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Youngblood v. Deweese

December 18, 2003

ROSITA C. YOUNGBLOOD; PARENTS UNITED FOR BETTER SCHOOLS, INC.; PENN-KNOX NEIGHBORHOOD ASSOCIATION; BUDD HOUSE INC.; EDITH WEEKS, REVEREND; EDWINA BAKER
v.
H. WILLIAM DEWEESE; MICHAEL VEON, APPELLANTS



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania (D.C. Civil Action No. 02-cv-07683) District Judge: Honorable J. Curtis Joyner

Before: Scirica, Chief Judge, Nygaard and Ambro, Circuit Judges

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ambro, Circuit Judge

PRECEDENTIAL

Argued October 29, 2003

We decide whether two state representatives enjoy legislative immunity from another representative's claim that they unfairly allocated the legislature's office-staffing appropriation in violation of her civil rights. The Defendants-Appellants, Representatives H. William DeWeese and Michael Veon, appeal from the order of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania denying their motion to dismiss. We conclude that Representatives DeWeese and Veon's allocation of district office funds from the legislature's appropriation was a legislative act, and thus they are entitled to legislative immunity. Accordingly, we reverse.

I. Facts and Procedural Posture

The Pennsylvania House of Representatives annually appropriates funds to be used by state representatives for district office staffing and constituent service programs. The political party leadership, however, decides how this appropriation is allocated among individual representatives.

On October 3, 2002, Representative Youngblood, a Democrat, sued Representative DeWeese, the leader of the House Democratic Caucus, and Representative Veon, the House Democratic Whip, alleging that, in retaliation for her dissent against the party leadership, they denied her an adequate budget allocation for district office staffing and constituent services. Youngblood claimed that, in so doing, DeWeese and Veon violated her Fourteenth Amendment equal protection rights, which is actionable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

Representatives DeWeese and Veon moved to dismiss Representative Youngblood's complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), arguing that her claims are barred both by the doctrines of legislative immunity and sovereign immunity. They also argued that the individual and organizational constituents who joined Representative Youngblood's complaint lacked standing.

The District Court denied the motion to dismiss in a onepage order on February 14, 2003. In a footnote, the Court indicated that Representatives DeWeese and Veon are not protected by legislative or sovereign immunity, and that Youngblood's constituent co-plaintiffs have a legally cognizable injury sufficient to confer individual and associational standing. Representatives DeWeese and Veon filed this timely appeal from that order.

II. Jurisdiction and Standard of Review

We generally do not have jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291 to review interlocutory decisions such as the denial of a motion to dismiss. Under the Collateral Order Doctrine,*fn1 however, we have recognized exceptions to this rule. One well-established exception is for orders denying motions to dismiss for reasons of immunity. See, e.g., In re Montgomery County, 215 F.3d 367, 373 (3d Cir. 2000) (citing Nixon v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 731 (1982)). Thus, we have jurisdiction over the District Court's denial of DeWeese and Veon's motion to dismiss on immunity grounds.*fn2

Absolute legislative immunity is a pure legal question over which we exercise plenary ...


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