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Ruiz v. State

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

March 18, 2019


         SECTION “J” (4)



         This matter was referred to a United States Magistrate Judge to conduct a hearing, including an evidentiary hearing, if necessary, and to submit proposed findings and recommendations for disposition pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and (C) and § 1915A, and as applicable, 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(c)(1) and (2). Upon review of the entire record, the Court has determined that the matter can be disposed of without an evidentiary hearing.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         The plaintiff, Jonathan Michael Ruiz (“Ruiz”), while previously housed in the Orleans Justice Center, filed this pro se and in forma pauperis complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the State of Louisiana and Governor John Bell Edwards challenging changes made to Louisiana sex offender registration laws after his conviction but which have been made applicable to him in violation of ex post facto prohibitions.[1] Ruiz has since been transferred to the Raymond Laborde Correctional Center.[2]

         II. Standards for Frivolousness Review

         Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2) and § 1915A and 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(c), the Court is required to sua sponte dismiss cases filed by prisoners proceeding in forma pauperis upon a determination that they are frivolous. The Court has broad discretion in determining the frivolous nature of the complaint. See Cay v. Estelle, 789 F.2d 318, 325 (5th Cir. 1986), modified on other grounds, Booker v. Koonce, 2 F.3d 114 (5th Cir. 1993). However, the Court may not sua sponte dismiss an action merely because of questionable legal theories or unlikely factual allegations in the complaint.

         Under this statute, a claim is frivolous when it lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact. Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 324-25 (1989); Talib v. Gilley, 138 F.3d 211, 213 (5th Cir. 1998). “A [claim] lacks an arguable basis in law if it is based on an indisputably meritless legal theory, such as if the complaint alleges the violation of a legal interest which clearly does not exist.” Harper v. Showers, 174 F.3d 716, 718 (5th Cir. 1999) (quoting Davis v. Scott, 157 F.3d 882, 889 (5th Cir. 1998)). It lacks an arguable factual basis only if the facts alleged are “clearly baseless, ” a category encompassing fanciful, fantastic, and delusional allegations. Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25, 32-33 (1992) (citing Neitzke, 490 U.S. at 327-28). Therefore, the Court must determine whether the plaintiff's claims are based on an indisputably meritless legal theory or clearly baseless factual allegations. Reeves v. Collins, 27 F.3d 174, 176 (5th Cir. 1994); Jackson v. Vannoy, 49 F.3d 175, 176-77 (5th Cir. 1995); Moore v. Mabus, 976 F.2d 268, 269 (5th Cir. 1992).

         III. Claims against the State of Louisiana

         Ruiz's claims against the State of Louisiana are barred by the Eleventh Amendment and the Court is without subject matter jurisdiction. The Eleventh Amendment bars a State's citizens from filing suit against the State or its agencies in the federal courts. Cozzo v. Tangipahoa Par. Council-Pres. Govt., 279 F.3d 273, 280-81 (5th Cir. 2002); Hall v. Louisiana, 974 F.Supp.2d 964, 972 (M.D. La. 2013) (citing Lewis v. Univ. of Tex. Med. Branch at Galveston, 665 F.3d 625, 630 (5th Cir. 2011)). When a State is the named defendant, the Eleventh Amendment bars suits for both money damages and injunctive relief unless the State has waived its immunity. Id. By statute, Louisiana has refused any such waiver of its Eleventh Amendment sovereign immunity regarding suits in federal court. See La. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 13:5106(A). In addition, Congress also did not abrogate a state's Eleventh Amendment immunity in the language of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Cozzo, 279 F.3d at 281.

         For these reasons, Ruiz cannot proceed with his suit against the State of Louisiana under the Eleventh Amendment, and this Court is without subject matter jurisdiction to consider his claims against the State of Louisiana. His claims must be dismissed as frivolous and for seeking relief against an immune defendant under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2), § 1915A(b).

         IV. Claims Against Governor Edwards

         Ruiz has named Governor Edwards as a defendant alleging that, as chief executive officer of the State, he is the enforcer of the sex offender laws being challenged. In that capacity, Governor Edwards also enjoys Eleventh Amendment immunity which also deprives the Court of subject matter jurisdiction.

         Generally, suits against State employees in their official capacities implicate the Eleventh Amendment immunity doctrine. Champagne v. Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office, 188 F.3d 312, 313 (5th Cir. 1999); Lockett v. New Orleans City, 639 F.Supp.2d 710 (E.D. La. 2009); Muhammad v. Louisiana, No. 99-2694 c/w 99-3742, 2000 WL 1568210 (E.D. La. Oct. 18, 2000); Wallace v. Edwards, 30 F.3d ...

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