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This case was before the court on the State of Nevada’s interlocutory appeal, following the district court’s denial of its motion to dismiss on jursidictional grounds. Addressing an issue of first impression, the Ninth Circuit held that removal from state court to federal court constitutes a waiver of sovereign immunity as to all federal claims, including the FLSA claims at issue here.
In Walden, state correctional officers alleged that the Nevada Department of Corrections improperly failed to pay them for pre- and post-shift work at state prisons and other facilities. They filed suit in state court, alleging minimum wage and overtime claims under the FLSA, in addition to a minimum-wage claim under Nevada’s Constitution, a overtime claim under Nevada law, and a claim for breach of contract.
Nevada removed the case to federal court and moved for judgment on the pleadings with regard to the FLSA claims, and contended that it was “immune from liability as a matter of law.” Nevada did not explicitly mention state sovereign immunity or the Eleventh Amendment, though.
The district court requested briefing on the question whether state sovereign immunity applies to the FLSA claims against the state following its removal of the case to federal court.
The district court held that Nevada had waived its sovereign immunity as to the officers’ FLSA claim by virtue of its removal of the case to federal court, and denied the state’s motion to dismiss. Nevada filed an interlocutory appeal to the Ninth Circuit.
While the particular issue at bar was one of first impression, the Ninth Circuit looked to other cases in which states had been held to waive soverign immunity when they removed federal claims to federal court, to reach its holding.
The Ninth Circuit noted that the Supreme Court had previously held that a state can waive sovereign immunity with regard to state law claims by removing them to federal court and the Ninth Circuit itself had previously held that, at least in some circumstances a state can waive soverign immunity by removing federal statutory claims to federal court.
The court then went one step further: “We now hold that a State that removes a case to federal court waives its immunity from suit on all federal-law claims in the case, including those federal-law claims that Congress failed to apply to the states through unequivocal and valid abrogation of their Eleventh Amendment immunity,” it wrote.
As the Supreme Court had observed, it was inconsistent for a state simultaneously to invoke federal jurisdiction, thus acknowledging the federal court’s authority over the case at hand, while claiming it enjoyed sovereign immunity from the “Judicial Power of the United States” in the matter before it.
Thus, the Ninth Circuit held that a state waives soverign immunity as to all federal statutory claims in a case which the state has removed to federal court, including those federal claims that Congress did not apply to the states through unequivocal and valid abrogation of their Eleventh Amendment immunity (like the FLSA).
Click Walden v. State of Nevada to read the entire decision.
***** EDITOR’S UPDATE *****:
On July 13, 2012, the Eleventh Circuit granted the Board of Dental Examiners of Alabama’s motion for rehearing, based on a subsequent decision of Alabama’s highest court which held that the Board was in fact an “arm of the state.” As they had in the prior decision, the Eleventh Circuit deferred to the courts of Alabama. Since a higher court in Alabama had ruled that the Board was an “arm of the state,” the Eleventh Circuit reversed itself (and the court below) and entered judgment on behalf of the Board holding that it was sovereign immune as an “arm of the state” of Alabama. Thus, the initial Opinion discussed below is no longer good law.
Click Versiglio v. Board of Dental Examiners of Alabama to read the entire substituted Opinion on Petition for Rehearing.
Versiglio v. Board of Dental Examiners of Alabama
This case was before the Eleventh Circuit on the Board’s appeal asserting that the court below erred when it held that it was not subject to Eleventh Amendment immunity from the FLSA as an “arm of the state.” Rejecting this contention and affirming the decision below, the Eleventh Circuit relied, almost entirely, on the fact that the highest court of Alabama had previously held that the Board was not entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity.
The Court summarized the issue before it as follows:
“Appellant Board of Dental Examiners of Alabama (the “Board”) appeals the district court’s judgment denying it sovereign immunity protection as an arm of the state of Alabama. Appellee Natalie Versiglio contends that the Board is sufficiently independent from the state of Alabama, that it is not entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity, and that her claim under the Fair Labor Standards Act should be allowed to continue. The Supreme Court in Alden v. Maine settled the matter of state employees suing under the FLSA, writing, “We hold that the powers delegated to Congress under Article I of the United States Constitution do not include the power to subject nonconsenting States to private suits for damages in state courts. We decide as well that the State of Maine has not consented to suits for overtime pay and liquidated damages under the FLSA.” 527 U.S. 706, 712, 119 S.Ct. 2240, 2246 (1999). Thus, the question before this court is whether the Board is an arm of the state. For the reasons stated below, we conclude that at this time it is not and affirm the judgment of the district court.”
Discussing the parties assertions regarding the applicability of the Eleventh Amendment to Defendant the Eleventh Circuit, the court appeared to find Board’s arguments more compelling. Specifically, the court noted that in creating the Board, the Alabama legislature made specific findings that supported the argument that the Board was an “arm of the state.” Further, the Eleventh Circuit rejected the Plaintiffs’ arguments that Board’s independence- including the composition of its Board and its discretion to spend its funds- supported the finding that it was not an “arm of the state,” based on prior jurisprudence. Curiously, the court also questioned the Plaintiffs’ assertion that the State treasury was not implicated by the case before it. Instead, the court reasoned that- despite the fact that the State does not allocate, administer or collect the funds used by the Board- ultimately the State would likely have to pay any judgment.
Notwithstanding all of the above, the court still concluded that that the Board was not subject to Eleventh Amendment immunity, but relied almost entirely on a decision by Alabama’s highest court in reaching its holding. The court reasoned:
“Despite the strength of the Board’s claim of sovereign immunity under the Miccosukee test, one factor weighs heavily against it. On April 1, 2011, the Court of Civil Appeals of Alabama released its opinion in Wilkinson v. Board of Dental Examiners of Alabama, 2011 WL 1205669, 2011 Ala. Civ.App. LEXIS 88 (Ala. Civ.App. April 1, 2011). FN3 In its opinion, the state appeals court conducted the first substantial analysis by a state court of the Board’s status as a state agency. FN4 The Board argued that it was immune from suit in state court pursuant to Article 1, Section 14 of the Alabama Constitution. That section provides that “the State of Alabama shall never be made a defendant in any court of law or equity.” Alabama courts have construed this immunity to extend to arms of the state. Armory Comm’n v. Staudt, 388 So.2d 991, 993 (Ala.1980). The test for entities seeking immunity is much like this court’s test: whether “a lawsuit against a body created by legislative enactment is a suit against the state depends on the character of power delegated to the body, the relation of the body to the state, and the nature of the function performed by the body.” Id. Applying this test, the Court of Civil Appeals examined many of the provisions discussed above, concluding that the Board is not an arm of the state and thus “is not entitled to § 14 immunity.” Wilkinson, 2011 Ala. Civ.App. Lexis 88 at *16, 2011 WL 1205669 at *5.
This court gives great deference to how state courts characterize the entity in question. This practice is in keeping with the ordinary deference granted state courts when they interpret matters of state concern. See Silverberg v. Paine, Webber, Jackson & Curtis, Inc., 710 F.2d 678, 690 (11th Cir.1983) (“A federal court applying state law is bound to adhere to decisions of the state’s intermediate appellate courts absent some persuasive indication that the state’s highest court would decide the issue otherwise.”). Federal courts are often more skeptical of state court decisions involving issues of sovereign immunity, as otherwise “[a] state would have too much self-interest in extending sovereign immunity to as many of its agencies and corporate creations as possible.” Miller–Davis Co. v. Illinois State Toll Highway Auth., 567 F.2d 323, 330 (7th Cir.1977). However, that concern is obviated when, as here, the state court finds that an entity is not an arm of the state. Id. (“Especially when a state supreme court does not extend immunity but, rather, holds that an entity is not to be deemed the state for purposes of sovereign immunity, we think the federal courts must pay careful attention to the state opinion.”).
Finding that the Board is entitled to sovereign immunity would require this court to interpret Alabama law in a way that is diametrically opposed to the findings of the highest state court to consider the issue. Such a ruling would also create the incongruous result of having a “state agency” that is immune from suit under federal law but not under state law. Cf. Alden, 527 U.S. at 793 n.29, 119 S.Ct. at 2285 n.29 (noting in a different context that the Framers of the Eleventh Amendment “would have considered it absurd that States immune in federal court could be subjected to suit in their own courts”). As such, we believe that a holding by this court that the Board is an arm of the state for purposes of sovereign immunity would be inappropriate.
For the aforementioned reasons, we affirm the district court’s finding that the Board is not entitled to sovereign immunity protection as an arm of the state of Alabama.”
Click Versiglio v. Board of Dental Examiners of Alabama to read the entire decision.
Morris v. South Carolina Dept. of Corrections
In this case Plaintiff, an employee of the South Carolina Department of Corrections (“SCDC”), sought compensation for overtime work under Section 16(b) of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), 29 U.S.C. § 216(b). The Defendant moved to dismiss pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6), claiming it was sovereign immune from such claims. The Court agreed and granted Defendant’s motion to dismiss stating:
“SCDC argues that Plaintiff’s claim is barred because the state is immune from claims for money damages brought under Section 16(b). In making these arguments, SCDC relies on Alden v. Maine, which held that states are immune from private suits filed in state courts for damages brought under Section 16(b) of the FLSA. Based on Alden and its progeny, Defendant argues that state agencies are immune from private suits for money damages under the FLSA whether that suit is brought in state or federal court. See Alden v. Me., 527 U.S. 706, 119 S.Ct. 2240, 144 L.Ed.2d 636 (1999); see also Dkt. No. 15 at 4. Plaintiff disagrees, arguing that Alden applies only to FLSA suits brought in state court. Dkt. No. 16 at 2.
State Sovereign Immunity. The doctrine of state sovereign immunity bars suits in federal court for money damages against an “unconsenting State.” Edelman v. Jordan, 415 U.S. 651, 663, 94 S.Ct. 1347, 39 L.Ed.2d 662 (1974); see also Alden, 527 U.S. at 713 (noting that, while “Eleventh Amendment immunity” is often used as convenient shorthand for state sovereign immunity, the latter is “a fundamental aspect of the sovereignty which the States enjoyed before the ratification of the Constitution, and which they retain today … except as altered by the plan of the Convention or certain constitutional Amendments.”). This immunity extends to “arm[s] of the State,” Mt. Healthy City Sch. Dist. Bd. of Educ. v. Doyle, 429 U.S. 274, 280, 97 S.Ct. 568, 50 L.Ed.2d 471 (1974), including state agencies and state officers acting in their official capacity. Gray v. Laws, 51 F.3d 426, 430 (4th Cir.1995). This doctrine does not, however, preclude private suits against state officials (but not the state or state agency itself) for prospective or declaratory relief designed to remedy ongoing violations of federal law. Ex parte Young, 209 U.S. 123, 157, 28 S.Ct. 441, 52 L.Ed. 714 (1908); see also Virginia v. Reinhard, 568 F.3d 110 (4th Cir.2009).
Congress may abrogate state sovereign immunity, but “only by stating unequivocally its desire to do so and only pursuant to a valid exercise of constitutional authority.” Constantine v. Rectors & Visitors of George Mason Univ., 411 F.3d 474, 484 (4th Cir.2005) (citing Seminole Tribe of Fla. v. Florida, 517 U.S. 44, 55, 116 S.Ct. 1114, 134 L.Ed.2d 252 (1996)). Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, the Amendment’s enforcement provision, provides one (and possibly the only) basis on which Congress may, under specific circumstances, abrogate state sovereign immunity. Nev. Dep’t of Human Res. v. Hibbs, 538 U.S. 721, 727, 123 S.Ct. 1972, 155 L.Ed.2d 953 (2003) (noting that, while Congress may abrogate the States’ sovereign immunity under Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment, it may not do so “pursuant to its Article I power over commerce”) (citing Fitzpatrick v. Bitzer, 427 U.S. 445, 456, 96 S.Ct. 2666, 49 L.Ed.2d 614 (1976)); see also Seminole Tribe, 517 U.S. at 73 (“Article I cannot be used to circumvent the constitutional limitations placed upon federal jurisdiction”).
Applied to Section 16(b) of the FLSA. In Alden, the Supreme Court held that states are immune from private suits for damages brought under Section 16(b) of the FLSA in state court. The Court’s reasoning was based, in part, on the principle that Congress cannot extend state court jurisdiction beyond where it may extend federal court jurisdiction. See 527 U.S. at 754 (“We are aware of no constitutional precept that would admit of a congressional power to require state courts to entertain federal suits which are not within the judicial power of the United States and could not be heard in federal courts.”). Put differently, as applied to Section 16(b) of the FLSA, it is precisely because Congress lacks the authority to subject states to suit in federal court that it also lacks the authority to subject states to suit in their own courts. Thus, the Alden rationale fully supports Defendant’s position.
Prior to Alden, the Fourth Circuit ruled that state sovereign immunity bars Section 16(b) claims for damages brought by state employees in federal court. See Abril v. Va., 145 F.3d 182, 186-89 (4th Cir.1998) (concluding that Section 16(b) was not a valid abrogation of state sovereign immunity under Congress’s Section 5 enforcement powers). No subsequent rulings appear to alter this rule, which is consistent with the rationale in Alden. As explained in Rodriguez v. Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration, a post-Alden decision addressing a Section 16(b) claim for damages, Seminole Tribe and Alden operate in tandem to protect states from liability for money damages under the FLSA. Rodriguez v. P.R. Fed. Affairs Admin., 435 F.3d 378, 380 (D.C.Cir.2006) (“Taken together, Seminole Tribe and Alden mean that state employees no longer have any ‘court of competent jurisdiction,’ 29 U.S.C. § 216(b), in which to sue their employers for FLSA violations.”). While not binding, the court finds the Rodriguez court’s reasoning persuasive.”
Thus, the Court concluded that, “SCDC is immune from suits for money damages brought pursuant to Section 16(b) of the FLSA, 29 U.S.C. § 216(b).” Accordingly, Plaintiff’s case was dismissed.
To read the Court’s entire decision, click here.
M.D.Pa.: Although Sovereign Immunity Bars FLSA Suit Against State Of Pennsylvania, State Official May Be Sued In His Official Capacity For Non-Monetary Declaratory Relief
Dino v. Pennsylvania
Plaintiffs filed a collective action to enforce the provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq., against the Commonwealth and against Defendant Beard in his official and personal capacities. Specifically, Plaintiffs allege that they were or are employed by the Commonwealth’s Department of Corrections in the job classification of Corrections Officers 3 (“CO3 s”). Plaintiffs contend that they should be classified as “non-exempt” for FLSA overtime purposes and are entitled to cash compensation for hours worked in overtime.
Both Defendants moved to dismiss or for summary judgment in the alternative citing the Eleventh Amendment. The Court granted the State’s Motion, but denied Beard’s Motion in his individual capacity, holding that the Plaintiffs properly stated a cause of action against Beard (in both his official and individual capacity) solely for non-monetary declaratory relief.
Discussing the claims against Beard the Court stated, “[t]he Supreme Court has made clear that the Eleventh Amendment bars federal courts from entertaining suits by private parties against states. Alden v. Maine, 527 U.S. 706, 752, 119 S.Ct. 2240, 144 L.Ed.2d 636 (1999). Generally, Eleventh Amendment immunity also extends to state officials sued in their official capacity because in such a case the state is the real party in interest. Melo v. Hafer, 912 F.2d 628, 635 (3d Cir.1990) (citing Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 165-66, 105 S.Ct. 3099, 87 L.Ed.2d 114 (1985)). “Eleventh Amendment immunity is, however, subject to three primary exceptions: (1) congressional abrogation, (2) waiver by the state, and (3) suits against individual state officers for prospective injunctive and declaratory relief to end an ongoing violation of federal law.” Pa. Fed’n of Sportsmen’s Clubs, Inc. v. Hess, 297 F.3d 310, 323 (3d Cir.2002).
Plaintiffs argue that Eleventh Amendment immunity is inapplicable here based on the third exception, the doctrine of Ex parte Young, 209 U.S. 123, 28 S.Ct. 441, 52 L.Ed. 714 (1908). “In Ex Parte Young, the Supreme Court carved out an exception to Eleventh Amendment immunity by permitting citizens to sue state officials when the litigation seeks only prospective injunctive relief in order to end continuing violations of federal law.” Balgowan v. State of New Jersey, 115 F.3d 214, 217 (3d Cir.1997). “The doctrine applies to violations of the United States Constitution and to violation of federal statutes.” Hess, 297 F.3d at 323. In determining whether the Young doctrine applies, a court need only go through the straight-forward inquiry of whether (1) the complaint alleges an ongoing violation of federal law and (2) whether the complaint seeks relief properly characterized as prospective. Id. at 324. “However, Young does not apply if, although the action is nominally against individual officers, the state is the real, substantial party in interest and the suit in fact is against the state.” Id. “[W]hen the action is in essence one for the recovery of money from the state, the state is the real, substantial party in interest and is entitled to invoke its sovereign immunity from suit even though individual officials are nominal defendants.” Regents of the University of California v. Doe, 519 U.S. 425, 429, 117 S.Ct. 900, 137 L.Ed.2d 55 (1997) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).
In Balgowan, the Third Circuit addressed a case with similar facts to the one at bar. In that case, New Jersey Department of Transportation (“DOT”) engineers brought FLSA overtime compensation claims against the New Jersey DOT Commissioner. 115 F.3d at 217-18. The Third Circuit noted that it would not have jurisdiction over claims for injunctive relief, since FLSA limited such claims to those brought by the United States Secretary of Labor. Id. at 218. However, the appellate court allowed the engineers’ compensation claims to proceed against the commissioner under the Young doctrine because the engineers were seeking prospective declaratory relief. Id.
Like the DOT engineers in Balgowan, Plaintiffs have claims for declaratory relief that fall within the Young exception. First, Plaintiffs allege that Defendant Beard has violated the FLSA by failing to pay them “time and a half” for time worked in excess of the maximum hours per week period. (Doc. No. 1 ¶ 47-50.) Second, Plaintiffs seek prospective declaratory relief: a ruling that they are nonexempt employees under the FLSA and are entitled to compensation for excess hours worked. (Doc. No. 1 at 15-16.)
Defendant Beard asserts that the Young doctrine does not apply to him since the Commonwealth is the real party in interest. Yet Plaintiffs call for prospective relief that does not include recovery of money from the state. Specifically, Plaintiffs assert that Beard can: (1) remind the Commonwealth to uphold the law, (2) schedule and deploy CO3s to avoid the need for overtime, (3) direct subordinate Commonwealth staff to comply with the FLSA, or (4) resign his position. (Doc. No. 26, at 11.)
The Court finds that Plaintiffs have adequately alleged that Defendant Beard falls within the Young exception. This comports with the reasoning behind Young. Specifically, “[t]he theory behind Young is that a suit to halt the enforcement of a state law in conflict with the federal constitution is an action against the individual officer charged with that enforcement and ceases to be an action against the state to which sovereign immunity extends; the officer is stripped of his official or representative character and becomes subject to the consequences of his individual conduct…. The Young doctrine is accepted as necessary to permit federal courts to vindicate federal rights and to hold state officials responsible to the ‘supreme authority of the United States.’ “ Hess, 297 F.3d at 323 (quoting MCI Telecomm. Corp. v. Bell Atlantic-Pa., 271 F.3d 491, 506 (3d Cir.2001) (citations omitted)).
Because Plaintiffs’ allegations against Defendant Beard in his official capacity fall within the Young exception, Defendant Beard’s motion on the pleadings for immunity based on his official capacity will be denied.
B. Individual Capacity
Defendant Beard next asserts that he is entitled to qualified immunity in his individual capacity.
“The doctrine of qualified immunity protects government officials ‘from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.’ “ Pearson v. Callahan, — U.S. —-, 129 S.Ct. 808, 815, 172 L.Ed.2d 565 (2009) (quoting Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818, 102 S.Ct. 2727, 73 L.Ed.2d 396 (1982)). In Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 201, 121 S.Ct. 2151, 150 L.Ed.2d 272 (2001), the Supreme Court set forth a two-tiered analysis to assist in determining whether a defendant is entitled to qualified immunity:
First, a court must decide whether the facts that a plaintiff has alleged (see Fed. Rules Civ. Proc. 12(b)(6), (c)) or shown (see Rules 50, 56) make out a violation of a constitutional right. Second, if the plaintiff has satisfied this first step, the court must decide whether the right at issue was “clearly established” at the time of defendant’s alleged misconduct. Qualified immunity is applicable unless the official’s conduct violated a clearly established constitutional right. Pearson, 129 S.Ct. at 815-16 (citing Saucier, 533 U.S. 194, 121 S.Ct. 2151, 150 L.Ed.2d 272) (internal citations removed). In Pearson, the Supreme Court clarified that the order of the Saucier analysis was flexible, and that a court should “exercise [its] sound discretion in deciding which of the two prongs of the qualified immunity analysis should be addressed first in light of the circumstances in the particular case at hand.” Bayer v. Monroe County Children and Youth Services, 577 F.3d 186, 191-92 (3d Cir.2009) (quoting Pearson, 129 S.Ct. at 818).
Whether Defendant Beard should be afforded qualified immunity is likely to turn on the second Saucier prong of whether the right at issue was clearly established. In Bayer, the Third Circuit outlined the applicable analysis:
“The relevant, dispositive inquiry in determining whether a right is clearly established is whether it would be clear to a reasonable officer that his conduct was unlawful in the situation he confronted.” Saucier, 533 U.S. at 202. “This inquiry … must be undertaken in light of the specific context of the case, not as a broad general proposition,” id. at 201, and “turns on the ‘objective legal reasonableness of the action, assessed in light of the legal rules that were clearly established at the time it was taken.’ “ Pearson, 129 S.Ct. at 822 (quoting Wilson v. Layne, 526 U.S. 603, 614, 119 S.Ct. 1692, 143 L.Ed.2d 818 (1999) (internal quotation marks omitted)) ….Bayer, 577 F.3d at 192-93. “To be established clearly, however, there is no need that ‘the very action in question [have] previously been held unlawful.’ “ Safford Unified School Dist. No. 1 v. Redding, — U.S. —-, 129 S.Ct. 2633, 2643, 174 L.Ed.2d 354 (2009) (quoting Wilson v. Layne, 526 U.S. 603, 615, 119 S.Ct. 1692, 143 L.Ed.2d 818 (1999)).
In the present case, the parties dispute whether the CO3 positions at the Department of Corrections should be exempted from the FLSA. The FLSA exempts from its overtime pay requirements “any employee employed in a bona fide executive, administrative, or professional capacity.” See 29 U.S.C. § 213(a)(1). The Code of Federal Regulations defines executive employees as those (1) who receive compensation “of not less than $455 per week”; (2) whose “primary duty” is the management of the enterprise in which the employee is employed or of a customarily recognized department thereof; (3) who customarily and regularly direct the work of two or more other employees; and (4) who have the authority to hire or fire other employees or whose suggestions and recommendations as to the hiring, firing, advancement, promotion, or any other change of status of other employees are given “particular weight.” 29 C.F.R. § 541.100(a).
The Court is without the necessary facts regarding the CO3 positions in this case to determine whether their status as non-exempt was clearly established and whether it should have been clear to Defendant Beard that a failure to categorize them as such was unlawful in the situation he confronted. The Court notes that Defendant Beard points to a number of factors that help to support his position that he acted reasonably. First, his position was consistent with the Commonwealth’s analysis that police lieutenants were exempt under the FLSA. (Doc. 18-4, Ex. A-2.) Additionally, the Commonwealth’s Office of Administration had classified the CO3 position as exempt from the FLSA for approximately 30 years. (Doc. No. 18-2, Ex. A ¶ 7.).
However, absent further factual evidence regarding the pay, duties, and administrative responsibilities given to the CO3s the Court is unable to determine “whether a right is clearly established [by] whether it would be clear to a reasonable officer that his conduct was unlawful in the situation he confronted.” Saucier, 533 U.S. at 202. Therefore, the Court will allow the parties limited discovery on the qualified immunity issue in order to assist the Court in making such a determination.
For the foregoing reasons, the Court finds that Defendant Beard does not have immunity in his official capacity. As a result, Defendant Beard’s motion on the pleadings as to Count I will be denied. As to Count II, the Court will allow the parties discovery in order to brief the Court as to whether Defendant Beard should be granted qualified immunity. “
D.R.I.: Since Rhode Island Minimum Wage Act Does Not Create Private Cause Of Action, Rhode Island Has Not Waived Its Sovereign Immunity From FLSA Claims
Hauser v. State of Rhode Island Dept. of Correction
This case arose from an allegation that the State of Rhode Island Department of Corrections (DOC) fails to adequately compensate five officers who care for police dogs. The State moved to dismiss Plaintiffs’ two claims: violation of the Rhode Island Minimum Wage Act, R.I. Gen. Laws § 28-12-1 et seq.; and violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq. The Court concluded that no private right of action exists under the Rhode Island Minimum Wage Act, and that the State has not waived its sovereign immunity as to the FLSA claim.
The Court first determined that the Rhode Island Minimum Wage Act does not provide for a private right of action, “[w]hile the Minimum Wage Act is silent as to whether an individual private right of action exists, it does speak to enforcement. Section 28-12-13 provides: “Responsibility for enforcement-[t]he provisions of this chapter shall be carried out by the division of labor standards”; and § 28-12-14(7) provides: ‘Enforcement powers-[t]he director or the commissioner or any authorized representative of either shall have the authority to: [b]ring all actions, suits, complaints, and prosecutions for the violation of any of the provisions of this chapter.
These provisions, combined with the lack of an express private right to sue, indicate that the General Assembly did not intend to provide an individual right of action to aggrieved employees. See Transamerica Mortgage Advisors, Inc. v. Lewis, 444 U.S. 11, 19 (1979) (“[I]t is an elemental canon of statutory construction that where a statute expressly provides a particular remedy or remedies, a court must be chary of reading others into it.”); In re John, 605 A.2d 486, 488 (R.I.1992) (noting that when a statute “does not plainly provide for a private cause of action, such a right cannot be inferred”); Narragansett Pellet Corp. v. City of East Providence ex rel. Fitzgerald, C.A. No. 06-464 ML, 2007 WL 2821538, at *6-7 (D.R.I. Sept. 25, 2007) (no private right of action where statute prescribed a particular enforcement process). There can be little doubt that had the General Assembly deemed it appropriate or necessary to afford employees a private right of action against employers to enforce the minimum wage law, it would have expressly done so. Compare, e.g.,R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 28-5-24.1, 28-29 (setting forth framework for individual claims under Fair Employment Practices Act). Absent any indication from the statute itself or in the legislative history that this is what the legislature intended, it would be clearly inappropriate to create such a right by judicial fiat.”
The Court then tackled the more nuanced issue of whether Rhode Island has waived sovereign immunity under the FLSA, and held it has not. “The issue in this case, however, is not so easily dispatched because of an interesting procedural wrinkle: whether the State waived its Eleventh Amendment immunity as to an FLSA claim by removing the action from Rhode Island Superior Court to federal court?
A state may consent to suit by a clear declaration of its intention to submit itself to federal court jurisdiction, and may waive immunity to suit by voluntarily invoking federal court jurisdiction. See Coll. Sav. Bank v. Fla. Prepaid Postsecondary Educ. Expense Bd., 527 U.S. 666, 670, 675 (1999); Lombardo v. Pennsylvania Dep’t of Pub. Welfare, 540 F.3d 190, 195-96 (3d Cir.2008). The “test for determining whether a State has waived its immunity from federal-court jurisdiction is a stringent one.” Atascadero State Hosp. v. Scanlon, 473 U.S. 234, 241 (1985). There is no suggestion here that Rhode Island expressly consented to be sued for an FLSA violation in federal court. Rather, Plaintiffs say the State’s removal voluntarily invoked jurisdiction, constituting an implied waiver of immunity.
The leading decision on “waiver by removal” is Lapides v. Bd. of Regents of Univ. Sys. Of Georgia, and it is instructive but not on all fours with the present circumstances. 535 U.S. 613 (2002).Lapides discussed whether a state that removes a claim to federal court waives Eleventh Amendment immunity when the state already consented to suit for the claim in its own state court. Id. at 616-17.The Supreme Court held that it did, because otherwise the state would unfairly regain in a federal forum an immunity which it voluntarily abandoned in state court. Id. Importantly, though, the decision did not directly address the effect of removal of a claim as to which a state retained immunity in its own state court-arguably the situation here, and the subject of post-Lapides debate. See, e.g., Stewart v. North Carolina, 393 F.3d 484, 490-91 (4th Cir.2005) (discussing scope of Lapides and holding a state does not waive immunity by removal when it would have been immune from suit for the same claim in state court); Boone v. Pennsylvania Office of Vocational Rehab., 373 F.Supp.2d 484, 499-500 (M.D.Pa.2005) (barring ADA claims against state despite removal because state retained immunity from suit under the ADA in state court).
Under Lapides, the question here, then, is whether Rhode Island retained its immunity from suit as to an FLSA claim in its own courts. If it did, removal triggers no concerns about inconsistency or unfair litigation gamesmanship because in either forum, the State maintains its immunity. As a starting point, under Alden v. Maine the State is correct that it is immune from suit in its own court under the FLSA absent consent or waiver. 527 U.S. 706, 755-57 (1999). Thus the key issue is Plaintiffs’ contention that Rhode Island waived this Alden immunity in its own courts.
Waivers of immunity must not be lightly implied and must be “stated by the most express language or by such overwhelming implications from the text as [will] leave no room for any other reasonable construction.” Edelman v. Jordan, 415 U.S. 651, 673 (1974) (internal citation and quotation omitted); see Andrade v. Rhode Island, 448 A.2d 1293, 1295 (R.I.1982) (noting courts must presume the legislature did not intend to “deprive the state of any part of its sovereign power unless the intent to do so is clearly expressed or arises by necessary implication from the statutory language”). The Court has not identified, nor have the parties offered, any Rhode Island state case addressing waiver of immunity as to a wage claim.
Plaintiffs first suggest the State made itself amenable to suit for claims “identical” to the FLSA via the Rhode Island Minimum Wage Act, so “it does not make much sense to allow the State to ignore parallel federal law.”They claim “there is no question that the state courts permit suits against the State under the Act.”(See Pl.’s Obj. to M. to Dismiss 8 (Doc. No. 8).) But there is indeed a question. As detailed above, the statute lacks express consent by the State to be sued for wage violations. Compare Anthony v. Iowa, 632 N.W.2d 897, 900-02 (Iowa 2001) (rejecting state’s immunity claim under Alden to FLSA action in state court where state wage and labor scheme provided express consent to be sued). The fact that Rhode Island’s wage statute excludes some, but not all, state employees from the overtime provisions (arguably suggesting all other state employees are subject to the provisions) does not mean the State intended to make itself amenable to suit for those claims. And while it may well be the case that the State could be subject to an action in its own courts by the Rhode Island DOL, or an FLSA action by the Secretary of Labor in federal court, this is not a substitute for a clear and unequivocal waiver of immunity for private causes of action. The bottom line is that the simple enactment of wage provisions reflecting or mirroring the FLSA, without more, is too thin a reed on which to find clear waiver. See Jarrett v. Alexander, 235 F.Supp.2d 1208, 1215 (M.D.Ala.2002) (discussing waiver of immunity for FLSA claim in federal court where state did not waive immunity merely because it “incorporated portions of the FLSA or its regulations into state law”); Crawford v. Lexington-Fayette Urban County Gov’t, No. 06-299-JBC, 2007 WL 101862, at *2-3 (E.D.Ky. Jan. 10, 2007) (refusing to find waiver of immunity simply because state wage law broadly defined “employer” and “employee”)
Finally, Plaintiffs urge “waiver by necessary implication.” This, they claim, comes from the fact that sovereign immunity in general has been “obliterated” for many tort and employment-related claims in Rhode Island-creating a landscape “vastly” different than the one in Maine, which was found not to constitute waiver in Alden.
There is no question that in some circumstances Rhode Island has explicitly waived its sovereign immunity. See, e.g.,R.I. Gen. Laws § 9-31-1 (governmental tort liability). But no such explicit waiver exists here, and the cases on which Plaintiffs rely for implied waiver are very situation-specific and fail to support this broad, so-called “obliteration” of immunity. See, e.g., Pellegrino v. Rhode Island Ethics Comm’n, 788 A.2d 1119, 1123-25 (R.I.2002) (state impliedly waived immunity by providing for compensation to commission members for attendance at meetings and then refusing to pay, because disallowing recovery would give statute a “mere nugatory existence”); Donnelly v. Town of Lincoln, 730 A.2d 5, 10 (R.I.1999) (town not insulated from prejudgment interest award in workers compensation case because it voluntarily joined workers’ compensation system) (emphasis added); Capital Props., Inc. v. State, 749 A.2d 1069, 1081 (R.I.1999) (over city’s protest, state could waive immunity and bring declaratory judgment action to determine contractual obligations).
In sum, Rhode Island is not unlike many states that pick and choose what classes of suits to permit, and there is nothing wrong with such a selective practice: “To the extent Maine has chosen to consent to certain classes of suits while maintaining its immunity from others, it has done no more than exercise a privilege of sovereignty concomitant to its constitutional immunity from suit.” Alden, 527 U.S. at 758. Nothing in Rhode Island’s “landscape” or wage laws justifies finding waiver of immunity by necessary implication. See Reagan Constr. Corp. v. Mayer, 712 A .2d 372, 373 (R.I.1998) (“When a statute purporting to waive any aspect of the state’s sovereign immunity is examined, the language of the statute must be closely parsed and strictly construed.”).
Consequently, because the State did not consent to suit or waive its Alden immunity to be sued in its courts under the FLSA, removal does not waive its Seminole Tribe immunity in federal court. The result is harsh but could be easily changed with a stroke of the legislative pen, if so desired. See Rodriguez v. Puerto Rico Fed. Affairs Admin., 435 F.3d 378, 380 (D.C.Cir.2006) (“Taken together, Seminole Tribe and Alden mean that state employees no longer have any ‘court of competent jurisdiction,’ 29 U .S.C. § 216(b) [FLSA], in which to sue their employers for FLSA violations.”).”
D.Or.: Oregon Did Not Waive Sovereign Immunity With Regard To The FLSA By Implementing The Oregon Tort Claims Act (OTCA); FLSA Suit Dismissed
Dinicola v. Service Employees Intern. Union Local 503
Plaintiff was a past elected president of defendant SEIU Local 503. The complaint alleged that the Oregon Department of Revenue (ODR) employed plaintiff and assigned him for a period of time to perform union duties pursuant to a written agreement by which ODR paid plaintiff’s wages and benefits and received reimbursement from Local 503. Local 503 also paid plaintiff $400 per month as president’s pay. The complaint further alleged that plaintiff attempted to collect unpaid overtime compensation by filing a lawsuit in the Circuit Court of the State of Oregon for Marion County, among other means. The complaint further alleges that Local 503 opposed plaintiff’s claim for entitlement to overtime compensation and that certain Local 503 members criticized plaintiff and his claim.
The State of Oregon filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
The Court granted the State of Oregon’s Motion noting, “[b]ecause it did not expressly or impliedly waive its Eleventh Amendment immunity from suit in federal court for violation of the FLSA, the State of Oregon’s motion for judgment on the pleadings is granted. Quillin v. State of Oregon, 127 F.3d 1136, 1138 (9th Cir.1997). Plaintiff’s authority does not support his waiver argument. In Butterfield v. State, the court held that an FLSA claim was a tort claim within the meaning of the Oregon Tort Claims Act, under which the state partially waived its sovereign immunity. 987 P.2d 569, 574 (Or.App.1999). The OTCA is not a waiver of Eleventh Amendment immunity, however. Estate of Pond v. Oregon, 322 F.Supp.2d 1161, 1165 (D.Or.2004). Not surprisingly, Clayton v. State of Oregon, 1990 WL 32088 (D.Or.1990), contains no discussion of Eleventh Amendment immunity, as the defense was clearly foreclosed at the time of the decision. See Seminole Tribe of Florida v. Florida, 517 U.S. 44, 116 S.Ct. 1114, 134 L.Ed.2d 252 (1996)overruling Pennsylvania v. Union Gas Co., 491 U.S. 1, 109 S.Ct. 2273, 105 L.Ed.2d 1 (1989). A state does not waive Eleventh Amendment immunity in these circumstances. Quillin, 127 F.3d at 1139. The case of Chao v. State of Oregon, No. 03-6194-AA (D.Or.), did not yield an opinion and did not involve a suit by a citizen of a state against the state.”