The opinion of the court was delivered by: EDMUND V. LUDWIG
Defendants Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County and Philadelphia Municipal Court move for summary judgment on the ground that they are state entities entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity.
Jurisdiction is federal question.
In February, 1988 plaintiff Carl Steven Robinson began working for the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County and the Philadelphia Municipal Court in their Pretrial Services Division.
The complaint alleges that he was discharged in June, 1992 for lodging a complaint with a city agency concerning an asbestos removal project at his work site. This action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 asserts a violation of plaintiff's First Amendment rights together with supplemental claims under the Pennsylvania Whistleblower Law and the Worker and Community Right-to-Know Act and for wrongful and retaliatory discharge. It requests compensatory and punitive damages, as well as declaratory and injunctive relief.
Under the Eleventh Amendment, a state entity may not be sued in federal court without its consent.
Edelman v. Jordan, 415 U.S. 651, 663, 94 S. Ct. 1347, 1355, 39 L. Ed. 2d 662 (1974); Laskaris v. Thornburgh, 661 F.2d 23, 25 (3d Cir. 1981). On the other hand, cities and counties, albeit political subdivisions of the state, do not enjoy constitutional immunity. See Monell v. Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658, 98 S. Ct. 2018, 56 L. Ed. 2d 611 (1978); Mt. Healthy City School Dist. Board of Educ. v. Doyle, 429 U.S. 274, 97 S. Ct. 568, 50 L. Ed. 2d 471 (1977). Here, defendants claim to be "arms" or "alter egos" of the State of Pennsylvania and entitled, as such, to Eleventh Amendment protection.
Plaintiff counters that defendants, while perhaps hybrid in nature, are more akin to counties and municipalities and are, therefore, not state entities for Eleventh Amendment purposes. In various contexts, this issue has received considerable analysis. As one commentator has observed:
It is not always easy to distinguish between state and local agencies at first glance. The courts will resolve the question by determining whether the agency is an "alter ego" of the state entitled to the protection of state immunity or a separate entity not so protected.
1 Jeremy C. Moore, et al., Moore's Federal Practice P 0.60[2.-2], at 616-17 (2d ed. 1990) (footnotes omitted).
There is no doubt that a state's highest court is an Eleventh Amendment state entity. See, e.g., Russillo v. Scarborough, 727 F. Supp. 1402, 1409 (D.N.M. 1989); Rothstein v. Montana State Supreme Court, 638 F. Supp. 1311, 1312 (D. Mont. 1986); Mattas v. Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, 576 F. Supp. 1178, 1181-82 (W.D. Pa. 1983); Louis v. Supreme Court of Nevada, 490 F. Supp. 1174, 1180 (D. Nev. 1980). The few decisions to have resolved the issue have consistently held that lower courts are state entities as well. See, e.g., Greater Los Angeles Council on Deafness, Inc. v. Zolin, 812 F.2d 1103, 1110 (9th Cir. 1987) (trial court); Oliver v. Superior Court of Plymouth County, 799 F. Supp. 1273, 1273 (D. Mass. 1992) (trial court); Russillo v. Scarborough, 727 F. Supp. 1402, 1409 (D.N.M. 1989) (metropolitan court); Mathis v. Clerk of First Dept., Appellate Div., 631 F. Supp. 232, 235 (S.D.N.Y. 1986) (intermediate appellate); N.A.A.C.P. v. California, 511 F. Supp. 1244, 1257-58 (E.D. Cal. 1981) (trial court), aff'd, 711 F.2d 121 (9th Cir. 1983).
In our District, two decisions have held that courts of common pleas are state entities. See Clark v. Court of Common Pleas, 1992 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 1834, at *5-6 (E.D. Pa. February 13, 1992) (Court of Common Pleas of Chester County); Pokrandt v. Shields, 773 F. Supp. 758, 764 (E.D. Pa. 1991) (Court of Common Pleas of Schuylkill County). Another has held that the Pennsylvania Superior Court, an intermediate appellate court, is an arm of the state. See Holt v. Superior Court of Pennsylvania, 1992 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 13053, at *3 (E.D. Pa. August 28, 1992). Another has reached the same conclusion as to the Philadelphia Traffic Court. See In re Colon, 114 Bankr. 890, 893 (Bankr. E.D. Pa. 1990).
As further support, defendants cite Article V, § 1 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, which, in 1968, established a "Unified Judicial System":
The judicial power of the Commonwealth shall be vested in a unified judicial system consisting of the Supreme Court, the Superior Court, the Commonwealth Court, courts of common pleas, community courts, municipal and traffic courts in the City of Philadelphia, . . .
Pa. Const. Art. 5, § 1 (1992). Commenting on the significance of a state judicial system, the Ninth Circuit noted:
The fact that the defendant courts herein are the courts of entry into the state judicial system, rather than the courts of last resort, does not make them any less an integral ...