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Cooper v. Kliebert

United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana

December 19, 2014

BRANDON COOPER, LOUIS DAVENPORT, RON GATLIN, KENNY SWATT, STEPHEN ZERINGUE, and WILLIAM PITZER, on behalf of themselves and all other similarly situated individuals
KATHY KLIEBERT, Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, in her official capacity; and the LOUISIANA DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HOSPITALS


SHELLY D. DICK, District Judge.

Before the Court is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' Class Action Complaint brought pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure on the grounds of Eleventh Amendment Immunity and mootness, and Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for failure to state a claim.[1] Plaintiffs have filed an opposition.[2] Defendants' mootness and sovereign immunity defenses present threshold challenges which the Court must address before determining the propriety of class certification.[3]


Plaintiffs, on behalf of themselves and others similarly situated, bring a civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983 and federal disability statutes against the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals ("DHH"), and Kathy Kliebert, Secretary of DHH, in her official capacity. Plaintiffs are criminal offenders with mental illnesses who have been adjudicated "Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity" ("NGRI") and ordered committed to East Louisiana Mental Health System ("ELMHS") pursuant to Article 657 of the Louisiana Code of Criminal Procedure.[4] Plaintiffs allege that after having been adjudicated NGRI and ordered committed to ELMHS they remain incarcerated in Louisiana correctional facilities for months while awaiting bed space at ELMHS. Plaintiffs allege that their continued incarceration under these circumstances violates the Fourteenth Amendment[5]; Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA")[6]; and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act ("RA")[7]. Plaintiffs seek injunctive and declaratory relief only and move to certify a class action on behalf of:

[A]ll persons in Louisiana who are being, or may be in the future, incarcerated in Louisiana correctional facilities after a finding of NGRI and their commitment to a mental health facility pursuant to La. Code Crim. Proc. Art. 657.[8]


A. Rule 12(b)(1)

A 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss is analyzed under the same rubric as a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. The Court must accept all well pleaded facts in the Complaint as true and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. While a 12(b)(6) motion is determined solely on the face of the pleadings, for purposes of a 12(b)(1) motion, the Court may look at evidence in the record.[9] A motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction should only be granted if it appears that the plaintiff "cannot prove any set of facts" in support of the plaintiff's claims to relief.[10] In ascertaining the likelihood of whether the plaintiff can "prove any set of facts" in support of his/her claims for relief, the Court may evaluate the Complaint, supplemented by undisputed facts, and the Court's resolution of disputed facts.[11] Furthermore, "[w]hen a Rule 12(b)(1) motion is filed in conjunction with other Rule 12 motions, the court should consider the Rule 12(b)(1) jurisdictional attack before addressing any attack on the merits."[12]

B. Eleventh Amendment

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."[13] Where there is Eleventh Amendment immunity from suit, federal courts lack subject matter jurisdiction.[14] Although not expressed by its terms, Eleventh Amendment Immunity is triggered when a citizen brings a suit against his/her own state in federal court.[15] In this case, the Plaintiffs have named a state entity, DHH, and a state official, Kathy Kliebert, secretary of DHH in her official capacity, as Defendants.

The Eleventh Amendment bars suit against State entities where the entity is an arm of the State such that the suit is in reality a suit against the State itself.[16] The Fifth Circuit has held that DHH is an arm of the State and is, therefore, entitled to Eleventh Amendment Immunity.[17] Likewise, "[t]he Eleventh Amendment bars a suit against state officials when the state is the real, substantial party in interest'."[18] "The general rule is that relief sought nominally against an officer is in fact against the sovereign if the decree would operate against the latter."[19] "A suit against state officials that is in fact a suit against a State is barred regardless of whether it seeks damages or injunctive relief."[20] Accordingly, in this case, the Court starts with the premise that the Eleventh Amendment bars claims against DHH and its Secretary, unless immunity has been waived by the State, [21] constitutionally abrogated by Congress, [22] or immunity is lacking under the Ex Parte Young [23] doctrine.


A. Secretary of DHH's Sovereign Immunity Defense

The Supreme Court's holding in Ex Parte Young recognized an important exception to the general rule of sovereign immunity for state officials. Ex Parte Young holds that the Eleventh Amendment does not prohibit a federal court from issuing an injunction against a state official to enjoin unconstitutional acts rooted in federal authority.[24] In this case, the Plaintiffs allege that Kathy Kliebert, as the Secretary of DHH, [25] acting in her official capacity, has engaged in an ongoing violation of federal constitutional law by depriving persons with mental illness, who have been adjudged NGRI, to remain confined in correctional facilities as opposed to mental health facilities to which they have been ordered committed.[26] Plaintiffs allege that this continuous incarceration amounts to a deprivation of NGRI detainees' liberty interests guaranteed under the Fourteenth Amendment. The Plaintiffs seek declaratory and prospective injunctive relief only against the Secretary of DHH, whom the Plaintiffs ...

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