Mowbray v. Kozlowski, Civ. A. No. 89-0014-H.

Decision Date25 October 1989
Docket NumberCiv. A. No. 89-0014-H.
CourtU.S. District Court — Western District of Virginia
PartiesLusby MOWBRAY, Sadie Mowbray, et al., individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs, v. Bruce U. KOZLOWSKI, individually and in his official capacity as Director of the Virginia Department of Medical Assistance, et al., Defendants.

John M.A. DiPippa and John E. Whitfield, Blue Ridge Legal Services, Inc., Harrisonburg, Va., Claire E. Curry, Charlottesville-Albemarle Legal Aid Soc., Charlottesville, Va., Jeanne Finberg, Nat. Sr. Citizens Law Center, Los Angeles, Cal., Margaret T. Schenck, Client Centered Legal Services of Southwest Va., Inc., Castlewood, Va., and James W. Speer, Central Va. Legal Aid Soc., Inc., Richmond, Va., for plaintiffs.

Virginia Manhard, Asst. Atty. Gen., Richmond, Va., E. Montgomery Tucker, Asst. U.S. Atty., Roanoke, Va., and David R. Smith, Office of General Counsel, Dept. of Health and Human Services, Washington, D.C., for defendants.


MICHAEL, District Judge.

Plaintiffs in this case seek a declaration that the Commonwealth of Virginia's Medicaid eligibility guidelines violate Title XIX of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1396, et seq., that the Commonwealth's resource methodologies applied to Qualified Medicare Beneficiaries also violate Title XIX, and that the Virginia Medicaid Eligibility Appeals Board's refusal to consider arguments concerning federal law during administrative appeals violates both Title XIX and plaintiffs' rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. Plaintiffs seek to have this declared a class action, and they additionally seek injunctive relief and attorney's fees. Currently before the court are motions to dismiss, or in the alternative for summary judgment, filed by the defendants, plaintiffs' cross motion for summary judgment, and plaintiffs' motion for certification of a class action. These claims are brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and this court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1343(3). Declaratory relief is authorized by 28 U.S.C. § 2201. The issues have been exhaustively briefed, and the parties were heard at oral argument on August 9, 1989. This case is now ripe for disposition. For the reasons detailed more fully below, the court will certify this case as a class action and grant the plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment.

The four original plaintiffs in this case have been joined by an additional six, and two of the original named plaintiffs have been dismissed as they have become eligible for Medicaid in the interim. Thus, there are currently eight named plaintiffs. The original defendant is the Director of the Virginia Department of Medical Assistance Services ("DMAS"), sued in both his personal and official capacities (the "state defendant"). On February 10, 1989, after hearing oral argument from both sides, the court granted the plaintiffs' application under Rule 65, Fed.R.Civ.P., for a temporary restraining order preventing the defendant from applying to the named plaintiffs a Medicaid resource methodology any more restrictive than that allowed by SSI. By agreement of counsel this order has been continued in effect pending the resolution of the issues currently before the court. Also at the February hearing, the court directed that the Secretary of Health and Human Services (the "federal defendant") be joined as a party defendant.

I Preliminary Matters

Before proceeding to the merits of the statutory claim several procedural matters must be disposed of. The state defendant has moved to dismiss the action against him on two grounds. First, he argues that the suit against him in his official capacity should be dismissed as a suit against the state in violation of the Eleventh Amendment's bar of sovereign immunity. This claim is easily disposed of. "`Official-capacity actions for prospective relief are not treated as actions against the state.'" Will v. Michigan Dept. of State Police, ___ U.S. ___, 109 S.Ct. 2304, 2311 n. 10, 105 L.Ed.2d 45 (1989), quoting Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 167, 105 S.Ct. 3099, 3106, 87 L.Ed.2d 114 (1985). See, e.g., Virginia Hospital Assoc. v. Baliles, 868 F.2d 653, 662 (4th Cir.), cert. granted, ___ U.S. ___, 110 S.Ct. 49, 107 L.Ed.2d 18 (1989). Since plaintiffs in the present case seek only prospective, injunctive relief the Eleventh Amendment is not implicated. That this prospective, injunctive relief may have a substantial impact on the Commonwealth's treasury does not alter the situation. "Relief that serves directly to bring an end to a present violation of federal law is not barred by the Eleventh Amendment even though accompanied by a substantial ancillary effect on the state treasury." Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 278, 106 S.Ct. 2932, 2940, 92 L.Ed.2d 209 (1986) (citations omitted). The state defendant's motion to dismiss the case against him in his official capacity will be denied.

Secondly, the state defendant seeks to have the case against him in his personal capacity dismissed; this requires the court to plumb murkier depths. The state defendant's first contention is that the amended complaint fails to state a claim against him in his individual capacity. What has been called the "fiction" of Ex parte Young, 209 U.S. 123, 28 S.Ct. 441, 52 L.Ed. 714 (1908), is that when an official acts outside of the law he is stripped of his official position and is treated as an individual, and thus subject to personal liability for his previously "official" actions. Virginia Hospital Assoc., 868 F.2d at 662, makes it clear that the doctrine of Young is alive and well, and that it is the proper method under which to analyze this type of case. While it is true that the plaintiffs do not seek monetary relief from the defendant in his personal capacity, that does not mean that they do not state a claim against him. The state defendant's motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), Fed.R.Civ.P., is denied.

The state defendant's second contention is that he is entitled to a qualified immunity under Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 102 S.Ct. 2727, 73 L.Ed.2d 396 (1982) and Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U.S. 511, 105 S.Ct. 2806, 86 L.Ed.2d 411 (1985), and the case should therefore be dismissed. Plaintiffs argue that since no damages are sought from the defendant, the suit seeking only injunctive relief, the doctrine of qualified immunity is inapplicable.

Under Harlow, state officials are protected by qualified immunity if the conduct complained of by the plaintiffs "did not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person should have been aware." Giancola v. West Virginia Dept. of Pub. Safety, 830 F.2d 547, 550 (4th Cir.1987). As initially stated, qualified immunity provided officials protection from suits for damages. Harlow, 457 U.S. at 806, 102 S.Ct. at 2732. However, in Mitchell, the court spoke in more expansive language. Qualified immunity is "immunity from suit rather than a mere defense to liability; and like absolute immunity it is effectively lost if a case is erroneously permitted to go to trial." Mitchell, 472 U.S. at 526, 105 S.Ct. at 2815. Basing his argument on this language, the state defendant argues that qualified immunity bars all suits against him, even those that seek only equitable relief.

Few courts have addressed the question of whether qualified immunity bars suits against officials in their individual capacity which seek only injunctive relief. See Akins v. Board of Gov. of State Colleges and Univ., 840 F.2d 1371, 1378 (7th Cir.), vacated on other grounds, ___ U.S. ___, 109 S.Ct. 299, 102 L.Ed.2d 319 (1988) (court notes sparsity of cases and questions lower court's conclusion that qualified immunity applies in such suits). However, it appears to the court that qualified immunity should not bar this type of case. As a starting point, several of the Circuit Courts have noted that qualified immunity is inapplicable in actions seeking equitable relief. See, De Abadia v. Izquierdo Mora, 792 F.2d 1187, 1188 n. 1 (1st Cir.1986) ("Qualified immunity is, of course, no defense to equitable relief"); Tubbesing v. Arnold, 742 F.2d 401, 403-404 (8th Cir.1984) (qualified immunity would entitle defendant to summary judgment on damages, but the defendant "would still be required to defend itself in any trial involving ... equitable relief"). The Fourth Circuit has reached the same conclusion. Bever v. Gilbertson, 724 F.2d 1083, 1086 (4th Cir.), cert. denied, 469 U.S. 948, 105 S.Ct. 349, 83 L.Ed.2d 285 (1984) ("The appellants have no immunity from being put to trial on the equitable claims"). See, e.g., Young v. Lynch, 846 F.2d 960, 962 (4th Cir.1988); Rowley v. McMillan, 502 F.2d 1326, 1332 (4th Cir. 1974).

While the language in these cases at first appears dispositive, all of them involved suits against officials in both their personal and official capacities and the context of the quotations does not make clear to what capacity the prohibition applies. However, it is settled that qualified immunity can only be raised in personal capacity suits; it is not available to persons sued in their official capacity. Graham, 473 U.S. at 167, 105 S.Ct. at 3105-06. Therefore, when the court in Bever said that qualified immunity did not bar trials in suits seeking only equitable relief, it must have meant suits brought against an official in his personal capacity. The state defendant's motion to dismiss the suit against him in his personal capacity on the basis of qualified immunity must, therefore, be dismissed since qualified immunity is not available where only equitable relief is sought.

The federal defendant has moved to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), arguing that the amended complaint fails to state a claim against him. The plaintiffs do not oppose this motion. Ordinarily, the court would not deny such an unopposed motion; however, the Secretary was joined on the court's...

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