Oliver-Benoit v. Motor Vehicles
ORDER: Defendant's Motion 42 to Dismiss is GRANTED. Signed by Judge Janet Bond Arterton on 01/06/2012. (Budris, K.)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF CONNECTICUT
Mary Oliver Benoit,
Civil No. 3:10cv1007 (JBA)
State of Connecticut Department of Motor Vehicles,
January 6, 2012
RULING ON MOTION TO DISMISS
On February 11, 2011, Plaintiff Mary Oliver Benoit filed a Corrected Second
Amended Complaint [Doc. # 39] against Defendant, the State of Connecticut Department
of Motor Vehicles (“DMV”), alleging that the DMV violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act
of 1964, as amended by the Civil Rights Act of 1991 (“Title VII”), 42 U.S.C.A. § 2000e; 42
U.S.C. § 1981; the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12111 et
seq.; Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. §§ 794 et seq. (“Section 504");
the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act (“CFEPA”), C.G.S.A. §§46a-58 et seq.; and
Section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act, 1947 (“LMRA”), 29 U.S.C. § 185.
Defendant moves [Doc. # 42] to dismiss Plaintiff’s claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and the
LMRA for lack of subject–matter jurisdiction pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
12(b)(1), on the ground of sovereign immunity. For the reasons stated below, Defendants’
motion to dismiss will be granted. The Court will also dismiss Plaintiff’s ADA and CFEPA
Plaintiff alleges that Defendant has continuously “discriminated against, harassed,
retaliated against and failed to reasonably accommodate the plaintiff, an African–American
female with a disability,” on the basis of race, disability, and in retaliation for filing a
complaint against her supervisors with the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and
Opportunities. (See Corrected 2d Am. Compl. [Doc. # 39] ¶¶ 2, 29–32.) Plaintiff alleges that
during the fall of 2008, she informed Defendant that she was suffering from migraines that
impaired her vision, and provided medical documentation of her disability. (Id. ¶ 19).
Plaintiff requested reasonable accommodation from the defendant for her disability,
specifically that she be transferred from a “hostile and discriminatory environment.” (Id. ¶¶
21, 23.) Plaintiff alleges that Defendant denied this request, did not claim that the requested
accommodation was unreasonable and did not propose any alternative accommodation. (See
id. ¶ 23.) Plaintiff also alleges that Defendant accommodated other non–disabled employees.
(See id. ¶ 24.) At all times, Plaintiff alleges that she “was able to perform the essential
functions of her job with or without reasonable accommodation.” (Id. ¶ 18.)
In addition to refusing to grant her request for a transfer out of the hostile work
environment, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant has prevented her from taking a promotional
examination by refusing to provide her with a required letter. (Id. ¶ 25.) She asserts that a
less–qualified employee, who is of a different “race, color and/or ethnicity,” and who has not
complained about the conduct of Defendant, was provided with such a letter, and thus
granted access to the exam. (Id. ¶¶ 26, 27.) Plaintiff also alleges that she was denied training
by Defendant in March 2009, while other similarly situated employees not of Plaintiff’s “race,
color and/or ethnicity” as well as employees who have not complained about Defendant’s
conduct were given access to training. (Id. ¶ 28.)
In response to this conduct, Plaintiff filed “at least eight” Affidavits of Illegal
Discriminatory Practice with the Connecticut Commission of Human Rights and
Opportunities (CHRO), “numerous” complaints with the Department of Administrative
Services of Connecticut (DAS), and “several” complaints with the Equal Employment
Opportunities Commission as well as “numerous” internal complaints. (Id. ¶ 16.) In
particular, on March 10, 2009, Plaintiff filed a “CHRO complaint” regarding Defendant’s
decision to deny her training which named two of her supervisors, and alleging that they had
discriminated against Plaintiff based on either her race or disability. (Id. ¶ 30.) On April 9,
2009 and May 15, 2009, the two supervisors named in the March 10 CHRO complaint
issued disciplinary counseling memoranda to Plaintiff and subjected her to counseling
sessions. (Id. ¶¶ 31, 32.) Plaintiff alleges that other similarly–situated employees who are not
of her race and are not disabled and who perform their jobs “less well” have not been
subjected to disciplinary counseling. (Id. ¶¶ 33, 34.) She also alleges that the DAS
investigated Defendant’s decision to require Plaintiff to undergo disciplinary counseling, and
found that Defendant had not required any other DMV employee to undergo counseling.
(Id. ¶ 35.) The DAS found that Defendant ordered Plaintiff to undergo disciplinary
counseling in retaliation for filing a CHRO complaint against her supervisors. (Id. ¶ 36.)
Plaintiff also alleges that on September 30, 2009, the two named supervisors issued
a falsely negative performance review of the plaintiff which has adversely impacted her
salary, employment opportunities, and her opportunity for advancement at the DMV. (Id.
Based on these allegations, and without differentiating which allegations give rise to
each cause of action, Plaintiff claims that Defendant has violated Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 1981,
Title I of the ADA, section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and CFEPA. (See id. ¶¶ 42–46,
In the second count, Plaintiff alleges that during the period of time over which these
events took place, Plaintiff was a member of a union, AFSCME, which had a collective
bargaining agreement with Defendant. (Id. ¶ 41.) Plaintiff claims that Defendant breached
its contractual obligation under this agreement because it refused to settle a grievance filed
by her union regarding Defendant’s actions, and that AFSCME breached its duty of fair
representation in “redressing plaintiff’s grievance against the defendant.” (See id. ¶¶ 42, 43.)
Plaintiff claims that these allegations give rise to a claim under Section 301 of the LMRA, 29
U.S.C. § 185.
II. Legal Standard1
“A case is properly dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under Rule
12(b)(1) when the district court lacks the statutory or constitutional power to adjudicate it.”
Luckett v. Bure, 290 F.3d 493, 496 (2d Cir. 2002) (internal quotation marks and citations
omitted). “In resolving the question of jurisdiction, the district court can refer to evidence
outside the pleadings and the plaintiff asserting subject matter jurisdiction has the burden
of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that it exists.” Id. at 497 (citing Malik v.
Meissner, 82 F.3d 560, 562 (2d. Cir 1996). “When considering a motion to dismiss for lack
Plaintiff frames Defendant’s motion to dismiss as a motion to dismiss for failure
to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 12(b)(6). (See Pl.’s Opp’n. [Doc. # 45] at 2.) The sovereign immunity granted to
a state by the Eleventh Amendment has been defined by the Supreme Court as “a
constitutional limitation on the federal judicial power established by in Article III.”
Pennhurst State Sch. & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 98 (1984). This constitutional
limitation “deprives federal courts of any jurisdiction to entertain such claims, and thus may
be raised at any point in a proceeding.” Id. at 99, n.8. Given such a construction of the
limiting power of the Eleventh Amendment, Defendant’s motion to dismiss is properly
viewed as a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Rule
of subject matter jurisdiction . . . a court must accept as true all material factual allegations
in the complaint.” Shipping Fin. Services Corp. v. Drakos, 140 F.3d 129, 131 (1998) (citing
Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974)). Normally, “when the question to be considered
is one involving the jurisdiction of a federal court, jurisdiction must be shown affirmatively,
and that showing is not made by drawing from the pleadings inferences favorable to the
party asserting it.” Id. (citing Norton v. Larney, 266 U.S. 511, 515 (1925)). However, when
the defense of sovereign immunity is raised, “the governmental entity invoking the Eleventh
Amendment bears the burden of demonstrating that it qualifies as an arm of the state
entitled to share in its immunity.” Woods v. Rondout Valley Cent. Sch. Dist. Bd. of Educ., 466
F.3d 232, 237 (2d Cir. 2006).
Although Defendant has moved to dismiss only Plaintiff’s claims under 42 U.S.C.
§ 1981 and Section 301 of the LMRA, “‘[i]t is a fundamental precept that federal courts are
courts of limited jurisdiction’ and lack the power to disregard such limits as have been
imposed by the Constitution or Congress.” Durant, Nichols, Houston, Hodgson & CorteseCosta, P.C., v. Dupont, 565 F.3d 56, 62 (2d Cir. 2009) (quoting Owen Equipment & Erection
Co. v. Kroger, 437 U.S. 365, 374 (1978)). Usually, “[when] subject matter jurisdiction is
lacking and no party has called the matter to the court’s attention, the court has the duty to
dismiss the action sua sponte. Id. (citing Louisville & Nashville R. R. v. Mottley, 211 U.S. 149,
152 (1908)). When a governmental entity has failed to raise the Eleventh Amendment as a
defense to a claim that may be barred from being brought in federal court, “lower courts may
raise the issue of Eleventh Amendment immunity sua sponte, [but] they are not required to
do so.” Woods, 466 F.3d at 238 (citing Wisconsin Dep’t of Corr. v. Schacht, 524 U.S. 381, 389
(1998)). The Court will accordingly examine all of Plaintiff’s claims to determine whether
it is appropriate to raise the issue of sovereign immunity sua sponte.
The Eleventh Amendment
The Eleventh Amendment states that “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 any Foreign
State.” U.S.. Const. Amend. XI. The limitations imposed by the Amendment also serve to
bar lawsuits against a state by its own citizens. See Hans v. La., 134 U.S., 1, 18–19 (1890).
Unless a state waives its sovereign immunity or Congress abrogates it through legislative
action, the Eleventh Amendment bars plaintiffs from suing a state in federal court, regardless
of the type of relief sought. See Pennhurst State Sch. & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89,
99–101 (1984) (internal citations omitted). The Eleventh Amendment’s grant of sovereign
immunity also extends to entities considered to be “arm[s] of the State,” see Mt. Healthy
City Sch. Bd. of Educ. v. Boyle, 429 U.S. 274, 280 (1977), but not to individual, named state
officials when they are sued in their official capacity by parties who only prospective
injunctive relief. See Va. Office for Prot. and Advocacy v. Stewart, 131 S. Ct. 1632, 1638 (2011)
(citing Ex Parte Young, 209 U.S. 123 (1908)).
The Ex Parte Young doctrine permits plaintiffs to seek prospective injunctive relief
against individual, named state officials sued in their official capacity who would otherwise
be entitled to sovereign immunity. See id. This doctrine “rests on the premise . . . that when
a federal court commands a state official to do nothing more than refrain from violating
federal law, he is not the State for sovereign–immunity purposes. The doctrine is limited to
that precise situation, and does not apply “when ‘the state is the real, substantial party in
interest.’” Id. (quoting Pennhurst, 465 U.S. at 101 (quoting Ford Motor Co. v. Dep’t of Treas.
of Ind., 323 U.S 459, 464 (1945))).
Ms. Oliver Benoit has brought this action against only the DMV, and not against any
individual state officials. Her counsel conceded at oral argument that for the purposes of the
Eleventh Amendment, the DMV is “an arm of the state.”
Section 1981 provides in relevant part that “[a]ll persons within the jurisdiction of
the United States shall have the same right . . . to make and enforce contracts . . . as is
enjoyed by white citizens . . . .” 42 U.S.C. § 1981. Pursuant to § 1981, Plaintiff seeks
“prospective injunctive relief,” which she defines as:
A. A temporary and permanent injunction requiring the defendant immediately to
provide and restore lost back pay, benefits, seniority, vacation days, sick days and
other benefits to the plaintiff;2
B. A temporary and permanent injunction requiring the defendant immediately to
cease and desist any and all harassment, retaliation against and disparate treatment
of the plaintiff so that she may carry out her employment duties; and
C. a temporary and permanent injunction requiring the defendant immediately to
provide reasonable accommodation to the plaintiff so that she may carry out her
The injunction sought by Plaintiff that would require Defendant to provide and
restore lost back pay and benefits is more appropriately termed retroactive relief. See Quern
v. Jordan, 440 U.S. 332, 337 (1979) (defining “retroactive relief” as that which “requires
payment of state funds, not as a necessary consequence of compliance in the future with a
substantive federal–question determination, but as a form of compensation”). However, this
distinction between retroactive relief and prospective relief is relevant only when an
individual state official is sued in his or her official capacity. When the state or one of its
“arms” is the defendant, sovereign immunity bars federal courts from entertaining lawsuits
against them “regardless of the nature of the relief sought.” Pennhurst, 465 U.S. at 100.
(Corrected 2d Am. Compl. ¶¶ A, B, C.) The Second Circuit has held that “‘ the express cause
of action for damages created by § 1983 constitutes the exclusive federal remedy for violation
of the rights guaranteed in § 1981 by state governmental units,’” Patterson v. Cnty. of Oneida,
375 F.3d 206, 225 (2d Cir. 2004) (quoting Jett v. Dallas Indep. Sch. Dist., 491 U.S. 701, 703
(1989)), and Plaintiff’s counsel stated at oral argument that her Section 1981 claim is brought
through the mechanism of Section 1983. However, lawsuits that seek injunctive relief
against a state department pursuant to Section 1983 are barred by the Eleventh Amendment.
See Feingold v. New York, 366 F.3d 138, 149 (2d Cir. 2004) (injunctive relief sought against
DMV pursuant to § 1983 barred by Eleventh Amendment).
Plaintiff argues that Wagner v. Connecticut Department of Correction, 599 F. Supp.
2d 229 (D. Conn. 2009), supports her argument that she can seek prospective injunctive
relief against a state department rather than an individual state officer in his or her official
capacity. The relevant portion of Wagner upon which Plaintiff relies, reads: “As a cause of
action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Wagner’s claims against the DOC and the individual
defendants in their official capacity, except to the extent they seek prospective injunctive
relief, are barred by the doctrine of sovereign immunity.” Id. at 237–38 (citing Quern, 440
U.S. 332; Pennhurst, 465 U.S. at 100). At oral argument, Plaintiff’s counsel conceded that
Wagner is the only case to which he could direct the Court that supported this position and
that “Wagner now may not be 100 percent correct.”
The Court reads Wagner differently than Plaintiff does. Wagner does not state, as
Plaintiff argues, that a Section 1983 claim against a state agency or against an individual
defendant is barred unless it seeks prospective injunctive relief, but rather that a Section
1983 claim against a state agency, regardless of the relief sought, is always barred by the
doctrine of sovereign immunity and that a Section 1983 claim against an official–capacity
individual defendant is barred unless the plaintiff seeks prospective injunctive relief. Judge
Droney relies on the Supreme Court’s decisions in Pennhurst, without limiting or
distinguishing, which states clearly that “in the absence of consent a suit in which the State
or one of its agencies or departments is named as the defendant is proscribed by the
Eleventh Amendment,” although a plaintiff may sue an individual state officer for
prospective injunctive relief. 465 U.S. at 101–02. In light of Judge Droney’s reliance on
Pennhurst, the most sensible reading of Wagner is that, rather than going against the heavy
weight of precedent that a state may not be sued in federal court without its consent, it
perpetuates the reasoning of Pennhurst and Quern that while a plaintiff may seek prospective
injunctive relief against an individual state officer, any suit under Section 1983 against a state
agency is barred by the Eleventh Amendment.
Plaintiff’s claim pursuant to Section 1981 is therefore dismissed.
Congress has abrogated the sovereign immunity extended to states by the Eleventh
Amendment by enacting the 1972 Amendments to Title VII pursuant to the authority of
section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment. See Fitzpatrick v. Bitzer, 427 U.S. 445, 456 (1976).
Lawsuits alleging violations of Title VII by states or state departments or agencies may be
brought in federal court even though claims brought under other federal statutes which
allege similar violations of either the United States Constitution or federal law may be barred
by the Eleventh Amendment. See, e.g., Feingold, 366 F.3d 149–150; Mulero v. Conn., 253
F.R.D. 33, 38-39 (D. Conn. 2008) (Hall, J.). In Feingold, the plaintiff’s Section 1983 claim
against the defendant DMV was barred by the Eleventh Amendment but his Title VII claims,
which alleged disparate treatment on the basis of his race and religion and discharge in
retaliation for the plaintiff’s complaints of unlawful discrimination, were allowed to proceed.
See Feingold, 366 F.3d at 149, 150, 157.
Defendant’s counsel agreed at oral argument that Plaintiff’s Title VII claim is not
barred by the Eleventh Amendment and should remain for adjudication.
Title I of the ADA prohibits “covered entities [from discriminating] against a
qualified individual on the basis of disability in regard to . . . the . . . advancement . . . or . .
. job training and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment.” 42 U.S.C.
§12112(a). The Eleventh Amendment bars private individuals from bringing lawsuits against
states in federal court pursuant to Title I of the ADA when monetary relief is sought. See Bd.
of Trs. of the Univ. of Ala. v. Garrett, 531 U.S. 356, 360, 374 (2001). Plaintiff’s counsel agreed
with the Court at oral argument that dismissal of her ADA claim “would be appropriate.”
Plaintiff’s claim under the ADA is therefore dismissed.
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act provides in relevant part that “no otherwise
qualified individual with a disability in the United States . . . shall, solely by reason of her
disability . . . be subjected to any discrimination under any program or activity conducted
by any program or activity receiving Federal assistance . . . .” 29 U.S.C. § 794(a). Section
1003 of the Rehabilitation Act abrogates states’ immunity under the Eleventh Amendment
for violations of Section 504 as a condition of receiving federal funding. See 42 U.S.C. §
2000d–7(a); Lane v. Pena, 518 U.S. 187, 197–98 (1996); Hale v. Mann, 219 F.3d 61, 67 (2d
Defendant does not challenge the Court’s subject matter jurisdiction with respect to
Plaintiff’s claim under Section 504, and Defendant’s counsel at oral argument stated that the
issue of whether the DMV receives federal funds should be left “for another day.” Therefore,
Plaintiff’s claim under Section 504 will remain for adjudication.
Section 46a-100 of the Connecticut General Statutes permits claims to be brought
pursuant to CFEPA “in the superior court for the judicial district in which the
discriminatory practice is alleged to have occurred, or in which the respondent transacts
business, except any action involving a state agency or official may be brought in the
superior court for the judicial district of Hartford.” Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46a-100. State
statutory provisions consenting to suit in state court, however, are not waivers of Eleventh
Amendment immunity from suit in federal court. Smith v. Reeves, 178 U.S. 436, 441 (1900);
see also Lyons v. Jones, et al., 168 F. Supp. 2d 1, 5 (D. Conn. 2001) (“[T]his court has found
that there is nothing in the Connecticut General Statutes that constitutes an express waiver
of Eleventh Amendment immunity for CFEPA claims.”). Plaintiff’s counsel agreed at oral
argument that the CFEPA claim could be brought in state court, but not federal court.
Therefore, Plaintiff’s claim under CFEPA is dimissed.
Section 301 of the LMRA, 29 U.S.C. § 185, “governs the employer’s duty to honor the
collective bargaining agreement, and the duty of fair representation is implied under the
scheme of the National Labor Relations Act.” White v. White Rose Food, 128 F.3d 110, 113,
(2d Cir. 1997) (citing DelCostello v. Int’l Bhd. of Teamsters, 462 U.S. 151, 164 (1983); Price
v. Int’l Union, United States Auto., Aerospace & Agric. Implement Workers, 795 F.2d 1128,
1134 (2d Cir. 1986)). Under such a claim, a plaintiff is permitted to sue either his union, his
employer, or both, but for his claim to be valid he must “allege violations on the part of
both.” Id. at 114 (citing DelCostello, 462 U.S. at 165).
“[T]he LMRA does not confer federal jurisdiction over labor disputes among states,
their employees, and the unions who represent them.” Baumgart v. Stony Brook Children’s
Service, P.C., 249 F. App’x. 851 (2d Cir. 2007) (Summary Order); see also Ford v. D.C. 37
Union Local 1549, 579 F.3d 187, 188 (2d Cir. 2009) (affirming district court’s dismissal of
complaint alleging breach of the duty of fair representation by New York City Department
of Health and Mental Hygiene under the LMRA for lack of subject matter jurisdiction
pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1)). States and their political subdivisions
are not considered “employers” within the context of the LMRA. See 29 U.S.C. § 152(2) (“the
term ‘employer’ . . . shall not include . . . any State or political subdivision thereof . . . .”); see
also Nat’l Labor Relations Bd. v. Natural Gas Util. Dist. of Hawkins Cnty., Tenn., 402 U.S.
600, 602–03 (1976) (holding that a public utility district fell within the definition of a
“political subdivision).The Second Circuit later interpreted Hawkins County to have adopted
the NLRB’s criteria to determine whether a given organization falls within the “political
subdivision” exemption of § 152(2). See Rose v. Long Island R.R. Pension Plan, 828 F.2d 910,
916 (2d Cir. 1987). Under the NLRB criteria, “the exemption for political subdivisions [is
limited to] entities that are either (1) created directly by the state, so as to constitute
departments or administrative arms of the government, or (2) administered by individuals
who are responsible to public officials or to the general electorate.” Id. (quoting Hawkins
County, 402 U.S. at 604–05). Under either set of criteria, Defendant qualifies as a “political
subdivision,” and thus is not an “employer” within the meaning of Section 301 of the LMRA.
Plaintiff’s counsel agreed at oral argument that Plaintiff’s LMRA claim is barred in
federal court, that it must be brought in state court under the Municipal Employment
Relations Act, and that dismissal of this count “would be appropriate.” Plaintiff’s claim
under the LMRA is therefore dismissed.
For the reasons stated above, Defendant’s motion [Doc. # 42] to dismiss is
GRANTED. Plaintiff’s Section 1981 and LMRA claims are dismissed. Plaintiff’s ADA and
CFEPA claims are also dismissed. The Title VII and Section 504 claims remain for
IT IS SO ORDERED.
Janet Bond Arterton, U.S.D.J.
Dated at New Haven, Connecticut this 6th day of January, 2012.
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