Thursday, April 14, 2011

federal courts - 11th Amendment immunity

Hynoski v. Columbia Co. Redevelopment Authority - MD Pa. - March 11, 2011

Suit v. DCED involving eminent domain in Centralia, Pa., home of the eternal mine fire. One landlowner brought sec. 1983 action based on alleged equal protection violation, claiming improper different treatment of his situation from that of another landowner.

The Eleventh Amendment states: The Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State.U.S. CONST. amend. XI.

It provides a jurisdictional bar to private federal litigation against a state and its agencies. Hans v. Louisiana, 134 U.S. 1, 15-16 (1890) (holding that the Eleventh Amendment bars citizens from bringing suit against their own state in federal court); see also Kimel v. Fla. Bd. of Regents, 528 U.S. 62, 72-73 (2000); Lombardo v. Pennsylvania, 540 F.3d 190, 194-95 (3d Cir. 2008). The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is not a defendant in the matter sub judice; nevertheless, DCED, as an arm of the Commonwealth, is entitled to the protections afforded to the Commonwealth by the Eleventh Amendment. See Chittister v. Dep’t of Cmty. & Econ. Dev., 226 F.3d 223, 226 (3d Cir. 2000) (noting that the parties in that case did not dispute that DCED “is within the protection of the Eleventh Amendment”), abrogated in part on other grounds by Nevada Dep’t of Human Res. v. Hibbs, 538 U.S. 721 (2003); see also Des-Ogugua v. Pa. Dep’t of Cmty. & Econ. Dev., No. 1:06-CV-0721, 2006 WL 2950481, at *1 (M.D. Pa. Oct. 16, 2006) (finding that DCED enjoys “Eleventh Amendment immunity from suit”).

Eleventh Amendment sovereign immunity is subject to three basic exceptions: (1) Congress may specifically abrogate a state’s sovereign immunity by exercising its enforcement power under the Fourteenth Amendment; or (2) a state may waive its sovereign immunity by consenting to suit; or (3) under Ex Parte Young, a state official may be sued in his/her official capacity for prospective injunctive relief. Coll. Sav. Bank v. Fla. Prepaid Postsecondary Educ. Expense Bd., 527 U.S. 666, 670 (1999); Koslow v. Pennsylvania, 302 F.3d 161, 168 (3d Cir. 2002); Hindes v. FDIC, 137 F.3d 148, 165 (3d Cir. 1998).

Plaintiffs’ § 1983 claims against DCED do not fall under any of these exceptions to Eleventh Amendment immunity. First, it is well settled that Congress did not intend to abrogate the states’ sovereign immunity by enacting § 1983. Will v. Mich. Dep’t of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 66(1989). Second, Pennsylvania has unequivocally withheld its consent to such suits.See 42 PA. CONS. STAT. § 8521(b); see also Lombardo, 540 F.3d at 196 n.3; Laskaris v. Thornburgh, 661 F.2d 23, 25 (3d Cir. 1981). Third, the Ex Parte Young exception to the Eleventh Amendment’s jurisdictional bar is inapplicable to plaintiffs’ claim against DCED; the exception applies only to officials, not to state agencies. See Ex Parte Young, 209 U.S. 123 (1908). The court therefore concludes that DCED enjoys sovereign immunity.5

Steven Fishman [chief counsel at DCED], who is being sued in his official capacity, also argues that he enjoys immunity from plaintiffs’ claims under the Eleventh Amendment; however, he fails to address the doctrine of Ex Parte Young. The Third Circuit has opined that “a state official sued in his official capacity for prospective injunctive relief is a person within section 1983, and the Eleventh Amendment does not bar such a suit.” Hindes v. FDIC, 137 F.3d 148, 165 (3d Cir. 1998). Insofar as plaintiffs seek prospective injunctive relief against Fishman, a state official sued in his official capacity, the court rejects Fishman’s sovereign immunity defense.