Justia Summary

The Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA), 48 U.S.C. 2101, creates the Financial Oversight and Management Board, an “entity within the territorial government” of Puerto Rico. The Board approves and enforces the Commonwealth’s fiscal plans, supervises its borrowing, and represents Puerto Rico in Title III cases, modeled on federal bankruptcy proceedings. PROMESA does not explicitly abrogate sovereign immunity but incorporates, as part of its mechanism for restructuring debt, the Bankruptcy Code’s express abrogation of sovereign immunity. PROMESA contemplates other legal claims and sets limits on litigation targeting the Board, its members, and its employees for “actions taken to carry out” PROMESA. It provides that no district court will have jurisdiction over challenges to the Board’s “certification determinations.”

CPI, a media organization, requested materials, including communications between Board members and Puerto Rican and U.S. officials. The request went unanswered. CPI sued the Board, citing the Puerto Rican Constitution as guaranteeing a right of access to public records. The district court concluded that PROMESA abrogated the Board’s immunity. The First Circuit affirmed.

The Supreme Court reversed. PROMESA does not abrogate the Board’s immunity. Congress must make its intent to abrogate sovereign immunity “unmistakably clear.” PROMESA does not do so. Except in Title III debt-restructuring proceedings, the statute does not provide that the Board or Puerto Rico is subject to suit. PROMESA’s judicial review provisions are not incompatible with sovereign immunity but serve a function without an abrogation of immunity. Litigation against the Board can arise even though the Board enjoys sovereign immunity generally. Statutes other than PROMESA abrogate its immunity from particular claims; the Board could decide to waive its immunity from particular claims. Providing for a judicial forum and shielding the Board, its members, and employees from liability do not make the requisite clear statement.