Can You Sue State Government Without the State's Consent ?

The Supreme Court's opinion in Alden v. Maine (1999) 527 U.S. 706 [119 S. Ct. 2240, 144 L. Ed. 2d 636] was decided after G.M. v. San Francisco, but does not undermine its holding barring 42 United States Code section 1983 actions in state court taxation matters and thus precluding attorney fees. Alden held that because of state sovereign immunity, a state government may not be sued in state court, even on a federal cause of action, without the state's consent. Alden also observed that one of the long-standing limits on sovereign immunity is that it "does not extend to suits prosecuted against a municipal corporation or other governmental entity which is not an arm of the State." ( Alden, supra, 527 U.S. at p. 756 [119 S. Ct. at p. 2267.) Consistent with this observation, the principles of federalism do not trump the supremacy clause when federal legislation enforcing the federal Constitution is at issue, as here, where federal legislation is the premise of a cause of action against a municipality. Nonetheless, there is no dispute that civil rights actions may be maintained against municipalities. The only dispute is whether such actions may be maintained in all situations; i.e., in a tax refund matter where the taxpayer has an adequate state law remedy. We find, as previously discussed, that a civil rights action may not be maintained in that context because of federal principles of noninterference in state tax cases.