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Pellitteri v. Prine

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

January 13, 2015

FELICIA PELLITTERI, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
SHERIFF CHRIS PRINE, Individually and in his official capacity as Sheriff of Lowndes County, GA, Defendant-Appellant, LOWNDES COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE, et al., Defendants.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Georgia D.C. Docket No. 7:13-cv-00028-HL

Before MARTIN, JULIE CARNES and BLACK, Circuit Judges.

MARTIN, CIRCUIT JUDGE

Defendant Chris Prine, the Sheriff of Lowndes County, Georgia, appeals the District Court's denial of his motion to dismiss. On appeal, Sheriff Prine argues that Plaintiff Felicia Pellitteri's wrongful termination claims are barred by the Eleventh Amendment. We agree. As a result, we reverse and remand for proceedings consistent with this opinion.

I. BACKGROUND[1]

Ms. Pellitteri is a former deputy sheriff in the Lowndes County Sheriff's Office. After injuring her knee during the course of her duties, Ms. Pellitteri requested that she be placed on temporary light duty. According to Ms. Pellitteri, this was an accommodation that was routinely granted to other deputies who suffered on-the-job injuries. However, Ms. Pellitteri's request was denied, and she was eventually fired.

In March 2013, Ms. Pellitteri filed a complaint in federal district court against Lowndes County, the Lowndes County Sheriff's Office, and Sheriff Prine (in his individual capacity and official capacity as Sheriff of Lowndes County). In her complaint, Ms. Pellitteri alleged that the defendants violated her rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12111, 12112.

Sheriff Prine then filed a motion to dismiss in which he argued that Ms. Pellitteri's § 1983 and ADA claims against him in his official capacity were barred by the Eleventh Amendment. The District Court denied Sheriff Prine's motion to dismiss, relying on this Court's unpublished opinion in Keene v. Prine, 477 F.App'x 575 (11th Cir. 2012) (per curiam). Sheriff Prine now appeals.

II. DISCUSSION

Sheriff Prine's primary argument on appeal is that the District Court erred when it denied him immunity under the Eleventh Amendment of the United States Constitution. According to Sheriff Prine, his law enforcement powers all derive from the State of Georgia, and the State has exclusive authority and control over the duties and affairs of his office. Thus, Sheriff Prine argues that he acts as an "arm of the State" when exercising his power to hire and fire the deputies that enforce the laws of Georgia on his behalf. We agree.

This Court reviews de novo the District Court's ruling regarding Eleventh Amendment immunity. Abusaid v. Hillsborough Cnty. Bd. of Cnty. Comm'rs, 405 F.3d 1298, 1303 (11th Cir. 2005). "Eleventh Amendment immunity bars suits brought in federal court when the State itself is sued and when an 'arm of the State' is sued." Manders v. Lee, 338 F.3d 1304, 1308 (11th Cir. 2003) (en banc). "To receive Eleventh Amendment immunity, a defendant need not be labeled a 'state officer' or 'state official, ' but instead need only be acting as an 'arm of the State, ' which includes agents and instrumentalities of the State." Id.

In making the "arm of the State" determination, we weigh the four factors set forth in Manders: "(1) how state law defines the entity; (2) what degree of control the State maintains over the entity; (3) where the entity derives its funds; and (4) who is responsible for judgments against the entity." Id. at 1309. Whether a defendant was acting as an "arm of the State" must be "assessed in light of the particular function in which the defendant was engaged when taking the actions out of which liability is asserted to arise." Id. at 1308; Shands Teaching Hosp. & Clinics, Inc. v. Beech St. Corp., 208 F.3d 1308, 1311 (11th Cir. 2000) ("The pertinent inquiry is not into the nature of [an entity's] status in the abstract, but its function or role in a particular context."). As a result, we do not ask whether a sheriff in Georgia acts as an "arm of the State" generally. Rather, we must determine whether Sheriff Prine acts as an "arm of the State" when exercising his power to hire and fire his deputies.

A. How State Law Defines the Entity

The first Manders factor—how state law defines the entity—points to viewing the Sheriff's Office as an "arm of the State." In Manders, we acknowledged that sheriffs in Georgia are elected by county voters and are labeled "county officers" by the Georgia Constitution. 338 F.3d at 1312 (citing Ga. Const. art. IX, § 1, ¶ III(a)). After reviewing Georgia law, however, we found that the "essential governmental nature" of each sheriff's office in Georgia is to (1) "enforce the law and preserve the peace on behalf of the sovereign State" and (2) "to perform specific statutory duties, directly assigned by the State, in law enforcement, in state courts, and in corrections." Id. at 1319. As a result, we concluded that sheriffs are only "county officers" in the sense that they have a limited geographic jurisdiction. Id. at 1312. Indeed, "sheriffs in Georgia derive their power and duties from the State, are controlled by the State, and counties cannot, and ...


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