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Anderson v. University of Tennessee

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Knoxville

February 7, 2017



         Plaintiff Boyd Anderson filed this action in Knox County Circuit Court alleging wrongful arrest by officers of the University of Tennessee Police Department in violation of federal and state law. The University timely removed the action and filed a motion to dismiss alleging Anderson's claims are barred by the University's sovereign immunity under the Eleventh Amendment. For the reasons which follow, the University's motion will be granted and this action dismissed in its entirety.

         I. Factual Background

         Anderson is a black man and a driver for the Uber Ride program. On September 18, 2014, Anderson picked up two white women to be dropped off at their dorm on the University's campus. One of the women appeared to be intoxicated. As Anderson was helping the women out of his car, he alleges Officer Kelley approached and began to interrogate him. Anderson states people began to gather, and he felt “harassed and embarrassed” by the officer's questions. He declined to give the officer his name when asked “due to the officer's condescending nature and in order to avoid being the subject of social media posts.” Anderson asked the officer if he was being accused of any type of violation or crime. Anderson next states that Officer Kelley “without provocation, cause, or probable cause placed his hands on plaintiff, grabbing his neck and placing him in a headlock . . . Plaintiff was pushed and shoved and slammed to the ground while offering no resistance to the officer. Plaintiff was forcibly placed in tight handcuffs and further assaulted by Officer Kelley and other officers.” Anderson was arrested for criminal impersonation and resisting arrest, however, the charges were later dismissed. As a result of the officers' use of excessive force during the arrest, Anderson suffered injuries to his face, wrists, and aggravation of old basketball injuries to his back, neck and knees.

         Anderson filed his complaint on September 18, 2015 in Knox County Circuit Court. The complaint states that because the University receives state and federal funds, it is subject to compliance with Titles VI, VII and IX of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and human rights protections under Tenn. Code Ann. § 4-21-101 and § 50-2-201. Anderson further alleges claims for unreasonable search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment, violation of Equal Protection under the Fourteenth Amendment, and common law claims of assault, negligence, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

         Following the filing of the University's motion to dismiss, Anderson moved for leave to amend his complaint to add a reference to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and removing the claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress.

         II. Standard of Review

         When the court's subject matter jurisdiction is challenged by way of a motion filed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), the plaintiff has the burden of proving jurisdiction. Hair v. Tenn. Consol. Retirement Sys., 790 F.Supp. 1358, 1362 (M.D.Tenn. 1992). Dismissal pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) is appropriate where the Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution bars suit against the state. Id. Thus, if plaintiff fails to establish subject matter jurisdiction, his claims must be dismissed. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(h)(3).

         To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, the pleading must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is “plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). Although a complaint need not contain detailed factual allegations, its factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 555 (2007). Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations. When there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief. Id. at 679. A motion to dismiss pursuant to Rules 12(b)(1) or 12(b)(6) is appropriate only if it is clear that no relief could be granted under any set of facts that could be proved consistent with the allegations.

         III. Analysis

         A. Eleventh Amendment

         The Eleventh Amendment states that the 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. U.S. Const. amend. XI. Courts recognize three exceptions to a state's Eleventh Amendment immunity to suits in federal court: (1) the Ex Parte Young Exception, which permits suits against state officials rather than the state; (2) when the state has consented to suit; and (3) when Congress has acted to abrogate state sovereign immunity. See, e.g., Beil v. Lake Erie Corr. Records Dep't, 282 Fed.Appx. 3632, 366 (6th Cir. 2008).

         The law is well settled that, in the absence of express state consent or express congressional abrogation by a federal statute, the Eleventh Amendment bars actions in federal court against a state. Heifner v. Univ. of Tenn., 914 F.Supp. 1513, 1515 (E.D.Tenn. 1995). Tennessee has not waived its Eleventh Amendment immunity and cannot be sued in civil rights suits, even for injunctive relief. Tenn. Code Ann. § 20-13-102(a); Sallee v. Bd. of Prof. Resp., 2015 WL 2374230 at *6 (E.D.Tenn. May 18, 2015). Not only does Eleventh Amendment immunity apply to federal law claims, but also to state law claims brought in federal court under the court's supplemental jurisdiction. Heifner, 914 F.Supp. at 1515. It is also well settled that the University is entitled to the state's Eleventh Amendment immunity as an “alter-ego” or “arm” of the state. Id.

         Next, neither a state nor its officials acting in their official capacities are “persons” subject to suit under § 1983. Id. Finally, a § 1983 claim against a state official acting in his official capacity is treated as a claim against the government itself. Salee, 2015 WL 2374230 at *7. Thus, because the University is an “arm” of the state, the Eleventh Amendment permits prospective injunctive relief, but not damage awards, for suits against individuals in their official capacities under § 1983. Cox v. Shelby State Comm. College, 48 Fed.Appx. 500, 504 (6th Cir. 2002). By naming the University as the lone defendant, Anderson's allegations of violations of his Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights pursuant to § 1983, as well as his state law claims, are barred by the University's Eleventh Amendment sovereign immunity on two grounds - (1) the University, as an “arm” of the state, is not a “person” as defined by § 1983, and (2) the University may not be sued for damage awards under § 1983. Because Anderson seeks monetary damages from the University for the alleged § 1983 violations, his action is barred by the Eleventh Amendment. Thus, Anderson's claims for violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment brought under § 1983 will be dismissed.

         The University's Eleventh Amendment immunity also bars Anderson's state law claims. Anderson alleges violations of his human rights under Tenn. Code Ann. § 4-21-101 and § 50-2-201. Anderson also alleges common law claims of assault, negligence, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. It is equally well settled that Eleventh Amendment immunity applies not only to claims brought under federal law, but also to state claims brought in federal court under this court's supplemental jurisdiction. Hiefner, 914 F.Supp. at 1515. Therefore, the Eleventh Amendment is a bar not only to Anderson's claims against the University, but also to his claims against University employees in their official ...

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