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Edmiston v. Louisiana Small Business Development Center

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

July 24, 2019

MARY F. EDMISTON, Plaintiff - Appellant,
v.
LOUISIANA SMALL BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT CENTER, Defendant-Appellee.

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Louisiana

          Before HIGGINBOTHAM, ELROD, and DUNCAN, Circuit Judges.

          JENNIFER WALKER ELROD, CIRCUIT JUDGE

         This case requires us to determine whether the Louisiana Small Business Development Center is a juridical entity capable of being sued under federal law for alleged age discrimination. Holding that it is not, we AFFIRM the district court's dismissal for failure to state a claim.

         I.

         Mary Edmiston, proceeding pro se, alleges that she was, inter alia, an office manager for the Louisiana Small Business Development Center (LSBDC) on the campus of Northwestern State University at Natchitoches. She alleges that she is over 71 years old and was fired because of age discrimination, in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) of 1967, [1] and in an act of retaliation, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.[2]

         Edmiston's complaint originally named the LSBDC and the State of Louisiana as defendants. She amended her complaint to remove the State of Louisiana. The Louisiana Attorney General's office moved to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) on the grounds that the LSBDC is not a legal entity and thus lacks capacity to be sued. Edmiston moved to amend her complaint again to add the State of Louisiana and the Board of Supervisors for the University System of Louisiana as defendants.

         A magistrate judge recommended 12(b)(6) dismissal for failure to state a claim and denial of the motion to amend as futile. The magistrate judge acknowledged that there was not caselaw directly on point for whether the LSBDC was an independent juridical entity. Nonetheless, the magistrate judge concluded that the LSBDC did not exist separate and apart from the Board of Supervisors for the University of Louisiana System, and that the Board of Supervisors was immune from suit because the ADEA does not abrogate state sovereign immunity. As to the Title VII claim-for which state sovereign immunity would be abrogated-the magistrate judge noted that Title VII applies only to claims based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, and thus a claim alleging retaliation for complaining about age discrimination cannot be brought under Title VII.

         The district court adopted all of the magistrate judge's recommendations and additionally held that the LSBDC does not meet the definition of an "employer" under 29 U.S.C. § 630(b) of the ADEA (defining "employer" to mean, inter alia, an entity with twenty or more employees).

         Edmiston filed a timely notice of appeal, and this court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1291. Edmiston argues on appeal that: (1) LSBDC is an independent juridical entity that is not entitled to state sovereign immunity; and that (2) LSBDC is an employer for ADEA purposes.[3] Our analysis starts and ends with argument (1).[4]

         II.

         Dismissal pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) is subject to de novo review. Johnson v. Hous. Auth. of Jefferson Par., 442 F.3d 356, 359 (5th Cir. 2006). To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, "a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter" to "state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). To state a claim to relief that is plausible, the claim must be made against a juridical entity that has the capacity to be sued and "enjoy[s] a separate legal existence." See Darby v. Pasadena Police Dep't, 939 F.2d 311, 313 (5th Cir. 1991) (citation omitted). Although we must accept as true all factual allegations in the complaint, that presumption does not extend to legal conclusions. Ashcroft, 556 U.S. at 678.

         III.

         The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure direct that the capacity of an entity which is neither an individual nor a corporation to be sued in federal court is determined by state law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 17(b)(3). Under Louisiana law, "[t]here are two kinds of persons: natural persons and juridical persons. A natural person is a human being. A juridical person is an entity to which the law attributes personality, such as a corporation or a partnership." La. C. C. Art. 24. The Louisiana Supreme Court has held that "[i]n the absence of positive law to the contrary, a local government unit may be deemed to be a juridical person separate and distinct from other government entities, when the organic law grants it the legal capacity to ...


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