Church v. Missouri

Decision Date10 January 2019
Docket NumberNo. 17-2857,17-2857
Citation913 F.3d 736
Parties Shondel CHURCH; Randall Lee Dalton; Dorian Samuels; Viola Bowman; Brian Richman, Plaintiffs - Appellees v. State of MISSOURI; Michael L. Parson, in His Official Capacity as Governor of the State of Missouri, Defendants - Appellants Michael Barrett; H. Riley Bock; Charles R. Jackson; Craig Chval; A. Crista Hogan, Defendants
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Eighth Circuit

Counsel who presented argument on behalf of the appellants was D. John Sauer, of Jefferson City, MO. The following attorneys appeared on the appellant brief; Michael Martinich-Sauter and Joshua M. Divine of Jefferson City, MO.

Counsel who presented argument on behalf of the appellees was Matthew R. Shahabian, of Washington, DC. The following attorneys also appeared on the appellee brief; Anthony E. Rothert and Jessie M. Steffan, of Saint Louis, MO., Jason D. Williamson, of New York, NY., Gillian R. Wilcox, of Kansas City, MO., Amy E. Breihan, of Saint Louis, MO., Aaron Scherzer, Robert L. Sills and Camille J. Rosca of New York, NY., Easha Anand, Evan Rose, and Will Melehani of San Francisco, CA., James Maune of Irvine, CA., Marnee R. Rand of Washington, DC., and Anthony Tartaglio and Annie Prasad of Menlo Park, CA.

Before GRUENDER, MELLOY, and BENTON, Circuit Judges.

BENTON, Circuit Judge.

This is a class action against the State and governor of Missouri, the director of the Missouri State Public Defender office, and the commissioners of the Missouri State Public Defender Commission. The plaintiffs alleged that the State "has failed to meet its constitutional obligation to provide indigent defendants with meaningful representation." Invoking sovereign immunity, the State and governor moved to dismiss. The governor also invoked legislative immunity. The district court denied the motion. Church v. Missouri , 268 F.Supp.3d 992 (W.D. Mo. 2017). The director and commissioners do not appeal. Having jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291 through the collateral order doctrine,2 this court reverses and remands.


The Sixth Amendment guarantees indigent defendants in criminal cases the right to appointed counsel. Gideon v. Wainwright , 372 U.S. 335, 344-45, 83 S.Ct. 792, 9 L.Ed.2d 799 (1963). Because the right to counsel is "fundamental and essential to a fair trial," it is "protected against state invasion by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment." Id. at 341-42, 83 S.Ct. 792.

The State usually provides counsel through the Missouri State Public Defender. See State ex rel. Missouri Pub. Def. Comm’n v. Pratte , 298 S.W.3d 870, 875 (Mo. banc 2009) (indigent defense is "a duty which constitutionally is the burden of the State," and "[w]hen a defendant is found to be indigent in Missouri, the defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to counsel is usually met by the judge appointing the Office of State Public Defender ") (citation omitted). Here, the plaintiffs "were all charged with crimes in Missouri state court and, as a result of their indigency, were entitled to representation by the MSPD." They bring this lawsuit "on behalf of themselves and a putative class of all indigent defendants in criminal and juvenile proceedings in Missouri who are eligible for representation by the MSPD." The putative class does not include individuals seeking post-conviction relief. See Mo. Sup. Ct. R. 24.035(e), 29.15(e) (requiring appointment of counsel for all pro se, indigent, post-conviction movants).

The plaintiffs allege: "The State’s indigent defense budget is shockingly inadequate. ... Without sufficient funding, overstretched and under-resourced [MSPD] attorneys are forced to handle far too many cases and to devote far too few hours to each case." They argue they "have suffered and continue to suffer the denial of adequate counsel at critical stages of their criminal cases due to these systemic caseload problems among MSPD attorney." They seek "a declaratory judgment stating that their right to counsel is being violated and an order enjoining the ongoing violation of their rights and requiring Defendants to propose a remedial plan to the court."


The State of Missouri invokes sovereign immunity for itself. "This court reviews de novo questions of sovereign immunity." Fryberger , 889 F.3d at 473. "Sovereign immunity is the privilege of the sovereign not to be sued without its consent." Virginia Office for Prot. & Advocacy v. Stewart , 563 U.S. 247, 253, 131 S.Ct. 1632, 179 L.Ed.2d 675 (2011). The Eleventh Amendment is "one particular exemplification of that immunity." Federal Mar. Comm’n v. South Carolina State Ports Auth. , 535 U.S. 743, 753, 122 S.Ct. 1864, 152 L.Ed.2d 962 (2002). The State removed this case to federal court, waiving its Eleventh Amendment immunity. See Lapides v. Board of Regents of Univ. Sys. of Ga. , 535 U.S. 613, 624, 122 S.Ct. 1640, 152 L.Ed.2d 806 (2002) ("We conclude that the State’s action joining the removing of this case to federal court waived its Eleventh Amendment immunity").

But "[s]tates also enjoy a broader sovereign immunity, which applies against all private suits, whether in state or federal court." Beaulieu v. Vermont , 807 F.3d 478, 483 (2d Cir. 2015), citing Alden v. Maine , 527 U.S. 706, 713, 119 S.Ct. 2240, 144 L.Ed.2d 636 (1999) ("We have ... sometimes referred to the States’ immunity from suit as Eleventh Amendment immunity.’ The phrase is convenient shorthand but something of a misnomer, for the sovereign immunity of the States neither derives from, nor is limited by, the terms of the Eleventh Amendment."). The Supreme Court "has repeatedly held that the sovereign immunity enjoyed by the States extends beyond the literal text of the Eleventh Amendment." Fed. Mar. Comm’n , 535 U.S. at 754, 122 S.Ct. 1864.

"The preeminent purpose of state sovereign immunity is to accord States the dignity that is consistent with their status as sovereign entities." Id. at 760, 122 S.Ct. 1864. Developed at common law, "immunity from suit is a fundamental aspect of the sovereignty which the States enjoyed before the ratification of the Constitution." Alden , 527 U.S. at 713, 119 S.Ct. 2240. See also Nevada v. Hall , 440 U.S. 410, 414-16, 99 S.Ct. 1182, 59 L.Ed.2d 416 (1979) (explaining sovereign immunity’s common-law origins). "States entered the Union with their sovereign immunity intact, unlimited by Article III’s jurisdictional grant." Stewart , 563 U.S. at 253, 131 S.Ct. 1632. "The leading advocates of the Constitution assured the people in no uncertain terms that the Constitution would not strip the States of sovereign immunity." Alden , 527 U.S. at 716, 119 S.Ct. 2240. "The founding generation thought it ‘neither becoming nor convenient that the several States of the Union, invested with that large residuum of sovereignty which had not been delegated to the United States, should be summoned as defendants to answer the complaints of private persons.’ " Id. at 748, 119 S.Ct. 2240, quoting In re Ayers , 123 U.S. 443, 505, 8 S.Ct. 164, 31 L.Ed. 216 (1887).

"[N]either logic nor precedent supports the proposition that a state waives its general state sovereign immunity by removing an action from state court to federal court." Beaulieu , 807 F.3d at 486. Missouri’s state sovereign immunity applies unless "it is waived or a statutory or recognized common law exception, such as consent, is applicable." Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer Dist. v. City of Bellefontaine Neighbors , 476 S.W.3d 913, 914 (Mo. banc 2016). The plaintiffs assert both a waiver and a common-law exception, contending that sovereign immunity does not apply in Missouri when a plaintiff seeks prospective equitable relief to enforce the State’s affirmative duty or obligation.


Courts "give effect" to a state’s waiver of sovereign immunity "only where stated by the most express language or by such overwhelming implication from the text as [will] leave no room for any other reasonable construction.’ " Port Auth. Trans-Hudson Corp. v. Feeney , 495 U.S. 299, 305, 110 S.Ct. 1868, 109 L.Ed.2d 264 (1990), quoting Atascadero State Hosp. v. Scanlon , 473 U.S. 234, 239-40, 105 S.Ct. 3142, 87 L.Ed.2d 171 (1985). Express language does appear in section 537.600, RSMo 2016, which "carve[s] out limited exceptions [for negligent operation of motor vehicles and dangerous conditions of public property] to a general rule of immunity." Bellefontaine , 476 S.W.3d at 921.

Emphasizing two Missouri Court of Appeals opinions, the plaintiffs argue that sovereign immunity does not bar a claim for equitable relief to enforce the State’s affirmative "duty or obligation." In Wyman v. Missouri Department of Mental Health , 376 S.W.3d 16, 23 (Mo. App. 2012), the court of appeals said it "found no case which applies § 537.600 to a claim seeking only equitable relief." The Court of Appeals then stated that "sovereign immunity does not necessarily bar a claim for injunctive relief which seeks to reverse a state agency’s prior violation of its statutory obligations, or to prevent future violations." Wyman , 376 S.W.3d at 23. In 2018, the Court of Appeals–citing the district court’s decision here–quoted and followed Wyman . Missouri State Conf. of NAACP v. State , 563 S.W.3d 138, –––– (Mo. App. 2018).

Both the Wyman and NAACP opinions fail to address the abundant contrary Missouri authority on sovereign immunity. In 2016 and 2017, the Supreme Court of Missouri stated: "Sovereign immunity is the rule, not the exception." Bellefontaine , 476 S.W.3d at 914 ; Newsome v. Kansas City Mo. Sch. Dist. , 520 S.W.3d 769, 775 (Mo. banc 2017). Of critical importance here, the Missouri Supreme Court held that

in the absence of an express statutory exception to sovereign immunity, or a recognized common law exception such as the proprietary function and consent exceptions, sovereign immunity is the rule and applies to all suits against public entities.

Bellefontaine , 476 S.W.3d at 921-22 (emphasis added). Because—except for statutory and common-law...

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