SW Legal Educational Publishing

State Official Subject to Private Suit for Violation of Federal Act
Description Washington state official is not exempt from suit under the Eleventh Amendment when the claim is for violation of a federal statute, the Lanham Act.
Topic Constitutional Law
Key Words Eleventh Amendment, State Official Liability, Trademark, Lanham Act
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Sofamor, producer of a medical device used in spinal surgery, sued Mark Brown, the Director of the Department of Labor and Industries of the State of Washington, for a surgical consent form he issued that questioned the risks of using the Sofamor device. It contended that the form contained false and misleading information that inflicted commercial damage on the trademarked property of the company in violation of the Lanham Act. Brown responded that he issued the consent form in his official capacity and was immune from suit under the Eleventh Amendment.
District Court Decision The court refused Brown's motion to dismiss Sofamor's complaint on Eleventh Amendment grounds. Brown appealed.
Court of Appeals Decision Affirmed and remanded. "The Eleventh Amendment ... generally prohibit[s] federal courts from hearing suits brought by private citizens against state governments without the state's consent." This state immunity extends to state officers, except that "federal courts have jurisdiction over suits against state officers to enjoin official actions that violate federal law, even if the state itself is immune from suit under the Eleventh Amendment." Hence, "Brown, as an official of the state of Washington, is subject to suit in federal court for alleged violations of the Lanham Act."
Citation Sofamor Danek Group v. Brown, F.3d--- (1997 WL 566767, 9th Cir.)
124 F. 3d 1179 (9th Cir., 1997)

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