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Millsap v. Crosby

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Eastern Division

July 17, 2014

JOHN DAVID MILLSAP, Plaintiff,
v.
WENDY CROSBY, et al. Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

KEITH STARRETT, District Judge.

For the reasons stated below, the Court grants the Motion for Summary Judgment [30] filed by Defendants Dianne Spears and Wendy Crosby and grants the Motion for Summary Judgment [37] filed by Defendant Kim Nelson.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff claims to have quit his job. He applied for and was denied unemployment and supplemental nutrition assistance program ("SNAP") benefits. He alleges that individual employees of the Mississippi Department of Employment Security ("MDES") and Mississippi Department of Human Services ("MDHS") - Defendants Spears and Crosby - violated his constitutional rights by denying the benefits, and that an administrative law judge ("ALJ") - Defendant Nelson - violated his constitutional rights by denying his appeal. He filed this action, asserting claims against Defendants Spears, Crosby, and Nelson under Section 1983 for violation of the Fourteenth Amendment right to due process. He seeks monetary damages, and declaratory and injunctive relief. Defendants filed motions for summary judgment [30, 37], which are now ripe for review.[1]

II. SPEARS AND CROSBY MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT [30]

Rule 56 provides that "[t]he court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(a); see also Sierra Club, Inc. v. Sandy Creek Energy Assocs., L.P., 627 F.3d 134, 138 (5th Cir. 2010). "An issue is material if its resolution could affect the outcome of the action." Sierra Club, Inc., 627 F.3d at 138. "An issue is genuine' if the evidence is sufficient for a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Cuadra, 626 F.3d at 812.

The Court is not permitted to make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence. Deville v. Marcantel, 567 F.3d 156, 164 (5th Cir. 2009). When deciding whether a genuine fact issue exists, "the court must view the facts and the inference to be drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party." Sierra Club, Inc., 627 F.3d at 138. However, "[c]onclusional allegations and denials, speculation, improbable inferences, unsubstantiated assertions, and legalistic argumentation do not adequately substitute for specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial." Oliver v. Scott, 276 F.3d 736, 744 (5th Cir. 2002).

Plaintiff filed his initial claim for benefits [37-1] on December 21, 2012. On January 8, 2013, MDES denied his claim [30-2]. The Notice of Decision sent to him provides: "An investigation reveals you stated that you voluntarily left work because of the working conditions, however, you stated that you did not talk to anyone about your complaints, you just mailed in anonymous letters. You have not shown good cause under the Mississippi Employment Security Law for voluntarily leaving this employment." Accordingly, he was disqualified from receiving benefits.

Defendant Diane Spears was the Chief Benefit Officer at the MDES, and Defendant Wendy Crosby was Plaintiff's caseworker at MDHS. Plaintiff asserted official and individual capacity claims under Section 1983 for the alleged violation of his Fourteenth Amendment right to due process.

A. Official Capacity Claims

Defendants Spears and Crosby argue that Plaintiff's Section 1983 claims against them in their official capacities are barred by the Eleventh Amendment. "Eleventh Amendment immunity operates like a jurisdictional bar, depriving federal courts of the power to adjudicate suits against a state." Union P. R.R. v. La. PSC, 662 F.3d 336, 340 (5th Cir. 2011). Both MDES and MDHS are considered "arms" of the State of Mississippi. See MISS. CODE ANN. § 71-5-101; Cannon v. Miss. Dep't of Empl. Sec., No. 3:11-CV-428-DPJ-FKB, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 93644, at *10 n. 2 (S.D.Miss. July 6, 2012); Stewart v. Jackson County, No. 1:07-CV-1270, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 95207, at *6 (S.D.Miss. Oct. 25, 2008). The Eleventh Amendment also bars suits against state officials in their official capacities, as such suits are actually against the state itself. McKinley v. Abbot, 643 F.3d 403, 406 (5th Cir. 2011).[2] Therefore, Plaintiff's claims for money damages against Defendants Spears and Crosby in their official capacities are barred by the Eleventh Amendment. See Oliver, 276 F.3d at 742 (Eleventh Amendment bars recovering § 1983 money damages from officials in their official capacity).

The Eleventh Amendment does not bar claims for prospective injunctive and declaratory relief, though. Ex parte Young, 209 U.S. 123, 28 S.Ct. 441, 52 L.Ed. 714 (1908). The Ex parte Young doctrine is a narrow "exception to Eleventh Amendment immunity for claims for prospective relief against state officials who have been sued in their official capacities." Nelson v. Univ. of Texas at Dallas, 535 F.3d 318, 320 (5th Cir. 2008). Under Ex parte Young, the Court may grant "prospective relief to prevent a continuing violation of federal law." Green v. Mansour, 474 U.S. 64, 68, 106 S.Ct. 423, 88 L.Ed.2d 371 (1985). To fall within the exception, a "suit must be brought against individual persons in their official capacities as agents of the state and the relief sought must be declaratory or injunctive in nature and prospective in effect." Saltz v. Tennessee Dep't of Employment Sec., 976 F.2d 966, 968 (5th Cir. 1992).

Liberally construing Plaintiff's Amended Complaint [14], he has not requested prospective injunctive and declaratory relief. In pertinent part, the Amended Complaint [14] provides:

Plaintiff seeks a declaratory judgment and restraining order judgment in the amount of 50, 000.00 dollars for each ...

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