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Walker v. Jefferson County Bd. of Educ.

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

November 4, 2014

DARRYL WALKER, et al., Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
JEFFERSON COUNTY BOARD OF EDUCATION, et al., Defendants-Appellees. MICHAEL WEAVER, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
MADISON CITY BOARD OF EDUCATION, et al., Defendants-Appellants

Page 749

Appeals from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama. D.C. Docket No. 2:13-cv-00524-RDP. D.C. Docket No. 5:11-cv-03558-TMP.

For DARRYL WALKER, KIMBERLY BRUMBELOE, RONNIE NEWSOME, DARLENE HOLDER, CLARENCE POWELL, ODELL SUMMERLIN, SYLVIA MILLER, JIMMY WILLIAMS, EUGENE JARMON, JR., RONALD CHAMBERS, Individually and on behalf of all similarly situated who consent to their representation, Plaintiffs - Appellants (13-14182): John David Saxon, Sr., John D. Saxon, PC, BIRMINGHAM, AL; Jerome Tucker, Law Office of Jerome Tucker, LLC, BIRMINGHAM, AL.

For JEFFERSON COUNTY BOARD OF EDUCATION, JENNIFER PARSONS, RONALD RHODES, JACQUELINE SMITH, TOMMY LITTLE, OSCAR MANN, In their Respective Official Capacities, Defendants - Appellees (13-14182): Whit Colvin, Carl Johnson, Claire Hyndman Puckett, Bishop Colvin Johnson & Kent, LLC, BIRMINGHAM, AL.

For DARRYL WALKER, KIMBERLY BRUMBELOE, RONNIE NEWSOME, DARLENE HOLDER, CLARENCE POWELL, ODELL SUMMERLIN, SYLVIA MILLER, JIMMY WILLIAMS, EUGENE JARMON, JR., RONALD CHAMBERS, Individually and on behalf of all similarly situated who consent to their representation, Plaintiffs - Appellants (13-14927): John David Saxon, Sr., John D. Saxon, PC, BIRMINGHAM, AL; Jerome Tucker, Law Office of Jerome Tucker, LLC, BIRMINGHAM, AL.

For JEFFERSON COUNTY BOARD OF EDUCATION, JENNIFER PARSONS, RONALD RHODES, JACQUELINE SMITH, TOMMY LITTLE, OSCAR MANN, In their Respective Official Capacities, Defendants - Appellees (13-14927): Whit Colvin, Carl Johnson, Claire Hyndman Puckett, Bishop Colvin Johnson & Kent, LLC, BIRMINGHAM, AL.

For UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Intervenor - Appellee (13-14624): Nathaniel S. Pollock, U.S. Department of Justice, WASHINGTON, DC; Dennis John Dimsey, Mark L. Gross, U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Appellate Section, WASHINGTON, DC.

For MICHAEL E. WEAVER, Plaintiff - Appellee (13-14624): Edward Still, Edward Still Law Firm, LLC, BIRMINGHAM, AL; Philip A. Hostak, Alice O'Brien, National Education Association, Office of General Counsel, WASHINGTON, DC; Kathryn S. Piscitelli, Law Office of Kathryn Piscitelli, ORLANDO, FL.

For MADISON CITY BOARD OF EDUCATION, DEE FOWLER, Dr. in his official capaciy as Superintendent of Education of Madison City Schools, Defendants - Appellants (13-14624): Carl Johnson, Bishop Colvin Johnson & Kent, LLC, BIRMINGHAM, AL.

For ALABAMA ASSOCIATION OF SCHOOL BOARDS, Amicus Curiae (13-14624): Jayne Harrell Williams, Hill Hill Carter Franco Cole & Black, PC, MONTGOMERY, AL.

Before ED CARNES, Chief Judge, and JORDAN and ROSENBAUM, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

Page 750

JORDAN, Circuit Judge

In these consolidated appeals-- Walker and Weaver --the Jefferson County Board of Education and the Madison City Board of Education ask us to recede from our opinion in Stewart v. Baldwin Cnty. Bd. of Educ., 908 F.2d 1499, 1511 (11th Cir. 1990), which held tat school boards in Alabama are not arms of the state and therefore not entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity. With the benefit of oral argument, we conclude that the Eleventh Amendment ruling in Stewart has not been overruled or abrogated, and therefore remains binding precedent.

I

We begin with a summary of the proceedings in Walker and Weaver.

In Walker, a number of so-called 240-day employees sued the Jefferson County Board of Education, alleging that the Board's practice of dividing their annual salaries by 260 days to obtain their hourly and overtime rates violated the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. § 201, et seq. The Walker plaintiffs sought to recover wrongfully calculated wages, withheld wages, unpaid wages, overtime compensation, and liquidated damages.

The district court in Walker granted the Jefferson County Board's motion to dismiss. It held that the Board was an arm of the state and therefore entitled to assert Eleventh Amendment immunity from suit. In so ruling, the district court concluded that Stewart did not constitute binding precedent. Relying on Versiglio v. Bd. of Dental Examr's, 686 F.3d 1290, 1291 (11th Cir. 2012) ( Versiglio II ), the district court looked to decisions of the Alabama Supreme Court declaring that school boards have sovereign immunity under the Alabama Constitution from suits based on state tort and contract law. Like the panel in Versiglio II, the district court declined to interpret Alabama law in a way that it believed was diametrically opposed to the decisions of the Alabama Supreme Court. See Walker v. Jefferson Cnty. Bd. of Educ., No. 2:13-CV-00524-RDP, 2013 WL 4056224, at *1 (N.D. Ala. Aug. 12, 2013); Walker v. Jefferson Cnty. Bd. of Educ., No. 2:13-CV-00524-RDP, Order Denying Relief from Judgment [D.E. 26], at *6 (N.D. Ala. Oct. 4, 2013). The plaintiffs appeal from that ruling.

The plaintiff in Weaver, a member of the United States Army ...


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