Thursday, December 26, 2019
The Ninth Circuit ruled this week in Walden v. State of Nevada that a state waives its Eleventh Amendment immunity when it removes a case based on federal claims from state to federal court, even when Congress hasn't abrogated immunity for those federal claims. The ruling means that the state of Nevada must defend a federal Fair Labor Standards Act case in federal court, after it removed the case from state court.
The ruling extends Supreme Court and circuit precedent to extend waiver by removal.
The case arose when correctional officers sued the state in state court for FLSA violations. The state removed to federal court and moved to dismiss based on state sovereign immunity.
The Ninth Circuit held that by removing, the state waived its Eleventh Amendment immunity. The court noted that the Supreme Court ruled in Lapides v. Board of Regents that a state waives Eleventh Amendment immunity when it removes a case involving state-law claims over which it previously waived immunity in state court. It further noted that circuit law extended Lapides to certain federal law claims--those involving federal law where Congress validly abrogated state sovereign immunity.
Walden extends the principle one step further, to a federal claim (the FLSA) where Congress did not abrogate state sovereign immunity. "Even though [circuit law] expressly left open the question whether removing a State defendant remains immunized from certain federal claims like those under the FLSA, [the] strong preference for a straightforward, easy-to-administer rule supports our holding that removal waives Eleventh Amendment immunity for all federal claims."