Hodgson v. Mississippi Dept. of Corrections

Decision Date30 April 1997
Docket NumberNo. 93-C-819.,93-C-819.
Citation963 F.Supp. 776
PartiesAlbert HODGSON, Individually and as heir-at-law and personal representative of Monique Hodgson, Plaintiff, v. MISSISSIPPI DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, Eddie Lucas, Individually and as Commissioner, and Jo Bennett, Individually and as Administrator, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of Wisconsin

Karma S. Rodgers, Butler Rodgers Law Offices, Milwaukee, WI, for plaintiff.

John L. Clay, Geoffrey C. Morgan, Leonard C. Vincent, Mississippi Attorney General, Jackson, MS, for defendants.


CURRAN, District Judge.

Albert Hodgson commenced the above-captioned case seeking money damages for the loss of society and companionship of his minor daughter, Monique, who was murdered in Wisconsin by a parolee from Mississippi. Hodgson claims that the Mississippi Department of Corrections, its former Commissioner, Eddie Lucas, and its former Interstate Compact Administrator, Jo Bennett1, caused his daughter's death by failing to comply with the Uniform Act for Out-of-State Parolee Supervision2 when John Bracey Smith, a parolee under their supervision, relocated to Wisconsin.3 The Plaintiff summarizes the claims in his Third Amended Complaint as follows:

1. For wrongful death:

a. Against the Mississippi Department of Corrections;

b. Against Eddie Lucas in his official capacity;

c. Against Jo Bennett in her official capacity.

2. For denial of civil rights under 42 U.S.C.1983:

a. Against Eddie Lucas individually;

b. Against Jo Bennett individually.

Brief Opposing Revised and Comprehensive Motion to Dismiss at 5. Hodgson maintains that this court has diversity and federal question jurisdiction over the subject matter of his claims. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 & 1332.

The Defendants have answered and denied liability. After their prior motions to dismiss were not resolved on the merits because the Plaintiff's motions to amend his complaint were granted, they once again moved to dismiss the Third Amended Complaint. The Defendants have raised affirmative defenses of Eleventh Amendment immunity, qualified immunity and lack of personal jurisdiction which are dispositive of Hodgson's action in this court. See Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b).


This is a case in which a citizen of Wisconsin is attempting to sue an agency and two officials of another state. Under these circumstances, the Defendants contend that the claims against the Mississippi Department of Corrections and against the individuals in their official capacities are barred by the immunity conferred upon states by the Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution, which provides that:

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 or by Citizens or Subjects of any foreign state.

U.S. Const. amend. XI.

The Seventh Circuit considers Eleventh Amendment immunity to be a jurisdictional bar. See Crosetto v. State Bar of Wisconsin, 12 F.3d 1396, 1401 & n. 8 (7th Cir.1993), cert. denied, 511 U.S. 1129, 114 S.Ct. 2138, 128 L.Ed.2d 867 (1994). "When ruling on a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), the court must accept as true all well-pleaded factual allegations and draw reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff." Ezekiel v. Michel, 66 F.3d 894, 897 (7th Cir.1995). Parties asserting that they are entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity have the burden of proving their immunity by a preponderance of the evidence. See Deep Sea Research, Inc. v. The Brother Jonathan, 102 F.3d 379, 386 (9th Cir.1996), petition for cert. filed, 65 U.S.L.W. 3631 (U.S. March 4, 1997) (No. 96-1400); ITSI TV Productions, Inc. v. Agricultural Associations, 3 F.3d 1289, 1292 (9th Cir.1993). In resolving a motion to dismiss based upon a claim of sovereign immunity or lack of subject matter jurisdiction, the court must accept the Complaint's well-pleaded factual allegations as true and draw reasonable inferences from these allegations in the Plaintiff's favor. See Rueth v. EPA, 13 F.3d 227, 229 (7th Cir.1993). The parties here, however, also submitted evidentiary materials addressed to the sovereign immunity question. In such a case, the district court may properly look beyond the jurisdictional allegations of the Complaint and view whatever evidence has been submitted on the issue to determine whether the Defendants are entitled to immunity. See Capitol Leasing Co. v. FDIC, 999 F.2d 188, 191 (7th Cir.1993).

The scope of Eleventh Amendment immunity is a question of federal law. See Miller-Davis Company v. Illinois State Toll Highway Authority, 567 F.2d 323, 330 (7th Cir.1977). Although the language of the Eleventh Amendment refers only to the State itself, the Supreme Court has held that it also bars actions against a state agency in federal court for money damages when "the state is the real, substantial party in interest." Pennhurst State School & Hospital v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 101, 104 S.Ct. 900, 908, 79 L.Ed.2d 67 (1984). A state agency is entitled to the same Eleventh Amendment immunity enjoyed by the State itself when a judgment against the agency "would have had essentially the same practical consequences as a judgment against the State itself." Lake Country Estates, Inc. v. Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, 440 U.S. 391, 401, 99 S.Ct. 1171, 1177, 59 L.Ed.2d 401 (1979).

In Benning v. Board of Regents of Regency Universities, 928 F.2d 775 (7th Cir.1991), the Seventh Circuit explained the factors which should be considered in determining whether a state entity is an arm of the state:

In determining whether a state entity should be dealt with as an arm of the sovereign, the critical inquiry is whether a judgment would deplete the state treasury. See Edelman v. Jordan, 415 U.S. 651, 663, 94 S.Ct. 1347, 1356, 39 L.Ed.2d 662 (1974) ("a suit by private parties seeking to impose a liability which must be paid from public funds in the state treasury is barred by the Eleventh Amendment"); Dugan v. Rank, 372 U.S. 609, 620, 83 S.Ct. 999, 1006, 10 L.Ed.2d 15 (1963) ("The general rule is that a suit is against the sovereign if `the judgment would expend itself on the public treasury or domain ....'" (quoting Land v. Dollar, 330 U.S. 731, 738, 67 S.Ct. 1009, 1012, 91 L.Ed. 1209 (1947))). Other factors to consider are whether the state entity can sue and be sued, whether it performs an essential governmental function and whether it enjoys a substantial degree of political independence from the state. See Ranyard v. Board of Regents, 708 F.2d 1235, 1238 (7th Cir.1983).

Benning v. Board of Regents of Regency Universities, 928 F.2d at 777. See also Thiel v. State Bar of Wisconsin, 94 F.3d 399, 400-02 (7th Cir.1996); Crosetto v. State Bar of Wisconsin, 12 F.3d 1396, 1401-03 (7th Cir. 1993), cert. denied, 511 U.S. 1129, 114 S.Ct. 2138, 128 L.Ed.2d 867 (1994).

In this case, the Plaintiff is suing the Mississippi Department of Corrections, which the Defendants contend is an arm of the State of Mississippi. Thus, the court must determine whether the Defendants have met their burden of establishing Eleventh Amendment immunity for the Department under the legal principles set forth in Benning.

Chapter 5 of Title 47 of the Mississippi Code, entitled "Correctional System Operation, Management and Personnel," sets forth the powers and duties of the Department of Corrections. See Miss.Code Ann. §§ 47-5-1 to 47-5-805. The enumerated powers and duties reveal that the Department performs the normal and essential governmental function of administering state correctional facilities for adult offenders and services for parolees. See Miss.Code Ann. § 47-5-10. The chapter does not accord the Department independent status.

While Mississippi has evinced a policy objective of having its prison system be self-sustaining by utilizing inmates for prison construction, see Miss.Code Ann. § 47-5-1, any monetary recovery made by a claimant such as Hodgson would have to be paid from the state's general revenues. See Defendants' Revised and Comprehensive Motion to Dismiss at Exhibit A (Affidavit of David Mitchell) & Exhibit B (Affidavit of Edward L. Ranck). See also Miss.Code Ann. § 7-9-21 (1972). And, although it appears that the Department can be sued in Mississippi state courts,4 see Miss.Code Ann. § 47-5-805, the Plaintiff has cited no federal case involving a tort suit against the Department or its officials that was found permissible under the Eleventh Amendment. Based upon this showing, the court concludes that the Mississippi Department of Corrections is an arm of the state and is entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity.5 See Adden v. Middlebrooks, 688 F.2d 1147, 1153-54 (7th Cir.1982) (holding that the Department of Corrections of the State of Louisiana is an arm of the state entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity). In the absence of waiver, Hodgson is barred from suing the Department for money damages in federal court. See generally Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 106 S.Ct. 2932, 92 L.Ed.2d 209 (1986); Brunken v. Lance, 807 F.2d 1325 (7th Cir.1986).

Defendants Eddie Lucas and Jo Bennett, sued in their official capacities, are also protected by the Eleventh Amendment. See Walker v. Rowe, 791 F.2d 507, 508 (7th Cir.), cert. denied, 479 U.S. 994, 107 S.Ct. 597, 93 L.Ed.2d 597 (1986); Jensen v. State Board of Tax Commissioners of the State of Indiana, 763 F.2d 272, 276 (7th Cir.1985). The Seventh Circuit has explained that "a suit against a public servant `in his official capacity' imposes liability on the entity he represents," and therefore, is a suit against the state, barred by the Eleventh Amendment. Darryl H. v. Coler, 801 F.2d 893, 906 (7th Cir.1986).


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