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McQueary-Layne v. Louisiana State Board of Nursing

United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana

April 8, 2019

KIMBERLEY MCQUEARY-LAYNE
v.
LOUISIANA STATE BOARD OF NURSING ET AL.

          RULING AND ORDER

          BRIAN A. JACKSON JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

         Before 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.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This 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).

         Dissatisfied 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. 6-7).

         Defendants 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).

         II. LEGAL STANDARDS

         A. Subject-Matter Jurisdiction

         The 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. 2017).

         B. Failure to State a Claim

         To 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).

         III. DISCUSSION

         Defendants 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.

         A. Subject-Matter Jurisdiction

         Defendants argue that the Court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction over Plaintiffs of&cial-capacity claims because Defendants enjoy immunity under the Eleventh Amendment.[1] (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).

         1. Eleventh Amendment Immunity

         The 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.

         Sovereign 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)).

         The 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.

         To 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).

         The 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).

         The 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").[2]

         The 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).

         The 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).

         The 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").

         The 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).

         In sum, 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 ...


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