680 F.2d 841 (1st Cir. 1982), 81-1447, Enrique Molina-Estrada v. Puerto Rico Highway Authority

Docket Nº:81-1447.
Citation:680 F.2d 841
Party Name:ENRIQUE MOLINA-ESTRADA, et al., Plaintiffs, Appellants, v. PUERTO RICO HIGHWAY AUTHORITY, Defendant, Appellee.
Case Date:June 08, 1982
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the First Circuit

Page 841

680 F.2d 841 (1st Cir. 1982)

ENRIQUE MOLINA-ESTRADA, et al., Plaintiffs, Appellants,



No. 81-1447.

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

June 8, 1982

Argued Feb. 2, 1982.

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Nicolas Delgado Figueroa, Santurce, P. R., for plaintiffs, appellants.

Lorraine Riefkohl de Lopez, Asst. Sol. Gen., Dept. of Justice, San Juan, P. R., with whom Hector A. Colon Cruz, Sol. Gen., San Juan, P. R., was on brief, for defendant, appellee.

Before GIBSON, [*] BOWNES and BREYER, Circuit Judges.

BREYER, Circuit Judge.

Appellants are "irregular employees" of the defendant, the Puerto Rico Highway Authority. They work on highway construction projects and "highway upkeep." They sued the Authority for additional wages that they believe were owed to them under the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA"), 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq., or the Davis-Bacon Act, 40 U.S.C. § 276a et seq. (applied through the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956, 23 U.S.C. § 113(a)). The district court dismissed their complaint on two grounds. First, it viewed the Authority as the alter ego of the Commonwealth itself. It consequently considered the suit barred by the Eleventh Amendment to the Constitution. ("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, ...") The constitutional principle underlying the Eleventh Amendment also forbids a state's own citizens to bring against it in federal court an unconsented suit for damages. See Hans v. Louisiana, 134 U.S. 1, 10 S.Ct. 504, 33 L.Ed. 842 (1890); Employees v. Department of Health and Welfare of Missouri, 411 U.S. 279, 280, 93 S.Ct. 1614, 1615, 36 L.Ed.2d 251 (1973); Ezratty v. Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, 648 F.2d 770, 776 n.7 (1st Cir. 1981) (principles underlying the Eleventh Amendment are applicable to Puerto Rico). Second, it considered the Authority to be engaged in "integral operations in areas of traditional governmental functions" and therefore immune from federal "minimum wage" regulation under the principle of National League of Cities v. Usery, 426 U.S. 833, 852, 96 S.Ct. 2465, 2474, 49 L.Ed.2d 245 (1976).

In this court the appellants argue only one issue: whether the Authority's statutory powers to operate a mass transportation system, rent parking lots, and charge a fee for the use of its highways, place it outside the National League of Cities principle. Their brief, in its statement of issues, refers to "jurisdiction" and the Davis-Bacon Act, but it makes no Davis-Bacon Act or Federal Aid Highway Act argument. It argues only whether the Puerto Rico Highway Authority "is acting as a private corporation and should be treated as such."

Before approaching that issue, however, we consider as a preliminary matter the Authority's claim that we ought not to reach the National League of Cities question. In the Authority's view, a suit against it is barred by the Eleventh Amendment and related sovereign immunity doctrine. This question is difficult. The Supreme Court has specifically held that a state can assert an Eleventh Amendment-type defense to an FLSA suit, but its holding seems based in part on its conclusion that Congress had not shown in the statute a specific intent that the state's sovereign immunity be "waived" (i.e., overridden). Employees v. Department of Public Health and Welfare of Missouri, 411 U.S. at 283-85, 93 S.Ct. at 1617-18. Congress responded to the Employees opinion by enacting a statute specifically seeking to override the states' sovereign immunity. Fair Labor Standards Amendments of 1974, Pub.L.No. 93-259, § 6(d) (1), 88 Stat. 55 (amending 29 U.S.C. § 216); see 29 U.S.C.A. § 216 (Supp.1982).

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See also H.R.Rep. No. 913, 93d Cong., 2d Sess., reprinted in (1974) U.S.Code Cong. & Ad. News 2811, 2853; cf. Dunlop v. State of New Jersey, 522 F.2d 504, 514 n.20 (3d Cir. 1975), vacated and remanded for consideration of National League of Cities sub nom. New Jersey v. Usery, 427 U.S. 909, 96 S.Ct. 3196, 49 L.Ed.2d 1202 (1976). Thus, the Authority in effect would have us deal with the disputed question of the extent to which Congress can force a state, against its will, to be sued in a federal court by one of its citizens (or by a citizen of another state). See generally Tribe, Intergovernmental Immunities in Litigation, Taxation and Regulation: Separation of Powers Issues in Controversies About Federalism, 89 Harv.L.Rev. 682 (1976); Field, The Eleventh Amendment and Other Sovereign Immunity Doctrines: Congressional Impositions of Suit Upon the States, 126 U.Pa.L.Rev. 1203 (1978). But see P. Bator, P. Mishkin, D. Shapiro & H. Wechsler, Hart & Wechsler's The Federal Courts and the Federal System 231-32 (2d ed. Supp. 1981); Employees v. Department of Public Health and Welfare of Missouri, 411 U.S. at 292-93 n.8, 93 S.Ct. at 1621-22 n.8 (Justice Marshall, concurring in result).

We do not decide this question, however, and turn instead to the National League of Cities issue for several reasons. First, although the Authority does not address the matter, its authorizing statute specifically states that the Authority can be sued "in all courts of justice." 9 L.P.R.A. § 2004(g). (Emphasis supplied.) Since Puerto Rico has a unified court system with only one court of general jurisdiction, see Trias Monge, El sistema judicial de Puerto Rico 132 et seq. (1978); N. M. de Munoz Amato, Problemas administrativos en el poder judicial de Puerto Rico 40-41...

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