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Nielsen v. Maine Unemployment Insurance Commission

United States District Court, D. Maine

October 29, 2014

CHRISTOPHER NIELSEN, Plaintiff,
v.
MAINE UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE COMMISSION, Defendant.

RECOMMENDED DECISION

JOHN C. NIVISON, Magistrate Judge.

In this action, Plaintiff Christopher Nielsen alleges that Defendant Maine Unemployment Insurance Commission violated his constitutional right to due process in connection with its review and denial of his application for unemployment insurance benefits. More particularly, Plaintiff cites allegedly flawed decisions and actions of various decision-makers during the administrative process as the bases of his constitutional challenge.

The matter is before the Court on Defendant's Motion to Dismiss (Motion, ECF No. 5).[1] After a review of the pleadings, and after consideration of the parties' arguments, as explained below, the recommendation is that the Court grant Defendant's Motion to Dismiss.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

The facts set forth herein are derived from Plaintiff's Complaint, which facts are deemed true when evaluating the Motion to Dismiss. Beddall v. State St. Bank & Trust Co., 137 F.3d 12, 16 (1st Cir. 1998).[2] On May 30, 2014, after considering Plaintiff's request for unemployment insurance benefits under the Maine Employment Security Law, 26 M.R.S. §§ 1041 et seq., the deputy commissioner found that Plaintiff was discharged from employment for cause, and denied Plaintiff's claim. Plaintiff appealed. Following a hearing, on July 3, 2012, the Division of Administrative Hearing affirmed the deputy's determination. Plaintiff appealed again. On November 15, 2014, the Unemployment Insurance Commission upheld the denial of Plaintiff's claim. Plaintiff subsequently sought review in the Maine Superior Court. The Superior Court reversed the administrative decision, and directed the Commission to award Plaintiff unemployment insurance benefits. (Complaint at 2; Nielsen v. Me. Unemployment Ins. Comm'n, No. AP-12-65 (Me. Sup.Ct., Cum. Cty., July 25, 2013 ( see ECF No. 5-1).)

In this matter, Plaintiff contends that the deputy commissioner gave undue weight to an unsigned memorandum offered by the employer; that the Division of Administrative Hearing "did not pursue conflicting testimony" and interrupted Plaintiff's counsel; and that the Commission "decided that the employer's witnesses were more credible, " which "did not faithfully represent the truth that the two witnesses for the employer directly contradicted each other." (Complaint at 2.) Plaintiff maintains that these acts violated his civil rights, specifically his right to due process of law. He asks for declaratory relief and an award of costs.[3] (Complaint at 3.)

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Through its motion, pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Defendant challenges this Court's subject matter jurisdiction. Alternatively, Defendant argues that because Plaintiff has failed to state a claim for which relief may be granted, dismissal is appropriate under Rule 12(b)(6).

"A motion to dismiss an action under Rule 12(b)(1)... raises the fundamental question whether the federal district court has subject matter jurisdiction over the action before it." United States v. Lahey Clinic Hosp., Inc., 399 F.3d 1, 8 n. 6 (1st Cir. 2005) (citation omitted). "In ruling on a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction... the district court must construe the complaint liberally, treating all well-pleaded facts as true and indulging all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff." Aversa v. United States, 99 F.3d 1200, 1210 (1st Cir. 1996). "In addition, the court may consider whatever evidence has been submitted...." Id.

Similarly, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a party may seek dismissal of "a claim for relief in any pleading" if that party believes that the pleading fails "to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." In its assessment of the motion, the Court must "assume the truth of all well-plead facts and give the plaintiff[] the benefit of all reasonable inferences therefrom." Blanco v. Bath Iron Works Corp., 802 F.Supp.2d 215, 221 (D. Me. 2011) (quoting Genzyme Corp. v. Fed. Ins. Co., 622 F.3d 62, 68 (1st Cir. 2010)). To overcome the motion, a plaintiff must establish that the allegations raise a plausible basis for a fact finder to conclude that the defendant is legally responsible for the claim(s) at issue. Id. In its review, the Court may consider documents of undisputed authenticity, public records, documents central to Plaintiff's claim, and documents sufficiently referred to in the complaint. Alternative Energy, Inc. v. St. Paul Fire and Marine Ins. Co., 267 F.3d 30, 33 (1st Cir. 2001). Although the Court's freedom to review materials outside of the complaint is more restricted in the context of a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, in this case, the documents that are extrinsic to the complaint are public records and may be considered equally under Rule 12(b)(1) and Rule 12(b)(6).

DISCUSSION

Defendant argues that Plaintiff's complaint "may not be brought against a state agency." (Motion at 1.) Principally, Defendant asserts that it is not a "person" for purposes of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. ( Id. at 3-4.) Although Plaintiff does not cite the federal civil rights statute, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, because Plaintiff seeks a remedy for an alleged violation of his constitutional rights pursuant to state action, Plaintiff's claim is necessarily a section 1983 claim.[4] Section 1983 states in relevant part:

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress....

As the plain language of the statute reflects, section 1983 authorizes a cause of action only against persons who act under color of state law. Although the Maine Unemployment Insurance Commission acts under color of state law, as an agency of the State of Maine, it is not a person within the meaning of section 1983. Will v. Michigan Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 64 (1989); Wang v. New Hampshire Bd. of Registration in Med., 55 F.3d 698, 700 (1st Cir. 1995). Plaintiff, therefore, has no available remedy, either for damages or injunctive relief, against Defendant under section 1983. Will, 491 U.S. at 66 ("Section 1983 provides a federal forum to remedy ...


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