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Wieck v. Bevin

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Central Division, Frankfort

September 29, 2017

RANDY WIECK, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
MATTHEW BEVIN, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

          Gregory F. Van Tatenhove United States District Judge.

         This matter is before the Court on Defendants' Motions to Dismiss. [R. 3; R. 4.] The Eleventh Amendment to the Constitution protects states against suits from individuals and protection of this sovereignty is nearly absolute. Alexander Hamilton, in Federalist 81, explained the doctrine this way:

It is inherent in the nature of sovereignty not to be amenable to the suit of an individual without its consent. This is the general sense and the general practice of mankind; and the exemption, as one of the attributes of sovereignty, is now enjoyed by the government of every state in the Union. Unless, therefore, there is a surrender of this immunity in the plan of the convention, it will remain with the states, and the danger intimated must be merely ideal.

(quoted by Hans v. Louisiana, 134 U.S. 1, 12 (1890); Alden v. Maine, 527 U.S. 706, 716 (1999).) Here, the Eleventh Amendment protects the Commonwealth of Kentucky from suit. Accordingly, Defendants' Motions to Dismiss [R. 3; R 4.] are GRANTED.

         I

         A

         There are a lot of Plaintiffs in this case. They are all residents of Kentucky. They bring this suit individually and as representatives of a class greater than 146, 000 persons who are current and retired teachers in Kentucky public schools. [R. 1-1 at 5.] The Defendants are Governor Matthew Bevin in his official capacity and both the President of the Senate, Robert Stivers, and the Speaker of the House Representatives, now Jeff Hoover, in their official capacities. [R. 1.]

         In their complaint, Plaintiffs allege various Constitutional claims against the Defendants related to the failure of the parties to adequately fund the Kentucky Teachers Retirement System “resulting in an unfunded liability in excess of $24.43 billion dollars ending in the fiscal year June 30, 2015, thus creating a decline in KTRS's funded ratio of less than 42% . . . of pension benefits it owes to its members.” [R. 1-1 at 8.] The parties do not disagree as to the dire financial nature of KTRS. [R. 3-1 at 2.] Neither does the Court.

         As Defendants indicated [see R. 3-1 at 2], Plaintiffs make three complaints, though their precise causes of action are difficult to ascertain. For example, in their third complaint, Plaintiffs cite no statute or section of either the Federal or State Constitution, only stating that they are “threatened with irreparable injury to their retirement benefits.” [R. 1-1 at 9.] After combing the Complaint, the Court has ascertained alleged violations of the following statutes and sections of the United States and Kentucky Constitutions: violation of KRS 161.420 and 161.714; violation of Article 1, section 10 of the United States Constitution; violation of Section 19 of the Kentucky Constitution; and violation of 14th Amendment rights pursuant to 18 U.S.C § 1983. [See R. 1-1.]

         On January 3, 2017, this case was removed to this Court. [See R. 1.] Defendants filed Motions to Dismiss, which are now ripe for review. [R. 3; R. 4.]

         II

         A

         This Court's authority to resolve the matters in this case hinges on the applicability of the Eleventh Amendment, which reads, “[t]he 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. In general, states are immune from claims brought against them by private persons in federal court. See, e.g., Seminole Tribe of Fla. v. Florida, 517 U.S. 44, 54 (1996); U.S. CONST. amend. XI. The Eleventh Amendment protects states against all types of claims, “whether for injunctive, declaratory or monetary relief.” Thiokol Corp. v. Dep't of Treasury, State of Mich., Revenue Div., 987 F.2d 376, 381 (6th Cir. 1993); see also McCormick v. Miami Univ., 693 F.3d 654, 661 (6th Cir. 2012). States are protected by the Eleventh Amendment even “when only individual state officials are the nominal defendants but the state is the real, substantial party in interest.” Hall v. Med. Coll. of Ohio at Toledo, 742 F.2d 299, 301 (6th Cir. 1984); see Alkire v. Irving, 330 F.3d 802, 810 (6th Cir. 2003) (“Individuals sued in their official capacities stand in the shoes of the entity they represent); Matthews v. Jones, 35 F.3d 1046, 1049 (6th Cir. 1994) (“A suit against an individual in his official capacity is the equivalent of a suit against the governmental entity.”); Will v. Michigan Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 71 (1989) (“Obviously, state officials literally are persons. But a suit against a state official in his or her official capacity is not a suit against the official but rather is a suit against the official's office.”).

         Here, Plaintiffs do not pretend that the individuals named in this lawsuit will personally rectify the shortfalls of KTRS with their personal funds, but instead the relief they seek will “involve substantial expenditures from the public funds of the state.” Edelman v. Jordan, 415 U.S. 651, 665 (1974). When “the action is in essence one for the recovery of ...


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