JEFFERSON, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS ADMINISTRATOR OF THE ESTATE OF JEFFERSON, DECEASED v. CITY OF TARRANT, ALABAMA

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Case Basics
Docket No. 
96-957
Petitioner 
Jefferson, Individually And As Administrator Of The Estate Of Jefferson, Deceased, et al.
Respondent 
City Of Tarrant, Alabama
Opinion 
Advocates
(on behalf of the Petitioners)
(on behalf of the Respondent)
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Facts of the Case 

Alberta Jefferson, an African American woman, died as a result of a fire in her home in the city of Tarrant, Alabama. Her survivors filed multiple complaints against Tarrant City: two under state law and two under federal law. The state law complaints alleged wrongful death and the common-law tort of outrage, while the two federal claims brought under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 alleged that Ms. Jefferson's death was the direct result of indifference and racial discrimination in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses. The City claimed that the complaints were governed by Alabama's Wrongful Death Act, which the Alabama Supreme Court had interpreted to provide only for punitive damages. The City then argued that it could not be sued under Section 1983 because the Supreme Court had ruled that Section 1983 plaintiffs are not entitled to sue a municipality for punitive damages.

The state court ruled in favor of Jefferson, but the Alabama Supreme Court reversed and sent the case back to the state court after determining that the state Act did in fact govern the claims. The Supreme Court agreed to consider the federal complaints. The City contended that the Court lacked jurisdiction over the Alabama Supreme Court's order because the case was not yet final.

Question 

Are federal claims under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 governed by the Alabama Wrongful Death Act?

Conclusion 
Decision: 8 votes for City Of Tarrant, Alabama, 1 vote(s) against
Legal provision: 28 U.S.C. 1257

Unanswered. In an 8-1 decision the Court found that it lacked jurisdiction. The opinion by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg held that the Court could not rule until the Alabama Supreme Court proceedings were completed and a final decision handed down. The case was dismissed.

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JEFFERSON, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS ADMINISTRATOR OF THE ESTATE OF JEFFERSON, DECEASED v. CITY OF TARRANT, ALABAMA. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 05 April 2014. <http://www.oyez.org/cases/1990-1999/1997/1997_96_957>.
JEFFERSON, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS ADMINISTRATOR OF THE ESTATE OF JEFFERSON, DECEASED v. CITY OF TARRANT, ALABAMA, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1990-1999/1997/1997_96_957 (last visited April 5, 2014).
"JEFFERSON, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS ADMINISTRATOR OF THE ESTATE OF JEFFERSON, DECEASED v. CITY OF TARRANT, ALABAMA," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed April 5, 2014, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1990-1999/1997/1997_96_957.