Wednesday, October 12, 2005

ADA - state employer - 11th Amendment immunity

Benn v. First Judicial District of Philadelphia - 3d Circuit Court of Appeals - October 12, 2005

Plaintiff was a probation/parole officer for the 1st Judicial District of Pa. (Philadelphia). He sued his former employer alleging a violation of the Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 USC 12101 et seq.

Held, the judicial district is an instrumentality of the Commonwealth and entitled to immunity under the 11th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The court said that it was "too late in the jurisprudence of the Eleventh Amendment for this court (and perhaps even for the Supreme Court) to interpret that Amendment in light of its explicit language as applicable only to suits against a state brought by citizens of another state. The Supreme Court has consistently held that the Eleventh Amendment immunizes an unconsenting state from suits brought in federal court by its own citizens as well as by citizens of another state." So much for "strict construction" and eschewing "judicial activism."

The court said that Congress can abrogate such immunity pursuant to its authority under sec. 5 of the 14th Amendment provided that it "has unequivocally expressed its intent to do so." Even then, however, the Supreme Court can hold that Congress did not act pursuant to a valid grant of constitutional authority," as it did in another ADA case, Board of Trustees v. Garrett, 531 US 356 (2001).

A suit can also be barred by the 11th amendment where the state is not named as a party, so long as the state is deemed the real party in interest. Held here that under the state supreme court's interpretation of the state constitution, a state judicial district is a state entity, therefore it has 11th Amendment immunity.

Donald Marritz
MidPenn Legal Services