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Squires v. South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Florence Division

March 6, 2017

Burnie Squires, Plaintiff,
v.
South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, Defendant.

          ORDER

          R. Bryan Harwell United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Burnie Squires filed this action in this Court against his former employer, Defendant South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, alleging Defendant violated Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act[1] (“ADA”) by failing to reasonably accommodate his disability in his employment. See Complaint [ECF No. 1]. Defendant filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) and Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See ECF No. 8.

         The matter is now before the Court for review of the Report and Recommendation (“R & R”) of United States Magistrate Judge Kaymani D. West, made in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2)(g) for the District of South Carolina. See R & R [ECF No. 18]. The Magistrate Judge recommends that the Court grant Defendant's motion to dismiss and dismiss this case with prejudice. R & R at 1, 8. Plaintiff has filed timely objections to the R & R. See Pl.'s Objs. [ECF No. 19]. Defendant has not filed a reply to Plaintiff's objections.

         Standard of Review

         The Magistrate Judge makes only a recommendation to the Court. The Magistrate Judge's recommendation has no presumptive weight, and the responsibility to make a final determination remains with the Court. Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 270-71 (1976). The Court must conduct a de novo review of those portions of the R & R to which specific objections are made, and it may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the recommendation of the Magistrate Judge or recommit the matter with instructions. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).

         The Court must engage in a de novo review of every portion of the Magistrate Judge's report to which objections have been filed. Id. However, the Court need not conduct a de novo review when a party makes only “general and conclusory objections that do not direct the [C]ourt to a specific error in the [M]agistrate [Judge]'s proposed findings and recommendations.” Orpiano v. Johnson, 687 F.2d 44, 47 (4th Cir. 1982). In the absence of specific objections to the R & R, the Court reviews only for clear error, Diamond v. Colonial Life & Acc. Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 310, 315 (4th Cir. 2005), and the Court need not give any explanation for adopting the Magistrate Judge's recommendation. Camby v. Davis, 718 F.2d 198, 199-200 (4th Cir. 1983).

         Discussion[2]

         Plaintiff asserts a single cause of action in his complaint, alleging Defendant-a state agency-violated Title I of the ADA by failing to reasonably accommodate his Type II diabetes disability in his employment as a disease intervention specialist. See Compl. at ¶¶ 38-45. Plaintiff alleges he “is entitled to injunctive relief and/or civil damages.” Id. at ¶¶ 29-30, 35. Defendant moves to dismiss Plaintiff's action pursuant to both Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6), arguing state sovereign immunity and the Eleventh Amendment[3] bar Plaintiff's ADA claim for monetary damages.[4] See ECF No. 8. The Magistrate Judge recommends granting Defendant's motion and dismissing this case with prejudice because Defendant is immune from suit for money damages under the Eleventh Amendment. R & R at 1, 4-8. Plaintiff objects to the Magistrate Judge's recommendation. See Pl.'s Objs. at 1-2.

         The Eleventh Amendment bars suits against states and state agencies “regardless of the nature of the relief sought.” Pennhurst State Sch. & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 100 (1984); see, e.g., McCray v. Maryland Dep't of Transp., 741 F.3d 480, 483 (4th Cir. 2014) (applying Eleventh Amendment immunity and finding the plaintiff could “not seek injunctive or monetary relief from” two state agencies). “An unconsenting State is immune from suits brought in federal courts by her own citizens as well as by citizens of another State.” Lee-Thomas v. Prince George's Cty. Pub. Sch., 666 F.3d 244, 248 (4th Cir. 2012). However, Eleventh Amendment immunity is not absolute, and three exceptions exist to this immunity:

First, Congress may abrogate the States' Eleventh Amendment immunity when it both unequivocally intends to do so and acts pursuant to a valid grant of constitutional authority. . . . Second, the Eleventh Amendment permits suits for prospective injunctive relief against state officials acting in violation of federal law.[5] . . . Third, [a] State remains free to waive its Eleventh Amendment immunity from suit in a federal court.

Id. at 248-49 (alteration in original) (internal quotation marks, citations, and footnote omitted).

         The Magistrate Judge determined Plaintiff's Title I ADA claim for monetary damages must be dismissed based upon the United States Supreme Court's decision in Board of Trustees of University of Alabama v. Garrett, 531 U.S. 356 (2001). R & R at 4-7. In Garrett, the Supreme Court held the Eleventh Amendment bars private suits seeking money damages for state violations of Title I of the ADA.[6] 531 U.S. at 360, 374.

         In his objections to the R & R, Plaintiff asserts “the Magistrate Judge erred by applying Garrett in determining that [Defendant] has sovereign immunity in these proceedings.” Pl.'s Objs. at 2. He cites the above three exceptions to Eleventh Amendment immunity, and then invokes the third exception-waiver-arguing Defendant has consented to suit in federal court by accepting federal funds and financial assistance. Id. Plaintiff supports his waiver argument by citing White v. Engler, 188 F.Supp.2d 730 (E.D. Mich. 2001).[7] Pl.'s Objs. at 1-2.

         In White, a class of plaintiffs asserted claims under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, [8] the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against multiple state defendants. 188 F.Supp.2d at 734, 737. The defendants filed a motion to dismiss arguing Eleventh Amendment immunity barred the plaintiffs' claims. Id. at 738. The district court denied the motion and found Plaintiff's claims fell “squarely within” the three exceptions to Eleventh Amendment immunity. Id. at 738-41. In particular, the district court concluded the defendants waived their sovereign immunity and consented to suit in federal court ...


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