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Fidler v. Twentieth Judicial District Drug Task Force

United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division

May 16, 2017

BRINK FIDLER and JUSTIN FOX, Plaintiffs,
v.
THE TWENTIETH JUDICIAL DISTRICT DRUG TASK FORCE, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          WAVERLY D. CRENSHAW, JR CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Brink Fidler and Justin Fox brought this action against their former employer, the Twentieth Judicial District Drug Task Force (the “Task Force”), alleging violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq. (Doc. No. 18.) Before the Court is the Task Force's Motion to Dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. (Doc. No. 24.) For the following reasons, the motion is DENIED.

         I. ALLEGATIONS

         The Task Force is a local, intergovernmental agency created pursuant to an inter-agency agreement, as authorized by Tennessee Code Annotated § 12-9-104. (Doc. No. 18 at 1.) A board of directors, appointed by local government officials, controlled the Task Force. (Id. at 2.) The District Attorney and the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department (the “Police Department”) Chief selected the Director of the Task Force, who was in charge of day-to-day operations. (Id. at 3.) The District Attorney provided legal advice and guidance to the Task Force. (Id.)

         When Plaintiffs began working for the Task Force, they continued to receive their salaries from the Metropolitan government. (Id. at 4.) The Task Force maintained a local bank account at First Tennessee Bank, funded solely by fines and civil forfeitures of drug defendants prosecuted by the Task Force. (Id.) Overtime compensation was to be paid from this First Tennessee Bank account. (Id. at 5.)

         In June 2015, the District Attorney closed the Task Force. (Id.) As a result, Fidler left law enforcement, and Fox returned to his role as a patrolman for the Police Department. (Id.) Fox's paid time off transferred with him to the Police Department. (Id. at 6.)

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         A defendant may assert the affirmative defense of lack of subject matter jurisdiction in a motion to dismiss. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1). The party opposing dismissal has the burden of proving subject matter jurisdiction. Moir v. Greater Cleveland Reg'l Transit Auth., 895 F.2d 266, 269 (6th Cir. 1990). Specifically, the non-moving party must show that the complaint “alleges a claim under federal law, and that the claim is ‘substantial.'” Musson Theatrical, Inc. v. Fed. Express Corp., 89 F.3d 1244, 1248 (6th Cir. 1996) (holding that a complaint is “substantial” unless “prior decisions inescapably render [it] frivolous.”). That is to say, the non-moving party will survive the motion to dismiss by showing “any arguable basis in law” for the claims set forth in the complaint. Id. The Court construes “the complaint in a light most favorable to the plaintiff, accept[s] as true all of plaintiff's well-pleaded factual allegations, and determine[s] whether the plaintiff can prove no set of facts supporting [his] claims that would entitle him to relief.” Ludwig v. Bd. of Trustees of Ferris St. Univ., 123 F.3d 404, 408 (6th Cir. 1997).

         III. ANALYSIS

         The Task Force argues that it is entitled to sovereign immunity under the Eleventh Amendment because it was a state entity. (Doc. No. 25 at 3 (citing Alden v. Maine, 527 U.S. 706, 712 (1999))). Plaintiffs do not dispute that state entities are entitled to sovereign immunity, but argue that the Task Force was a local entity. (Doc. No. 27.)

         Both parties agree that to determine whether the Task Force was a state entity, the Court must weigh the following four factors: (1) “the State's potential liability for a judgment against the entity”; (2) “the language by which state statutes . . . and state courts . . . refer to the entity and the degree of state control and veto power over the entity's actions”; (3) “whether state or local officials appoint the board members of the entity”; and (4) “whether the entity's functions fall within the traditional purview of state or local government . . . .” Ernst v. Rising, 427 F.3d 351, 359 (6th Cir. 2005).

         A. State's Potential Liability

         Taking the allegations in the Complaint as true, the State does not have potential liability for a judgment against the Task Force. Rather, the judgment would be paid from the Task Force's independent bank account. Accord Timberlake by Timberlake v. Benton, 786 F.Supp. 676, 682 (M.D. Tenn. 1992) (finding that the 19th Judicial Task Force is a separate entity from the state). While the Task Force disputes this (Doc. No. 25 at 4), the dispute raises a question of fact not appropriate for the Court to resolve on a motion to dismiss. See Solo v. United Parcel Serv. Co., 819 F.3d 788, 796 (6th Cir. 2016) (holding that ...


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