disregarded the person-potential claims for money damages, ruling that RFRA does now not permit financial alleviation.
The Second Circuit reversed. 894 F.3d 449 (2018). It determined that RFRA’s express remedies provision, combined with the statutory definition of “Government,” authorizes claims in opposition to federal officers in their man or woman capacities. Relying on our precedent and RFRA’s extensive protections for religious liberty, the court docket concluded that the open-ended phrase “suitable comfort ” encompasses money damages towards officials. We granted certiorari, 589 U. S. ___ (2019), and now confirm.
As regular, we begin with the statutory textual content. E.g., Mission Product Holdings, Inc. v. Tempnology, LLC, 587 U. S. ___, ___ (2019) (slip op., at 8). A person whose exercising of religion has been unlawfully confused may additionally “acquire appropriate alleviation towards a central authority.”
42 U. S. C. §2000bb–1(c).
We first ought to determine if injured events can sue Government officials in their personal capacities. RFRA’s text provides a clean answer: They can. Persons may additionally sue and achieve alleviation “against a government,” §2000bb–1(c), that's described to include “a department, department, enterprise, instrumentality, and legitimate (or other individual appearing under colour of law) of the USA.” §2000bb–2(1) (emphasis delivered).
The Government urges us to restriction complaints against officials to fits in opposition to them of their reliable, no longer private, capacities. A lawsuit looking for damages from employees in their man or woman capacities, the Government argues, isn't genuinely “towards a central authority” due to the fact alleviation “can be done most effective towards the official’s non-public property.” Kentucky v. Graham,
473 U.S. 159, 166 (1985).
The trouble with this in any other case conceivable argument is that Congress supplanted the normal that means of “government” with a exclusive, express definition. “ ‘When a statute includes an specific definition, we should follow that definition,’ even if it varies from a time period’s regular meaning.” Digital Realty Trust, Inc. v. Somers, 583 U. S. ___, ___ (slip op., at nine) (quoting Burgess v. United States,
553 U.S. 124, a hundred thirty (2008)). For instance, if a statute defines a “State” to consist of territories and districts, that addition to the obvious which means controls. See, e.g.,
15 U. S. C. §267. So too here. A “government,” underneath RFRA, extends beyond the time period’s simple meaning to consist of officials. And the time period “legitimate” does not refer entirely to an office, but alternatively to the real character “who is invested with an workplace.” 10 Oxford English Dictionary 733 (2d ed. 1989). Under RFRA’s definition, relief that may be carried out towards an “legitimate . . . of america” is “comfort towards a central authority.” forty two U. S. C. §§2000bb–1(c), 2000bb–2(1).
Not only does the time period “authorities” encompass officials, it also authorizes suits towards “different individual[s] appearing underneath colour of law.” §2000bb–2(1). The proper to obtain alleviation towards “a person” can not be squared with the Government’s studying that alleviation have to continually run against the USA. Moreover, using the phrase “professional (or different man or woman . . . )” underscores that “authentic[s]” are treated like “man or woman[s].” Ibid. (emphasis delivered). In other phrases, the parenthetical clarifies that “a central authority” consists of each those who are officers acting underneath shade of law and different, extra folks who are nonofficials acting beneath color of regulation. Here, respondents sued the former.
The criminal “backdrop towards which Congress enacted” RFRA confirms the propriety of character-ability fits. Stewart v. Dutra Constr. Co.,
543 U.S. 481, 487 (2005). The word “people appearing underneath colour of law” draws on one of the most famous civil rights statutes:
forty two U. S. C. §1983. That statute applies to “character[s] . . . under coloration of any statute,” and this Court has long interpreted it to allow suits against officials in their character capacities. See, e.g., Memphis Community School Dist. v. Stachura,
477 U.S. 299, 305–306, and n. eight (1986). Because RFRA makes use of the equal terminology as §1983 in the very same discipline of civil rights regulation, “it's far reasonable to consider that the terminology bears a constant meaning.” A. Scalia & B. Garner, Reading Law: The Interpretation of Legal Texts 323 (2012). A suit towards an professional in his personal capability is a healthy towards someone acting beneath coloration of regulation. And a healthy in opposition to a person performing under coloration of regulation is a match against “a government,” as described underneath RFRA. §2000bb–1(c).
The question then will become what “suitable remedy ” includes. Without a statutory definition, we turn to the word’s undeniable that means on the time of enactment. See FCC v. AT&T Inc.,
562 U.S. 397, 403 (2011). “Appropriate” way “[s]pecially fitted or suitable, right.” 1 Oxford English Dictionary, at 586; see also Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary 57 (tenth ed. 1996) (“specially appropriate or well suited”). Because this language is “open-ended” on its face, what alleviation is “ ‘suitable’ ” is “inherently context established.” Sossamon v. Texas,
563 U.S. 277, 286 (2011) (interpreting identical language).
In the context of fits against Government officers, damages have long been presented as suitable alleviation. In the early Republic, “an array of writs . . . allowed individuals to check the legality of government behavior by means of submitting match in opposition to authorities officials” for money damages “payable by using the officer.” Pfander & Hunt, Public Wrongs and Private Bills: Indemnification and Govt Accountability within the Early Republic, eighty five N. Y. U. L. Rev. 1862, 1871–1875 (2010); see identification., at 1875, n. fifty two (collecting cases). These common-law causes of motion remained to be had via the 19th century and into the 20 th. See, e.g., Little v. Barreme, 2 Cranch a hundred and seventy (1804); Elliott v. Swartwout, 10 Pet. 137 (1836); Mitchell v. Harmony, 13 How. a hundred and fifteen (1852); Buck v. Colbath, three Wall. 334 (1866); Belknap v. Schild,
161 U.S. 10 (1896); Philadelphia Co. v. Stimson,
223 U.S. 605, 619–620 (1912) (“The exemption of america from suit does not guard its officers from personal liability to men and women whose rights of belongings they have got wrongfully invaded”).
Though greater restricted, damages towards federal officials continue to be the proper shape of comfort today. In 1988 the Westfall Act foreclosed common-regulation claims for damages in opposition to federal officials,
28 U. S. C. §2679, but it left open claims for constitutional violations and positive statutory violations. §§2679(b)(2)(A)–(B). Indeed, the Act expressly contemplates that a statute could authorize an action for damages against Government personnel. §2679(b)(2)(B) (explaining that the displacement of remedies “does no longer enlarge or apply to a civil movement in opposition to an worker of the Government . . . that's introduced for a violation of a statute of america below which such motion against an individual is otherwise authorized”).
Damages also are typically available against nation and nearby government officers. In 1871, as an instance, Congress exceeded the precursor to §1983, implementing liability on any individual who, below colour of country law, disadvantaged any other of a constitutional right.
13; see additionally Myers v. Anderson,
238 U.S. 368, 379, 383 (1915) (affirming award of damages against state election officials). By the time Congress enacted RFRA, this Court had interpreted the modern-day version of §1983 to permit financial healing in opposition to officials who violated “absolutely set up” federal regulation. E.g., Procunier v. Navarette,
434 U.S. 555, 561–562 (1978); Siegert v. Gilley,
500 U.S. 226, 231 (1991).
This availability of damages underneath §1983 is particularly salient in mild of RFRA’s origins. When first enacted, RFRA described “ ‘government’ ” to encompass an “legitimate (or other character performing underneath shade of law) of the US, a State, or a subdivision of a State.”
1489 (emphasis delivered). It made no difference between country and federal officers. After this Court held that RFRA couldn't be enforced against the States, see City of Boerne v. Flores,
521 U.S. 507, 511 (1997), Congress narrowly amended the definition “by placing ‘a State, or a subdivision of a State.’ ”
806. That context is crucial because RFRA made clean that it turned into reinstating both the pre-Smith substantive protections of the
First Amendment and the proper to vindicate those protections with the aid of a claim. §2000bb(b). There is no doubt that damages claims have continually been to be had below §1983 for simply installed violations of the
First Amendment. See, e.g., Sause v. Bauer, 585 U. S. ___ (2018) (according to curiam) (reversing provide of qualified immunity in a case looking for damages beneath §1983 based on alleged violations of unfastened workout rights and
Fourth Amendment rights); Murphy v. Missouri Dept. of Corrections, 814 F.2nd 1252, 1259 (CA8 1987) (remanding to enter judgment for plaintiffs on a §1983 free speech and free exercising claims and to determine and order “appropriate remedy, which . . . may, if suitable, consist of an award” of damages). Given that RFRA reinstated pre-Smith protections and rights, events suing beneath RFRA ought to have at least the identical avenues for comfort towards officers that they might have had earlier than Smith. That manner RFRA gives, as one avenue for relief, a right to seek damages against Government personnel.
A damages treatment isn't just “appropriate” alleviation as regarded thru the lens of suits against Government personnel. It is also the most effective shape of comfort which can treatment a few RFRA violations. For positive injuries, consisting of respondents’ wasted plane tickets, effective relief consists of damages, no longer an injunction. See, e.g., DeMarco v. Davis, 914 F.3d 383, 390 (CA5 2019) (destruction of spiritual assets); Yang v. Sturner, 728 F. Supp. 845 (RI 1990), opinion withdrawn 750 F. Supp. 558 (RI 1990) (post-mortem of son that violated Hmong beliefs). Given the textual cues simply mentioned, it might be ordinary to construe RFRA in a manner that forestalls courts from awarding such comfort. Had Congress wanted to limit the treatment to that degree, it knew a way to accomplish that. See, e.g.,
29 U. S. C. §1132(a)(three) (imparting for “suitable equitable alleviation ”);
forty two U. S. C. §2000e–5(g)(1) (imparting for “equitable remedy as the court docket deems suitable”);
15 U. S. C. §78u(d)(5) (presenting for “any equitable relief that may be suitable or important”).*
Our opinion in Sossamon does no longer alternate this evaluation. Sossamon held that a State’s recognition of federal funding did now not waive sovereign immunity to suits for damages underneath a associated statute—the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000—which additionally allows “ ‘appropriate comfort.’ ” 563 U. S., at 280, 282. The obvious distinction is that this situation features a suit in opposition to people, who do now not enjoy sovereign immunity.
The Government also posits that we ought to be wary of damages against authorities officers because those awards could raise separation-of-powers issues. But this actual remedy has coexisted with our constitutional gadget because the sunrise of the Republic. To make certain, there can be policy motives why Congress may additionally want to defend Government employees from non-public liability, and Congress is free to accomplish that. But there are no constitutional motives why we must achieve this in its stead.
To the volume the Government asks us to create a brand new coverage-based totally presumption in opposition to damages against person officers, we aren't at liberty to accomplish that. Congress is best ideal to create the sort of coverage. Our task is definitely to interpret the regulation as an ordinary man or woman would. Although background presumptions can inform the knowledge of a phrase or phrase, the ones presumptions must exist on the time of enactment. We cannot manufacture a brand new presumption now and retroactively impose it on a Congress that acted 27 years ago.
* * *
We conclude that RFRA’s explicit treatments provision lets in litigants, when appropriate, to obtain cash damages in opposition to federal officers of their character capacities. The judgment of the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit is affirmed.
It is so ordered.
Justice Barrett took no element within the attention or selection of this case.