United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana
RULING AND ORDER
A. JACKSON JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
the Court are two motions; a Motion to
Dismiss (Doc. 18) filed by the Louisiana State Board of
Nursing, Wanda Matthews, and Sharetha Brown; and a
Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 19) filed by Carrie
LeBlanc Jones. For the reasons that follow, the
Motions (Docs. 18, 19) are GRANTED
IN PART and DENIED IN PART.
dispute arises from Board of Nursing disciplinary proceedings
culminating in the suspension of pro se Plaintiff
Kimberley McQueary-Layne's nursing license. (Docs. 1, 8).
with the proceedings, McQueary-Layne sued all involved: the
Board of Nursing; its lawyer, Carrie LeBlanc Jones; its
compliance investigator, Sharetha Brown; and its hearing
officer, Wanda Matthews. (Doc. 8). She alleges that
Defendants violated her constitutional rights by
"accus[ing] her of heinous allegations,"
"subjecting] [her] to humiliation and mockery by a
prejudiced jury," and "withhold[ing] exculpatory
evidence." (Id. at pp. 2-3). She also alleges
that Defendants defamed her and violated Louisiana's
Administrative Procedure Act. (Doc. 1 at p. 2; Doc. 8 at p.
2). She seeks damages and "judicial review" of the
Board of Nursing disciplinary proceedings. (Doc. 8 at pp.
move to dismiss Plaintiffs claims for lack of subject-matter
jurisdiction and failure to state a claim under Federal Rules
of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). (Docs. 18, 19).
Plaintiff opposes. (Doc. 23).
Court must dismiss a claim if it lacks the statutory or
constitutional power to adjudicate the claim. See In re
FEMA Trailer Formaldehyde Prods. Liab. Litig., 668 F.3d
281, 286 (5th Cir. 2012). To decide if it has jurisdiction
over a claim, the Court may consider the complaints, the
complaints supplemented by undisputed facts in the record, or
the complaints supplemented by the undisputed facts and the
Court's resolution of the disputed facts. See
Gonzalez v. United States, 851 F.3d 538, 543 (5th Cir.
Failure to State a Claim
overcome Defendants' Rule 12(b)(6) motions, Plaintiff
must plead plausible claims for relief. See Romero v.
City of Grapevine, Tex., 888 F.3d 170, 176 (5th Cir.
2018) (citing Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678
(2009)). A claim is plausible if it is pleaded with factual
content that allows the Court to reasonably infer that
Defendants are liable for the misconduct alleged. See
Edionwe v. Bailey, 860 F.3d 287, 291 (5th Cir. 2017)
(citing Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678). The Court accepts
as true the well-pleaded facts of Plaintiffs complaints and
views those facts in the light most favorable to Plaintiff.
See Midwest Feeders, Inc. v. Bank of Franklin, 886
F.3d 507, 513 (5th Cir. 2018).
argue that the Court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction over
Plaintiffs claims and that Plaintiffs complaints fail to
state plausible claims for relief. (Docs. 18, 19). The Court
considers jurisdiction before turning to the merits. See
In re FEMA Trailer Formaldehyde Prods. Liab. Litig., 668
F.3d at 286.
argue that the Court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction over
Plaintiffs of&cial-capacity claims because Defendants
enjoy immunity under the Eleventh Amendment. (Docs. 18-1 at p.
4; 19-1 at p. 5). Defendants argue, in the alternative, that
the Court should decline jurisdiction over Plaintiffs
individual-capacity claims because this case presents
"exceptional circumstances" justifying abstention
under Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971) or
Colorado River Water Conserv. Dist. v. United
States, 424 U.S. 800 (1976). (Docs. 18-1 at pp. 10-13;
19-1 at pp. 7-10).
Eleventh Amendment Immunity
Eleventh Amendment prohibits Plaintiff from suing the State
of Louisiana in federal court unless Louisiana has waived its
sovereign immunity or Congress has "expressly
abrogated" it. See Raj v. La. State Univ., 714
F.3d 322, 328 (5th Cir. 2013). Louisiana has not waived its
sovereign immunity, see La. R.S. 13:5106(A), and
Congress has not "expressly abrogated" it. See
Raj, 714 F.3d at 328.
immunity also protects "arms" of the State.
Id. The reason for extending immunity is that the
"state agency is so closely connected to the State that
the State itself is 'the real, substantial party in
interest."' Vogt v. Bd. of Com'rs of Orleans
Levee Dist., 294 F.3d 684, 689 (5th Cir. 2002) (quoting
Hudson v. City of New Orleans, 174 F.3d 677, 681
(5th Cir. 1999)).
Board of Nursing argues that it enjoys sovereign immunity as
an arm of the State of Louisiana. (Doc. 18-1 at p. 4).
Matthews, Brown, and Jones contend that they, too, enjoy
sovereign immunity. (Docs. 18-1, 19-1). They reason that
because the Board of Nursing is an arm of the State of
Louisiana, and because Plaintiff has sued them in their
official capacity as employees or agents of the Board of
Nursing, an official-capacity claim against them is a claim
against the State. (Docs. 18-1 at p. 9; 19-1 at p. 5).
Because their entitlement to immunity turns on the Board of
Nursing's entitlement to immunity, the Court considers
the Board of Nursing first.
decide if the Board of Nursing is an arm of the State of
Louisiana that enjoys sovereign immunity, the Court considers
(1) whether Louisiana law views the Board of Nursing as an
arm of the State, (2) the source of the Board of
Nursing's funding, (3) the Board of Nursing's degree
of local autonomy, (4) whether the Board of Nursing is
concerned primarily with local rather than statewide
problems, (5) whether the Board of Nursing can sue and be
sued in its own name, and (6) whether the Board of Nursing
has the right to hold and use property. See Providence
Behavioral Health v. Grant Road Pub. Util. Dist, 902
F.3d 448, 456 (5th Cir. 2018).
first factor asks whether Louisiana law views the Board of
Nursing as an arm of the State. See Id. at 456. It
does. The statute that created the Board of Nursing places it
"within the Department of Health," and the
Department of Health is an agency within the executive
branch. See La. R.S. 37:914(A). And at least one
court has found that the Board of Nursing is an arm of the
State of Louisiana. See Rodgers v. State Bd. of
Nursing, No. 15-CV-615-JJB-SCR, 2015 WL 9274930, at *6
(M.D. La. Dec. 18, 2015), aff'd by 665 Fed.Appx.
326 (5th Cir. 2016) (per curiam).
second factor, source of funding, is "the most important
one." Williams v. Dallas Area Rapid Transit,
242 F.3d 315, 320 (5th Cir. 2001). It is neutral. The Board
of Nursing self-funds through fees it collects. (Doc. 18-1 at
p. 6). But the Board of Nursing's fees and budget are
subject to audits by the executive branch. See La.
R.S. 36:803(A)(3). So the State of Louisiana retains some
control over the Board of Nursing's funding. See
Williams, 242 F.3d at 321 (holding that audit
requirements are "some evidence of state oversight"
but are "not dispositive").
third factor considers the Board of Nursing's autonomy.
See Providence Behavioral Health, 902 F.3d at 456.
It too is neutral. The State created the Board of Nursing.
See LA. R.S. 37:914(A). And the State regulates some
aspects of the Board of Nursing-for example, its composition
and the tenure of its members. See La. R.S. 37:914(B). But
the State has limited control over the selection of board
members because the Governor appoints members based on a
"list of names submitted by certain associations."
(Doc. 18-1 at p. 7).
fourth factor asks whether the Board of Nursing is concerned
with local or statewide problems. See Providence
Behavioral Health, 902 F.3d at 456. It favors immunity
because the Board of Nursing regulates nursing statewide. See
LA. R.S. 37:911; Chrissy F. by Medley v. Miss. Dep't
of Pub. Welfare, 925 F.2d 844, 849 (5th Cir. 1991)
(reasoning that a district attorney was a state official
entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity because state law
extended his authority to statewide concerns).
fifth factor, ability to sue and be sued, is neutral. See
Hudson, 174 F.3d at 691 (factor counts against
immunity if entity can sue and be sued). It is not clear
whether the Board of Nursing can sue and be sued in its own
name: the statute creating the Board of Nursing is silent on
the point. See La. R.S. 37:914. If the legislature intended
to grant the Board of Nursing the power to sue and be sued,
it could have used language reflecting that intent. See LA.
R.S. 37:1361(C) (plumbing board "may sue and be
sued"); LA. R.S. 37:2161 (board of contractors "may
sue and be sued").
sixth and final factor disfavors Eleventh Amendment immunity
because the Board of Nursing has the right to hold and use
property. See La. R.S. 37:918(20).
two factors favor Eleventh Amendment immunity, one factor
disfavors it, and three factors are neutral. Although it is a
close call, the Court finds that the Board of Nursing is an
arm of the State of Louisiana and that a suit against the
Board of Nursing is "in reality a suit against the state