Thursday, May 11, 2023
The Supreme Court ruled today that Congress did not abrogate sovereign immunity of the Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico (as an arm of Puerto Rico) under the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act of 2016 (PROMESA). The ruling means that a non-profit can't sue the Board for its records.
The case, Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico v. Centro de Periodismo Investigativo, Inc., arose when CPI sued the Board in federal court to obtain its records. The Board argued that it was immune; CPI responded that Congress abrogated immunity under PROMESA.
The Court rejected CPI's claim. Justice Kagan wrote for all but Justice Thomas that PROMESA did not contain a sufficiently "clear statement" abrogating sovereign immunity. In particular, she said that PROMESA doesn't provide that the Board or Puerto Rico is subject to suit, and it doesn't create a cause of action against them. She acknowledged that PROMESA says that "any action against the Oversight Board, and any action otherwise arising out of" PROMESA "shall be brought" in the Federal District Court sitting in Puerto Rico. But she wrote that this provision and others in PROMESA serve other functions, not abrogation. For example, she wrote that this provision accounts for other statutes' abrogation of sovereign immunity (like Title VII), and doesn't constitute an independent abrogation. In other words, PROMESA's references to lawsuits against the Board apply to suits based on other causes of action, where Congress has abrogated immunity; they do not categorically abrogate immunity for all claims against the Board.
Justice Thomas argued in dissent that the Board lacked immunity in the first place. (The Court assumed, but didn't decide, that the Board had immunity.)
Wednesday, June 29, 2022
The Supreme Court ruled today that States "structurally" waived their sovereign immunity from suits for money damages in cases under Congress's war powers, and that Congress can therefore authorize such suits against States, even in State courts.
The ruling means that a servicemember who returned with constrictive bronchitis can sue his State employer in State court for failing to accommodate his condition.
More broadly, it means that the Court has now recognized States' "structural" waiver of immunity in cases under the Bankruptcy Clause, under Congress's power of eminent domain, and (now) under Congress's war powers. ("Structural" waiver means that the States waived their sovereign immunity when they signed on to the Constitution in the first place, as part of the original Constitutional design. Congress can also abrogate State sovereign immunity by enacting legislation under its enforcement power under the Fourteenth Amendment; but that's a different thing.)
This is significant, because it gives structural waiver more teeth, and says that any categorical understanding of Alden v. Maine that Congress cannot authorize private-damage suits against States under its Article I powers is wrong. (Alden says that Congress can't abrogate State sovereign immunity using its Article I powers. Today's ruling says that Congress may, however, rely on structural waiver to authorize private-damage suits.)
The case, Torres v. Texas Department of Public Safety, tested the federal Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994, in particular, whether the Act validly authorized a servicemember's money-damages lawsuit against a State for failure to re-employ or accommodate the returned servicemember in their State job. Congress enacted the Act under its Article I powers "[t]o raise and support Armies" and "[t]o provide and maintain a Navy."
The Court said yes, it did. Justice Breyer wrote for the Court, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Sotomayor, Kagan, and Kavanaugh. The Court held that the text, history, and precedent of Congress's war powers all said that the States structurally waived their sovereign immunity when they joined the Union, and that Congress could (and did) therefore validly authorize suits against States for money damages for violations of the Act.
Justice Thomas dissented, joined by Justices Alito, Gorsuch, and Barrett. He argued that the Court was wrong on each point (text, history, precedent), and that Alden v. Maine "should have squarely foreclosed [the Court's] holding."
Friday, April 30, 2021
The Second Circuit ruled that the New York State Board of Law Examiners didn't waive state sovereign immunity under the federal Rehabilitation Act, even though certain state courts of original jurisdiction did. As a result, a bar applicant who was denied an accommodation could not sue the Board for monetary damages.
The case, T.W. v. New York State Board of Law Examiners, began when the Board denied T.W. a requested accommodation for the bar exam. T.W. sued under the Rehabilitation Act, but the Board argued that it enjoyed state sovereign immunity under the Eleventh Amendment. The Board claimed that it didn't waive immunity under the Rehabilitation Act, because it didn't receive federal funding and it wasn't a "program or activity" of a "department, agency . . . [or] instrumentality" that had received funding. (The Rehab Act conditions the receipt of federal funds on waiver of state sovereign immunity.)
The Second Circuit agreed with the Board. The court first rejected T.W.'s claim that the Board received federal funding (and thus waived state sovereign immunity) because other state agencies provide reimbursement to bar applicants for the applicants' own out-of-pocket exam fees. "No money from [the other state agencies] ever gets paid to the Board; the money gets paid directly to the candidate after she has paid her examination fees." Moreover, "[t]he Board is, at most, an indirect beneficiary of the federal funding that [the other state agencies] receive, but this alone does not waive the Board's immunity."
Next, the court held that while some state trial courts received federal funding, the Board wasn't part of those courts. The court acknowledged that some state specialty trial courts received federal funding. It held that the relevant "department or agency" that received federal funding was therefore the state courts of original jurisdiction (and not the state's overall Unified Court System). But because the Board isn't part of the state's courts of original jurisdiction, the Board didn't waive immunity.
Wednesday, May 13, 2020
The Fifth Circuit yesterday upheld the state sovereign immunity waiver for state recipients of Title IX funding. The ruling means that state recipients of Title IX can be sued for monetary damages in federal court for violations of Title IX.
That's the same result that's long been on the books in the Fifth Circuit and all others to have considered the question.
But this case is notable because it rejects a novel claim by Louisiana (LSU was the defendant) that the Supreme Court's Medicaid ruling in NFIB v. Sebelius changed the landscape as to Title IX waiver. In particular, the state claimed that under NFIB the Title IX waiver was unduly coercive.
Not so, said the court. The court said that NFIB "does not unequivocally alter Dole's conditional-spending analysis," under which the Court previously upheld the Title IX waiver. Moreover, "[t]he threat of LSU losing what amounts to just under 10% of its funding is more like the 'relatively mild encouragement' of a state losing 5% of its highway funding . . . than the 'gun to the head' of a state losing all of its Medicaid funding [in NFIB]."
Monday, March 23, 2020
The Supreme Court ruled today in Allen v. Cooper that North Carolina enjoyed Eleventh Amendment sovereign immunity against a claim under the federal Copyright Remedy Clarification Act. The Court held that in enacting the CRCA Congress did not validly abrogate the state's sovereign immunity.
The ruling is a victory for North Carolina and other states who seek to avoid CRCA liability for copyright violations. More generally, it's a victory for states' sovereign immunity. At the same time, it continues a line of cases that restrict congressional authority to abrogate states' Eleventh Amendment immunity--and limit that power to federal acts under Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment that are proportional and congruent to a constitutional problem or evil in the states that Congress seeks to address.
The case arose when videographer Frederick Allen sued North Carolina for posting some of his copyright-protected videos and pictures online. North Carolina moved to dismiss, arguing that it enjoyed sovereign immunity under the Eleventh Amendment--and that it hadn't waived immunity, and that Congress didn't validly abrogate immunity. The Supreme Court agreed.
The Court held under College Savings Bank v. Florida Prepaid Postsecondary Ed. Expense Bd. that Congress couldn't abrogate Eleventh Amendment immunity using its Article I powers. So if Congress enacted the CRCA under the Intellectual Property Clause (in Article I), then Congress didn't validly abrogate. (The Court acknoweldged that it upheld congressional abrogation under the Bankruptcy Clause in Central Va. Community College v. Katz, but held that Katz was a good-for-one-abrogation ticket based on the unique characteristics and history of the Bankruptcy Clause.)
The Court went on to say that Congress didn't validly abrogate under Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Court held that the CRCA wasn't proportional and congruent to any constitutional evil that Congress sought to address. That's because for a state to violate the Fourteenth Amendment by infringing a copyright, it'd have to do it intentionally, and provide no state remedy for the violation. (Due Process would be the relevant clause under Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment.) The Court said that Congress found no evidence of such infringements by the states--that is, no constitutional evil--and so the CRCA couldn't be proportional and congruent to that (non-)problem.
Justice Thomas concurred. He wrote separately to argue that the Court set too high a bar for stare decisis, and that the Court went too far in suggesting that Congress might in the future abrogate state sovereign immunity under the Fourteenth Amendment by actually addressing a constitutional evil.
Justice Breyer concurred, too, joined by Justice Ginsburg. He argued (consistent with his longstanding position) that "someting is amiss" with "our sovereign-immunity precedents." He said that the Court "went astray" in Seminole Tribe of Florida v. Florida, holding that Congress lacked authority under Article I to abrogate Eleventh Amendment immunity, and again in Florida Prepaid.
Wednesday, January 8, 2020
The Eleventh Circuit ruled in National Association of the Deaf v. Florida that Congress validly abrogated state sovereign immunity in enacting the Americans with Disabilities Act, insofar as it requires the state to provide captioning for live and archived videos of Florida legislative proceedings. The ruling means that the plaintiffs' case can move forward on the merits.
The case arose when plaintiffs challenged the Florida legislature's practice of live-streaming and archiving videos of legislative sessions without captioning. The plaintiffs argued that this violated Title II of the ADA and the Rehab Act (more on that below). The state moved to dismiss, arguing that it was immune under the Eleventh Amendment and that Congress did not validly abrogate immunity in enacting the ADA.
The Eleventh Circuit disagreed. The court ruled that Congress, in enacting the ADA, sought to protect the fundamental right to participate in the democratic process, and that the state denied that very right to the plaintiffs:
Here, deaf citizens are being denied the opportunity to monitor the legislative actions of their representatives because Defendants have refused to provide captioning for legislative proceedings. Without access to information about the legislative actions of their representatives, deaf citizens cannot adequately "petition the Government for a redress of greivances," because they cannot get the information necessary to hold their elected officials accountable for legislative acts. This type of participation in the political process goes to the very core of the political system embodied in our Constitution.
The court went on to say that Congress also validly abrogated immunity even if only a non-fundamental right were at stake.
The court said that Congress enacted Title II against a backdrop of a "pattern of unequal treatment in the administration of a wide range of public services, programs, and activities," and that Title II was an "appropriate response" to this pattern:
The burden of adding captioning to legislative videos--which are already provided to the public--removes a complete barrier to this information for a subset of citizens with a remedy we expect can be accomplished with limited cost and effort. In this way, the remedy is a proportionate and "reasonable modification" of a service that is already provided, and it does not change the "nature" of the service whatsoever. Finally, if the cost or effort should prove to be prohibitively burdensome, the Defendants have available the affirmative defenses in Title II.
The court also held that the plaintiffs could pursue injunctive relief under Ex Parte Young for the ongoing violation of Title II. Finally, it remanded for further proceedings on whether state legislative defendants received federal financial funds, and were therefore on the hook for Rehab Act violations (as a federal conditioned spending program--federal funds in exchange for a state's agreement not to discriminate by disability).
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."
Friday, December 6, 2019
Judge Randolph D. Moss (D.D.C.) ruled this week that the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority enjoyed Eleventh Amendment immunity from a former employee's suit under the National Transit Systems Security Act. In so ruling, Judge Moss held that the NTSSA wasn't included in the state-sovereign-immunity-waiver provision in the Civil Rights Remedies Equalization Act. The ruling dismisses the case.
The case arose when a former WMATA employee sued the Authority for violating the NTSSA. That Act, a whistleblower-protection act, prohibits public transportation agencies from "discharg[ing]" or otherwise "discriminat[ing] against an employee" based "in whole or in part" on the employee's "lawful, good faith" provision of information relating to conduct that "the employee reasonably believes constitutes a violation of any Federal law, rule, or regulation relating to public safety or security" to "a person with supervisory authority over the employee."
WMATA, a creature of a compact between Maryland, Virginia, and D.C., moved to dismiss on state sovereign immunity grounds.
The plaintiff countered that WMATA waived its Eleventh Amendment immunity under the Civil Rights Remedies Equalization Act. The CRREA provides that
[a] State shall not be immune under the Eleventh Amendment . . . from suit in Federal court for a violation of section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the Age Discrimination Act of 1975, title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, or the provisions of any other Federal statute prohibiting discrimination by recipients of Federal financial assistance.
The plaintiff argued that the NTSSA fell within the catch-all provision, because it specifically prohibits discrimination. He claimed that WMATA therefore waived immunity under the CRREA.
The court rejected this argument. The court acknowledged that the NTSSA banned "discrimination," but said that the discrimination outlawed in the NTSSA was not the same type of discrimination covered in CRREA, and that it therefore didn't fall within the CRREA's catch-all:
Each of the enumerated statutes [in the CRREA] prohibits class-based discrimination--that is, discrimination based on a personal characteristic, such as race, national origin, age, sex, or disability. Each is fairly described as a civil rights statute--the presumptive target of the Civil Rights Remedies Equalization Act. And each ensures that the benefits of federally funded programs are equally available to all, regardless of their race, national origin, sex, or disability. The NTSSA, in contrast, is a public safety statute, designed to ensure that employees of public transportation agencies and their contractors and subcontractors are not dissuaded from flagging potential violations of federal safety or security rules . . . . Although the NTSSA uses the word "discriminate," it does so in [a] very different manner than the CRREA and the enumerated statutes.
Thursday, October 17, 2019
The Ninth Circuit ruled today in Walden v. Nevada that a state waives its Eleventh Amendment immunity over any federal claims when it removes a case from state to federal court. The court previously ruled that a state waives immunity over only those federal claims that Congress failed to apply to the states by abrogation when a state removes; today's ruling extends that waiver-by-removal rule to all federal claims.
The case arose when Nevada state employees sued the state for violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act in state court. The state removed the case to federal court and moved to dismiss based on state sovereign immunity.
The Ninth Circuit rejected that claim. The court noted that the Supreme Court ruled in Lapides v. Bd. of Regents of Univ. Sys. of Georgia that a state waives Eleventh Amendment immunity when it removes state law claims for which it waived immunity in state court. It further noted that it (the Ninth Circuit) extended Lapides so that a state waives Eleventh Amendment immunity when it removes federal law claims for which Congress validly abrogated state sovereign immunity. Then it said the same reasoning justifies extending waiver-by-removal to any federal claims (congressional abrogation or not). In so ruling, the Court quoted Lapides:
It would seem anomalous or inconsistent for a State both (1) to invoke federal jurisdiction, thereby contending that the "Judicial power of the United States" extends to the case at hand, and (2) to claim Eleventh Amendment immunity, thereby denying that the "Judicial Power of the United States" extends to the case at hand.
The ruling means that the plaintiffs' FLSA case, now in federal court, can move forward.
Monday, May 13, 2019
The Supreme Court ruled today in Franchise Tax Board v. Hyatt that states enjoy sovereign immunity from private suits in the courts of other states. The sharply divided ruling (5-4, along conventional ideological lines) overruled Nevada v. Hall and significantly extends state sovereign immunity.
The ruling means that states now cannot be sued by private parties in the courts of other states. It's a boon for the states--and a blow to anyone who wants to sue a state in another state's courts--although, as Justice Breyer noted in dissent, states routinely granted immunity to sister states, anyway--but as a matter of comity. Today's ruling constitutionalizes that practice.
The Court's opinion looks to "our constitutional structure" and the "historical evidence showing a widespread preratification understanding that States retained immunity from private suits, both in their own courts and in other courts." It is devoid of textual support--a curiosity, given the majority justices' otherwise focus on text and originalism as principal sources of constitutional construction.
Justice Thomas wrote for the Court, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Alito, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh. Justice Thomas wrote that "Hall's determination that the Constitution does not contemplate sovereign immunity for each State in a sister State's courts misreads the historical record and misapprehends the 'implicit ordering of relationships within the federal system necessary to make the Constitution a workable governing charter and to give each provision within that document the full effect intended by the Framers.'" He said that "[i]n short, at the time of the founding, it was well settled that States were immune under both the common law and the law of nations," and that "[t]he founding generation thus took as given that States could not be haled involuntarily before each other's courts." He wrote that the Eleventh Amendment (though not directly applicable to this issue) reaffirmed the earlier understanding that States enjoy immunity.
Justice Breyer dissented, joined by Justices Ginsburg, Kagan, and Sotomayor. Justice Breyer noted that preratification immunity of states was based on comity (that is, grace), not on legal obligation, and that states therefore could withdraw their recognition of another state's immunity "upon notice at any time, without just offense" (Quoting Justice Story in The Santissima Trinidad.) He wrote that Hall correctly concluded that ratification of the Constitution did not alter this comity-based immunity "in any relevant respect." Neither the Eleventh Amendment nor the Full Faith and Credit Clause (nor anything else in the text) required states to grant each other sovereign immunity, and "nothing 'implicit in the Constitution' treats States differently in respect to immunity than international law treats sovereign nations."
At any rate, I can find nothing in the 'plan of the Convention' or elsewhere to suggest that the Constitution converted what had been the customary practice of extending immunity by consent into an absolute federal requirement that no State could withdraw. None of the majority's arguments indicates that the Constitution accomplishes any such transformation.
Justice Breyer also argued that "stare decisis requires us to follow Hall, not overrule it."
Friday, April 26, 2019
In an opinion in Amawi v. Pflugerville Independent School District, United States District Judge for the Western District of Texas, Judge Robert Pittman, issued a temporary injunction against Texas Gov. Code § 2270.001 et seq., also known as Texas H.B. 89, passed in 2017.
HB 89 prohibits governmental entities from entering into contracts for goods or services unless the contract contains a written verification that the contractor does not and will not "boycott Israel." Texas essentially admitted HB 89 is targeted at participants in the BDS (boycott, divest, and sanction) movement which protests Israel's "occupation of Palestinian territory and its treatment of Palestinian citizens and refugees." The five plaintiffs —a speech pathologist contracting with a school district; a freelance writer, artist, interpreter, and translator contracting with a university; and three university students who would contract with high schools as debate tournament judges — refused to sign the required statement that they did not and would not boycott Israel.
Judge Pittman easily found that the plaintiffs had standing, that their claims were ripe, and that the action was not barred by Eleventh Amendment immunity.
On the merits of the First Amendment claims, Judge Pittman's careful and well reasoned opinion first concluded that the prohibition of a boycott was inherently expressive activity protected by the First Amendment. The parties had raised what Judge Pittman called "dueling precedents": NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware Co. (1992) and Rumsfeld v. FAIR (2006). He concluded:
Claiborne, not FAIR, governs this case. Texas does not dispute that Plaintiffs’ boycotts are political; they support the BDS movement’s “dispute with the Israeli government’s policies.” Claiborne deals with political boycotts; FAIR, in contrast, is not about boycotts at all. The Supreme Court did not treat the FAIR plaintiffs’ conduct as a boycott: the word “boycott” appears nowhere in the opinion, the decision to withhold patronage is not implicated, and Claiborne, the key decision recognizing that the First Amendment protects political boycotts, is not discussed.
Moreover, Judge Pittman stated, even if "it were generally true that boycotts are not inherently expressive, H.B. 89, by its terms, applies only to expressive boycotts," given the statutory definitions. Judge Pittman then rejected the arguments of Texas that exceptions to Claiborne were applicable.
Judge Pittman then found that the H.B. 89 was viewpoint and content discrimination, and was not government speech under Walker v. Texas Div., Sons of Confederate Veterans, Inc. (2015). Applying the applicable standard of strict scrutiny, Judge Walker found that the asserted compelling governmental interests failed. Judge Pittman found two of the interests — prohibiting national-origin discrimination, and prohibiting state contractors from violating anti-discrimination principles — to essentially be not the actual interests underlying H.B. 89. Judge Pittman noted the statute does not refer to the "national origin" or "nationality" of individuals but to "the nation of Israel." Judge Pittman described the statute as being "underinclusive" in this way, providing examples of who would and would not be covered by the statute. As to the third interest asserted by Texas — aligning the state's commercial interests with Israel because it is “one of the few democracies in the Middle East and an ally of the United States and this State" — Judge Pittman essentially found this was not compelling. Texas had argued that “the First Amendment does not prevent restrictions directed at commerce or conduct from imposing incidental burdens on speech,” but Judge Pittman found that this was not an "incidental burden" on speech, but targeted specific speech directly.
Judge Pittman then proceeded to an analysis of the means chosen, although clearly stated that because "H.B. 89 is not justified by any compelling state interest, no amount of narrowing application will preserve it from constitutional attack. But even if Texas’s stated interests were the actual interests advanced by the statute—and even if they were compelling—the Court finds that H.B. 89 still sweeps too broadly."
Judge Pittman's extensive and detailed opinion then found that plaintiffs' additional First Amendment arguments — that the statute is an unconstitutional condition, that it was compelled speech, and that it was unconstitutionally vague — all had merit.
The constitutionality of anti-BDS statutes is being vigorously litigated and Judge Pittman's decision is sure to be appealed. The opinion's perspective on the popularity of anti-BDS statutes is quite interesting:
Twenty five states have enacted similar legislation or issued executive orders restricting boycotts of Israel, and Congress has declared its opposition to the BDS movement, see 19 U.S.C. § 4452. In Texas, only five legislators voted against H.B. 89. Texas touts these numbers as the statute’s strength. They are, rather, its weakness. “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.” West Virginia State Bd. of Educ. v. Barnette (1943).
[some citations omitted].
Thursday, February 14, 2019
The Third Circuit ruled that the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board is entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity from a suit for monetary damages by an employee who alleged that the PLCB discriminated against him in violation of the Equal Protection Clause. The ruling ends the case.
The case, Patterson v. PLCB, arose when a PLCB employee accused the Board of discriminating against him because of his race. The employee sued for monetary damages; the PLCB moved to dismiss under Eleventh Amendment immunity; and the district court dismissed the case.
The Third Circuit affirmed. The court ruled that the PLCB, an "independent" state agency, is entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity under the circuit's three-part balancing test. The court said first that "the state is not legally responsible for adverse judgments, the PLCB can satisfy a judgment using revenue obtained from liquor sales, and the PLCB is responsible for its own debts"--weighing against immunity. Second, the court said that the state treats the Board as an arm of the state--the Board is separately incorporated, it has its own power to sue and be sued, it's immune from state taxes, and state law considers the Board an arm of the state--weighing in favor of immunity. Finally, the court said that the Board's governing structure and oversight by the state weigh in favor of immunity. On balance, the court held that the Board gets immunity.
Wednesday, July 25, 2018
In its opinion in Lewis v. Governor of Alabama, a unanimous panel of the Eleventh Circuit has reversed the dismissal of a claim that the Alabama Minimum Wage and Right to Work Act, preempting the City of Birmingham's ordinance raising the minimum wage to $10.10, violated the Equal Protection Clause.
After considering standing and Eleventh Amendment arguments, the panel's opinion, authored by Judge Charles Wilson, proceeded to the "heart of the matter" involving the district judge's dismissal of the plaintiffs' equal protection claims that the Minimum Wage Act purposely discriminates against Birmingham’s black citizens by denying them economic opportunities on account of their race; and the Act violates the political-process doctrine by transferring control from the majority-black Birmingham City Council to the majority-white Alabama Legislature.
The court found that plaintiffs stated a claim on the intentional discrimination claim, applying the factors of Village of Arlington Heights v. Metro. Hous. Dev. Corp. (1997). The court found that there was definitely a racial impact and that the Act "bears more heavily on one race than another.”The court also considered "the rushed, reactionary, and racially polarized nature of the legislative process; and Alabama’s historical use of state power to deny local black majorities authority over economic decision-making." The court noted that the state's Act "responded directly to the legislative efforts of the majority-black Birmingham City Council, which represents more black citizens (and more black citizens living in poverty) than any other city in Alabama" and was "introduced by a white representative from Alabama’s least diverse area, with the help of fifty-two other white sponsors, and was objected to by all black members of the House and Senate. And it was accelerated through the legislative process in sixteen days with little or no opportunity for public comment or debate." The court concluded that these facts "plausibly imply discriminatory motivations were at play." Moreover, the court found that the district judge applied the incorrect legal standard when evaluating plaintiffs' complaint, a "clearest proof" standard "[r]ecklessly plucked from an unrelated line of precedent" and "contrary to decades of established equal protection jurisprudence."
However, the court affirmed the dismissal of plaintiffs' equal protection claim based on political process, despite the facts, because "to the extent that the plaintiffs allege that the minimum wage policy was 'racialized' because the 'Birmingham African-American community strongly favored' it, that argument clashes with the Supreme Court’s clear instructions" in Schuette v. BAMN (2014).
Thus, the case was remanded and can move forward on the "plausible claim that the Minimum Wage Act had the purpose and effect of depriving Birmingham’s black citizens equal economic opportunities on the basis of race, in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment."
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.