Uzuegbunam v. Prezewski
In this case, the Supreme Court considered the question whether a claim for nominal damages for a past violation of a constitutional right is moot when the violation is unlikely to recur. The case was brought by two plaintiffs who alleged that, while they were students at a public college in Georgia, the college prevented them engaging in free speech on campus in violation of their rights under the First Amendment. After the plaintiffs filed suit, the college rescinded the policy that the two students challenged as unconstitutional. The Eleventh Circuit held that their claims for prospective relief (an injunction ordering the college and its officials to stop applying the policy and a declaration that the college’s policy was unconstitutional) and their claim for nominal damages were moot. The plaintiffs then petitioned the Supreme Court for review of the holding as to nominal damages.
In the Supreme Court, Public Citizen filed an amicus brief in support of the plaintiffs. The brief argued that nominal damages serve as a retrospective remedy for violations of constitutional rights that cannot be valued solely in monetary terms, such as violations of free speech rights. An award of nominal damages provides a remedy for a past constitutional violation, and the unlikelihood of future violations has no bearing on whether such a claim is moot. In a 8-1 opinion, the Court held that a request for nominal damages satisfies the redressability element necessary for Article III standing where a plaintiff’s claim is based on a completed violation of a legal right.