Ingalls, et al. v. U.S. Space and Rocket Center, et al. (JOINT ASSIGN)
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING 32 MOTION to Dismiss as to the federal-law claims; further ORDERING that the court declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over plfs' remaining state-law claims and that, therefore, defs' 32 motion to dismiss is DENIED as moot as tot he state-law claims. Signed by Chief Judge William Keith Watkins on 7/27/15. (djy, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
JANICE INGALLS, et al., on
behalf of themselves and all others
U.S. SPACE AND ROCKET
CENTER, et al.,
CASE NO. 2:14-CV-699-WKW
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Plaintiffs Janice Ingalls, Milton Parker, and Kamara Bowling (collectively,
“Plaintiffs”) are former employees of the Alabama Space Science Exhibit Commission
(the “Commission”) who worked at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center (the “USSRC”)
in Huntsville, Alabama. In this putative class action, Plaintiffs allege that Defendants
– the Commission, three of its officers, and the USSRC – violated Alabama’s statutes
governing compensation for paid state holidays and longevity incentives and that these
violations support causes of action under federal and state laws.
Pending is Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss (Doc. # 32) pursuant to Federal Rules
of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). Plaintiffs filed a response in opposition to
the motion (Doc. # 39), to which Defendants replied (Doc. # 41). Plaintiffs also
provided a notice of supplemental authority (Doc. # 42), to which Defendants replied
(Doc. # 43). After careful review of the arguments, the Second Amended Complaint,
and the relevant law, the court grants Defendants’ motion to dismiss the federal-law
claims with prejudice and declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the statelaw claims.
I. JURISDICTION AND VENUE
The parties do not contest personal jurisdiction or venue. However, subjectmatter jurisdiction is in dispute.
II. STANDARDS OF REVIEW
A Rule 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss challenges the court’s subject-matter
jurisdiction and permits a facial or factual attack. McElmurray v. Consul. Gov’t of
Augusta-Richmond Cnty., 501 F.3d 1244, 1251 (11th Cir. 2007). On a Rule 12(b)(1)
facial attack, as is present here, the court evaluates whether the complaint “sufficiently
allege[s] a basis of subject matter jurisdiction,” employing standards similar to those
governing Rule 12(b)(6) review. Houston v. Marod Supermarkets, Inc., 733 F.3d 1323,
1335–36 (11th Cir. 2013).
When evaluating a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
12(b)(6), the court must take the facts alleged in the complaint as true and construe them
in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Resnick v. AvMed, Inc., 693 F.3d 1317,
1321–22 (11th Cir. 2012). Rule 12(b)(6) review also includes consideration of any
exhibits attached to the complaint. Thaeter v. Palm Beach Cnty. Sheriff’s Office, 449
F.3d 1342, 1352 (11th Cir. 2006). To survive Rule 12(b)(6) scrutiny, “a complaint must
contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is
plausible on its face.’” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl.
Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). “[F]acial plausibility” exists “when the
plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference
that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S.
In March 1970, the USSRC opened its doors in Huntsville, Alabama, and began
offering visitors a unique glimpse into the United States space program. To manage
the facility and programming, the Alabama Legislature established the Commission
pursuant to Alabama Code §§ 41-9-430 through 41-9-439. Today the USSRC, through
the Commission, provides the leading museum experience for those interested in the
United States space program while offering various educational opportunities for
children, including the Space Camp and Aviation Challenge.
Applying the Rule 12(b)(6) standard, the court has presumed as true the factual allegations
in the governing complaint, but not its legal conclusions. Plaintiffs also attach two documents to
the governing complaint, which pursuant to Thaeter, are appropriate for consideration under the
Rule 12(b)(6) standard. See 449 F.3d at 1352. The evidence submitted with the later briefing on
the motion to dismiss, however, are matters outside of the pleadings; therefore, this evidence has
been excluded from consideration.
Plaintiffs are three former state employees who worked for the Commission at
the USSRC for more than ten years.2 Defendants are the Commission, the USSRC,
Deborah E. Barnhart, Brooke Balch, and Vickie Henderson (collectively,
“Defendants”). Barnhart serves as the Commission’s chief executive officer; Balch is
the Commission’s chief financial officer; and Henderson is the Commission’s vice
president of human resources. Plaintiffs sue these three officials in their individual
Plaintiffs allege that, during their employment, Defendants failed to comply with
Alabama law when administering their employee-compensation plan.
contend that Defendants disregarded state statutes, namely, Alabama Code §§ 1-3-8(e)
and 36-6-11(a), concerning paid state holidays and longevity pay, depriving them of
benefits to which they were legally entitled.
Section § 1-3-8(e) provides that “[a]ny state employee working on a state holiday
shall receive a day of compensatory leave or paid compensation in lieu of the holiday
as provided herein.” Ala. Code § 1-3-8(e). Section 1-3-8(a) enumerates paid state
holidays for state employees.
Throughout Plaintiffs’ employment, the USSRC’s
Benefits Summary allotted the following seven state holidays with pay: New Year’s
Plaintiff Ingalls was hired as a full-time employee in October 2000; she retired on good
terms on March 1, 2011. Plaintiff Davis began her employment in February 2000 in a part-time
capacity. Davis transitioned into a full-time position in 2005. She remained on staff at the USSRC
in a full-time capacity until March 11, 2011. The terms of her departure are not addressed by the
Parties. Plaintiff Parker was hired as a full-time custodial manager in November 1997. Parker
alleges that he was constructively discharged on August 3, 2014, but this lawsuit is not about his
Day; Martin Luther King Jr.’s Birthday; Memorial Day; Independence Day; Labor Day;
Thanksgiving Day; and Christmas Day. But under the Benefits Summary, Plaintiffs
did not receive compensatory leave or paid compensation for the following six state
George Washington’s Birthday; Confederate Memorial Day; Jefferson
Davis’s Birthday; Columbus Day/American Indian Heritage Day; Veteran’s Day; and
Thomas Jefferson’s Birthday. See Ala. Code § 1-3-8(a). Plaintiffs allege that the
Commission’s compensation plan for state holidays “represents a disregard of” § 1-38(a). (Doc. # 31, at ¶ 25.)
As Plaintiffs progressed in their employment, each also began receiving
longevity pay. Pursuant to the USSRC’s Benefits Summary, as pertinent to this lawsuit,
employees receive a lump sum of $300.00 annually after five years of employment.
After ten years of service, an employee’s annual longevity bonus increases to $400.00,
and, after fifteen years of employment, the bonus increases to $500.00 per year. These
benefits mirror those allotted under Alabama Code § 36-6-11(a), but § 36-6-11(a) also
provides the following additional benefit for “[e]ach person employed by the State of
Alabama, . . . whether subject to the state Merit System or not”:
Beginning October 1, 2006, and continuing each fiscal year thereafter in
which an employee does not receive a cost-of-living increase in
compensation, each per annum amount provided in this subsection shall
be increased by one hundred dollars ($100) per year to a maximum
amount of one thousand dollars ($1000) for 25 years of total service as
long as the employee remains in service.
Ala. Code § 36-6-11(a). Plaintiffs allege that Defendants have “violated Alabama law
with regard to the proper statutory payment of [l]ongevity [p]ay.” (Doc. # 31, at ¶ 29.)
As an entity of the State and recipient of public funds, the Commission falls
under the purview of the State’s Department of Examiners of Public Accounts (the
“Department”).3 In January 2014, the Department concluded its examination of the
Commission and issued a report concerning the entities’ “compliance with applicable
laws and regulations of the State of Alabama and whether the public officers, agents,
and employees of the Commission properly and lawfully accounted for money and
other public assets or resources received, disbursed, or in the custody of the
Commission.” (Doc. # 31-1, at 5.) Incorporated in the report was a schedule of state
legal compliance and other findings, in which the Department delineated eight specific
findings of noncompliance, two of which are relevant to the present action.
First, the Department found that “the Commission provide[d] six fewer holidays
to its state employees than are mandated by law for state employees.” (Doc. # 31-1, at
10.) The Department recommended that the Commission “award its employees the
holidays provided by” § 1-3-8(a), and “provide a day of compensatory leave or paid
compensation in lieu of any holiday of which the employee is required to work.” (Doc.
# 31-1, at 11.) Second, the Department found that
[t]he Commission’s employees who were entitled to receive longevity
payments received less than the amount to which they were entitled.
The Department is the State’s independent auditing agency. As part of the State’s
Legislative branch, it is statutorily tasked with performing independent audits of all entities
receiving or dispersing public funds.
Underpayments occurred because longevity amounts due the employees
were not increased in accordance with the requirements of state law,
which provides that longevity pay amounts will be increased when
employees do not receive a cost of living raise.
(Doc. # 31-1, at 10.) To cure the deficiency, the Department recommended that the
Commission “re-compute longevity pay for each employee for all years in which [he or
she was] qualified to receive longevity pay for reason of not having received a cost of
living pay increase and . . . pay the employees the total amount of all underpayments
due them.” (Doc. # 31-1, at 10.)
Before the official release of the report, the Department presented its findings
and corresponding recommendations to the Commission at a meeting held on October
18, 2013. Defendants Barnhart and Balch were present at the meeting on behalf of the
Commission. After the Department released the report, the Commission held a meeting
with all of the full-time, part-time, and presently employed seasonal staff working at
During the meeting, the Commission’s leadership, which included
Barnhart, Balch, and Henderson, acknowledged the report, voiced its belief that the
Department’s findings were made in error,4 and noted that it would implement changes
if required. Plaintiffs allege that the Commission has failed to change any of its policies
Defendants argue that the Commission’s enabling legislation provides for “different
treatment of Commission employees vis-à-vis employees of other state agencies, with respect to
merit pay and retirement participation.” (Doc. # 33, at 14.) Based on the analysis to follow,
Defendants’ assertions need not be resolved, but the proper interpretation and application of the
Commission’s enabling legislation and the various state statutes that regulate the compensation of
state employees remain at the heart of Plaintiffs’ claims and Defendants’ defenses.
or take remedial measures with regard to its holiday or longevity-pay policies. As a
result, Plaintiffs filed the present lawsuit against the USSRC, the Commission, and the
The governing Second Amended Complaint raises claims under the Fourteenth
Amendment to the United States Constitution pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and under
state law for breach of contract. Plaintiffs seek various forms of declaratory and
injunctive relief, as well as compensatory damages, attorney’s fees, and costs.
Defendants move to dismiss the federal- and state-law claims in the Second
Amended Complaint. The discussion proceeds in two parts. Part A addresses the
federal-law claims. Because the federal-law claims are due to be dismissed, Part B
explains why, in the court’s discretion, the state-law claims are appropriate for dismissal
under 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c)(3).
Federal-Law Claims: 42 U.S.C. § 1983
Plaintiffs’ federal-law claims, originating under § 1983, allege violations of
Plaintiffs’ Fourteenth Amendment due process and equal protection rights. Plaintiffs
allege that Defendants deprived Plaintiffs of compensation guaranteed to them under
§§ 1-3-8(e) and 36-6-11(a) of the Alabama Code without providing a hearing or any
other process. Further, Plaintiffs allege that Defendants violated their equal protection
rights because, in depriving them of compensation under these state statutes,
Defendants treated them differently than other state employees.
Defendants have moved to dismiss Plaintiffs’ claims under two theories – a Rule
12(b)(1) attack, alleging a lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, and a Rule 12(b)(6)
challenge, alleging that Plaintiffs fail to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.
Before reaching the merits of the Rule 12(b)(1) and (b)(6) issues, it is necessary to
address first the viability of the USSRC as a Defendant.
Plaintiffs named the USSRC as a Defendant and specifically asserted that they
are former employees of the USSRC. (Doc. # 31, at 2.) On their initial briefing,
Defendants summarily noted that the USSRC is not “a legal entity capable of being
sued” and contended, instead, that Plaintiffs are former employees of the Commission,
which is tasked with operating the USSRC. (Doc # 32, at 3; Doc. # 33, at 5.) Because
Defendants failed to provide any analysis supporting these assertions, both parties were
ordered to submit additional briefing on whether the USSRC is a proper Defendant and
a legal entity capable of being sued. (Doc. # 44.)
To be a proper defendant under § 1983, the USSRC must be a “legal entity
subject to suit.” Dean v. Barber, 951 F.2d 1210, 1214 (11th Cir. 1992). “Whether a
party has the capacity to be sued is determined by the law of the state in which the
district court sits.” Faulkner v. Monroe Cnty. Sheriff’s Dep’t, 523 F. App’x 696, 700
(11th Cir. 2013) (citing Dean, 951 F.2d at 1214–15).
The parties point to no case law, and the court did not find any, addressing
whether the USSRC is a legal entity subject to suit under § 1983. Defendants cite,
however, the Commission’s authorizing legislation, which establishes the Commission
as a “state agency . . . with all of the powers and privileges of a corporation” for the
purpose of managing and controlling “facilities to house and display such visual
exhibits of space exploration and hardware used therefor as may be made available by
the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.” Ala. Code § 41-9-430 (emphasis
added); see also Ala. Code § 4-10-300 (defining the “Commission” and the “exhibit
The Commission persuasively argues that the USSRC is one of the facilities that
the Commission manages and is not an independent legal entity under Alabama law.
Plaintiffs do not argue differently and represent that they named the USSRC only as a
“precautionary measure.”5 (Doc. # 46, at 3.) Accordingly, based upon § 41-9-430, the
§ 1983 claims against the USSRC are due to be dismissed.
Rule 12(b)(1) Arguments
In their 12(b)(1) Motion to Dismiss, Defendants make three arguments as to why
this court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction. First, Defendants allege that the holding in
Pennhurst State School & Hospital v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89 (1984), deprives this
court of subject-matter jurisdiction. Second, Defendants contend that even if this case
falls outside the scope of Pennhurst, the Commission is entitled to Eleventh
The court has not considered the exhibit or affidavit attached to Defendants’ supplemental
briefing; therefore, conversion under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(d) is not necessary.
Harper v. Lawrence Cnty., Ala., 592 F.3d 1227, 1232 (11th Cir. 2010) (“A judge need not convert
a motion to dismiss into a motion for summary judgment as long as he or she does not consider
matters outside the pleadings.”).
Amendment immunity from the present suit as instrumentalities of the State. Third,
Defendants contend that Plaintiffs lack standing to request prospective injunctive relief.
Each argument will be addressed in turn.
Defendants contend that Plaintiffs’ federal-law claims are nothing more than
artfully pleaded requests for this court to require Defendants to comply with state law.
Defendants argue that federal courts lack jurisdiction over such claims. In support,
Defendants rely on the Supreme Court’s holding in Pennhurst. Pennhurst, however, is
In Pennhurst, the Supreme Court held that the Eleventh Amendment deprives
federal courts of jurisdiction to order a state official to comply with state law. See id.
at 121. The Eleventh Circuit provided clear guidance as to the reach of Pennhurst in
Brown v. Georgia Department of Revenue, 881 F.2d 1018 (11th Cir. 1989). In Brown,
a tax field agent filed suit against his former employer, the Georgia Department of
Revenue, and other state entities and officers in federal court, alleging that his
termination violated the federal constitution, as well as federal and state statutory rights.
Id. at 1019. After a bench trial, the district court found that Mr. Brown’s due process
rights had been violated when he was terminated without a hearing as required by the
Georgia Merit Systems Act. As relief, the court ordered the state to provide Mr. Brown
with a hearing before the State Personnel Board. Id.
On appeal, the defendants argued that the Eleventh Amendment prohibited the
relief the district court ordered insofar as it required “the state officials to comply with
state law.” Id. at 1022. The Eleventh Circuit noted, however, that the defendants were
“misconstru[ing] the holding of Pennhurst and the claim presented” by Mr. Brown. Id.
at 1023. While the Supreme Court had determined that the Eleventh Amendment barred
the action in Pennhurst, the Circuit explained that the present action was different
because relief had been granted on Mr. Brown’s federal due process claim, not on a
state-law claim. Id. The Eleventh Circuit found that the determinative question in such
cases “is not the relief ordered, but whether the relief was ordered pursuant to state or
federal law.” Id. Regardless of the fact that the Georgia Merit Systems Act was a state
law, Pennhurst did not provide a bar because the district court ordered relief pursuant
to federal law. See id.
Here, also, the Eleventh Amendment does not prevent Plaintiffs from bringing
their claims under § 1983. Although Plaintiffs complain vehemently about Defendants’
alleged violation of state statutes, they seek relief for those violations based upon a
purported violation of their due process and equal protection rights protected by the
United States Constitution. Accordingly, Defendants’ Pennhurst argument is without
The Commission and the Eleventh Amendment
Defendants argue that the Eleventh Amendment provides the Commission with
immunity from Plaintiffs’ claims. The Eleventh Amendment bars federal courts from
entertaining suits brought against unconsenting states. Will v. Mich. Dep’t of State
Police, 491 U.S. 58, 66–67 (1989) (holding that “a State is not a ‘person’ within the
meaning of § 1983”). Further, the Eleventh Amendment also protects the immunity of
“state agencies and entities that function as . . . ‘arm[s] of the state.’” Ross v. Jefferson
Cnty. Dep’t of Health, 701 F.3d 655, 659 (11th Cir. 2012); Manders v. Lee, 338 F.3d
1304, 1308 (11th Cir. 2003) (“It is . . . well-settled that Eleventh Amendment immunity
bars suits brought in federal court when the State itself is sued and when an ‘arm of the
state’ is sued.”) (internal citation omitted). The Eleventh Amendment bars suits against
states and arms of the state – absent abrogation of immunity – regardless of the relief
sought or the claims asserted. Pennhurst, 465 U.S. at 101–02.
The Eleventh Circuit has explained that determining “[w]hether an entity
functions as an ‘arm of the state’ is a federal question that [must be] resolve[d] by
reviewing how the state courts treat the entity.” Ross, 701 F.3d at 659. The Eleventh
Circuit repeatedly has noted that “the most important factor is how the entity has been
treated by the state courts.” Id. (quoting Versiglio v. Bd. of Dental Exam’rs of Ala., 686
F.3d 1290, 1292 (11th Cir. 2012)). Based upon an examination of the Commission’s
founding legislation and Alabama case law, the court finds that Alabama courts would
determine that the Commission functions as an arm of the state and is, therefore, entitled
to Eleventh Amendment immunity.
First, Alabama Code §§ 41-9-430 to 41-9-439 established the Commission to
operate in a corporate form for the purpose of providing “noncorporate or nonbusiness”
services, i.e., to manage and control facilities for the display of “visual exhibits of space
exploration and hardware,” as well as “army weaponry and mementos of national
defense” for public enjoyment. Ala. Code § 41-9-430; cf. Armory Comm’n of Ala. v.
Staudt, 388 So. 2d 991, 994 (Ala. 1980) (holding that the Armory Commission
functioned as an arm of the state in part because it operated for nonbusiness purposes,
specifically “to provide care for military facilities”). Second, “the legislation creating
or authorizing the entity in question expressly characterizes the entity as an agency of
the State.” Ex parte Greater Mobile-Wash. Cnty. Mental Health-Mental Retardation
Bd., Inc., 940 So. 2d 990, 1005 (Ala. 2006) (providing a list of cases wherein the
Alabama Supreme Court found it “pertinent” that the entity was expressly characterized
as a state agency). Third, the statutes creating the Commission do not empower it to
sue or subject it to suit. See Health Care Auth. for Baptist Health v. Davis, 158 So. 3d
397, 405 (Ala. 2013) (explaining that the Legislature’s decision to endow the health
care authority with the power to sue and be sued showed the Legislature’s intent to
create an entity separate from the State). Fourth, the enacting statute prescribes a level
of state oversight that indicates that the Commission is an arm of the state. See Ala.
Code § 41-9-431 (explaining that the Commission’s eighteen members are to be
appointed by the Governor and that “any member may be removed by the Governor for
just cause”); § 41-9-432(5) (requiring the Governor’s approval of any Commission
endeavor to sell interest-bearing general obligation bonds); § 41-9-437 (establishing
that the books and records of the Commission are subject to audit by the Department of
Examiners of Public Accounts).
Additionally, Plaintiffs acknowledge, even argue, that the Commission is an
entity of the State. Accordingly, because the Commission operates as an arm of the
State, and because Alabama has preserved its immunity, Ala. Const. Art. 1, § 14,
Plaintiffs’ claims against the Commission are due to be dismissed for want of
jurisdiction. See McClendon v. Ga. Dep’t of Cmty. Health, 261 F.3d 1252, 1256 (11th
Cir. 2001) (“[F]ederal courts lack jurisdiction to entertain claims that are barred by the
Jurisdictional Challenges to Equitable Relief
In their final 12(b)(1) challenge, Defendants assert that two of Plaintiffs’ requests
for relief may not be maintained. First, Defendants argue that as former employees, not
current employees, Plaintiffs do not have standing to maintain a claim for prospective
injunctive relief. Plaintiffs counter that “a substantial continuing controversy” exists
between Defendants and Plaintiffs as former employees. (Doc. # 39, at 24.) As an
example of how a plaintiff will suffer a future injury absent injunctive relief, Plaintiff
Ingalls explains that every future draw upon her retirement equals a future injury
because her state retirement was diminished by Defendants’ failure to compensate her
in accordance with state law.
“A plaintiff has standing to seek declaratory or injunctive relief only when he
alleges facts from which it appears there is a substantial likelihood that he will suffer
injury in the future.” Bowen v. First Family Fin. Servs., Inc., 233 F.3d 1331, 1340 (11th
Cir. 2000) (internal quotation marks and alteration omitted).
plaintiffs face no threat of future injury from their former supervisor or employerdefendants. See Jackson v. Motel 6 Multipurpose, Inc., 130 F.3d 999, 1007 (11th Cir.
1997) (holding that former employee-plaintiffs lacked standing to sue employer for
injunctive relief); see also Drayton v. W. Auto Supply Co., No. 01–10415, 2002 WL
32508918, at *4 (11th Cir. Mar. 11, 2002) (applying the holding in Jackson).
Since August 3, 2014, none of the three named Plaintiffs has been employed by
the Commission. While Plaintiffs allege that Ingalls is the subject of continuing harm
through diminished state retirement payments, the injury that led to the alleged
diminished payments occurred while Ingalls was employed. Further, the court agrees
with Defendants that any order of prospective injunctive relief “would have no impact
on the retirement of employees who are no longer working, as their benefits are . . .
‘based on the compensation [they] received’” while they were employed by the
Commission. (Doc. # 41, at 10 (quoting Ingalls Aff.).) Accordingly, Plaintiffs lack
standing to sue for prospective injunctive relief.
Second, Defendants contend that Plaintiffs “may not seek a declaration that the
State’s actions violated the law in the past.” (Doc. # 33, at 26.) Plaintiffs argue in
response that their claims for declaratory relief are not due to be dismissed. Plaintiffs
fail, however, to offer any case law or legal argument supporting their contention.
Defendants are correct that Ex parte Young does not permit plaintiffs “to adjudicate the
legality of past conduct.” Summit Med. Assocs., P.C. v. Pryor, 180 F.3d 1326, 1337
(11th Cir. 1999). Hence, to the extent Plaintiffs seek a declaration that the past actions
of the Commission were unlawful, they are not entitled to the declaratory relief sought.
This finding is made as an alternative finding because, as previously discussed, the
claims against the Commission are barred by the Eleventh Amendment.
As a final observation, it is unclear whether Plaintiffs seek relief under § 1983
against Barnhart, Balch, and Henderson in their individual capacities for injunctive and
declaratory relief. This court has found that a plaintiff cannot obtain either form of
equitable relief under § 1983 from governmental officers sued in their individual
capacities. See McGuire v. Strange, No. 11cv1027, 2015 WL 476207, at *6 n.8 (M.D.
Ala. Feb. 5, 2015). As noted in McGuire, “[a]t least one district court in this circuit has
found that individual-capacity suits under § 1983 for equitable relief are not
sustainable.” Id. (citing Jones v. Buckner, 963 F. Supp. 2d 1267, 1281 (N.D. Ala. 2013)
(“[S]tate officers may only be sued in their individual capacity for money damages
under [§ 1983].”); see also Brown v. Montoya, 662 F.3d 1152, 1161 n.5 (10th Cir. 2011)
(“Section 1983 plaintiffs may sue individual-capacity defendants only for money
damages and official-capacity defendants only for injunctive relief.”); Greenawalt v.
Ind. Dep’t of Corrs., 397 F.3d 587, 589 (7th Cir. 2005) (“[S]ection 1983 does not permit
injunctive relief against state officials sued in their individual as distinct from their
official capacity.”)); see also Wolfe v. Strankman, 392 F.3d 358, 360 n. 2 (9th Cir. 2004)
(noting that injunctive and equitable relief were not available in § 1983 individual17
capacity suits). Based upon McGuire and the decisions upon which its ruling relies, to
the extent that Plaintiffs bring § 1983 individual-capacity claims for injunctive and
declaratory relief against Barnhart, Balch, and Henderson, those claims are not
Rule 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss
In accordance with the foregoing analysis of Defendants’ Rule 12(b)(1)
challenges to Plaintiffs’ Second Amended Complaint, only the § 1983 claims against
Barnhart, Balch, and Henderson in their individual capacities remain. Hence,
Defendants’ Rule 12(b)(6) arguments only need to be addressed as to these remaining
Plaintiffs bring two claims under § 1983. “To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. §
1983, a plaintiff must allege that (1) the defendant deprived him of a right secured under
the United States Constitution or federal law and (2) such deprivation occurred under
color of state law.” Richardson v. Johnson, 598 F.3d 734, 737 (11th Cir. 2010). No
argument is made that Plaintiffs have not alleged adequately that the individual
Defendants acted under color of state law. To satisfy the first element, Plaintiffs allege
violations of equal protection and procedural due process rights secured by the
Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. In response, Defendants
raise the defense of qualified immunity.
Qualified Immunity: Generally
Qualified immunity involves a two-step inquiry. First, “the official has the
burden of establishing that he was acting ‘within the scope of his discretionary
authority.’” O’Rourke v. Hayes, 378 F.3d 1201, 1205 (11th Cir. 2004) (quoting
Hartsfield v. Lemacks, 50 F.3d 950, 953 (11th Cir. 1995)). If Defendants satisfy their
burden, the burden shifts to Plaintiffs to demonstrate that (1) Defendants violated a
constitutional right and (2) the right was clearly established when Defendants acted.
See Maddox v. Stephens, 727 F.3d 1109, 1120 (11th Cir. 2013). The latter two elements
may be analyzed “in whatever order is deemed most appropriate for the case.” Rehberg
v. Paulk, 611 F.3d 828, 839 (11th Cir. 2010) (citing Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223,
For the reasons that follow, Defendants were acting within the scope of their
authority when the constitutional violations allegedly occurred; however, Plaintiffs fail
to allege the violation of clearly established law on the equal protection claim. They
also fail to allege both the violation of a Fourteenth Amendment procedural due process
right or clearly established law. Accordingly, Defendants are entitled to qualified
immunity on the § 1983 claims.
Plaintiffs allege that the individual Defendants violated §§ 1-3-8(e) and 36-611(a) of the Alabama Code by not offering the Commission’s employees who worked
at the USSRC the statutes’ full measure of benefits offered to other state employees.
Plaintiffs also assert that they are similarly situated to all other state employees and that
the classification of Plaintiffs as a group of state employees who are not entitled to equal
application of §§ 1-3-8(e) and 36-6-11(a) is intentionally discriminatory in violation of
the Equal Protection Clause. As stated, the qualified immunity analysis is dispositive
of this claim.
Plaintiffs contend that the individual Defendants acted outside their discretionary
authority because they had no authority under § 1-3-8(e) and § 36-6-11(c), “to
unilaterally ‘elect’ to withhold [paid h]oliday and [l]ongevity compensation and treat
its payment as ‘optional.’” (Doc. # 39, at 18.) But “[t]he inquiry is not whether it was
within the defendant’s authority to commit the allegedly illegal act. Framed that way,
the inquiry is no more than an untenable tautology.” Harbert Int’l, Inc. v. James, 157
F.3d 1271, 1282–83 (11th Cir. 1998) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).
Instead, the proper inquiry is “whether the act complained of, if done for a proper
purpose, would be within, or reasonably related to, the outer perimeter of an official’s
discretionary duties.” Id. at 1282.
With the proper parameters in place, the issue is whether the individual
Defendants, as the chief executive officer, chief financial officer, and vice president of
human resources of the Commission, had the authority to alter the compensation and
benefits package for the employees who worked at the USSRC. The Second Amended
Complaint alleges that the individual Defendants possessed the requisite authority to
implement policy changes concerning the compensation plan of employees to comply
with state laws. (Doc. # 31, at 17 (explaining that the individual Defendants “were
tasked with ensuring that the Commission . . . complied with all applicable Alabama
laws regarding [the] payment of state employees”).) In particular, Plaintiffs note that it
is principally because the individual Defendants failed to take any action in light of the
Department’s 2014 report that Plaintiffs filed the instant action. (Doc. # 31, at ¶ 54
(alleging that the individual Defendants “have done nothing in response to the
In sum, the Second Amended Complaint adequately alleges that the individual
Defendants’ conduct was undertaken pursuant to their duties as officers of the
Commission and that they were acting within the scope of their discretionary authority
when alleged violated state laws by refusing to compensate Plaintiffs for all of the state
holidays and the full benefits of longevity pay. Accordingly, the court turns to the next
step of the qualified immunity inquiry.6
Clearly Established Constitutional Right
It is fitting to bypass the issue of whether Plaintiffs have alleged an equal
protection violation and consider only the issue of whether the equal protection
violation alleged was clearly established. See Pearson, 555 U.S. at 239 (“[T]here will
Generally, the qualified-immunity analysis requires a comparison of “the acts of each
defendant to analogous case law to determine whether each defendant has violated a clearly
established constitutional right.” Corey Airport Servs. Inc. v. Decosta, 587 F.3d 1280, 1288 (11th
Cir. 2009). Separate analysis is not necessary here, however, because the allegations discuss the
conduct of the individual Defendants collectively without differentiation.
be cases in which a court will rather quickly and easily decide that there was no violation
of clearly established law before turning to the more difficult question whether the
relevant facts make out a constitutional question at all.”).
“Clearly established” means that “pre-existing law at the time of the alleged
acts provided fair warning to Defendants that their actions were unconstitutional.” Sada
v. City of Altamonte Springs, 434 F. App’x 845, 849 (11th Cir. 2011) (citing Hope v.
Pelzer, 536 U.S. 730, 739–41 (2002)). Plaintiffs can establish that their rights are
clearly established by pointing to (1) case law with materially similar facts establishing
the constitutional right, (2) “a broader, clearly established principle that should control
the novel facts of the situation,” Terrell v. Smith, 668 F.3d 1244, 1255 (11th Cir. 2012)
(quotation marks and alterations omitted), or (3) “conduct so egregious that a
constitutional right was clearly violated, even in the total absence of case law,” Lewis
v. City of W. Palm Beach, Fla., 561 F.3d 1288, 1291–92 (11th Cir. 2009). Plaintiffs
“must carry their burden by looking to the law as interpreted at the time by the United
States Supreme Court, the Eleventh Circuit, or the [applicable state] Supreme Court.”
Terrell, 668 F.3d at 1255. This case does not fit within any of Terrell’s three scenarios.
First, Plaintiffs do not argue that there is a decision from the United States
Supreme Court, the Eleventh Circuit, or the Alabama Supreme Court that has found a
violation of the Equal Protection Clause based on facts similar to those that Plaintiffs
allege, and the court’s independent research did not uncover such a decision.
Accordingly, Plaintiffs have not demonstrated clearly established law through a binding
case presenting materially similar facts.
Second, to support their argument that the law is clearly established that the
individual Defendants’ transgression of state laws governing compensation benefits for
state employees impermissibly discriminated against Plaintiffs in violation of their
equal protection rights, Plaintiffs contend that Strickland v. Alderman, 74 F.3d 260
(11th Cir. 1996), sets forth a broad clearly established principle that controls the “novel
facts” of this case. Terrell, 668 F.3d at 1255. Plaintiffs cite Strickland for its
pronouncement that “[i]t is well settled that unequal application of a facially neutral
statute may violate the Equal Protection Clause.” Id. at 264. To be controlling in the
sense contemplated by Terrell, however, Strickland’s principles must be established
with “obvious clarity” such that “every objectively reasonable government official
facing the circumstances would know that the official’s conduct did violate federal law
when the official acted.” Terrell, 668 F.3d at 1256 (citation and internal quotation
marks omitted). And, as Corey Airport Services, Inc. v. Decosta recognized, “such
decisions are rare” and occur only where “so few facts are material to the broad legal
principle.” 587 F.3d 1280, 1287 (11th Cir. 2009) (citation and internal quotation marks
omitted) (determining that, because a claim of insider-outsider political discrimination
presented novel legal questions and novel factual circumstances, earlier recitations of
broad legal principles were insufficient to put the defendants on notice that their acts
violated the Constitution).
Here, Plaintiffs’ equal protection claim presents novel facts and novel law
incompatible with a premise that the rights were sufficiently covered by broad clearly
established legal principles. See id. Even if, as Plaintiffs strenuously argue, the
individual Defendants violated §§ 1-3-8(e) and 36-6-11(a), in denying Plaintiffs the full
measure of benefits conferred by these statutes, Plaintiffs must do more than show that
the individual Defendants violated state law. They must show that the individual
Defendants violated clearly established federal law.
Plaintiffs do not cite any
precedential decision holding that a state official’s transgression of state laws governing
entitlements to employment benefits violates the Equal Protection Clause, “let alone
one that could control, ‘with obvious clarity,’ these factual circumstances.”
Accordingly, Plaintiffs fail to establish clearly established law under Terrell’s second
Third and finally, Plaintiffs have not demonstrated conduct so egregious that the
constitutional violation is clear, even in the complete absence of guiding case law. (See
Doc. # 39, at 22 n.11.) This third category of cases is “narrow” and encompasses only
situations where “‘the official’s conduct lies so obviously at the very core of what the
[relevant constitutional provision] prohibits that the unlawfulness of the conduct was
readily apparent to the official, notwithstanding the lack of case law.’” Terrell, 668
F.3d at 1255–57 (citing Lee v. Ferraro, 284 F.3d 1188, 1199 (11th Cir. 2002)).
Here, Plaintiffs have not shown that the individual Defendants’ alleged
violations of state laws resulted in infringements that lie at the very core of what the
Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits. Moreover, because
the individual Defendants’ alleged violations of state law are not obviously equal
protection violations, Strickland’s “highly general principle – that unequal application
of [a] facially neutral law with the intent to discriminate may violate the equal protect
clause” – does not offer “fair warning” to the individual Defendants that their treatment
of Plaintiffs violated the Equal Protection Clause. See Corey Airport Servs., 587 F.3d
at 1287; see also id. at 1287 n.5 (noting also that Strickland’s two-part test “offers . . .
defendants no better warning than does the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth
For the foregoing reasons, Plaintiffs fail to allege the violation of clearly
The individual Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity,
therefore, on Plaintiffs’ Fourteenth Amendment equal protection claim.
Procedural Due Process
Plaintiffs allege (1) that the individual Defendants violated clear Alabama law,
namely, §§ 1-3-8(e) and 36-6-11(c), by refusing to give them six paid holidays (or
compensation in lieu thereof) and full payment for longevity pay, (2) that they have
constitutionally protected property rights in these state statutory benefits, and (3) that
the individual Defendants deprived them of their property rights without affording them
any process. A Fourteenth Amendment claim alleging a violation of the right to
procedural due process under § 1983 requires a plaintiff to allege three elements: “(1)
a deprivation of a constitutionally-protected property interest; (2) state action; and (3)
constitutionally-inadequate process.” Arrington v. Helms, 438 F.3d 1336, 1347–48
(11th Cir. 2006). For the reasons to follow, Plaintiffs have not alleged the violation of
a constitutionally protected property interest or, alternatively, the violation of a clearly
established constitutionally protected property interest in the full panoply of benefits
set out in §§ 1-3-8(e) and 36-6-11(a) of the Alabama Code.
The Supreme Court has explained that “[t]o have a property interest in a benefit,
a person clearly must have more than an abstract need or desire for it. He must have
more than a unilateral expectation of it. He must, instead, have a legitimate claim of
entitlement to it.” Bd. of Regents of State Colls. v. Roth, 408 U.S. 564, 576 (1972)
(citing as examples of property interests an individual’s continued receipt of welfare
benefits and a tenured public employee’s continued employment). Plaintiffs’ property
interests in their employment benefits, if such exists, must come from state law. See
Key W. Harbour Dev. Corp. v. City of Key West, Fla., 987 F.2d 723, 727 (11th Cir.
1993) (“State law defines the parameters of a plaintiff’s property interest for purposes
of section 1983.”). Whether Alabama law “has created a property interest is a legal
question for the court to decide.” Id.
Plaintiffs argue that they are state employees within the meaning of §§ 1-3-8(e)
and 36-6-11(a), and they point to the statutes’ mandatory directives to establish their
entitlement to the statutes’ benefits. Plaintiffs’ arguments are not without some force,
and, as they emphasize, they have the backing of the Department’s 2014 report, which
recommended that the Commission follow the dictates of §§ 1-3-8(e) and 36-6-11(a).
At the same time, Defendants proffer an insightful countervailing legal argument that,
while the Commission’s employees are state employees, their benefits are not wholly
commensurate with those enjoyed by other state employees. See, e.g., Ala. Code § 419-432(13) (exempting the Commission’s personnel from the provisions of the state
Merit System Act). Defendants emphasize that Commission employees never have
received these statutory benefits. Implicit in this argument is that, rightly or wrongly,
the individual Defendants have concluded that Plaintiffs and similarly situated
Commission employees do not have a right to all of the benefits enumerated in §§ 1-38(e) and 36-6-11(a), to include state holidays and the full benefits of longevity pay.
Defendants further argue that Plaintiffs’ claim to benefits is “based on nothing more
than their unilateral assertion that they are entitled to [those benefits].” (Doc. # 41,
While the foregoing arguments are noted, the court need not decide whether the
Alabama statutes at issue create property interests for Plaintiffs. Even if it is assumed
that §§ 1-3-8 and 36-6-11 applies to the Commission’s employees and that these statutes
create a legitimate claim of entitlement by Plaintiffs to those statutory employment
benefits, and, thus, confer property rights, that does not end the constitutional analysis.
“Deprivation of a benefit to which one is entitled under a statute or a contract does not
automatically give rise to a property interest protected by the Due Process Clause.”
Portman v. Cnty. of Santa Clara, 995 F.2d 898 (9th Cir. 1993). As the Seventh Circuit
has explained, “[i]n deciding whether a particular breach [of a public employment
contract] should be deemed a deprivation of property [courts] must bear in mind that
the Fourteenth Amendment was not intended to shift the whole of the public law of the
states into the federal courts. Most common law wrongs are not actionable under
section 1983, though by definition they involve the deprivation of a legally protected
interest.” Brown v. Brienen, 722 F.2d 360, 364 (7th Cir. 1983). “Only interests
substantial enough to warrant the protection of federal law and federal courts are
Fourteenth Amendment property interests.” Id. (citing White v. Thomas, 660 F.2d 680,
684 (5th Cir. 1981)).
“Just as Section 1983 does not create a cause of action for every state-action tort,
it does not make a federal case out of every breach of contract by a state agency.”
Braden v. Texas A & M Univ. Sys., 636 F.2d 90, 93 (5th Cir. 1981) (internal citations
omitted);7 see also Ramsey v. Board of Educ. of Whitley Cnty., Ky., 844 F.2d 1268,
1272 (6th Cir. 1988) (“Not every deprivation . . . of property requires a . . . federal
remedy.”). Other circuits have concluded that not all breaches of a public employee’s
contract are deprivations that possess the necessary substantiality to warrant protection
under the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause. These circuits have excluded
from the Due Process Clause’s reach a public employer’s denials of accrued sick leave,
pension benefits, accrued time off, and promotion rights. See Ramsey, 844 F.2d at 1268
In Bonner v. City of Prichard, the Eleventh Circuit adopted as binding precedent all
decisions of the former Fifth Circuit issued prior to October 1, 1981. See 661 F.2d 1206, 1209
(11th Cir. 1981) (en banc).
Ramsey is particularly instructive for purposes of addressing Plaintiffs’ due
process claim. In Ramsey, the Sixth Circuit held that, although the plaintiff may have
had a property interest in her accumulated sick leave, “an interference with a property
interest in a pure benefit of employment, as opposed to an interest in the tenured nature
of the employment itself, is an interest that can be and should be redressed by a state
breach of contract action and not by a federal action under section 1983.” Id. at 1274–
75. The court explained that the Due Process Clause protects a property interest in
tenured employment because “the tenured employee who loses his or her position by a
premature breach of contract has suffered the loss of a property interest that, because of
its special nature, is neither easily defined nor easily compensated by a typical breach
of contract action.” Id. In contrast, “an employee deprived of a property interest in a
specific benefit, term, or condition of employment, suffers a loss which is defined
easily.” Id. The essence of Ramsey’s holding is that “entitlement to accumulated sick
leave, although a property interest, is not constitutionally protected.” Portman, 995
F.2d at 906 (citing Ramsey, supra).
Plaintiffs’ claims of deprivations of property interests in compensatory leave (or
its monetary equivalent) for work performed on state holidays and in the full benefits
of longevity pay fall within the same category as the claims made by the employee in
Ramsey. As in Ramsey, the remedies provided under state law for breaches of public
employment contracts for benefits will provide an adequate remedy. See Ramsey, 844
F.2d at 173 (“A state breach of contract action is most clearly an adequate remedy for
a property deprivation when the only basis for federal jurisdiction is that a state actor is
one of the contracting parties.”). Measuring the loss of the benefits is mathematically
quantifiable. Hence, to the extent that Plaintiffs have alleged a property interest in
specified statutory benefits, Plaintiffs’ remedy lies in state law, not federal law. In other
words, the alleged property interests in these pure benefits of employment are not
constitutionally protected. Accordingly, the Second Amended Complaint fails to allege
the violation of a right protected by the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause.
Moreover, at the very least, the individual Defendants are entitled to qualified
immunity on Plaintiffs’ procedural due process claim. Plaintiffs do not cite, and the
court did not find, a decision from the United States Supreme Court, Eleventh Circuit,
or Alabama Supreme Court that has considered whether the type of employment
benefits conferred by §§ 1-3-8(e) and 36-6-11(a) are the sort of property interests
protected by the Fourteenth Amendment’s right to procedural due process. The failure
of Plaintiffs to demonstrate a clearly established right that their claimed property
interests are protected by the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause presents an
alternative basis for Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal.
Because the court has granted Defendants’ motion to dismiss as to each claim
over which it has original jurisdiction, it may decline to exercise supplemental
jurisdiction over Plaintiffs’ state-law claims. 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c)(3). The Eleventh
Circuit has “encouraged district courts to dismiss any remaining state claims when, as
here, the federal claims have been dismissed prior to trial.” Raney v. Allstate Ins. Co.,
370 F.3d 1086, 1089 (11th Cir. 2004). Moreover, the Eleventh Circuit has explained
that judicial comity also may support a district court’s decision to decline to exercise
supplemental jurisdiction. See Rowe v. City of Fort Lauderdale, 279 F.3d 1271, 1288
(11th Cir. 2002).
Because Defendants’ motion to dismiss is due to be granted as to all of Plaintiffs’
federal-law claims and the remaining state-law claims require the interpretation and
application of state statutes regulating the compensation of state employees, the court
declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiffs’ state-law claims.
Based on the foregoing analysis, it is ORDERED that Defendants U.S. Space
and Rocket Center, the Alabama Space Science Exhibit Commission, Deborah E.
Barnhart, Brooke Balch, and Vickie Henderson’s motion to dismiss (Doc. # 32) is
GRANTED as to the federal-law claims. It is further ORDERED that the court declines
to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiffs’ remaining state-law claims and
that, therefore, Defendants’ motion to dismiss (Doc. # 32) is DENIED as moot as to the
A separate final judgment will be entered.
DONE this 27th day of July, 2015.
/s/ W. Keith Watkins
CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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