Williamson et al v. Psychiatric Security Review Board
ORDER denying 3 Motion for Declaratory Judgment; denying 4 Motion for Preliminary Injunction; granting 20 Motion to Dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. See the attached Memorandum of Decision. The Court DECLINES to grant the Plaintiffs leave to amend the complaint due to futility, as will be articulated in a separate forthcoming memorandum of decision of this Court. Signed by Judge Vanessa L. Bryant on 3/31/14. (Ives, D)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF CONNECTICUT
DANIEL WILLIAMSON, MELODY
WILLIAMSON, HANNAH WILLIAMSON,
GORDON WILLIAMSON, BARBARA
WILLIAMSON, and DANE WILLIAMSON,
PSYCHIATRIC SECURITY REVIEW BOARD, :
CIVIL ACTION NO.
March 31, 2014
MEMORANDUM OF DECISION GRANTING DEFENDANT’S MOTION TO DISMISS
THE SECOND AMENDED COMPLAINT FOR LACK OF SUBJECT MATTER
JURISDICTION [Dkt. 20]
Plaintiffs Daniel, Melody, Hannah, Gordon, Barbara, and Dane Williamson
bring this action against the Defendant State of Connecticut Psychiatric Security
Review Board (“PSRB” or “Board”), for alleged violations of their Fifth and
Fourteenth Amendment rights to Procedural Due Process and Equal Protection.
Currently before the Court are Plaintiffs’ Motions for Declaratory Judgment and
Preliminary Injunction and Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss. For the reasons that
follow, Plaintiffs’ Motions are DENIED and Defendant’s Motion to dismiss on the
basis of the State’s Eleventh Amendment immunity from suit is GRANTED. The
Court declines to grant the Plaintiffs leave to amend the complaint due to futility,
as will be articulated in a separate forthcoming memorandum of decision.
On January 2, 1998, David Messenger killed his pregnant wife, Heather
Williamson Messenger, in their Chaplin, Connecticut home in front of the couple’s
then five-year-old son, Dane. [Dkt. 21, Am. Compl. ¶1]. On November 21, 2001,
David Messenger was adjudicated not guilty by reason of mental defect or
disease and remanded to the State of Connecticut for treatment. [Id. at ¶8].
The Plaintiffs, all family members of Heather Messenger Williamson, have
brought this action for alleged violations of their due process rights during
various Psychiatric Security Review Board hearings for the consideration of
David Messenger’s conditional release. The Plaintiffs also allege that the state
statutes and regulations governing the PSRB and its hearings are facially
Standard of Review
“Jurisdiction is essentially the authority conferred by Congress to decide a
given type of case one way or the other.” Hagans v. Lavine, 415 U.S. 528, 538
(1974). Jurisdiction must be established as a “threshold matter,” a requirement
that “spring[s] from the nature and limits of the judicial power of the United
States and is inflexible and without exception.” Steel Co. v. Citizens for a Better
Env't, 523 U.S. 83, 94-95 (1998) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).
Unlike state courts, which are courts of general jurisdiction, federal courts are
courts of limited jurisdiction possessing only that power authorized by the
Constitution and by statute. Mims v. Arrow Fin. Servs, LLC, 132 S. Ct. 740, 747
(2012); Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of America, 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994);
U.S. CONST. art. III, § 2. “It is to be presumed that a cause lies outside this
limited jurisdiction, and the burden of establishing the contrary rests upon the
party asserting jurisdiction.” Kokkonen, 511 U.S. at 377 (internal citations
omitted). “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.” John Brady v. Int'l Bhd. of Teamsters, Theatrical Drivers
& Helpers Local 817, 741 F.3d 387, 389 (2d Cir. 2014) (quoting Makarova v. U.S.,
201 F.3d 110, 113 (2d Cir. 2000)).
Further, lack of subject matter jurisdiction may be raised at any time by a
party or by the court sua sponte. Gonzalez v. Thaler, 132 S. Ct. 641, 648 (2012)
(“When a requirement goes to subject-matter jurisdiction, courts are obligated to
consider sua sponte issues that the parties have disclaimed or have not
presented. Subject-matter jurisdiction can never be waived or forfeited.”)
(internal citations omitted); Henderson ex rel. Henderson v. Shinseki, 131 S. Ct.
1197, 1202 (2011) (“Courts do not usually raise claims or arguments on their own.
But federal courts have an independent obligation to ensure that they do not
exceed the scope of their jurisdiction, and therefore they must raise and decide
jurisdictional questions that the parties either overlook or elect not to press.”).
“If the court determines at any time that it lacks subject-matter jurisdiction, the
court must dismiss the action.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(h)(3).
In deciding a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under
Rule 12(b)(1) the Court “may resolve disputed factual issues by reference to
evidence outside the pleadings, including affidavits.” State Emps. Bargaining
Agent Coal. v. Rowland, 494 F.3d 71, 77 n. 4 (2d Cir. 2007). See also Morrison v.
Nat’l Australia Bank Ltd., 547 F.3d 167, 170 (2d Cir. 2008) (“In resolving a motion
to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1) a district
court may consider evidence outside the pleadings”); Makarova, 201 F.3d at 113
a. Eleventh Amendment Sovereign Immunity
The Eleventh Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides that “[t]he
Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in
law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by
Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State.” U.S.
CONST. Amend. XI. The Supreme Court has explained that courts understand the
Eleventh Amendment to stand for a two-part supposition: “first, that each State is
a sovereign entity in our federal system; and second, that ‘[i]t is inherent in the
nature of sovereignty not to be amenable to the suit of an individual without its
consent.’ ” Seminole Tribe of Florida v. Florida, 517 U.S. 44, 54 (1996) (citation
omitted). The Court has further recognized that this Amendment’s “significance
lies in its affirmation that the fundamental principle of sovereign immunity limits
the grant of judicial authority in Art. III.” Pennhurst State Sch. & Hosp. v.
Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 98 (1984).
That a State may not be sued without its consent is a
fundamental rule of jurisprudence having so important a
bearing upon the construction of the Constitution of the United
States that it has become established by repeated decisions of
this court that the entire judicial power granted by the
Constitution does not embrace authority to entertain a suit
brought by private parties against a State without consent
given: not one brought by citizens of another State, or by
citizens or subjects of a foreign State, because of the Eleventh
Amendment; and not even one brought by its own citizens,
because of the fundamental rule of which the Amendment is
but an exemplification.
Id. at 98-99 (quoting Ex parte State of New York No. 1, 256 U.S. 490, 497 (1921)).
“Sovereign immunity is the privilege of the sovereign not to be sued without its
consent.” Va. Office for Prot. & Advocacy v. Stewart, 131 S. Ct. 1632, 1637 (2011).
The Eleventh Amendment thus dictates that unconsenting states are generally
immune from suit in federal court. Seminole Tribe of Florida, 517 U.S. at 54 (“For
over a century we have reaffirmed that federal jurisdiction over suits against
unconsenting States ‘was not contemplated by the Constitution when
establishing the judicial power of the United States.’ ”); Pennhurst, 465 U.S. at
100 (“[i]t is clear, of course, 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.”).
The Supreme Court has articulated an exception to the general rule of
Eleventh Amendment sovereign immunity: “a suit challenging the
constitutionality of a state official's action is not one against the State” and thus
may be heard by a federal court if only seeking prospective injunctive relief.
Pennhurst, 465 U.S. at 102. In Ex parte Young, 209 U.S. 123 (1908), one of the first
cases in which the Court recognized this limited exception, a federal court
enjoined the Attorney General of the State of Minnesota from bringing suit to
enforce a state statute that allegedly violated the Fourteenth Amendment. The
theory supporting Ex parte Young was that “an unconstitutional enactment is
‘void’ and therefore does not impart to [the officer] any immunity from
responsibility to the supreme authority of the United States.” Pennhurst, 465 U.S.
at 102 (citing Ex parte Young, 209 U.S. at 160). Thus, because the state could not
authorize the action, the officer was “stripped of his official or representative
character and [was] subjected to the consequences of his official conduct.”1 Id.
The Ex parte Young exception, however, is not expansive. Pennhurst, 465
U.S. at 102. “[W]hen a plaintiff sues a state official alleging a violation of federal
law, the federal court may award an injunction that governs the official's future
conduct, but not one that awards retroactive monetary relief.” Id. at 102-03.
Further, this exception to sovereign immunity “does not apply when the state is
the real, substantial party in interest, as when the judgment sought would expend
itself on the public treasury or domain, or interfere with public administration.”
Virginia Office for Prot. & Advocacy v. Stewart, 131 S. Ct. 1632, 1638 (2011)
(internal quotation marks and citations omitted). See also Pennhurst, 465 U.S. at
101-02 (“as when the State itself is named as the defendant, a suit against state
officials that is in fact a suit against a State is barred regardless of whether it
seeks damages or injunctive relief.”).
Here, the Plaintiffs admit that the “Defendant, State of Connecticut
Psychiatric Security Review Board [ ], is a State Agency empowered by
The Court has on several occasions noted that “[t]his rationale, of course,
created the ‘well-recognized irony’ that an official's unconstitutional conduct
constitutes state action under the Fourteenth Amendment but not the Eleventh
Amendment.” Pennhurst, 465 U.S. at 104-05 (citing Florida Dep’t of State v.
Treasure Salvors, Inc., 458 U.S. 670, 685 (1982) (opinion of STEVENS, J.)).
Connecticut General Statutes [ ] §§ 17a-580 – 17a-603.” [Dkt. 21, Am. Compl. ¶ 6].
The parties do not dispute that the State of Connecticut has not consented to
suit. The Defendant contends that the Plaintiffs have failed to overcome the
State’s Eleventh Amendment sovereign immunity. Plaintiffs counter that their
suit is proper under the Ex parte Young exception to immunity because they have
clearly alleged ongoing violations of federal law and seek only prospective
The Plaintiffs, however, have not sued a state official such that the Ex parte
Young exception would make their suit proper in this Court. Instead, they have
sued only a state agency and, as such, the State of Connecticut maintains its
sovereign immunity to the Plaintiffs’ suit in federal court. It is true that courts
have recognized that the Ex parte Young exception has created somewhat of a
legal “fiction” between a State and its officials in that it “permits a federal court to
treat unconstitutional official acts of a State officer as being separate from the
State so that a suit to enjoin the officer from committing such acts would not be
barred by the State's sovereign immunity.” Connecticut v. Cahill, 217 F.3d 93, 110
(2d Cir. 2000). See also Va. Office for Prot. & Advocacy v. Stewart, 131 S. Ct.
1632, 1638 (2011) (“The Ex parte Young doctrine rests on the premise—less
delicately called a ‘fiction,’—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.”). As the Supreme Court has held, though, this
legal fiction is “necessary to permit the federal courts to vindicate federal rights
and hold state officials responsible to the supreme authority of the United
States.” Pennhurst, 465 U.S. at 105.
This suit must thus be dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction as
the Plaintiffs have not abided by this distinction by naming a State official as the
Defendant in this action, nor have they cited to any case holding that, where a
plaintiff sues a state agency rather than a state official, sovereign immunity does
not apply. See, e.g., Seminole Tribe of Florida, 517 U.S. at 73 (“we often have
found federal jurisdiction over a suit against a state official when that suit seeks
only prospective injunctive relief in order to ‘end a continuing violation of federal
law.’ ”) (emphasis added); Henrietta D. v. Bloomberg, 331 F.3d 261, 287 (2d Cir.
2003) (“The Eleventh Amendment … does not preclude suits against state
officers in their official capacity for prospective injunctive relief to prevent a
continuing violation of federal law.”) (emphasis added); Cahill, 217 F.3d at 110
(“The ability to sue a State official for carrying out his or her official duties is
limited to a narrow exception created by the Supreme Court in Ex Parte Young to
avoid the general rule that such a suit is deemed a suit against the State that is
barred by the State's sovereign immunity”) (emphasis added); Kostok v. Thomas,
105 F.3d 65, 68 (2d Cir. 1997) (“If an act by a state violates the federal Constitution
or federal law, however, then the enforcing state actor loses official immunity . . . .
A challenge under the federal Constitution to a state official’s action in enforcing
state law is not viewed as an action against the state and is not defeated by
Eleventh Amendment immunity.”) (emphasis added).
Futility of Amendment
The Plaintiffs’ mistake as to Eleventh Amendment immunity is that they
have named a state agency rather than a state official as the only defendant.
Normally, this defect would be easily remedied by amendment of the complaint
pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15 to name the proper defendant.
Rule 15 provides that a party may amend a pleading at this juncture in the
litigation “only with the opposing party's written consent or with the court's
leave,” which should be freely given “when justice so requires.” Fed. R. Civ. P.
15(a)(2). “[I]t is within the sound discretion of the district court to grant or deny
leave to amend.” McCarthy v. Dun & Bradstreet Corp., 482 F.3d 184, 200 (2d Cir.
2007). A court should deny leave to amend only upon a showing of “undue delay,
bad faith or dilatory motive on the part of the movant, repeated failure to cure
deficiencies by amendments previously allowed, undue prejudice to the opposing
party by virtue of allowance of the amendment, [or] futility of amendment.”
Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962); Dougherty v. Town of N. Hempstead Bd.
of Zoning Appeals, 282 F.3d 83, 87 (2d Cir. 2002) (same). “Granting leave to
amend is futile if it appears that plaintiff cannot address the deficiencies
identified by the court and allege facts sufficient to support the claim.” Panther
Partners Inc. v. Ikanos Commc'ns, Inc., 347 F. App'x 617, 622 (2d Cir. 2009). A
proposed amendment is also futile if it could not withstand a motion to dismiss
pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). Dougherty, 282 F.3d at 88. See also Basile v. Connolly,
538 F. App’x 5, 8 (2d Cir. Sept. 3, 2013) (“while a district court generally should
not dismiss a pro se complaint without granting the plaintiff leave to amend, such
leave is not necessary when it would be futile.”).
Amendment of the complaint in this action would be futile because the
Plaintiffs’ allegations of procedural due process and equal protection in
contravention of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution would
not survive a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), nor can the Plaintiffs
cure the deficiencies in these claims, as will be articulated in detail in a
forthcoming memorandum of decision by this Court. Thus, amendment to name
the proper defendant is DENIED.
For the foregoing reasons, Defendant PSRB’s [Dkt. 20] Motion to Dismiss
the First Amended Complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to
the State’s Eleventh Amendment sovereign immunity is GRANTED. Because it
would be futile for the Plaintiffs to amend their Complaint – as will be articulated
in a forthcoming memorandum of decision of this Court – this Court declines to
grant the Plaintiffs leave to amend.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
Hon. Vanessa L. Bryant
United States District Judge
Dated at Hartford, Connecticut: March 31, 2014
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