Hudson v. City of New Orleans, 96-30964

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
Citation174 F.3d 677
Docket NumberNo. 96-30964,96-30964
PartiesKeith HUDSON, Plaintiff-Appellant, Unidentified Parties, Defendants-Appellees, v. CITY OF NEW ORLEANS; District Attorney's Office; Susan Richardson; Maurice Landrieu, Defendants-Appellees.
Decision Date13 May 1999

William Francis Wessel, Charlotte Ann Lagarde, Wessel & Associates, New Orleans, LA, for District Attorney's Office, Richardson and Landrieu.

Appeals from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana.

Before REYNALDO G. GARZA, STEWART and PARKER, Circuit Judges.

STEWART, Circuit Judge:

The question before us is whether the Orleans Parish District Attorney's Office is an arm of the state of Louisiana and therefore immune from suit in federal court under the Eleventh Amendment. We find that it is not, and REVERSE the decision of the district court.

FACTUAL & PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

In 1994, Plaintiff-appellant Keith Hudson was convicted in Louisiana state court for battery and illegal possession of a firearm. After conviction and while an inmate, Hudson filed a federal lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging several civil rights violations based on the circumstances surrounding his February 22, 1994 arrest and subsequent detention. One of the defendants named was the Orleans Parish District Attorney's Office.

In July 1995, the magistrate judge recommended that Hudson's claim against the Orleans Parish District Attorney's Office be dismissed on grounds of Eleventh Amendment immunity. The magistrate judge reasoned that the Orleans Parish District Attorney's office was an office within the state government, and so was entitled to this immunity. The district court agreed, and entered a judgment in favor of the defendants in August 1995.

Hudson appealed this decision, along with several other decisions the district court had made with respect to other defendants in the lawsuit, to this Court. We severed the issue of Eleventh Amendment immunity from the other questions presented for review, and then remanded this issue for further development of both the evidentiary record and the law bearing on the entitlement to immunity. In particular, we noted that the question presented would be governed by the six-factor test we established in Clark v. Tarrant County, 798 F.2d 736, 744-45 (5th Cir.1986), and that in its Clark analysis the district court should defer to Louisiana's interpretation of its statutes and case law. Those factors are:

1. Whether the state statutes and case law view the agency as an arm of the state;

2. The source of the entity's funding;

3. The entity's degree of local autonomy;

4. Whether the entity is concerned primarily with local as opposed to statewide, problems;

5. Whether the entity has the authority to sue and be sued in its own name; and

6. Whether the entity has the right to hold and use property.

Id.

After holding an evidentiary hearing, the magistrate judge issued a recommendation urging the district court again to dismiss Hudson's case on Eleventh Amendment grounds. As we had required, the magistrate analyzed Defendant-appellee Orleans Parish District Attorney's office's entitlement to immunity under the Clark factors. He concluded that: (1) in accordance with the Louisiana Supreme Court's opinion in Diaz v. Allstate Ins. Co., 433 So.2d 699 (La.1983), the Orleans Parish District Attorney's office is under state control; (2) it is unclear who would be liable to pay a judgment against the office; (3) the office does not enjoy local autonomy; (4) the Orleans Parish District Attorney's office is primarily concerned with state rather than local concerns; (5) a suit against the office necessarily raises claims against the District Attorney in his official capacity; (6) and that the office holds and uses property titled both in the name of the City of New Orleans and in the name of the State of Louisiana.

The district court subsequently adopted the magistrate's opinion with additional comments, and dismissed Hudson's claim. Most importantly, the district court rejected part of the magistrate's analysis under the first prong of the Clark test, and noted

that the Louisiana's Supreme Court's opinion in Diaz had been legislatively overruled. The district court nevertheless ruled that Diaz did not alter the outcome of the case, and again ordered Hudson's claim against the Orleans Parish District Attorney's office be dismissed.

DISCUSSION
I

Before directly addressing the Eleventh Amendment issue, we pause for a moment to consider how this suit was pled in federal district court. Among other defendants, Hudson brought this § 1983 suit against the Orleans Parish District Attorney's office. However, Louisiana law does not permit a district attorney's office to be sued in its own name. See LA. CONST. art. V, § 24. Rather, it requires that the claim be brought against the district attorney in his official capacity. See Riley v. Evangeline Parish Sheriff's Office, 637 So.2d 395 (La.1994) (treating a claim against a Sheriff's Office as actually one against the Sheriff in his official capacity). Because we generally follow state law on this issue, see FED.R.CIV.P. 17(b); Gegenheimer v. Galan, 920 F.2d 307, 310 (5th Cir.1991), the district court treated the claim as one against District Attorney Harry F. Connick, in his official capacity as District Attorney for the Parish of New Orleans. Both parties argue that this treatment was correct.

We agree, although we point out that for purposes of the Eleventh Amendment we do not generally distinguish between suits brought against an entity and suits brought against the entity's officers in their official capacity. See Hafer v. Melo, 502 U.S. 21, 25, 112 S.Ct. 358, 116 L.Ed.2d 301 (1991); Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 166, 105 S.Ct. 3099, 87 L.Ed.2d 114 (1985) ("[A]s long as the government entity receives notice and an opportunity to respond, an official-capacity suit is, in all respects other than name, to be treated as a suit against the entity."). The sole exception to this rule is when the plaintiff seeks prospective relief. See Darlak v. Bobear, 814 F.2d 1055, 1060-61 (5th Cir.1987) (observing that the Ex Parte Young, 209 U.S. 123, 28 S.Ct. 441, 52 L.Ed. 714 (1908) exception to the Eleventh Amendment applies when a suit is brought against a state official, as opposed to a state entity, challenging the constitutionality of his action, and the relief involved is prospective); Voisin's Oyster House, Inc. v. Guidry, 799 F.2d 183, 188 (5th Cir.1986). The plaintiff in this case does not meet this exception as he is seeking retroactive monetary relief. See Darlak, 814 F.2d at 1062 n. 7.

Thus, while the nominal defendant is the Orleans Parish District Attorney's office, for all purposes except our Eleventh Amendment analysis the court will consider the defendant as being District Attorney Harry Connick in his official capacity.

II

Hudson argued to the district court, and again urges on appeal, that we have already decided in Mairena v. Foti, 816 F.2d 1061, 1064 n. 1 (5th Cir.1987) that the Orleans Parish District Attorney's office is not protected by the Eleventh Amendment. Mairena involved a § 1983 lawsuit brought against the Orleans Parish District Attorney in his official capacity. In a footnote we explained that we did not see any basis to distinguish Crane v. Texas, 766 F.2d 193 (5th Cir.1985) (holding that Texas district attorneys were not protected by the Eleventh Amendment). See Mairena, 816 F.2d at 1064 n. 1. Consequently, we held that district attorneys in Louisiana are not arms of the state and not entitled to sovereign immunity under the Eleventh Amendment.

Hudson claims that our Mairena decision is binding precedent, and can only be overruled by an en banc court. Because we hold that the Mairena decision was correct, we need not address Hudson's contention. Several district courts, including

the one below, have argued that Mairena 's precedential value is questionable, however, because there we had not applied the six-factor Clark test. Additionally, we have held that "analogies between like entities cannot replace consideration of the six relevant factors." Flores v. Cameron County, Texas, 92 F.3d 258, 268 (5th Cir.1996); see also McDonald v. Board of Mississippi Levee Commissioners, 832 F.2d 901, 908 (5th Cir.1987). We therefore take this opportunity to clarify why the Eleventh Amendment does not immunize the Orleans Parish District Attorney's office.

III

Generally speaking, the Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution prevents states from being sued in federal court. Underneath this perhaps simple statement, however, lies great ambiguity. See John C. Jeffries, Jr., In Praise of the Eleventh Amendment and Section 1983, 84 VA. L. REV . 47, 47 (1998) ("As everyone knows, the Eleventh Amendment is a mess") (omitting footnote). At the heart of this case is the issue of what is included in the term "state." The view that the amendment only prevents the state from being a named defendant to a federal action was rejected long ago. Instead, a "suit may nonetheless be barred by the Eleventh Amendment if the state is the real, substantial party in interest because the suit seeks to impose a liability which must be paid from public funds in the state treasury." See, e.g., Pendergrass v. The Greater New Orleans Expressway Commission, 144 F.3d 342, 344 (5th Cir.1998) (citing Edelman v. Jordan, 415 U.S. 651, 663, 94 S.Ct. 1347, 39 L.Ed.2d 662 (1974)).

Of course, identifying when the state is a real, substantial party in interest is often not an easy task. Courts are frequently put in the position of deciding whether the defendant being sued is better described as an arm of the state partaking in the privileges of Eleventh Amendment immunity or whether the defendant is actually part of a...

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