881 F.2d 1018 (11th Cir. 1989), 88-8187, Brown v. Georgia Dept. of Revenue

Docket Nº:88-8187.
Citation:881 F.2d 1018
Party Name:Lafayette BROWN, Jr., Plaintiff-Appellee, v. GEORGIA DEPARTMENT OF REVENUE, et al., Defendants, Harry White, et al., Defendants-Appellants.
Case Date:August 24, 1989
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
 
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Page 1018

881 F.2d 1018 (11th Cir. 1989)

Lafayette BROWN, Jr., Plaintiff-Appellee,

v.

GEORGIA DEPARTMENT OF REVENUE, et al., Defendants,

Harry White, et al., Defendants-Appellants.

No. 88-8187.

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

August 24, 1989

Page 1019

Susan L. Rutherford, Asst. Atty. Gen., Atlanta, Ga., for defendants-appellants.

Benjamin P. Erlitz, Atlanta, Ga., for plaintiff-appellee.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia.

Before TJOFLAT, and CLARK, Circuit Judges, and RYSKAMP [*], Senior District Judge.

CLARK, Circuit Judge:

Lafayette Brown was a Tax Field Agent for the Georgia Department of Revenue. During the first two weeks of May 1984, he did not report to work for several days because he was in the hospital. On discharge from the hospital, he received a letter from the Department of Revenue stating that his absence from work was deemed an abandonment of his position. Subsequently, he was told that he had no appeal rights. Mr. Brown filed suit in federal district court for the Northern District of Georgia alleging his termination violated the Fourteenth Amendment, Title VII, and 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1985. After a one day bench trial, the district court granted the plaintiff part of the relief he requested, namely a hearing before the State Personnel Board. The defendants appeal that decision. We have jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. Sec. 1292(a)(1). 1 Because we find that the

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plaintiff had a property interest in continued employment and that the defendants deprived him of that interest without due process, we affirm the district court.

I.

A. Facts

Lafayette Brown worked for the Georgia Department of Revenue from September 1981 through May 1984. He was a classified employee covered by the Georgia Merit Systems Act, O.C.G.A. Sec. 45-20-1 et seq. On Monday, April 30, 1984, Mr. Brown did not report to work, but called in sick to his supervisor, Jacqueline Fitzgerald, stating that he was in the hospital because of possible kidney stones. Record, Vol. 3, at 150. He did not return to work until Friday, May 4th, at which time he brought a doctor's note. Id. Because he was in pain, however, his supervisor allowed him to leave early. Id. at 48.

On Monday morning, May 7th, according to Mr. Brown's testimony, the pain was much worse and he took a taxi to the hospital. When he could not pay the fare, he was arrested and brought to Atlanta City Jail. Id. He was detained overnight on charges of theft, but brought to Grady Hospital on Tuesday morning. Id. at 49. He did not contact his supervisor, however, until Wednesday morning, May 9th, because he was groggy from pain medication. Id. at 90. At that time, he informed Ms. Fitzgerald that he was in the hospital and did not know how long he would be there. 2 Mr. Brown remained in the hospital until Friday May 11th, but had no other contact with his office. On his return home, 3 he received a letter which stated that pursuant to Rule 12, Sec. 12.202 of the Rules and Regulations of the State Merit System, 4 he was deemed to have abandoned his job because he was absent for five days without being on leave. The letter did not indicate whether Mr. Brown had any right to review of the decision. Mr. Brown testified, however, that after receiving the letter he called Joyce Kelly, the Personnel Director, who directed him to John Smith, the Director of Field Services. According to Mr. Brown, Mr. Smith told him there was nothing he could do. 5 Record, Vol. 3, at 54. On July 9th, however, Mr. Brown wrote a letter to the Merit System of Georgia and asked for review of the decision. Record, Vol. 1, Tab 27, Exhibit A. In response, he received a letter stating that he had no right to an appeal. Id. at Exhibit B.

B. Procedural History

Mr. Brown filed suit in federal district court alleging violations of the Fourteenth Amendment, Title VII, and 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1985. Mr. Brown named as defendants the Georgia Department of Revenue, the State Personnel Board, the State Merit System, and three employees of the Department of Revenue in their individual and official capacities: Harry White, Gary Robinson, and JacquelineFitzgerald. 6 Thus began a long and tortuous procedural history

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in which the district court attempted to clarify both the proper defendants and the substantive claims. Because the resolution of the issues on appeal necessitates a clear understanding of the procedural history, we present that history in more detail than usual.

  1. The Parties

    In their answer and summary judgment motion, the defendants raised the Eleventh Amendment as a defense. In an order dated March 5, 1987 ("the March 5 order"), the court granted summary judgment for the Department of Revenue, the Merit Systems Board, 7 and the three defendants in their official capacity on Eleventh Amendment grounds. Since the plaintiff sought compensatory relief, the court held the Eleventh Amendment barred the suit against these defendants because the state was the real party in interest. Record, Vol. 1, Tab 23. The court also granted plaintiff's motion to amend the complaint to add three new defendants, all employees of the Department of Revenue in their individual and official capacities: Joyce Kelly, Fred White and John Smith. 8 Then in an order dated July 7, 1987 ("the July 7 order"), the district court also ordered summary judgment on Eleventh Amendment grounds for the three new defendants in their official capacity. Recognizing for the first time that the plaintiff also sought prospective injunctive relief, however, the court held that the Eleventh Amendment did not bar suit against the Personnel Board or the Department of Revenue insofar as it sought equitable relief. Record, Vol. 1, Tab 31.

    Finally, on September 14, 1987, the plaintiff again sought leave to amend his complaint by deleting the state agencies as defendants and substituting Marcus Collins, the Commissioner of the Department of Revenue in his official capacity and the six members of the State Personnel Board in their official capacity: Susan Landrum, Richard Babush, Charles Storm, Pamela Fuller, W. Howard Fowler, and C. Ron Cheeley. The plaintiff also sought reconsideration of the prior dismissal of the Department of Revenue employees in their official capacity. At an oral hearing on that date, the district court granted the motion to amend. Record, Vol. 2, at 11. Therefore, the defendants at trial were: (1) Marcus Collins and the six members of the Personnel Board in their official capacity and (2) the six employees of the Department of Revenue in both their official and individual capacity.

  2. The claims

    The claims asserted by the plaintiff were also subject to a confused history. The complaint alleged violations of the Fourteenth Amendment, Title VII, and 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1985. The plaintiff voluntarily dismissed the latter two claims in the March 5 order. The substance of the case therefore was that the dismissal violated substantive and procedural due process as well as equal protection. In the March 5 order, the district court held there was no property interest created by the Georgia Merit Systems Act and therefore dismissed both the substantive and procedural due process claims. The court then asked the parties to brief the question of whether Pennhurst State School & Hospital v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 104 S.Ct. 900, 79 L.Ed.2d 67 (1984), barred the federal suit because the complaint merely alleged that state officials had violated state law. Record, Vol. 1, Tab 23, at 8. In the course of considering the Pennhurst issue, the district court reconsidered its prior dismissal of the procedural due process claim and allowed the case to proceed to trial on procedural due process and equal protection grounds. On September 15, 1987, the court also reversed its holding dismissing the substantive due process claims. Record, Vol. 1, Tab 38.

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    At the conclusion of the bench trial, the district court dismissed the claims against the Department of Revenue employees in their individual capacity, except for John Smith. 9 Although the court found him responsible for the termination, the court determined that he was entitled to qualified immunity. The court also held that the State Personnel Board members had violated the plaintiff's rights by failing to grant him a hearing. The court therefore ordered the members of the Personnel Board to give Mr. Brown a hearing and stayed the other portions of the order pending the outcome of the hearing. Record, Vol. 1, Tab 42. The members of the Personnel Board appealed this order.

    II. THE ISSUES ON APPEAL

    The appellants raise three issues on appeal. First, they contend that the district court erred in allowing the plaintiff to amend the complaint to include the members of the Personnel Board in their official capacity. Second, the appellants argue that the Eleventh Amendment prohibits the relief granted in this case insofar as the district court ordered the state officials to comply with state law. Finally, the appellants argue that the district court erred in finding that the plaintiff was denied procedural due process. We affirm the district court on all three grounds.

    A. Amendment of the Complaint

    The first issue on appeal concerns whether the district court erred in allowing the plaintiff to amend his complaint to add the individual members of the State Personnel Board in their official capacity. 10 The appellants argue that the amendment was not proper under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(c) 11 because the substituted defendants had no notice of the suit and did not know that absent the mistake, they would have been named as defendants. The appellants seek support for their argument in Schiavone v. Fortune, 477 U.S. 21, 106 S.Ct. 2379, 91 L.Ed.2d 18 (...

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