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Lyons v. New Jersey Dep't of Transportation

November 13, 2008

JANE LYONS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
NEW JERSEY DEPT. OF TRANSPORTATION, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hillman, District Judge

OPINION

This matter comes before the Court upon defendants New Jersey Department of Transportation, Michael Seigfried, Jeffrey Palmer, Joseph Sacco, Ronald Maruca, Albert Malatesta, and Paul Hoffman's motion to dismiss.*fn1 Plaintiff's complaint, filed pro se, alleges discrimination on the basis of race and sex by her employer. The issue before the Court is whether the moving defendants are entitled to sovereign immunity.

For the reasons stated below, Defendants' motion is granted in part and denied in part. With the exception of Count 2, all claims against the New Jersey Department of Transportation and all claims for damages against the named defendants sued in their official capacities are dismissed.

JURISDICTION

As Plaintiff alleges violations of her federal civil rights, this Court has jurisdiction over this matter pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 (federal question jurisdiction).

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Jane Lyons ("Plaintiff") has been an employee of the New Jersey Department of Transportation ("NJ DOT") since 1979. She currently holds the position of Senior Engineer in the Division of Construction, Region South. She is African-American.

Plaintiff's complaint alleges racial and sexual discrimination in the workplace. It also alleges retaliation for Plaintiff's complaints of discrimination. In the complaint, Plaintiff listed multiple federal and state law causes of action. She seeks compensatory and punitive damages, attorney's fees*fn2 , and an injunction giving her a promotion and preventing her from being supervised by any of the named defendants.

Plaintiff has named as defendants NJ DOT, David Sichik, Michael Seigfried, Charles Young, Jeffrey Palmer, Joseph Sacco, Ronald Maruca, Arthur Marchione, Vince Baglivo, Albert Malatesta, Paul Hoffman, and William Mullowney. The individual defendants are current or former employees of NJ DOT. Plaintiff has sued the individual defendants in both their official and their individual capacities.

Defendants NJ DOT, Palmer, Maruca, Seigfried, Sacco, Hoffman, and Malatesta have moved to dismiss on the grounds of sovereign immunity. They argue that they are immune from suit in federal court under the Eleventh Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

DISCUSSION

The constitutional foundation for the doctrine of sovereign immunity lies in the Eleventh Amendment. This amendment protects a state from being sued in federal court by any citizen. See U.S. Const. amend. XI, Hans v. Louisiana, 134 U.S. 1, 15, 10 S.Ct. 504, 33 L.Ed. 842 (1890). It also protects from suit certain state entities and actors in whose legal rights the state has a financial interest.

A state entity or actor is generally entitled to sovereign immunity if a judgment against the defendant would be paid by the state. See, e.g., Edelman v. Jordan, 415 U.S. 651, 663, 94 S.Ct. 1347, 39 L.Ed.2d 662 (1974). Thus, the New Jersey Department of Transportation has been held to be immune from suit in federal court. See, e.g., Red Star Rowing & Transp. Co. v. Dept. of Transp. of the State of New Jersey, 423 F.2d 104, 105 (3d Cir. 1970); Citizens' Committee for Environmental Protection v. United States Coast Guard, 456 F. Supp. 101, 112 (D.N.J. 1978). State officers sued for damages in their official capacities are also generally entitled to sovereign immunity. Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 169, 105 S.Ct. 3099, 87 L.Ed.2d 114 (1985).

Nonetheless, a defendant otherwise entitled to sovereign immunity may be sued in federal court in one of three circumstances. First, a state's waiver of sovereign immunity in the federal courts subjects state defendants to suit. See, e.g., Atascadero State Hosp. v. Scanlon, 473 U.S. 234, 238, 105 S.Ct. 3142, 87 L.Ed.2d 171 (1985). Second, Congress may abrogate sovereign immunity through legislation enacted pursuant to its powers under § 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment. Fitzpatrick v. Bitzer, 427 U.S. 445, 96 S.Ct. 2666, 49 L.Ed.2d 614 (1976). Third, a plaintiff may sue a state officer in his official capacity for prospective injunctive relief, or in his individual capacity for damages. ...


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