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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

State's "sovereign immunity" defense waived when State moved lawsuit commenced in state court to a federal district court


State's "sovereign immunity" defense waived when State moved lawsuit commenced in state court to a federal district court
Estes v Wyoming Department of Transportation, 302 F3d 1200

Connie Estes, a driver's license examiner employed by the Wyoming Department of Transportation [WDOT], sued WDOT in Wyoming State Court. Estes alleged that WDOT violated Title I of the American with Disabilities Act [ADA] and Wyoming's workers' compensation law and, in addition, was in "breach of contract," when it dismissed her from her position.

WDOT deliberately moved Estes' lawsuit to federal court. In so doing, WDOT specifically stated that it was not waiving any of its rights to raise constitutional challenges to the district court's jurisdiction of it. In other words, WDOT attempted to move the case to federal district court while retaining it right to claim sovereign immunity under the Eleventh Amendment in that proceeding.

When WDOT later filed a motion for judgment, arguing the district court lacked jurisdiction because WDOT was entitled to sovereign immunity, it learned that its disclaimers in its earlier effort to "retain it sovereign immunity" notwithstanding its voluntarily moving the case to the federal court were ineffective.*

The Circuit Court, affirming the district court's decision, ruled that WDOT had waived its sovereign immunity with respect to Estes' ADA claim even if the only reason it removed the case to federal court was simply "to challenge the federal court's jurisdiction of the federal forum."

In contrast, the Circuit Court said that its holding with respect to WDOT in Estes' case does not affect the ability of a state to raise sovereign immunity when it is involuntarily brought into federal court and then raises an Eleventh Amendment defense. In the words of the Circuit Court:

It is only when a state removes a federal-law claim from state court to federal court that it "submits its rights for judicial determination" and unequivocally invokes the jurisdiction of the federal courts.

Accordingly, when WDOT removed the Estes case from state court to federal court, it "unambiguously invoked the jurisdiction of the federal court,” and thus waived any claim it might otherwise have to sovereign immunity under the Eleventh Amendment.

* WDOT also argued that Estes failed to exhaust state administrative remedies for her breach-of-contract claim.

Handbooks focusing on State and Municipal Public Personnel Law continue to be available for purchase via the links provided below:

The Discipline Book at http://thedisciplinebook.blogspot.com/

A Reasonable Penalty Under The Circumstances at http://nypplarchives.blogspot.com

The Disability Benefits E-book: at http://section207.blogspot.com/

Layoff, Preferred Lists at http://nylayoff.blogspot.com/

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