Lane v. Central Alabama Community College et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION Signed by Chief Judge Karon O Bowdre on 6/14/16. (SAC )
2016 Jun-14 PM 03:50
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
EDWARD R. LANE,
SUSAN BURROW, in her official
capacity as Acting President of Central
Alabama Community College,
This matter is before the court on the “Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment for
Lack of Jurisdiction.” (Doc. 80).
This lawsuit centers on Plaintiff Edward R. Lane’s allegations that he was terminated
from his position at Central Alabama Community College in retaliation for exercising his First
Amendment rights. This case has a lengthy procedural history, with appeals to both the Eleventh
Circuit and to the United States Supreme Court. The only claim remaining before the court today
is Lane’s claim against Susan Burrow, in her official capacity as president of Central Alabama
Community College, seeking equitable relief for the alleged violation of Lane’s First
As will be set out in greater detail in this Opinion, the court finds that Defendant Burrow
is incapable of providing Lane with meaningful relief. Therefore, a justiciable case or
controversy no longer exists, and the court does not have subject matter jurisdiction over this
dispute. Accordingly, the court will GRANT Burrow’s Motion for Summary Judgment and will
DISMISS Lane’s claim against her.
Standard of Review
Summary judgment allows a trial court to decide cases when no genuine issues of
material fact are present and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Fed.
R. Civ. P. 56. When a district court reviews a motion for summary judgment, it must determine
two things: (1) whether any genuine issues of material fact exist; and if not, (2) whether the
moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c).
The moving party “always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of
the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of ‘the pleadings, depositions, answers to
interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any,’ which it believes
demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S.
317, 323 (1986) (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 56).
Once the moving party meets its burden of showing the district court that no genuine
issues of material fact exist, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to produce sufficient
favorable evidence “to demonstrate that there is indeed a material issue of fact that precludes
summary judgment.” Clark v. Coats & Clark, Inc., 929 F.2d 604, 608 (11th Cir. 1991). “If the
evidence [on which the nonmoving party relies] is merely colorable, or is not significantly
probative, summary judgment may be granted.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242,
249–50 (1986) (internal citations omitted).
In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court should view all evidence and
inferences drawn from the underlying facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party.
See Graham v. State Farm Mut. Ins. Co., 193 F.3d 1274, 1282 (11th Cir. 1999). The evidence of
the non-moving party “is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in [its]
favor.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. “If reasonable minds could differ on the inferences arising
from undisputed facts, then a court should deny summary judgment.” Allen v. Tyson Foods, Inc.,
121 F.3d 642, 646 (11th Cir. 1997) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). This
standard exists because “the drawing of legitimate inferences from the facts are jury functions,
not those of a judge.” Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Products, Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000)
(quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255).
After both parties have addressed the motion for summary judgment, the court must grant
the motion only if no genuine issues of material fact exist and if the moving party is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56.
Subject Matter Jurisdiction
The court may consider a challenge to its subject matter jurisdiction at any time during
the litigation. See Williams v. Warden, Fed. Bureau of Prisons, 713 F.3d 1332, 1337 (11th Cir.
2013) (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(h)(3)) (“If the court determines at any time that it lacks
subject-matter jurisdiction, the court must dismiss the action.”). “Jurisdiction is power to declare
the law, and when it ceases to exist, the only function remaining to the court is that of
announcing the fact and dismissing the cause.” Ex parte McCardle, 74 U.S. 506, 514 (1868); see
also Univ. of S. Ala. v. Am. Tobacco Co., 168 F.3d 405, 410 (11th Cir. 1999) (“[O]nce a federal
court determines that it is without subject matter jurisdiction, the court is powerless to
For subject matter jurisdiction to vest in a court, Article III of the United States
Constitution requires that “a justiciable case or controversy must remain extant at all stages of
review, not merely at the time the complaint is filed.” United States v. Juvenile Male, 564 U.S.
932, 936 (2011) (internal citations and quotations omitted). Otherwise, “[a] case becomes moot .
. . when it is impossible for a court to grant any effectual relief whatever to the prevailing party.”
Knox v. Serv. Emp.’s Int’l Union, Local 1000, 132 S. Ct. 2277, 2287 (2012) (internal quotations
and citations omitted); see also Aslin v. Fin. Indus. Regulatory Auth., 704 F.3d 475, 477 (7th Cir.
2013) (“Mootness commonly arises where a federal court becomes unable to award meaningful
relief in the case.”). A moot suit “cannot present an Article III case or controversy and the federal
courts lack subject matter to entertain it.” Coral Springs Street Sys., Inc. v. City of Sunrise, 371
F.3d 1320, 1328 (11th Cir. 2004) (citing Al Najjar v. Aschcroft, 273 F.3d 1330, 1335 (11th Cir.
2001) (per curiam)).
Statement of Facts
On September 26, 2006, Plaintiff Edward R. Lane was hired by Central Alabama
Community College (“CACC”) as the Director of the Community Intensive Training for Youth
Program (“CITY”), a program for at-risk youth. While working as Director of CITY, Lane
discovered that then state representative Suzanne Schmitz was listed on CITY’s payroll but was
not reporting for work. Lane later terminated Schmitz’s employment with CITY. After she was
terminated, the FBI began investigating Schmitz and contacted Lane for information. Lane then
testified before a federal grand jury and, pursuant to a subpoena, testified at Schmitz’s August
2008 federal criminal trial for mail fraud and fraud involving a program receiving federal funds.
In January 2009, Dr. Steve Franks, then president of CACC, terminated Lane from his
position with CITY. Lane alleges that Franks terminated him in retaliation for testifying against
Schmitz, in violation of his First Amendment rights.
In September 2009, the Alabama state legislature stopped funding the CITY program, and
the program was terminated. Franks has now retired from his position as president of CACC, and
Susan Burrow has replaced him as his successor, leaving the remaining claims against Franks in
his official capacity as claims against Susan Burrow in her official capacity.
Lane originally brought this suit in January 2011 in the Middle District of Alabama
against Central Alabama Community College and Dr. Steve Franks. Lane asserted three counts in
his Complaint: (1) a violation of the State Employee Protection Act under Ala. Code §36-26A-3
by Franks; (2) retaliation for the exercise of protected First Amendment speech by Franks and
CACC; and (3) a violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1985 for conspiring to injure him because he had
testified by Franks. The case was transferred to this court in March 2011.
Relying on existing Eleventh Circuit case law, this court dismissed Lane’s conspiracy
claim and granted the Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment on Lane’s remaining claims,
finding that (1) the Eleventh Amendment barred Lane’s claim against CACC; (2) the Eleventh
Amendment barred Lane’s claims against Franks in his official capacity as president of CACC;
and (3) the Eleventh Amendment and the doctrine of qualified immunity barred Lane’s claims
against Franks in his individual capacity.
In November 2012, Lane appealed to the Eleventh Circuit, abandoning all of his claims
except for his claims against Franks in his individual and official capacity seeking equitable relief
for an alleged violation of the First Amendment. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed this court’s
decision as to those claims. See Lane v. Cent. Cmty. Coll., 523 F. App’x 709 (11th Cir. 2013)
(per curiam). The Eleventh Circuit explained that, although this court had couched its decision in
terms of qualified immunity, it found that Lane’s speech was made pursuant to his official duties
as CITY’s Director, not as a citizen speaking on a matter of public concern. The Eleventh Circuit
agreed that Lane was not entitled to First Amendment Protection because his speech was not
made as a citizen speaking on a matter of public concern. The Eleventh Circuit also concluded
that even if a constitutional violation had occurred, Franks would be entitled to qualified
immunity because that right was not clearly established at the time of the alleged violation.
Lane then appealed to the United States Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court affirmed
in part and reversed and remanded in part. See Lane v. Franks, 134 S. Ct. 2369 (2014). The
Supreme Court found that Lane’s testimony at Schmitz’s trial was speech as a citizen on a matter
of public concern and was therefore entitled to First Amendment protection, but that Franks was
nevertheless entitled to qualified immunity from the claim against him in his individual capacity
because Lane’s First Amendment right was not clearly established at the time of the alleged
violation. Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the Eleventh Circuit’s dismissal of Lane’s
claim against Franks in his individual capacity. The Supreme Court, however, reversed and
remanded the Eleventh Circuit’s dismissal of the claims against Franks in his official capacity.
This court had dismissed those claims as barred by the Eleventh Amendment, and the Eleventh
Circuit had declined to consider them on appeal, finding that, because Lane had failed to
establish a prima facie case of retaliation, it did not need to decide whether Franks was entitled to
sovereign immunity. The Supreme Court remanded the case to the Eleventh Circuit for further
consideration of the claim against Franks in his official capacity.
On remand, the Eleventh Circuit found that Lane’s claim against Franks in his official
capacity was not barred by the Eleventh Amendment because it sought prospective equitable
relief in the form of reinstatement of his employment. See Lane v. Cent. Ala. Comm. Coll., 772
F.3d 1349 (11th Cir. 2014) (per curiam). The Eleventh Circuit remanded the case to this court to
determine the equitable relief available to Lane. The Eleventh Circuit noted that “it might be
necessary for the district court to engage in additional factfinding on this issue to determine what
form of equitable relief is available to Lane.” Id. at 1352 n. 3.
While Lane’s appeals were pending, Franks retired from his position as president of
CACC, and Susan Burrow replaced him as his successor. Accordingly, the court substituted
Susan Burrow as a Defendant, and Lane’s claims against Franks in his official capacity are now
claims against Susan Burrow in her official capacity. The only claim remaining before this court
on remand is Lane’s claim against Susan Burrow, in her official capacity, seeking equitable relief
for the termination that allegedly violated Lane’s First Amendment rights.
The court held a status conference in this case on January 7, 2015, and gave the parties
until February 23, 2015 to engage in additional discovery on the issue of the appropriate
On February 20, 2015, near the end of discovery, Lane moved to amend his Complaint to
add a new Defendant. Lane argued that the CITY program was reorganized as the SPAN
program, under the direction of the Department of Youth Services (DYS) and requested leave to
add as a Defendant the Executive Director of the DYS, Steven P. Lefreniere, in his official
capacity. The court denied Lane’s Motion, finding his request to be untimely because it was filed
more than three years after the court’s deadline for joining additional parties. The court
additionally found that Lane had not shown good cause for his delay because Lane’s argument
that DYS was the successor to CACC was based on a report that was publicly available in 2009,
two years before Lane had even filed suit. Lane then filed a Motion to Reconsider, which the
court also denied.
In January of this year, Susan Burrow filed the Motion for Summary Judgment that is the
subject of this Opinion.
The only remaining Defendant in this action, Susan Burrow, has moved for summary
judgment on the basis that the court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over this dispute because a
justiciable case or controversy no longer exists. Burrow contends that she is incapable of
providing Lane with the equitable relief he seeks. The parties agree that Lane cannot be
reinstated to a position with CITY because that program no longer exists.
Lane, however, has argued that the CITY program was reorganized as the SPAN
program. Burrow contends that she is also incapable of reinstating Lane to a position with the
SPAN program because it is overseen by DYS, and Burrow, as president of CACC, has no
control over the SPAN program.1
In furtherance of his position that the CITY program had been reorganized as SPAN,
Lane sought to amend his Complaint to add the Executive Director of DYS as a Defendant. In his
In his Response to Burrow’s Motion for Summary Judgment, Lane suggests in a
footnote that, because CACC and DYS are both arms of the state that are represented by the state
Attorney General, Burrow may be able reinstate Lane to a position with SPAN, even though it is
part of another state agency. Lane provides no support for this position and has failed to
demonstrate that Burrow has the authority to reinstate Lane to a position with SPAN. Therefore,
the court finds that this argument lacks merit.
Motion for Leave to Amend, Lane stated that “the Executive Director of DYS (who is presently
Steven P. Lefreniere), in his official capacity, will need to be named as a party Defendant
herein.” (Doc. 69, ¶ 8). Lane further said, “In the instant action, complete relief cannot be
accorded without the addition of the successor to Susan Burrow insofar as the continuance of the
C.I.T.Y. program is concerned (now renamed SPAN).” (Id., ¶ 9). Lane argued that he should be
given leave to add Lefreniere as a Defendant because he “would be the only official that could
effectuate the appropriate equitable remedy of reinstatement . . . .” (Id., ¶ 12). The court,
however, denied Lane’s Motion for Leave to Amend his Complaint, as set out above.
Burrow argues that Lane’s statements demonstrate that no meaningful relief is available
to him because only Lefreniere, as Executive Director of DYS, could provide Lane with such
relief by reinstating him to a position with SPAN. Burrow suggests that, because no meaningful
relief is available to Lane, a justiciable case or controversy no longer exists, and the court does
not have subject matter jurisdiction over this dispute. See Knox, 132 S. Ct. at 2287 (2012)
(explaining that “[a] case becomes moot . . . when it is impossible for a court to grant any
effectual relief whatever to the prevailing party.”) (internal quotations and citations omitted).
The court agrees. Lane has previously represented to the court that the Executive Director
of DYS is the only individual who could provide him with meaningful relief. Lane may not
change his position and now argue the opposite. Because the Executive Director of DYS is not a
party to this suit, no meaningful relief is available to Lane, and no justiciable case or controversy
Lane nonetheless argues that, his previous representations aside, meaningful relief is
available to him because the court could order Burrow to reinstate him to a comparable position
with CACC, even though his prior position with the CITY program no longer exists. Assuming
arguendo that Lane were not bound to his previous representations, the court agrees that it could
order reinstatement to a comparable position if such a comparable position existed. See, e.g.,
Sennello v. Reserve Life Ins. Co., 667 F. Supp. 1498, 1522 (S.D. Fla. 1987) (ordering
reinstatement to a position that was “comparable to that which she held prior to her wrongful
demotion and subsequent firing some seven years ago.”).
Lane, however, has failed to demonstrate that any comparable positions exist at Central
Alabama Community College. Lane states, “It is simply apparent from a cursory review of the
Central Alabama Community College website that Ms. Burrow has comparable positions to that
which Mr. Lane held at the time of his termination.” (Doc. 82, at 7). In support of this statement,
Lane attaches a screenshot from CACC’s website with information on the “Achieving Student
Success” Program, a program focused on helping low-income and other high-risk students to
achieve academic success. (Doc. 82-1). The screenshot offered by Lane clearly states, however,
that the Achieving Student Success program is funded by a five year Title III Department of
Education grant that began October 1, 2011 and will end on September 30, 2016. (Id.).
Institutions that receive these grants are not eligible to receive another grant of this type “until 2
years after the date on which the 5-year grant period terminates.” 29 U.S.C. § 1059. Therefore,
the grant for CACC’s Achieving Student Success Program will end on September 30, 2016, and
will not be extended. Lane has offered no evidence to show that a potential position within the
Achieving Student Success program would exist in any capacity past the program’s September
30, 2016 end date.
Further, despite being given time to engage in additional discovery on the issue of the
appropriate equitable remedy, Lane has offered no evidence, except for the screenshot of the
webpage for the Achieving Student Success program, to show that positions exist within the
Achieving Student Success program, or within any other program at Central Alabama
Community College, that would be comparable to the position he held with the CITY program.
Lane’s mere suggestion that comparable positions exist at CACC within Burrow’s control
is insufficient to establish that such positions actually exist. Lane must do more than suggest that
comparable positions exist; he must offer concrete evidence demonstrating the existence of those
positions. See Walker v. Darby, 911 F.2d 1573, 1577 (11th Cir. 1990) (“A mere ‘scintilla’ of
evidence supporting the opposing party’s position will not suffice; there must be enough of a
showing that the jury could reasonably find for that party.”) (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby,
Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249-50 (1986) (“If the evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly
probative, summary judgment may be granted)). Lane has failed to offer sufficient evidence.
Accordingly, the court finds that Lane has not shown that a comparable position is
available to which he could be reinstated by Susan Burrow.
Lane additionally argues that this case is not moot because the Eleventh Circuit remanded
the case with the knowledge that Lane’s former position no longer existed. The court finds that
this argument lacks merit. In its Opinion remanding the case to this court, the Eleventh Circuit
We acknowledge that the C.I.T.Y. Program for which Lane served as
Director is no longer in existence. We are unconvinced that this fact,
in and of itself, renders Lane’s request for reinstatement moot,
particularly where Lane has alleged that the program was merely
reorganized and renamed. But, should the district court determine that
a constitutional violation occurred, we suggest that it might be
necessary for the district court to engage in additional factfinding on
this issue to determine what form of equitable relief is available to
Lane, 772 F.3d at 1352 n. 3.
In this statement, the Eleventh Circuit did not present any opinion as to whether the case
would be moot given the facts now before the court. The Eleventh Circuit simply found that the
case was not moot based on the facts before it at that time, and that the district court may need to
engage in additional factfinding to determine what, if any, form of equitable relief was available
to Lane. Having now allowed the parties to engage in additional discovery to present additional
facts to the court, the court finds that Burrow is unable to provide Lane with any form of
equitable relief, and, therefore, the case is moot.
Because Lane cannot demonstrate that Defendant Burrow can afford him any meaningful
relief, no justiciable case or controversy exists, and the court no longer has subject matter
jurisdiction over this dispute.
Therefore, the court will GRANT Burrow’s Motion for Summary Judgment and will
DISMISS this case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, with costs taxed as paid.
The court will enter a separate final Order along with this Opinion.
DONE and ORDERED this 14th day of June, 2016.
KARON OWEN BOWDRE
CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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