Belanger v. Blum

Decision Date10 June 2009
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 3:08-cv-00584 (VLB).
Citation628 F.Supp.2d 260
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Connecticut
PartiesBrian BELANGER et al., o/b/o themselves and all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs, v. Peter R. BLUM et al., each in their individual capacity, Defendants.

Thomas G. Moukawsher, Moukawsher & Walsh, Hartford, CT, for Plaintiffs.

Michael J. Rose, Rose Kallor, LLP, Hartford, CT, for Defendants.


VANESSA L. BRYANT, District Judge.

Plaintiffs, retired Connecticut state employees, brought this putative class action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging violations of their constitutional right to due process of law against the Connecticut State Employees Retirement Commission (SERC) on April 17, 2008. On September 9, 2008, plaintiffs amended their complaint to omit any claim against SERC and instead asserted the identical claim against the fifteen members of SERC ("the state defendants") in their individual capacities only. On October 14, 2008, the state defendants filed the within motions to dismiss on two bases. The first basis is lack of subject matter jurisdiction under the Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution [Doc. #31] and the second is failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted [Doc. # 32]. For the reasons stated hereinafter, the Court DENIES the state defendants' motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) and GRANTS the motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6).


The complaint, including the minutes of the SERC meeting, incorporated into the complaint by reference, disclose the following facts accepted as true for the purposes of this motion. SERC is the state organ charged with administering Connecticut's state employee pension program. The state defendants are the current members of the commission.1 Since 1967, some state employees have received "longevity payments." In their final year of state service, the employees receive prorated longevity payments. Retired state employees receive a lifetime annuity pension that is calculated by the state defendants using the retiree's "average covered earnings [for their] three highest-paid years of state service." [Doc. # 24] In 2003, two retirees sued SERC in Connecticut Superior Court arguing that their final longevity payments should be included as covered earnings in SERC's pension calculation. In a case of first impression, the Superior Court affirmed SERC's calculation excluding the longevity payments. In 2005, the Appellate Court reversed the Superior Court's decision and SERC appealed to the Connecticut Supreme Court. On October 2, 2007, in the case of Longley v. SERC, 284 Conn. 149, 931 A.2d 890 (2007), the Connecticut Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the Appellate Court and ordered SERC to recalculate the pensions of the two plaintiffs.

The Supreme Court was not asked to and did not address the question of whether to recalculate pension payments for all retirees. At the October 18, 2007 meeting of SERC, the state defendants held a meeting to discuss that question, i.e., whether to apply the Longley decision retroactively and recalculate pension payments for existing retirees. Counsel for the Retirement & Benefit Services Division, Helen Kemp, made a presentation where she advised the state defendants that retroactivity was not usually applicable where a retirement benefit was concerned and the basis for the recalculation was a change of law based upon a new statutory interpretation. The state defendants also received and discussed the opinion of outside counsel that recalculating benefits prior to Longley could be a breach of fiduciary duty. The state defendants unanimously voted to apply Longley only prospectively in calculating pensions for future retirees and not to recalculate benefits for existing retirees retroactively.

The Amended Complaint [Doc. # 24] further alleges that the decision to recalculate benefits for existing retirees retroactively constituted a declaratory ruling under state law which could be appealed in an individual action against SERC, and then further appealed to Connecticut Superior Court. The plaintiffs claims that the state defendants deprived the putative class of retirees of their property interests in their pensions without due process of law by failing to recalculate their pensions to include their final longevity payments.

Rule 12(b)(1) Standard

A party may by motion challenge the Court's subject matter jurisdiction. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1). "When considering a motion to dismiss on any basis, a court must accept as true all material factual allegations in the complaint." Shipping Financial Services Corp. v. Drakos, 140 F.3d 129, 131, citing Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236, 94 S.Ct. 1683, 40 L.Ed.2d 90 (1974). "But, when the question to be considered is one involving the jurisdiction of a federal court, jurisdiction must be shown affirmatively, and that showing is not made by drawing from the pleadings inferences favorable to the party asserting it." Id., citing Norton v. Larney, 266 U.S. 511, 515, 45 S.Ct. 145, 69 L.Ed. 413 (1925).

Eleventh Amendment Immunity

The state defendants argue that this lawsuit is a suit for retroactive pension benefits barred by the Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution, which states, "[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. "A suit for damages against a state by a citizen of the same state, though not specifically prohibited by the Amendment's language, is barred." Fitzpatrick v. Bitzer, 519 F.2d 559, 563 (2d Cir.1975). The state defendants bear the burden of proving Eleventh Amendment immunity. Woods v. Rondout Valley Central School Dist. Bd of Educ., 466 F.3d 232 (2d Cir.2006). SERC is an arm of the state for Eleventh Amendment purposes. Fitzpatrick v. Bitzer, 519 F.2d at 564.

The state defendants have been sued in their individual capacities, and SERC is no longer a party. When individual defendants are named, the test for Eleventh Amendment immunity is whether "the judgment sought would expend itself on the public treasury or domain ..." Dugan v. Rank, 372 U.S. 609, 620, 83 S.Ct. 999, 10 L.Ed.2d 15 (1963). Accordingly, suits seeking damages from state officials individually are not barred by the Eleventh Amendment unless the damages would necessarily paid out of the state treasury. "The law is clear that a state's voluntary decision to indemnify its public servants does not transform a personal-capacity action against a state official into an official-capacity action against the state," Farid v. Smith, 850 F.2d 917, 923 (2d Cir.1988).

In determining whether a suit against state officials in their personal capacities is barred by the Eleventh Amendment, the Court must determine what kind of relief is sought. In Edelman v. Jordan, the Supreme Court concluded that the relief of retroactive welfare benefits against the nominal defendant, then Director of the Illinois Department of Public Aid, would "not be paid out of the pocket of petitioner Edelman .... [but] inevitably come from the general revenues of the State of Illinois." 415 U.S. 651, 665, 94 S.Ct. 1347, 39 L.Ed.2d 662 (1974). The Supreme Court held that such damages were barred. However, while in Edelman, the Supreme Court found the retroactive welfare benefits could not be obtained from the individual defendants because the damages were "measured in terms of a monetary loss resulting from a past breach of a legal duty on the part of the defendant state officials," the Supreme Court later found abrogation of Eleventh Amendment immunity in civil rights statutes enacted to enforce rights guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment.

The Supreme Court explained the sustainability of such suits in Hafer v. Melo, 502 U.S. 21, 31, 112 S.Ct. 358, 116 L.Ed.2d 301 (1991), a suit against the auditor-general of Pennsylvania for allegedly unconstitutional firings of subordinates on the basis of their political affiliation, holding that "state officials, sued in their individual capacities, are `persons' within the meaning of § 1983. The Eleventh Amendment does not bar such suits, nor are state officers absolutely immune from personal liability under § 1983 solely by virtue of the `official' nature of their acts." The Supreme Court went on to hold that qualified immunity, and not Eleventh Amendment immunity, provided the proper framework for analyzing the defenses of government officers in their personal capacities from suit.

To be sure, imposing personal liability on state officers may hamper their performance of public duties. But such concerns are properly addressed within the framework of our personal immunity jurisprudence. Insofar as respondents seek damages against [the auditor-general] personally, the Eleventh Amendment does not restrict their ability to sue in federal court.


Defendants sued in their individual capacity remain liable for any violation of the plaintiffs' constitutional rights, even if their actions were taken in full conformity with state law. Farid v. Smith, 850 F.2d 917, 923 (2d Cir.1988). Such a rule protects the federal constitution's status as the supreme law of the land. Id. As the plaintiffs have sued the state defendants in their individual capacities only, and alleged claims under § 1983, and describe their damages as directed against the state defendants personally, the Eleventh Amendment does not bar their claims and this Court has subject matter jurisdiction.

To the extent that the plaintiffs' claim is that the...

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  • Bouchard v. State Emps. Ret. Comm'n
    • United States
    • Connecticut Supreme Court
    • February 2, 2018
    ...retirement was not finalized as of that date.In August, 2009, after the federal class action was dismissed; see Belanger v. Blum , 628 F.Supp.2d 260, 267 (D. Conn. 2009) ; the plaintiffs followed a series of administrative steps before the commission in an unsuccessful effort to challenge i......

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