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Britt v. Banks

United States District Court, D. New Jersey, Camden Vicinage

October 10, 2019





         This matter comes before the Court on the Motion to Dismiss brought by Defendants Douglas Banks, the State of New Jersey, and the New Jersey Department of Children and Families. (Docket Item 12.) Defendants seek to dismiss all claims of pro se Plaintiff Terrence-Lee Britt's Complaint, which alleges retaliation (Count I) and “unequal/unfair treatment” (Count II), both of which Plaintiff claims led to “undue emotional, physical[, ] and mental trauma.” (Docket Item 1.) Plaintiff has not filed a brief in opposition. Plaintiff seeks both money damages and injunctive relief. As explained more fully below, the Eleventh Amendment bars a plaintiff from receiving money damages from a State defendant in Federal Court. Prospective injunctive relief is also unavailable in this case. Therefore, Defendants' Motion to Dismiss shall be granted.


         Plaintiff alleges that in or about March or April 2018, he filed a suit against Defendants (his employer) because they had violated his rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). (Id. at 1.) Plaintiff alleges that, because of that suit, Defendant Banks denied Plaintiff the right to present a witness at an unrelated November 2018 disciplinary hearing, at which Plaintiff was an appellant. (Id. at 1-2.) Plaintiff alleges no further details about the hearing or the circumstances surrounding it other than to state that it is “common that one can use any witness that one would feel fit to help in their defense” at such a hearing. (Id. at 1.) Plaintiff alleges that he is the only individual to whom Defendant Banks has denied the utilization of a witness. (Id. at 2.)

         Plaintiff alleges that he was suspended after the hearing. (Id. at 1-2.) According to Plaintiff, Defendant Banks first levied a 90-day suspension on Plaintiff, which constituted “unequal/unfair treatment as there are other employees whose actions were similar, exact[, ] and/or worse than [Plaintiff's], ” but who did not receive such harsh punishments. (Id. at 2.) Plaintiff also alleges that on or about January 2, 2018, Defendant Banks issued Plaintiff a notice of disciplinary action that suspended Plaintiff for 30 days. (Id.) Plaintiff alleges that this “is not consistent with Defendants' suspension standards which have been always followed.” (Id.) Plaintiff alleges that the above actions constituted abuse of authority on Defendant Banks's part, which caused Plaintiff to suffer emotional, physical, and mental trauma. (Id.) Plaintiff seeks both money damages and injunctive relief. (Id. at 1-2.)


         Defendants bring this Motion to Dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. To withstand a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), “a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). Claims are facially plausible “when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. at 678. “[A]n unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation” will not survive a motion to dismiss. Id. “While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the ‘grounds' of his ‘entitle[ment] to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of a cause of action's elements will not do.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (alteration in original) (citations omitted) (quoting Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986)).

         The district court must “accept as true all allegations in the plaintiff's complaint as well as all reasonable inferences that can be drawn from them, and [must] construe them in a light most favorable to the non-movant.” Tatis v. Allied Interstate, LLC, 882 F.3d 422, 426 (3d Cir. 2018) (quoting Sheridan v. NGK Metals Corp., 609 F.3d 239, 262 n.27 (3d Cir. 2010)). The court may only consider the allegations in the complaint and “matters of public record, orders, exhibits attached to the complaint[, ] and items appearing in the record of the case.” Oshiver v. Levin, Fishbein, Sedran & Berman, 38 F.3d 1380, 1384 n.2 (3d Cir. 1994). In applying this standard to pro se pleadings and other submissions, as here, the Court must liberally construe the well-pleaded allegations, and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the pro se litigant. Higgs v. Attorney Gen. of the U.S., 655 F.3d 333, 339 (3d Cir. 2011); Capogrosso v. Supreme Court of N.J., 588 F.3d 180, 184 (3d Cir. 2009).

         IV. ANALYSIS

         A. The Eleventh Amendment Bars Most of the Claims

         Although Defendants did not raise the Eleventh Amendment as a ground for dismissing this suit, the Court may raise the issue sua sponte. Bowers v. NCAA, 346 F.3d 402, 417 (3d Cir. 2003) (citing Parella v. Retirement Bd. of the R.I. Employees' Retirement Sys., 173 F.3d 46, 54-55 (1st Cir. 1999)). The Eleventh Amendment provides that “[t]he 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 United States Supreme Court has unequivocally held the Amendment to mean that “in the absence of consent a suit in which the State or one of its agencies or departments is named as the defendant is proscribed by the Eleventh Amendment[, ] . . . regardless of the relief sought.” Pennhurst State Sch. & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 100 (1984). This bar can sometimes extend to suits brought against state officials: if the suit is effectively a suit against the State itself, as opposed to the state official, then it will be barred. Id. at 101.

         However, the bar will not apply to state officials when the suit is “challenging the constitutionality of a state official's action” and seeks injunctive relief. Id. at 102 (citing Ex parte Young, 209 U.S. 123 (1908)). As an additional requirement, such injunctive relief may only “govern[] the official's future conduct, ” and may not “award[] retroactive monetary relief.” Id. at 102-03 (citing Edelman v. Jordan, 415 U.S. 651 (1974)).

         In the case at hand, Plaintiff names the State of New Jersey and one of its agencies, the Department of Children and Families, as defendants. The Eleventh Amendment bars the suit as against those Defendants, both for money damages and for injunctive relief. Therefore, the Motion to Dismiss will be granted in favor of both the State of New Jersey and the Department of Children and Families. See, e.g., Howard v. N.J. Div. of Youth & Family Servs., 398 Fed.Appx. 807, 811-12 (3d Cir. 2010) (holding that the New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services, a subdivision ...

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