Kilvitis v. County of Luzerne

Decision Date25 June 1999
Docket NumberNo. 3:CV-98-1824.,3:CV-98-1824.
PartiesMary KILVITIS, Plaintiff, v. COUNTY OF LUZERNE, Court of Common Pleas of Luzerne County, and James Tupper, District Justice.
CourtU.S. District Court — Middle District of Pennsylvania
52 F.Supp.2d 403
Mary KILVITIS, Plaintiff,
v.
COUNTY OF LUZERNE, Court of Common Pleas of Luzerne County, and James Tupper, District Justice.
No. 3:CV-98-1824.
United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania.
June 25, 1999.

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Kimberly D. Boreland, Wilkes — Barre, PA, for plaintiff.

Mary C. Keane, Philadelphia, PA, for defendant.

MEMORANDUM

VANASKIE, District Judge.


On November 6, 1998, plaintiff Mary Kilvitis (Kilvitis) filed this action against defendants County of Luzerne, Court of Common Pleas of Luzerne County, and District Justice James Tupper (Tupper), contending that the defendants violated her rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), 29 U.S.C. § 2601, et seq. (Dkt. Entry 1.) Claims were asserted against each of the defendants under the FMLA and the Civil Rights Act of 1871, 42 U.S.C. § 1983. On February 5, 1999, defendants Court of Common Pleas of Luzerne County and District Justice James Tupper filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings, asserting, inter alia, that because they are state instrumentalities, the Eleventh Amendment barred Kilvitis' claims against them. (Dkt. Entry 8.)

Whether the Eleventh Amendment precludes an FMLA action against a state governmental entity is apparently an issue of first impression in this Circuit. The majority of courts in other jurisdictions have concluded that Congress did not effectively abrogate Eleventh Amendment immunity in enacting the FMLA. I find the majority rationale persuasive. Because the FMLA did not effectively abrogate Eleventh Amendment immunity, defendant Court of Common Pleas of Luzerne County's motion for judgment on the pleadings will be granted as to the FMLA claim. For the same reasons, Tupper's motion for judgment on the pleadings will be granted on Kilvitis' official capacity FMLA claim against him. However, because the FMLA provides for individual liability, Tupper's motion for judgment on the pleadings will be denied with respect to Kilvitis' individual capacity FMLA claim against him.

Tupper and Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas have also moved for dismissal of the § 1983 claim. Because the FMLA provides a comprehensive remedial framework, enforcement of alleged FMLA violations through a § 1983 action is foreclosed. Therefore, defendants' motion for judgment on the pleadings will be granted as to Kilvitis' § 1983 claim.

I. BACKGROUND

Kilvitis was employed by Luzerne County as a secretary in the District Justice system from 1981 through 1990, when she voluntarily left her employment. (Complaint (Dkt. Entry 1) ¶ 12-13.) In 1992, Kilvitis was rehired by Luzerne County and the Court of Common Pleas of Luzerne County as a "floater secretary." (Id. ¶ 14.) In August of 1994, Kilvitis was assigned to Tupper's office. (Id. ¶ 15.) On September 7, 1996, Kilvitis was diagnosed as suffering from "severe anxiety." (Id. ¶ 17.) On September 17, 1996, Kilvitis sought and received medical leave from her employment based upon her medical condition. (Id. ¶¶ 18-20, 23.) On October 8, 1996, Kilvitis sought and received an extension of her medical leave time. (Id. ¶ 27.)1 On November 5, 1996, Kilvitis received a third medical certification regarding her condition. (Id. Ex. C.)2 On November 8, 1996, Tupper terminated

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Kilvitis' employment. (Id. Ex. D.)3

II. DISCUSSION

A. Standard of Review

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c), any party may move for judgment after the pleadings are closed. Under Rule 12(c), a court must accept all factual averments as true and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party. See Society Hill Civic Ass'n v. Harris, 632 F.2d 1045, 1054 (3d Cir.1980). In deciding a Rule 12(c) motion, however, a court may take judicial notice of any matter of public record. Oshiver v. Levin, Fishbein, Sedran & Berman, 38 F.3d 1380, 1384 (3d Cir.1994). A party moving for judgment on the pleadings under Rule 12(c) must demonstrate that there are no disputed material facts and that judgment should be entered as a matter of law. See Jablonski v. Pan Am. World Airways, Inc., 863 F.2d 289, 290-91 (3d Cir.1988); Institute for Scientific Info., Inc. v. Gordon & Breach, 931 F.2d 1002, 1005 (3d Cir.), cert. denied, 502 U.S. 909, 112 S.Ct. 302, 116 L.Ed.2d 245 (1991). Judgment may only be entered where "no set of facts could be adduced to support the plaintiff's claim for relief." Bryson v. Brand Insulations, Inc., 621 F.2d 556, 559 (3d Cir.1980).

B. Defendant Court of Common Pleas of Luzerne County

1. Eleventh Amendment Immunity and the FMLA

The Eleventh Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America provides:

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 Eleventh Amendment prohibits suits against a state by its own citizens or citizens of another state. Hans v. Louisiana, 134 U.S. 1, 10 S.Ct. 504, 33 L.Ed. 842 (1890); see also Thomson v. Ohio State Univ. Hosp., 5 F.Supp.2d 574, 576 (S.D.Ohio 1998) ("It is well established that the Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution prevents a federal court from entertaining a suit brought by a citizen against his own state.").4 There are two circumstances in which the Eleventh Amendment will not bar suit against a state: (1) where a state has waived its immunity; and (2) where Congress has abrogated the states' Eleventh Amendment immunity. See College Sav. Bank v. Florida Prepaid Postsecondary Expense Bd., ___ U.S. ___, 119 S.Ct. 2219, 2222, ___ L.Ed.2d ___ (1999); Driesse v. Florida Bd. of Regents, 26 F.Supp.2d 1328, 1331 (M.D.Fla.1998); McGregor v. Goord, 18 F.Supp.2d 204, 205 (N.D.N.Y.1998); Thomson, 5 F.Supp.2d at 576; Biddlecome v. University of Tex., No. 96-1872, 1997 WL 124220, at *2 (S.D.Tex. Mar.13, 1997) (noting that there are only "two specific and deliberate mechanisms" that can abrogate the Eleventh Amendment). Kilvitis has not argued that Pennsylvania has waived its Eleventh Amendment

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sovereign immunity in relation to her claims. Rather, Kilvitis argues that Congress, in passing the FMLA, abrogated Pennsylvania's Eleventh Amendment immunity.

In order to find that Congress abrogated the states' Eleventh Amendment immunity, a court must find: (1) that Congress has "`unequivocally expresse[d] its intent to abrogate the immunity,'" and (2) that Congress acted pursuant to a valid exercise of its power. Seminole Tribe of Fla. v. Florida, 517 U.S. 44, 55, 116 S.Ct. 1114, 134 L.Ed.2d 252 (1996); see also Wheeling & Lake Erie Railway Co. v. Public Utility Comm'n of Pa., 141 F.3d 88, 91 (3d Cir.1998); College Sav. Bank v. Florida Prepaid Postsecondary Ed. Expense Bd., 131 F.3d 353, 357 (3d Cir.1997), aff'd, ___ U.S. ___, 119 S.Ct. 2219, ___ L.Ed.2d ___ (1999). Congressional intent to abrogate must be obvious, i.e., a clear legislative statement. Seminole Tribe, 517 U.S. at 55, 116 S.Ct. 1114; Wheeling, 141 F.3d at 92; College Sav. Bank, 131 F.3d at 357. For instance, in Seminole Tribe, the United States Supreme Court determined that the mere fact that Congress had authorized suit against a state in federal court was not sufficient to abrogate the Eleventh Amendment. Id. at 56, 116 S.Ct. 1114 (finding such authorization for suit against a state did not evince an "unmistakably clear" intent to abrogate the Eleventh Amendment).

In terms of the FMLA, the definition of an "employer" includes any "public agency" as defined in section 203(x) of Title 29. 29 U.S.C. § 2611(4)(A)(iii). Section 203(x), which is part of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), provides that a "public agency" includes "the government of a State or political subdivision thereof; any agency of ... a State, or political subdivision of a State." 29 U.S.C. § 203(x). Moreover, the FMLA provides an employee with the right to maintain a suit for damages "against any employer (including a public agency) in any Federal or State court of competent jurisdiction." 29 U.S.C. § 2617(a)(2). In considering this language, most district courts have found that these provisions provide sufficient evidence of Congress' intent to abrogate the Eleventh Amendment. See McGregor, 18 F.Supp.2d at 207 ("[T]his language functions as a clear statement of congressional intent to abrogate the states' immunity from suit under the Eleventh Amendment."); Thomson, 5 F.Supp.2d at 577 ("Congress clearly expressed an intention to abrogate the immunity of state governments to the FMLA when it included state and local governments as proper employer-defendants under the act."); Biddlecome, 1997 WL 124220, at *3 ("[T]his Court finds that Congress intended to abrogate state sovereign immunity under the FMLA and that this intent is present in the unmistakable language of the statute itself."); Jolliffe v. Mitchell, 986 F.Supp. 339, 342 (W.D.Va.1997) ("The FMLA clearly expresses an intent to abrogate sovereign immunity."); Knussman v. State of Md., 935 F.Supp. 659, 663 (D.Md.1996) (finding unequivocal textual evidence in the FMLA that Congress intended to abrogate the Eleventh Amendment). But see Driesse, 26 F.Supp.2d at 1331 ("Congress did not provide a clear statement of intent to abrogate sovereign immunity in the FMLA.").5

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Whether Congress evinced an intention to abrogate Eleventh Amendment immunity is a close call. A decision on this issue need not be made, however, because it is clear that, assuming such an intention, congressional abrogation of Eleventh Amendment immunity for FMLA suits exceeded congressional authority.

As to whether Congress acted within the scope of its authority, a three-part test must be conducted: (1) whether the statute may be regarded as an enactment to enforce the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment; (2) whether the statute is plainly adapted to its enforcement...

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