United States District Court, D. Maine
CHRISTINE M. BLAIS, Plaintiff
STATE OF MAINE, Defendant
DECISION AND ORDER ON DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO
E. WALKER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Christine M. Blais, brings this action against the Defendant,
State of Maine, seeking to challenge the constitutionality of
39-A M.R.S. § 221(3)(A), as it was amended by L.D. 949.
Compl. (ECF No. 1). The matter is before me on the State of
Maine's motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P.
12(b)(1). Mot. Dismiss (ECF No. 10).
proceeding in forma pauperis, asserts that a law
passed in 2013, L.D. 949, “was written in an unequal
and discriminating manner” which, she avers,
“violates the United States Constitution's
guarantee of ‘Equal Protection and Justice under the
law.'” Compl., 3. As a result of the passage of
L.D. 949, Plaintiff's weekly workers' compensation
benefits have been reduced and she seeks reimbursement of the
benefits denied to her as well as an order reinstating her
original weekly benefit amount. Id. As clarified in
her Response, (ECF No. 12, #47), the crux of her argument is
that her equal protection and due process rights have been
violated - a claim which is traditionally asserted through 42
U.S.C. § 1983. See Cruz-Erazo v.
Rivera-Montanez, 212 F.3d 617, 621 (1st Cir. 2000)
(“[Section] 1983 … provides a cause of action by
which individuals may seek [relief] for governmental
violations of rights protected by federal law.”).
seeks dismissal pursuant to Federal Rule 12(b)(1) for lack of
subject matter jurisdiction on sovereign immunity grounds.
Mot. Dismiss, 3. A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1) of
the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure “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 and quotation marks
omitted). As a general rule, “courts must adjudicate
plausible challenges to their jurisdiction prior to
adjudicating the merits of a case.” Brait Builders
Corp. v. Massachusetts, Div. of Capital Asset Mgmt., 644
F.3d 5, 10 (1st Cir. 2011). Because sovereign immunity is
“a limitation on the federal court's judicial
power, ” I will not address the substance of
Plaintiff's case and will instead consider
Defendant's assertion of sovereign immunity. Calderon
v. Ashmus, 523 U.S. 740, 745 n.2 (1998).
doctrine of sovereign immunity is grounded in the Supreme
Court's interpretation of the Eleventh Amendment.
Alden v. Maine, 527 U.S. 706, 728-29 (1999)
(“The Eleventh Amendment confirmed, rather than
established, sovereign immunity as a constitutional
principle.”). Under the principle of sovereign
immunity, unless a state affirmatively waives Eleventh
Amendment protections and consents to suit in federal court,
it is “immune from suit brought by a private party,
regardless of the nature of the relief sought.”
DeCotiis v. Whittemore, 842 F.Supp.2d 354, 364 (D.
Me. 2012); see also Pennhurst State Sch. & Hosp. v.
Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 99-100 (1984). To be clear -
this immunity insulates a state from suit in federal court
“on any claim, whether based in federal or state
law.” Walker v. Nichols, No.
1:13-CV-00259-GZS, 2013 WL 6018614, at *3 (D. Me. Nov. 13,
2013). It also protects a state from a suit filed in federal
court by one of its own citizens. Lapides v. Bd. of
Regents of Univ. Sys. of Georgia, 535 U.S. 613, 616
(2002) (“The Eleventh Amendment grants a State immunity
from suit in federal court by citizens of other States, and
by its own citizens as well.” (internal citations
named defendant in this case, the State of Maine, is
unquestionably entitled to assert the Eleventh
Amendment's bar against federal court
proceedings. Furthermore, as the State asserts, and the
Plaintiff does not contest, the State of Maine has not waived
its entitlement to sovereign immunity. Eleventh Amendment
immunity can be waived in three narrow circumstances:
“(1) by a clear declaration that it intends to submit
itself to the jurisdiction of a federal court or
administrative proceeding, (2) by consent to or participation
in a federal program for which waiver of immunity is an
express condition, or (3) by affirmative conduct in
litigation.” New Hampshire v. Ramsey, 366 F.3d
1, 15 (1st Cir. 2004) (internal citations omitted). The State
of Maine has not affirmatively consented - whether by clear
declaration or by participation in a program requiring waiver
- to suit in federal court for claims arising from alleged
violations of an individual's federally-protected
constitutional rights. See 5 M.R.S. § 4682; 14
M.R.S. § 8118. This refusal to waive sovereign
immunity or submit to the jurisdiction of this
court has been reaffirmed by the State's litigation
conduct: the State filed this motion explicitly asserting its
sovereign immunity and contesting jurisdiction. See
Ramos-Pinero v. Puerto Rico, 453 F.3d 48, 52 (1st Cir.
2006) (concluding that “[f]iling a motion to dismiss
that specifically asserts Eleventh Amendment immunity”
can hardly be viewed as an act that “evince[s] a clear
choice to submit [the state's] rights for adjudication by
the federal courts” (citation and quotation marks
am sympathetic to the hardship this change in legislation has
wrought on Plaintiff, absent an appropriate claim involving
deprivation of a federal right asserted against an
appropriate defendant, my role is necessarily limited. As
commented by the Seventh Circuit:
It is not [a] court's function to decide what the law
ought to be, but rather to construe and apply the law as the
legislature has enacted it . . . . It is the role of the
legislature to evaluate the public policy considerations
regarding the wisdom of a statute, just as it is its role to
cure unfairness of a statute, if any.
Lexington Ins. Co. v. Rugg & Knopp, Inc., 165
F.3d 1087, 1093 (7th Cir. 1999) (citation omitted).
therefore, GRANT Defendant's Motion to
Dismiss (ECF No. 10) and dismiss the claim against the State
of Maine for lack of jurisdiction.