Hoffman v. Connecticut Department Of Income Maintenance/Dissent Stevens

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Justice STEVENS, with whom Justice BLACKMUN joins, dissenting.

While I join Justice MARSHALL'S dissenting opinion, I think it is appropriate to explain why the legislative history of 11 U.S.C. § 106 lends added support to his reading of the statute.

The drafters of the Bankruptcy Code were well aware of the value to the bankruptcy administration process of a waiver of federal and state sovereign immunity. In 1973, five years before the Code was enacted, the Commission on the Bankruptcy Laws of the United States proposed a broad waiver of sovereign immunity under which every provision of the proposed bankruptcy bill would apply to the States. That provision was not enacted into law apparently because of concerns that Congress did not have the constitutional power to abrogate completely the States' sovereign immunity. See H.R.Rep. No. 95-595, p. 317 (1977); S.Rep. No. 95-989, p. 29 (1978), U.S.Code Cong. & Admin.News 1978, p. 5787. Instead, the initial legislation drafted by Congress limited the waiver of sovereign immunity to compulsory counterclaims and offsets, the provisions that now appear in §§ 106(a) and 106(b). Section 106(c), added after the bill that became the Bankruptcy Code was reported by the Senate and House Committees, restored to a large extent the power of the bankruptcy courts over States that had first been proposed in 1973. Whereas the waiver contained in the Commission on the Bankruptcy Laws' proposal would have subjected the States to suit under every provision of the Code, the application of § 106(c) was limited to those Code provisions containing the statutory trigger words. The House and Senate sponsors explained in floor statements:

"The provision is included to comply with the requirement in case law that an express waiver of sovereign immunity is required in order to be effective. Section 106(c) codifies In re Gwilliam, 519 F.2d 407 (9th Cir., 1975), and In re Dolard, 519 F.2d 282 (9th Cir., 1975), permitting the bankruptcy court to determine the amount and dischargeability of tax liabilities owing by the debtor or the estate prior to or during a bankruptcy case whether or not the governmental unit to which such taxes are owed files a proof of claim. . . . [S]ubsection (c) is not limited to those issues, but permits the bankruptcy court to bind governmental units n other matters as well. For example, section 106(c) permits a trustee or debtor in possession to assert avoiding powers under title 11 against a governmental unit; contrary language in the House report to H.R. 8200 is thereby overruled." 124 Cong.Rec. 32394 (1978) (statement of Rep. Edwards); id., at 33993 (statement of Sen. DeConcini).

"Section 547(b)(2) of the House amendment adopts a provision contained in the House bill and rejects an alternative contained in the Senate amendment relating to the avoidance of a preferential transfer that is payment of a tax claim owing to a governmental unit. As provided, section 106(c) of the House amendment overrules contrary language in the House report with the result that the Government is subject to avoidance of preferential transfers." Id., at 32400 (statement of Rep. Edwards); id., at 34000 (statement of Sen. DeConcini).

Although the primary object of § 106(c) was to provide the bankruptcy court with authority to determine the amount and dischargeability of tax liabilities even if a claim has not been filed, the legislative history thus indicates that the provision was also intended to cover "other matters as well," including specifically the avoidance of preferential transfers. There was no suggestion that this authority did not include the power to order the return of real property and the payment of money damages or that the issues that the bankruptcy court could determine under § 106(c) were limited to whether prospective or declaratory relief was appropriate.

The fact that paragraph (c) was added to the bill after paragraphs (a) and (b) had been reported out of Committee also explains why those paragraphs were not rewritten to eliminate any possible redundancy in the section. Given this history it is apparent that the initial phrase in paragraph (c) ("[e]xcept as provided in subsections (a) and (b)") constituted a declaration that the new subsection provided an additional mechanism by which the bankruptcy courts could bind States and did not derogate from the power granted under the other two subsections.

There is no question that § 106(c) effects a waiver of sovereign immunity. The statute, which applies to the Federal Government, the States, and municipalities alike, see 11 U.S.C. § 101(21), states in the clearest possible terms that provisions of the Code using any of the trigger words apply to governmental units "notwithstanding any assertion of sovereign immunity," and the legislative history supports that reading. It is well settled that when the Federal Government waives its sovereign immunity, the scope of that waiver is construed liberally to effect its remedial purposes. See Block v. Neal, 460 U.S. 289, 298, 103 S.Ct. 1089, 1094, 75 L.Ed.2d 67 (1983); United States v. Yellow Cab Co., 340 U.S. 543, 554-555, 71 S.Ct. 399, 406-407, 95 L.Ed. 523 (1951); Larson v. Domestic & Foreign Commerce Corp., 337 U.S. 682, 709, 69 S.Ct. 1457, 1471, 93 L.Ed. 1628 (1949) (Frankfurter, J., dissenting); Great Northern Life Ins. Co. v. Read, 322 U.S. 47, 59, 64 S.Ct. 873, 879, 88 L.Ed. 1121 (1944) (Frankfurter, J., dissenting); see also Finley v. United States, 490 U.S. 545, 578-580, 109 S.Ct. 2022-2023, 2011, 104 L.Ed.2d 593 (1989) (STEVENS, J., dissenting). The same rule should be applied under this section when the defendant is a State, rather than the Federal Government or a municipality. Cf. Missouri v. Jenkins, 491 U.S. 274, 281-282, 109 S.Ct. 2463, 2468, 105 L.Ed.2d 229 (1989) (whether Congress intended an enhancement of a reasonable attorney's fee under § 1988 should not turn on whether the party against whom fee is awarded is a State). I would therefore hold that the determinations that a bankruptcy court may make under § 106(c) include a determination that a State must pay money damages under a Code provision containing one of the trigger words.


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).