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IMMUNITY U.S. CONSTITUTION AMENDMENT 11 & 42 U.S.C. § 1983 - EX PARTE STATE OF ALABAMA BOARD OF EDUC.

Ex parte State of Alabama Board of Educ., [Ms. 1150366, Sept. 9, 2016] __ So. 3d __ (Ala. 2016). This plurality opinion (Parker, J., and Stuart, Main, and Wise, JJ., concur; Bolin, Murdock, Shaw, and Bryan, JJ., concur in the result) reviews assertions of federal immunity by the Alabama State Board of Education, the State Superintendent of Education, and the State Intervention Chief Financial Officer through their petition for a writ of mandamus seeking an order directing the Jefferson Circuit Court to vacate its order denying their motions to dismiss.

The Court first determines that the State Board of Education, an agency of the State of Alabama (Ms. *22-3, citing State Board of Education v. Mullins, 31 So. 3d 91, 96 (Ala. 2009)) is entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity from 42 U.S.C. § 1983 liability claims in the absence of its consent to suit. Ms. *22, citing Alabama State University v. Danley, [Ms. 1140907, Apr. 8, 2016], __ So. 3d __, __ (Ala. 2016).

The Court next determines that the superintendent and State chief financial officer are immune to requests for money damages by the Eleventh Amendment as well. Ms. *23, quoting Ex parte Retirement Sys. of Alabama, 182 So. 3d 527, 538 (Ala. 2015)("[c]laims for monetary relief against State officials in their official capacities are barred by the Eleventh Amendment.").

However, claims against the superintendent and financial officer seeking prospective injunctive relief are not subject to Eleventh Amendment immunity pursuant to Lane v. Central Alabama Community College, 772 F.3d 1349 (11th Cir. 2014). Ms. *24-5.

Next, the Court holds that claims against the superintendent and financial officer in their personal capacities are not protected by the Eleventh Amendment per Jackson v. Georgia Dep't of Transp., 16 F.3d 1573 (11th Cir. 1994). Ms. *25. The superintendent and financial officer are entitled to qualified immunity from § 1983 claims when the conduct does not "violate clearly established statutory constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known." Ms. *25-6, quoting Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818, 102 S.Ct. 2727, 73 L.Ed. 2d 396 (1982) and Ex parte Alabama Dep't of Youth Servs., 880 So. 2d 393, 402 (Ala. 2003). Should the State actors sued in their individual capacity demonstrate they were acting within their discretionary authority, the burden shifts to show that qualified immunity is not appropriate. Ms. *26, citing Gonzalez v. Reno, 325 F.3d 1228 (11th Cir. 2003). To determine if a right is "clearly established" within the meaning of Harlow v. Fitzgerald, supra, the Court considers "whether preexisting law at the time of the alleged acts provided fair warning ... that their actions were unconstitutional." Ms. *27, citing Hope v. Pelzer, 536 U.S. 730 (2002) and Wilson v. Layne, 526 U.S. 603 (1999).

In conclusion, the Court grants the petition in part and issues a writ directing the Jefferson Circuit Court to vacate its order denying the motion to dismiss and to enter an order dismissing the § 1983 claims against the State Board of Education, dismissing the § 1983 claims against the superintendent and financial officer in their official capacities insofar as the claims seek money damages, and dismissing the § 1983 claims against the superintendent and financial officer in their individual capacities. The Court denies the petition to the extent claims were asserted against the superintendent and financial officer in their official capacities seeking prospective injunctive relief.

Related Documents: Ex parte State of Alabama Board of Education

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