Thursday, November 17, 2016
The Tenth Circuit ruled in Mojsilovic v. State of Oklahoma that the state's sovereign immunity barred the plaintiffs' forced-labor claim under the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act. The ruling ends this case.
The plaintiffs, Danijela and Aleksandar Mojsilovic, were hired by the University of Oklahoma on H-1B visas to conduct DNA sequencing and issue typing and to make transfectants and tissue cultures. Their supervisor, Dr. William Hildebrand, forced them to work longer hours than permitted by their visas, without pay, for his private corporation, Pure Protein, on threat of having their visas revoked. The Mojsilovic's sued under the TVPRA, seeking monetary damages under the Act; the University asserted sovereign immunity; and the district court dismissed the case.
The Tenth Circuit affirmed. The court ruled that Congress enacted the TVPRA under its Commerce Clause authority (and not its Thirteenth Amendment authority), and so could not abrogate state sovereign immunity under the Eleventh Amendment. In any event, the court said that any abrogation wasn't sufficiently clear in the language of the TVPRA. (The TVPRA applies to "whoever," without specifically naming "states.")
The ruling, while not surprising under the Court's abrogation doctrine, illustrates the impact of the rule that Congress cannot abrogate state sovereign immunity using its Commerce Clause authority. It means that states and state agencies can get away with trafficking, slavery, involuntary servitude, forced-labor, and the like without incurring TVPRA liability.
Congress could, of course, change this by making clear that the TVPRA is enacted under the Thirteenth Amendment and clearly abrogating state sovereign immunity.
Monday, October 10, 2016
In an Order in Florida Democratic Party v. Scott, United States District Judge Mark Walker extended the voter registration until Wednesday, October 12, at 5:00pm and also scheduled a hearing for that afternoon for further determinations.
As Judge Walker explained the facts:
Florida’s voter registration deadline for the 2016 election cycle is currently set for Tuesday, October 11, 2016. For aspiring eligible voters, failing to register by that date effectively forecloses the right to vote in the 2016 election. Just five days before that deadline, however, Hurricane Matthew bore down and unleashed its wrath on the State of Florida. Life-threatening winds and rain forced many Floridians to evacuate or, at a minimum, hunker down in shelters or their homes. Like Hurricane Matthew, the voter registration deadline also approached and bore down on the State of Florida. Citing the impending Hurricane, many urged the Governor of Florida, Defendant Rick Scott, to extend the deadline. But Defendant Scott demurred, asserting instead that Floridian’s had other avenues to ensure that their right to vote was protected.
Even assuming that Florida’s statutory framework was subject to a more flexible Anderson–Burdick test, it still would be unconstitutional. In no way could Defendants argue that there is some sort of limitation that requires them to burden the constitutional rights of aspiring eligible voters. Many other states, for example, either extended their voting registration deadlines in the wake of Hurricane Matthew or already allow voter registration on Election Day. There is no reason Florida could not do the same. In so ruling, this Court is not suggesting that Florida has to allow voter registration up to Election Day. Rather, it simply holds that the burden on the State of Florida in extending voter registration is, at best de minimis. . . .
Finally, Florida’s statutory framework is unconstitutional even if rational basis review applied (which it does not). Quite simply, it is wholly irrational in this instance for Florida to refuse to extend the voter registration deadline when the state already allows the Governor to suspend or move the election date due to an unforeseen emergency.
After finding that the TRO criteria supported the restraining order, Judge Walker added that the order was necessary state-wide because "Hurricane Matthew’s effects are not circumscribed to one region of the state." He reasoned that it "would be grossly inappropriate, for ex- ample, to hold that aspiring eligible voters in Jacksonville could register later than those in Pensacola."
Therefore, this Order holds that Florida’s current statutory framework is unconstitutional. That unconstitutionality is not limited to those in the areas most affected by Hurricane Matthew. It extends to the entire State of Florida.
Thus, Floridians have at least one additional day to register to vote for the November 9 election.
In a brief Order after the hearing on October 12, Judge Walker granted the preliminary injunction "for the same reasons" articulated in the TRO order and extended the deadline to Tuesday, October 18, 2016.
Friday, April 1, 2016
In his opinion in Campaign for Southern Equality v. Mississippi Department of Human Services (DHS), United States District Judge Daniel Jordan III found that Mississippi Code §93-17-3(5) prohibiting "adoption by couples of the same gender" violates the Equal Protection Clause and ordered that the Executive Director of DHS is preliminarily enjoined from enforcing the statute.
The majority of the 28 page opinion is devoted to matters of standing and the Eleventh Amendment relevant to the multiple plaintiffs and multiple defendants, including judges. However, Judge Jordan did find that the individual plaintiffs had standing and DHS was an appropriate defendant.
On his discussion of likelihood to prevail on the merits, Judge Jordan wrote in full:
Obergefell [v. Hodges] held that bans on gay marriage violate the due-process and equal-protection clauses. It is the equal-protection component of the opinion that is relevant in the present dispute over Mississippi’s ban on gay adoptions. Under traditional equal-protection analysis, a law that does not “target[ ] a suspect class” or involve a fundamental right will be upheld, “so long as it bears a rational relation to some legitimate end.” Romer v. Evans, 517 U.S. 620, 631 (1996). Conversely, “if a classification does target a suspect class or impact a fundamental right, it will be strictly scrutinized and upheld only if it is precisely tailored to further a compelling government interest.” Sonnier v. Quarterman, 476 F.3d 349, 368 (5th Cir. 2007) (citation omitted).
In this case, Defendants argue that rational-basis review applies. But Obergefell made no reference to that or any other test in its equal-protection analysis. That omission must have been consciously made given the Chief Justice’s full-throated dissent. 135 S. Ct. at 2623 (Roberts, C.J., dissenting) (“Absent from this portion of the opinion, however, is anything resembling our usual framework for deciding equal protection cases . . . .”).
While the majority’s approach could cause confusion if applied in lower courts to future cases involving marriage-related benefits, it evidences the majority’s intent for sweeping change. For example, the majority clearly holds that marriage itself is a fundamental right when addressing the due-process issue. Id. at 2602. In the equal-protection context, that would require strict scrutiny. But the opinion also addresses the benefits of marriage, noting that marriage and those varied rights associated with it are recognized as a “unified whole.” Id. at 2600. And it further states that “the marriage laws enforced by the respondents are in essence unequal: same-sex couples are denied all the benefits afforded to opposite-sex couples and are barred from exercising a fundamental right.” Id. at 2604 (emphasis added).
Of course the Court did not state whether these other benefits are fundamental rights or whether gays are a suspect class. Had the classification not been suspect and the benefits not fundamental, then rational-basis review would have followed. It did not. Instead, it seems clear the Court applied something greater than rational-basis review. Indeed, the majority never discusses the states’ reasons for adopting their bans on gay marriage and never mentions the word “rational.”
While it may be hard to discern a precise test, the Court extended its holding to marriage- related benefits—which includes the right to adopt. And it did so despite those who urged restraint while marriage-related-benefits cases worked their way through the lower courts. According to the majority, “Were the Court to stay its hand to allow slower, case-by-case determination of the required availability of specific public benefits to same-sex couples, it still would deny gays and lesbians many rights and responsibilities intertwined with marriage.” Id. at 2606 (emphasis added).
The full impact of that statement was not lost on the minority. Chief Justice Roberts first took issue with the majority’s failure to “note with precision which laws petitioners have challenged.” Id. at 2623 (Roberts, C.J., dissenting). He then criticized the majority for jumping the gun on marriage-related cases that might otherwise develop:
Although [the majority] discuss[es] some of the ancillary legal benefits that accompany marriage, such as hospital visitation rights and recognition of spousal status on official documents, petitioners’ lawsuits target the laws defining marriage generally rather than those allocating benefits specifically. . . . Of course, those more selective claims will not arise now that the Court has taken the drastic step of requiring every State to license and recognize marriages between same-sex couples.
Id. at 2623–24 (Roberts, C.J., dissenting) (emphasis added).
In sum, the majority opinion foreclosed litigation over laws interfering with the right to marry and “rights and responsibilities intertwined with marriage.” Id. at 2606. It also seems highly unlikely that the same court that held a state cannot ban gay marriage because it would deny benefits—expressly including the right to adopt—would then conclude that married gay couples can be denied that very same benefit.
Obergefell obviously reflects conflicting judicial philosophies. While an understanding of those positions is necessary for this ruling, it is not this Court’s place nor intent to criticize either approach. The majority of the United States Supreme Court dictates the law of the land, and lower courts are bound to follow it. In this case, that means that section 93-17-3(5) violates the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution.
The judge's interpretation of Obergefell v. Hodges interestingly focuses on the dissent of Chief Justice Roberts to explain the doctrine of Kennedy's opinion for the Court, a phenomenon familiar from the use of Justice Scalia's dissents in the same-sex marriage litigation.
Friday, March 11, 2016
The Eighth Circuit ruled today that the ACLU lacked standing to bring a case against the director of the Missouri Department of Corrections to stop him from enforcing the state's ban on revealing the identities of execution team members. The ruling is a set-back for the ACLU and its efforts to disclose information about the state's executions, and, in particular, who provides the drugs. (Publicizing the providers has been an effective strategy by anti-death-penalty advocates to get those providers to stop providing.)
The case arose when the ACLU realized that it may have posted information about Missouri's executions (obtained under the Missouri Sunshine Law) that included "the identity of a current or former member of an execution team" in violation of a state law that prohibits revealing this information. The organization only realized the potential violation after it saw how the Department defined the members of the team--to include "anyone selected by the department director who provides direct support for the administration of lethal chemical, including individuals who prescribe, compound, prepare, or otherwise supply the lethal chemicals for use in the lethal injection procedure." So the organization removed the material from its web-site and moved quickly to sue the director for declaratory and injunctive relief, arguing that the law violated free speech, free press, and due process.
The director moved to dismiss, claiming that he was immune under the Eleventh Amendment, that the ACLU lacked standing, and that the claims failed as a matter of law.
The Eighth Circuit today sided with the director on immunity and standing (and didn't say anything on the merits). The court ruled that the director was immune, because under the law he has no role in enforcing the prohibition, even if he has authority to define the members of the execution team. But the court said that defining the members wasn't an enforcement action within the meaning of Ex Parte Young.
The court also ruled that the ACLU lacked standing. That's (again) because the director has no authority to enforce the prohibition. (Instead, the law provides for a civil cause of action by any execution team member against anyone who reveals his or her identity.) The court said that this means that the director's action (defining the execution team) didn't cause the ACLU's injury, and an injunction against the director wouldn't redress it.
But the court did recognize that the ACLU suffered an injury--an objectively reasonable fear of legal action that chills its speech. Because this fear derives from the possibility of a team member's suit, the organization could probably could sue a team member who appears in its materials for the same relief. Or it could post the material, wait to be sued, and then raise the constitutional defenses.
Wednesday, February 3, 2016
The Sixth Circuit ruled today that a state-court judge and clerk were immune from a suit for monetary damages for jailing plaintiffs for failure to pay their fines and court costs for low-level misdemeanors.
The case, Ward v. City of Norwalk, arose when Norwalk Municipal Court Judge John Ridge issued bench warrants for the plaintiffs' arrests for failing to pay their fines and court costs. (Ohio law authorizes this and sets a $50 per day rate.) Judge Ridge directed Clerk Pamela Boss to issue the warrants; Boss complied; and the plaintiffs were arrested and served time.
The plaintiffs sued for monetary damages, injunctive relief, and declaratory relief on a couple theories under 1983. (They also sued under state law claims, not at issue on appeal.) The court dismissed all but one--the plaintiffs' request for declaratory relief, and that probably will go away on remand.
The court held that the Eleventh Amendment barred the plaintiffs' suit for monetary damages against Judge Ridge and Clerk Boss, because they're employees of the Municipal Court, a state agency. (The court rejected the plaintiffs' argument that municipal corporations within the Municipal Court's jurisdiction are responsible for monetary damages, and so the court is identical to a municipality and not an arm of the state.) The court held that Judge Ridge and Clerk Boss enjoyed judicial immunity against claims against them in their official capacity.
As to injunctive and declaratory relief: the court pointed to the plain language of 1983, which requires the plaintiffs to show that a judicial officer violated a declaratory decree, or that declaratory relief was unavailable, before getting an injunction. The court thus dismissed the plaintiffs' request for an injunction. But it recognized that the plaintiffs' claim for declaratory relief could go on under Ex Parte Young, so it remanded to the district court to determine whether abstention, Rooker-Feldman, or the mootness doctrine barred the case from proceeding.
Friday, September 18, 2015
The Second Circuit this week ruled that a state does not waive its general state sovereign immunity (as opposed to its Eleventh Amendment sovereign immunity) when it removes a case to federal court.
The ruling is a win for the states and adds to the apparent weight of authority in the circuits. Still, the Second Circuit noted that "there has . . . been some confusion in the Circuit Courts" on the question, inviting the Supreme Court to clarify.
The case started with state employees' Fair Labor Standards Act case against Vermont in state court. Vermont removed the case to federal court, declined to assert any form of sovereign immunity, and even at one point represented that it wouldn't assert Eleventh Amendment immunity (as a result of its removal to federal court). Then it asserted general common law state sovereign immunity and moved to dismiss.
The Second Circuit dismissed the case. The court said that while Vermont waived its Eleventh Amendment immunity by virtue of its removal to federal court (under Lapides v. Board of Regents), it did not waive its general state sovereign immunity by virtue of removal. The court noted that the state in Lapides had already waived its general state sovereign immunity, so did not support the plaintiffs' position that Vermont waived immunity (because Vermont had not previously waived its general state sovereign immunity). The court also said that the circuits that have considered the question have ruled that a state does not waive its general state sovereign immunity by virtue of removal (even if it waives Eleventh Amendment immunity by virtue of removal)--even while noting that there's some confusion in the circuits on how to apply Lapides.
The court said that both logic also supported its result:
A state defendant sued in state court, when entitled to remove the suit to federal court, may well wish to do so in the belief that its entitlement to have the suit dismissed by reason of the state's sovereign immunity, an entitlement largely elaborated by federal courts, will be better protected by the federal courts than by courts of the state.
The court also rejected the plaintiffs' arguments that Vermont's foot-dragging on asserting immunity amounted to a waiver and that Vermont expressly waived immunity.
Thursday, August 6, 2015
In an over 50 page decision in Salaita v. Kennedy, United States District Judge Harry D. Leinenweber largely denied the University of Illinois Defendants' Motion to Dismiss the compliant filed by Steven Salaita regarding his employment at the university. Recall that last August, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign officials rescinded the offer of a tenured faculty appointment to Steven G. Salaita shortly before he was to begin based on his "tweets" on the subject of Gaza. Recall also that in January, Salaita filed a nine count complaint including constitutional claims of First Amendment and procedural due process violations.
Judge Leinenweber's decision does grant the motion to dismiss with regard to a few state law claims, but allows the constitutional claims and the breach of contract and promissory estoppel claims to proceed. (ContractsLawProfs might be interested in the judge's analysis of the contract claim, including his conclusion that if this were not a contract it would "wreak havoc" on academic hiring and that the university is essentially seeking a "get-out-of-contract-free card.")
The judge's analysis of the procedural due process claim flows from the contract claim. The university argued that Salaita had no sufficient "property interest" to entitle him to due process because there was no contract. Having found a sufficient contract claim, the judge finds the procedural due process claim sufficiently pleaded.
On the First Amendment claim, the judge rejected the university's argument is that its action was not motivated by the content or viewpoint of Dr. Salaita’s tweets, and that even if it was, its interest in providing a disruption-free learning environment outweighs Dr. Salaita’s free speech interest under the balancing test in Pickering v. Board of Education (1968).
The first part of the argument is premature; summary judgment or trial will reveal the University’s actual motivation, but the facts viewed in Dr. Salaita’s favor amply support a claim that the University fired Dr. Salaita because of disagreement with his point of view. The University’s attempt to draw a line between the profanity and incivility in Dr. Salaita’s tweets and the views those tweets presented is unavailing; the Supreme Court did not draw such a line when it found Cohen’s “Fuck the Draft” jacket protected by the First Amendment. Cohen v. California (1971).
Additionally, the judge noted that even if he were to engage in Pickering balancing at this stage, the facts conflict as to whether actual disruption would have occurred.
Interestingly, the judge's rationale for granting the motion to dismiss as to the complaints counts six and seven rely on First Amendment grounds. In these counts, the complaint alleged tortious interference by unnamed donors who threatened to withdraw support should Salaita teach at the university. Judge Leinenweber concluded that the donor defendants had a First Amendment right to express their displeasure, even through a quid pro quo threat: "The First Amendment is a two-way street, protecting both Dr. Salaita’s speech and that of the donor Defendants."
Finally, Judge Leinenweber rejected the university's argument that its officials and itself were entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity, noting that the difficult issue regarding whether the university board is an arm of the state is irrelevant since Saliata is requesting injunctive relief. The judge resolves the more perplexing state law immunity issue, under the Illinois Court of Claims Act, also in favor of Salaita.
In sum, this is an important victory for Professor Salaita as this closely-watched litigation continues.
Thursday, March 26, 2015
The Fifth Circuit dismissed most of the plaintiff's Family and Medical Leave Act case in Bryant v. Texas Dep't of Aging and Disability Services, holding that most claims were barred by state sovereign immunity and qualified immunity. But the court remanded the question whether the plaintiff's claim for monetary damages against her supervisor is barred by state sovereign immunity.
The plaintiff, Tammy Bryant, sued her employer, Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services, and her direct supervisor, Kim Littleton, for interfering with her self-care FMLA leave and for retaliating against her for taking FMLA leave. She sought reinstatement and monetary damages.
The Fifth Circuit dismissed most of Bryant's case. The court ruled that while Congress validly abrogated states' Eleventh Amendment immunity with respect to the FMLA's family-care provision, Nev. Dep't of Human Resources v. Hibbs, Congress did not validly abrogate with respect to the self-care provision. Coleman v. Court of Appeals of Maryland. As a result, the department had Eleventh Amendment immunity against Brant's self-care claims for monetary damages.
As to Bryant's claim for reinstatement, the court said that the Ex Parte Young exception (allowing plaintiffs to sue a state for prospective relief) did not apply to suits against state agencies; it only applies against state employees acting in their official capacities.
The court ruled further that Littleton enjoyed qualified immunity from Bryant's interference claims, because Bryant failed to show that Littleton violated clearly established law.
Finally, the court remanded Bryant's claim for monetary damages against Littleton. The court recognized that this "depends on the state's being the real party in interest" and left it to the lower court to work that out.
March 26, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Eleventh Amendment, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Wednesday, February 25, 2015
Does a community college stand in the shoes of the state for the purposes of Eleventh Amendment immunity from suit?
In its opinion in Leitner v. Westchester Community College, a panel of the Second Circuit answered in the negative.
The court found that although Westchester Community College (WCC) is part of the state university system of New York (SUNY) that is entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity, the community college is not similarly shielded. Essentially, the question is whether the community college is more like the state or more like a local government ("community") which is not entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity. The court's rationale focused on the factor of the risk to the state treasury, finding it important that the state only contributes a fraction of WCC's budget, is not responsible for WCC's debts, and it is Westchester County that has the power to issue bonds and levy taxes to support WCC. The court also considered the issue of state control. There are ten board members of WCC: the state Governor appointed four, while the county appointed five, with one board member elected by the student body. Further, the court considered the laws creating WCC, finding the statutory framework indicates its separation from SUNY.
The opinion seems straightforward even as it is acknowledges the curvatures of the landscape on which it is written.
First, district courts have found that other SUNY community colleges are embraced by SUNY's sovereign immunity and the Second Circuit itself has found that the City University of New York is similarly entitled to sovereign immunity (even as the City of New York is not).
Second, the court notes that other circuits examining the question whether a particular stateʹs community colleges are entitled to sovereign immunity have "unsurprisingly" reached disparate conclusions, given that the conclusions are based on state-specific inquiries into those collegesʹ fiscal and governance structures.
Thus, having concluded that WCC is not entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity, Carol Leitner's claim for a First Amendment violation can proceed directly against the community college, in addition to the WCC officials who are also defendants.
Wednesday, December 17, 2014
The Sixth Circuit ruled today in Michigan Corrections Organization v. Michigan Dep't of Corrections that the federal courts lacked subject matter jurisdiction over a claim by Michigan correctional officers against the Corrections Department Director under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act. The court dismissed the federal case.
While the case marks a defeat for the workers (and others who seek to enforce the FLSA against a state), the plaintiffs may be able to re-file in state court. (They brought a state claim in federal court, along with their FLSA claim, and, if there are no other bars, they may be able to revive it in a new state proceeding.)
Correction officers filed the suit, claiming that they wre denied pay for pre- and post-shift activities (like punching the clock, waiting in line for security, and the like) in violation of the FLSA. They sued the Department Director in his official capacity for denied overtime pay and declaratory relief.
The Sixth Circuit rejected the federal claims. The court ruled that the Director enjoyed Eleventh Amendment immunity against monetary damages, and that Congress did not validly abrogate Eleventh Amendment immunity through the FLSA (because Congress enacted the FLSA under its Commerce Clause authority). The court rejected the plaintiffs' contention that Congress enacted the FLSA under its Fourteenth Amendment, Section 5 authority to enforce privileges or immunities against the states (which, if so, would have allowed Congress to abrogate Eleventh Amendment immunity). The court said that the Privileges or Immunities Clause (after The Slaughter-House Cases) simply can't carry that weight--that wages are not a privilege or immunity of national citizenship.
The court went on to reject the plaintiffs' claim for declaratory relief under the FLSA, Section 1983, and Ex Parte Young. The court said that the FLSA "does not provide a basis for this declaratory judgment action." That means that the plaintiffs can't get declaratory relief from the statute itself, and, because the FLSA doesn't provide for private enforcement by way of declaratory relief, the plaintiffs can't get Section 1983 or Ex Parte Young relief, either.
December 17, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Commerce Clause, Congressional Authority, Eleventh Amendment, Federalism, Fourteenth Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis, Privileges or Immunities: Fourteenth Amendment , Reconstruction Era Amendments | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Wednesday, November 12, 2014
In a 26 page opinion today in Condon v. Haley, Judge Richard Mark Gergel held that South Carolina's same-sex marriage bans (by statute and state constitutional amendment) is unconstitutional.
Here is the gravamen of Judge Gergel's opinion:
This Court has carefully reviewed the language of South Carolina's constitutional and statutory ban on same sex marriage and now finds that there is no meaningful distinction between the existing South Carolina provisions and those of Virginia declared unconstitutional in Bostic.
Recall that the Fourth Circuit in Bostic v. Schaefer held that Virginia's same-sex marriage laws should be evaluated by strict scrutiny because marriage is a fundamental right; not surprisingly, the bans did not survive the standard. Recall also that the United States Supreme Court denied certiorari.
Moreover, Judge Gergel rejected the argument that "same-sex couples should not look to the courts to protect their individual rights but to the 'usually reliable state democratic processes' for relief" as the Sixth Circuit's very recent opinion upholding state prohibitions of same-sex marriage declared, by noting that the Fourth Circuit rejected this same argument.
Judge Gergel did, however, dismiss Governor Nikki Haley as a defendant. Judge Gergel noted that "simply being the state's chief executive sworn to uphold the laws is not sufficient" and there is "little evidence to support an argument that Defendant Haley has taken enforcement action or engaged in other affirmative acts to obstruct Plaintiffs' asserted fundamental right to marry. " Judge Gergel specifically distinguished Bowling v. Pence, in which a federal judge reversed a prior order dismissing the Governor of Indiana as a defendant after he took "affirmative action to enforce the statute."
Judge Gergel issued a temporary stay of the injunction until November 20, 2014.
Friday, August 29, 2014
The Ninth Circuit ruled this week in Lacano Investments v. Balash that state sovereign immunity barred a suit against a state official for his determination that streambeds claimed by the plaintiffs were owned by the State of Alaska. The court said that the relief plaintiffs requested--declaratory relief and an injunction prohibiting the defendants from claiming title to the lands beneath the waterways--was the funcational equivalent of quiet title, a claim that under Idaho v. Coeur d'Alene Tribe of Idaho does not fall within Ex parte Young.
The case arose when an Alaskan official determined pursuant to the federal Submerged Lands Act of 1953 that certain streambeds over which the plaintiffs claimed ownership were in fact owned by the State of Alaska. The plaintiffs said that they owned the streambeds pursuant to a federal land patent granted the year before Alaska became part of the Union. When the official then determined that the streambeds belonged to the state, the plaintiffs sued, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief.
Under Ex parte Young, the plaintiffs could sue a state official for injunctive relief and dodge state sovereign immunity under the Eleventh Amendment. But the Supreme Court limited Ex parte Young in Coeur d'Alene, holding that the Eleventh Amendment barred a suit that was "the functional equivalent of a quiet title action." That's because that kind of claim "implicate[d] special sovereignty interests"--the historical and legal importance of submerged lands to state sovereignty. The Coeur d'Alene Court explained that "if the Tribe were to prevail, Idaho's sovereign interest in its lands and waters would be affected in a degree fully as intrusive as almost any conceivable retroactive levy upon funds in its Treasury."
The plaintiffs argued that Coeur d'Alene was distinguishable, because the plaintiffs in that case sought to divest the state of its title (and not, as here, the other way around), and because a ruling for the plaintiffs in Coeur d'Alene would have deprived the state of all regulatory power over the property (and not so here). The court didn't bite, however. The court also rejected the plaintiffs' argument that Coeur d'Alene is no longer good law. Instead, the court applied Coeur d'Alene, ruled that the plaintiffs' claim was quiet-title-like, and held that the claim was therefore barred by state sovereignty under the Eleventh Amendment.
The ruling means that the plaintiffs' case is dismissed.
Monday, November 11, 2013
The Veterans Day Off Bill, reintroduced by Congressperson Bruce Braley of Iowa this year would require employers with more than 50 employees to give any veteran Veterans Day off, with or without pay. The bill includes an exemption for cases in which the day off would negatively impact public health or safety, or cause significant economic or operational disruption.
First, there could be an equality challenge. Nonveterans could challenge the law as a denial of the equal protection component of the Fifth Amendment. Certainly the law would be making a classification between veterans and nonveterans. However, this classification receives receives the lowest level of scrutiny from the courts: the government would have the legitimate interest of "honoring veterans" and a single day off, that could be without pay, would most likely be reasonable. It would be similar to veterans preferences in government employment which have been held constitutional, even though they have a disparate negative impact on women, as in Personnel Administrator of Massachusetts v. Feeney, decided by the United States Supreme Court in 1979.
Second, there could be a challenge to Congressional power to require private employers to allow employees a day off. Requirements that private employers do not practice race or sex discrimination, or comply with wage and hour laws, or provide family medical leave, have all been held constitutional. This law would be similar to those laws, as well as the the federal law protecting employment for those serving in the military, the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA). The Bill does not apply to employees working for state governments where the Eleventh Amendment could serve as a potential bar to lawsuits seeking to vindicate rights.
Lastly, should the United States Supreme Court ever recognize that secular for-profit corporations have a free exercise of religion right under the First Amendment, the future could bring a challenge by the major shareholders of a corporation that sells sequins or makes kitchen cabinets or sells groceries on the basis that the shareholders are Quakers, for example, who have a sincere and deeply held pacifist religious belief that would be burdened by being mandated to support a day off for someone who had participated in the activities of war.
[image: The Afghanistan-Iraq War Memorial in Salem, Oregon, via]
Thursday, September 19, 2013
The Fourth Circuit's opinion in Bland v. Roberts addresses whether Sheriff Roberts violated the First Amendment rights of the six plaintiffs by terminating their employment in retailiation for their support of his opponent in an election, and whether Roberts has immunity. The court reverses in part the grant of summary judgment to the sheriff by the district judge.
As the panel notes, the applicable doctrine is a merging of public employee speech doctrine, especially their rights to speak as private citizens which was clearly the case here, and "the established jurisprudence governing the discharge of public employees, because of their political beliefs and affiliation," as in Elrod v. Burns (1976) and Branti v. Finkel (1980).
An important question for some of the plaintiffs was whether some of their actions "on Facebook" met the First Amendment threshold of "speech." The district court had concluded that “merely ‘liking’ a Facebook page was insufficient speech to merit constitutional protection,” but the Fourth Circuit panel disagreed. Its discussion of Fabeook's "like" - - - citing the amicus brief of Facebook, Inc. and posts on the Facebook site such as "What is a Facebook Page?" - - - led to its conclusion that once one understands the nature of what one of the plaintiffs
did by liking the Campaign Page, it becomes apparent that his conduct qualifies as speech. On the most basic level, clicking on the “like” button literally causes to be published the statement that the User “likes” something, which is itself a substantive statement. In the context of a political campaign’s Facebook page, the meaning that the user approves of the candidacy whose page is being liked is unmistakable. That a user may use a single mouse click to produce that message that he likes the page instead of typing the same message with several individual key strokes is of no constitutional significance.
Moreover, the importance of Facebook was clear, given that Sheriff Roberts "specifically warned his employees not to support [his rival] Adams through Facebook." Roberts also seemingly specifically "threatened that Adams supporters would not be reappointed."
Nevertheless, the Fourth Circuit panel found that three of the six plaintiffs did not present sufficient evidence to create a jury question. Additionally, the panel found that the defendant was entitled to qualified immunity given the state of the law and Eleventh Amendment immunity as to money damanges, but not on the issue of reinstatement.
Judge Ellen Lipton Hollander, a Maryland District Judge sitting by designation, wrote separately to dsisagree on the issue of qualified immunity on the state of the law.
The majority concludes that, at the relevant time, “a reasonable sheriff could have believed he had the right to choose not to reappoint his sworn deputies for political reasons,” and, on this basis, it determines that Sheriff Roberts is protected by qualified immunity with respect to his discharge of [the three plaintiffs]. In my view, when these deputies were discharged in December 2009, the law was clearly established that a sheriff’s deputy with the job duties of a jailer could not be fired on the basis of political affiliation.
This case will most likely be cited and known for its finding of "like" on Facebook as speech. But in addition, with its interweaving First Amendment issues and its questions of qualified immunity, Eleventh Amendment and otherwise, this case could be the basis of an interesting in-class exercise - - - or even exam question - - - for ConLawProfs.
Monday, April 30, 2012
In an opinion today in Planned Parenthood Ass'n of Hidalgo Cty. v. Seuhs, Judge Lee Yeakel issued a preliminary injunction against a 2012 Texas regulation that expanded the Texas Women's Health Program prohibition of funding for health care not merely to abortions, but to any organization affiliated with abortion. Before moving to the preliminary injunction standard, Judge Yeakel quickly rejected the state's Eleventh Amendment immunity argument.
The bulk of Judge Yeakel's 25 page opinion is devoted to the unconstitutional conditions argument. He concluded that the "affiliate" regulation was so broad that it infringed on plaintiffs First Amendment speech and associational rights. Any state interest in "respect for fetal life after viability" was not adequately served by the extensive prohibition. The argument that state funding "frees up" other money to provide abortions "extends too far."
The judge also found the equal protection argument had merit. By exempting hospitals, but applying the regulation to the 49 health centers, the regulation created a classification. The classification itself only implicated rational basis scrutiny, but it did infringe upon a fundamental right, thereby meriting strict scrutiny. In a very brief analysis, the judge expressed doubts whether the Texas regulation could satisfy even the lowest standard.
Finding the other factors for granting a preliminary injunction also weighed in favor of the plaintiffs, the judge enjoined the regulation and set a hearing for May 18.
[image: from PLanned Parenthood Ass'n of Hidalgo County via]
Thursday, April 19, 2012
The inimitable Linda Greenhouse has a provocative column entitled "Women's Work" which takes up the continuing relevance of gender politics - - - and a gender divide - - - on the Supreme Court. Her subject is the Court's 5-4 opinion last month in Coleman v. Court of Appeals of Maryland.
Coleman's consitutional issue involved the Eleventh Amendment, which may at first blush seem an odd grounding for gender equality, until one recalls cases such as Nevada Department of Human Resources v. Hibbs (2003). As Greenhouse reminds us, Rehnquist's opinion for the majority in Hibbs was rather suprising. Not only did it reverse the Court's trend to "diss Congress" (as Ruth Colker and James Brudney so evocatively phrased it in their terrific 2001 article), but also construed Congressional intent in the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) as addressing “the pervasive sex-role stereotype that caring for family members is women’s work.”
Greenhouse states she'd "love to know" how Rehnquist would have decided Coleman, involving the self-care provision of FMLA. She criticizes Kennedy's opinion for the Court as ignoring the legislative history that Ginsburg so meticulously discussed in the dissent and that was central to Hibbs. (Of course, one might also recall that Kennedy also dissented in Hibbs).
And, while we are used to thinking about a "liberal" v. "conservative" split on the Court, Greenhouse highlights another split: "the three women, along with the highly evolved Justice Stephen G. Breyer, were on one side – the losing side – while the remaining five men were in the majority."
One of those five men in the majority is Alito, who one might recall, replaced Justice O'Connor. O'Connor joined the majority in Hibbs, so perhaps it is reasonable to believe that she would have joined Ginsburg's view regarding the importance of sex-role stereotyping in the FMLA, extended to the self-care provision.
But one might also recall that before Justice Alito, there was nominee Harriet Miers. One wonders how she might have voted.
[image: WWII government poster via]
April 19, 2012 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Disability, Eleventh Amendment, Family, Federalism, Fourth Amendment, Gender, Recent Cases, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Tuesday, April 3, 2012
Section 31 of Article IX of the California Constitution - - - Prop 209 passed in 1996 - - - was upheld by a panel of the Ninth Circuit in Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action v. Brown.
The panel's opinion held that the equal protection challenge to section 31 was precluded by a previous Ninth Circuit decision, Coalition for Economic Equity v. Wilson (Wilson II), 122 F.3d 692 (9th Cir. 1997).
The plaintiffs had argued that Wilson II did not govern because it was a facial challenge of section 31, whereas the present action was an as-applied constitutional challenge, focused on higher education. The plaintiffs also argued that Prop 209 did not survive Grutter v. Bollinger (2003). Rejecting both of these contentions, the Ninth Circuit panel affirmed the district judge's conclusion that Wilson II did consider the context of higher education and that Grutter concerned the constitutionality of governmental choices regarding diversity but did not mandate those choices.
However, before reaching the equal protection claim, the panel considered - - - and rejected - - - the state defendants' argument that the Eleventh Amendment barred suit against them in federal court. The partial dissenting opinion by Judge Tashima disagreed on this point.
In a footnote, the panel opinion referenced Fisher v. Texas, stating that the Supreme Court "appears poised to reconsider whether race-based affirmative action programs are even permissible at all."
[image: University of California's ten campuses, via]
Tuesday, March 20, 2012
The Supreme Court's divided opinion in Coleman v. Court of Appeals of Maryland, issued today, resuscitates the convoluted doctrine that resides at the intersection of the Eleventh Amendment and the Fourteenth Amendment. As Justice Scalia, concurring, phrased it:
The plurality’s opinion seems to me a faithful application of our “congruence and proportionality” jurisprudence. So does the opinion of the dissent. That is because the varying outcomes we have arrived at under the “congruence and proportionality” test make no sense.
The facts of the case are simple: Coleman was employed by the Court of Appeals of the State of Maryland and requested sick leave; he was informed he would be terminated if he did not resign. Coleman then sued in federal court, arguing that his employer violated the "self care" provision of the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
The "family leave" provision of the FMLA was held applicable against the states in Nevada Dept. of Human Resources v. Hibbs, 538 U. S. 721 (2003), authored by CJ Rehnquist. But here the plurality distinguished the sex-role stereotyping that Congress found states had perpetrated regarding family leave. Instead, the self-care provision had a lack of "a pattern of state constitutional violations accompanied by a remedy drawn in narrow terms to address or prevent those violations."
The Eleventh Amendment, passed to overule Chisholm v. Georgia, has produced a tortured - -- and many argue essentially incorrect - - - doctrine allowing states to interpose sovereign immunity against civil rights suits by their own citizens.
This is complicated by Congressional power to abrogate a state’s 11th Amendment immunity pursuant to its §5 14th Amendment enforcement power in some circumstances. The Congressional intent to abrogate must be unmistakenly clear and the Congressional act must be a valid exercise of power under section 5 of 14th Amendment, meaning that there is congruence and proportionality in light of Supreme Court precedent and there must be a finding that states qua states need to be remedied.
In Coleman, Kennedy - - - writing for a plurality - - - held that the self-care provision was not a valid aborgation of the state's sovereign immunity. Note that the specific provision, not entire FMLA, is being subject to this requirement. Kennedy wrote that the "evidence did not suggest States had facially discriminatory self-care leave policies or that they administered neutralself-care leave policies in a discriminatory way. And there is scant evidence in the legislative history of a purported stereotype harbored by employers that women take selfcare leave more often than men."
Justice Ginsburg, joined by three other Justices, dissented and argued that even accepting the Court's view of the scope of Congress’ power under §5 of the 14th Amendment, the self-care provision "validly enforces the right to be free from gender discrimination in the workplace." Further, she argued that the plurality "gets it wrong in concluding that “[o]nly supposition and conjecture support the contentionthat the self-care provision is necessary to make the family- care provisions effective.”" Instead, self-care leave "is a key part of Congress’ endeavor to make it feasible for women to work and have families."
Ginsburg's argument did not prevail and thus states escape another provision of federal anti-discrimination law given the Court's interpretation of the Eleventh Amendment.
On the heels of Hosana-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC decided earlier this term, the Court has rendered another unfavorable opinion for employees dealing with health problems.
[image:Friedrich Friedländer, Der Doktor, circa 1870 via]
Friday, December 2, 2011
Chisholm v. Georgia (1793) is often considered the first important constitutional case rendered by the United States Supreme Court, predating Marbury v. Madison by a decade.
Certainly the importance of Chisholm v. Georgia is mitigated by the Eleventh Amendment, specifically passed to "overrule" the opinion, although to what extent remains controversial in Eleventh Amendment doctrine even now. On some views, the Eleventh Amendment adopts Justice Iredell's dissent in Chisholm v. Georgia.
ConLawProf John Orth has written extensively on this history, including in an excellent 1994 essay "The Truth About Justice Iredell's Dissent in Chisholm v. Georgia," 73 North Carolina Law Review 255.
But less careful researchers will be more likely to run across Iredell's dissent marketed as "general fiction" with the author relegated to "No bio available." The text, free elsewhere, is available as an eBook for 99¢.
Saturday, September 17, 2011
It's Constitution Day - September 17 - and federal law mandates that
Each educational institution that receives Federal funds for a fiscal year shall hold an educational program on the United States Constitution on September 17 of such year for the students served by the educational institution
Department of Education regulations provide that the law
requires that Constitution Day be held on September 17 of each year, commemorating the September 17, 1787 signing of the Constitution. However, when September 17 falls on a Saturday, Sunday, or holiday, Constitution Day shall be held during the preceding or following week.
Today (or next week) might be a good time to discuss the relationship of the Constitution's text and its interpretation, especially given the popular rhetoric concerning "strict constructionism." A possible prompt might be the Eleventh Amendment:
The Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State.
In divided opinions, the Court has repeatedly stated it will not engage in "blind reliance" upon the text of the Constitution regarding the Amendment, see e.g., Alden v. Maine (1999).
[image: Eleventh Amendment via National Archives]