448 F.3d 12 (1st Cir. 2006), 04-2351, Mendez-Soto v. Rodriguez

Docket Nº:04-2351.
Citation:448 F.3d 12
Party Name:Pedro M
Case Date:May 09, 2006
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the First Circuit

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448 F.3d 12 (1st Cir. 2006)

Pedro MÉNDEZ-SOTO, President of the Junta de Técnicos del Registro de la Propiedad, Inc.; Alberto Medina-Velzquez, Vice-President of the Junta de Técnicos del Registro de la Propiedad, Inc.; Junta de Técnicos del Registro de la Propiedad, Inc., representing 300 Property Registry Technicians, Plaintiffs, Appellants,

v.

Anabelle RODRÍGUEZ, in her personal capacity and as Secretary of the Department of Justice of Puerto Rico; Delia Castillo-de-Colorado, in her personal capacity and as Property Registry Director of the Department of Justice of Puerto Rico; Deliabel Aponte-Torres, in her personal capacity and as Human Resources Director of the Department of Justice of Puerto Rico; Persons A-Z, Defendants, Appellees.

No. 04-2351.

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit.

May 9, 2006

Heard March 7, 2006.

APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF PUERTO RICO, Hon. Jay A. García-Gregory, U.S. District Judge

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Francisco R. Gonzlez with whom Miguel A. Verdiales-Morales, Vlery López-Torres and F.R. Gonzlez Law Office were on brief for appellants.

Jorge Martínez-Luciano, Civil Rights Legal Task Force, with whom Roberto

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Snchez-Ramos, Secretary of Justice, was on brief for appellees.

Before Boudin, Chief Judge, Torruella, Circuit Judge, and Hansen, [*] Senior Circuit Judge.

BOUDIN, Chief Judge.

this is an appeal from the district court's dismissal of a law suit brought on behalf of technicians working for the Property Registry of Puerto Rico. The Property Registry is attached to the Puerto Rico Department of Justice ("the Department"), and the defendants in the law suit were officials of the Department. The pertinent events can be quickly summarized.

In 2000, the Puerto Rico legislature passed Law No. 363 ("Law 363"), giving the technicians a 100 percent salary increase effective July 1, 2001. The governor sought repeal, and on June 25, 2001, as the governor's request was being debated, some 300 of the technicians went to the legislature to lobby against repeal. The technicians claim to have filed leave forms, charging time off as vacation or other permitted leave, but after the repeal effort was defeated, disciplinary action was taken.

Eventually, 47 technicians were docked one day of pay and suspended for three days (and an additional number of technicians were threatened with the same sanctions) after the Department determined that they did not have proper authorization to support their absences. The plaintiffs--an association of technicians and two of its officers--brought suit against a number of officials of the Department, claiming retaliation in violation of the technicians' first amendment and due process rights relating both to the discipline and a separate claim of withheld benefits (yet to be described).

Cross-motions were filed and referred to a magistrate judge, who recommended that a defense motion for summary judgment on the disciplinary claims be granted in part and denied in part. As to the separate claim for withheld benefits, the magistrate judge construed this as one made under Puerto Rico law--specifically, Law 363 itself--and recommended that the claim be dismissed as barred by the Eleventh Amendment. Both sides sought review of the magistrate judge's report and recommendation.

Then, in August 2002, the Department sent a letter to the affected technicians, notifying them that all existing and proposed disciplinary sanctions would be lifted. The Department nevertheless asserted that the technicians had acted improperly and said that it retained authority to sanction anyone who took leave without proper authorization. The 47 technicians who had already been disciplined appear to have been repaid any docked wages, while those technicians threatened with disciplinary action were informed that no sanctions would be imposed.

After additional briefing, the district court dismissed the main claims on grounds of mootness, Mendez Soto v. Rodriguez, 306 F.Supp.2d 120, 125 (D.P.R. 2004) ("Mendez-Soto I"), and denied reconsideration, 334 F.Supp.2d 62, 72 (D.P.R. 2004) ("Mendez-Soto II"). As to what it understood as the separate claim for withheld benefits under Puerto Rico law, the district court declined to exercise supplemental...

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