The opinion of the court was delivered by: Yvette Kane, Chief Judge United States District Court Middle District of Pennsylvania
Before the Court are Magistrate Judge Thomas M. Blewitt's Report and Recommendation (Doc. No. 67), Plaintiff's objections thereto (Doc. No. 72), Defendants' response (Doc. No. 76), and Plaintiff's reply (Doc No. 80). For the reasons discussed below, the Court will adopt Magistrate Judge Blewitt's Report and Recommendation and grant in part and deny in part Defendants' Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings. (Doc. No. 28.)
Plaintiff has a permanent psychological disability that limits her ability to perform major life activities. (Doc. No. 26, ¶¶ 11-12.) In September 2001, Plaintiff applied for and was granted supplemental security income benefits from the Social Security Administration. (Id. ¶ 13.) Plaintiff subsequently applied to the York County Assistance Office for cash aid, food stamps, and Medicaid. (Id. ¶ 14.) Plaintiff claims that over the next two years, individuals at the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare and the York County Assistance Office discriminated against her because of her disability.*fn2 Specifically, Plaintiff asserts that she is a qualified person with a disability, and that Defendants violated Title II of the ADA when, by reason of her disability, they: (1) created unnecessary eligibility standards and rules that have denied her access to and the enjoyment of the services and programs offered; (2) refused Plaintiff's reasonable requests for accommodation of her disability; (3) violated regulations ensuring that communications with members of the public with disabilities are as effective as communications with others; and (4) retaliated against Plaintiff because she asserted her rights and complained about the manner in which she had been treated. (Id. ¶¶ 56-64.)
Plaintiff initiated this civil action through a pro se complaint filed on January 7, 2004. (Doc. No. 1.) With the assistance of counsel, Plaintiff filed an amended complaint on September 13, 2004. (Doc. No. 26.) Plaintiff's amended complaint seeks injunctive relief and damages under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, 42 U.S.C. § 12131 et seq. ("Title II of the ADA") and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 794(a) ("Section 504 of the RA"). (Id.) The amended complaint contains three counts against the named Defendants: a claim under Section 504 of the RA (Count I); a claim under Title II of the ADA (Count II); and claims of retaliation under both the RA and the ADA (Count III). On September 22, 2004, Defendants collectively filed an answer to the amended complaint. (Doc. No. 27.) On November 19, 2004, Defendants filed a Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (Doc. No. 28.)
On December 12, 2005, Magistrate Judge Blewitt issued a Report and Recommendation addressing Defendants' motion, wherein Judge Blewitt recommended that Defendants' motion be granted in part and denied in part. (Doc. No. 67.) In his Report and Recommendation, Magistrate Judge Blewitt concluded the following: (1) Defendants are not liable as individuals under either Section 504 of the RA or Title II of the ADA; (2) Defendants in their official capacities are immune from suit for damages under Title II of the ADA pursuant to Eleventh Amendment sovereign immunity; and (3) Defendants are not liable for retaliation under Section 504 of the RA. (Id.) In all other respects, Magistrate Judge Blewitt recommended denying Defendants' motion. (Id.) On January 17, 2006, Plaintiff filed objections to the Report and Recommendation, arguing that the Magistrate Judge erred in finding that Defendants in their official capacities are immune from suit for damages under Title II of the ADA.*fn3 (Doc. Nos. 72, 73.) On January 31, 2006, Defendants filed a response to Plaintiff's objections. (Doc. No. 76.) On February 15, 2006, Plaintiff filed a reply brief. (Doc. No. 80.)
When objections to a report and recommendation have been filed, the Court must make a de novo consideration of those portions of the report to which the objections relate. Carter v. Apfel, 220 F. Supp. 2d 393, 395 (M.D. Pa. 2000) (citing Samples v. Diecks, 885 F.2d 1099, 1106 n.3 (3d Cir. 1989)). In so doing, the Court may accept, reject, or modify the findings and recommendations contained in the report. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); Local Rule 72.1. Further, in the exercise of sound judicial discretion, the Court may rely on the magistrate judge's proposed findings and recommendations. United States v. Raddatz, 447 U.S. 667, 676 (1980); Govey v. Clark, 749 F.2d 5, 7 (3d Cir. 1984) ("[t]he Supreme Court has recognized the discretion afforded federal district courts in their use of magistrate's reports").
A motion for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c) is treated using the same standard as a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), and it can be brought by any party after the pleadings are closed. Regalbuto v. City of Philadelphia, 937 F. Supp. 374, 376-77 (E.D. Pa. 1995). In deciding a rule 12(c) motion, the Court must view all facts and draw all inferences from the pleadings in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Janney Montgomery Scott, Inc. v. Shepard Niles, Inc., 11 F.3d 399, 406 (3d Cir. 1993) (citation omitted). The Court may not grant judgment on the pleadings unless the movant clearly establishes that no material issue of fact remains to be resolved and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Travelers Indemnity Co. v. Stedman, 895 F. Supp. 742, 745-46 (E.D. Pa. 1995).
In Count II of the amended complaint, Plaintiff claims that Defendants violated Title II of the ADA by failing to modify their practices, procedures, and policies to accommodate Plaintiff's disability. (Doc. No. 26, ¶ 80.) In their motion for judgment on the pleadings, Defendants argue that the Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution bars Plaintiff's claims against them in their official capacities for damages under Title II of the ADA. (Doc. No. 29, at 6.) Magistrate Judge Blewitt agreed and recommended dismissal of this claim. Plaintiff objected, arguing that Congress abrogated state sovereign immunity under Title II of the ADA and, therefore, that Defendants can be held liable in their official capacities for damages under Title II of the ADA. (Doc. No. 73.)*fn4
A. Framework for Analyzing Title II Claims in the Context of State Sovereign Immunity
Congress enacted the Americans with Disabilities Act "to provide a clear and comprehensive national mandate for the elimination of discrimination against individuals with disabilities." 42 U.S.C. § 12101(b)(1). The statute prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in the areas of employment (Title I), public services, programs, and activities (Title II), and public accommodations (Title III). Tennessee v. Lane, 541 U.S. 509, 516-17 (2004).
In the instant action, Plaintiff seeks relief under Title II of the ADA, which provides that "no qualified individual with a disability shall, by reason of such disability, be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of the services, programs, or activities of a public entity, or be subjected to discrimination by any such entity." 42 U.S.C. § 12132. The Act defines a qualified individual with a disability as one "who, with or without reasonable modifications to rules, policies, or practices, the removal of architectural, communication, or transportation barriers, or the provision of auxiliary aids and services, meets the essential eligibility requirements for the receipt of services or the participation in programs or activities provided by a public entity." Id. § 12131(2). Thus, the act imposes a duty of reasonable accommodation on all public entities.
Title II also authorizes private citizens to bring suits for money damages against public entities for violations of this provision. Id. § 12133 (incorporating by reference 29 U.S.C. § 749). Additionally, and of particular relevance to this action, Title II purports to abrogate state sovereign immunity, providing that a "State shall not be immune under the eleventh amendment to the Constitution of the United States from an action in Federal or State court of competent jurisdiction for a violation of this chapter." 42 U.S.C. § 12202.
While the text of the Eleventh Amendment*fn5 appears to restrict only Article III diversity jurisdiction of the federal courts, Supreme Court jurisprudence makes clear that the amendment "stand[s] not so much for what it says, but for the presupposition . . . which it confirms." Seminole Tribe of Florida v. Florida, 517 U.S. 44, 54 (1996) (quoting Blatchford v. Native Village of Noatak, 501 U.S. 775, 779 (1991)). This presupposition has two parts: "first, that each State is a sovereign entity in our federal system; and second, that [i]t is inherent in the nature of sovereignty not to be amenable to the suit of an individual without its consent." Id. (internal citations and quotations omitted). Because of the broad principle of sovereign immunity in our federal system, federal courts have jurisdiction over suits against a state by an individual if, and only if, (1) the State has explicitly consented to the suit, or (2) Congress has unequivocally abrogated sovereign immunity acting pursuant to a valid grant of constitutional authority. Kimel v. Florida Bd. of Regents, 528 U.S. 62, 73 (2000).
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has not consented to suit in federal court under these circumstances, see 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. §§ 8521(b), 8522 (announcing the Commonwealth's retention of sovereign immunity and listing the narrow areas in which the Commonwealth has consented to suit), so the Court must analyze whether Congress has clearly expressed its intent to abrogate state sovereign immunity and whether it has the power to do so. In the ADA, Congress clearly expressed its intent to abrogate the States' Eleventh Amendment immunity. 42 U.S.C. § 12202 ("A State shall not be immune under the eleventh amendment to the Constitution of the United States for an action in Federal or State court of competent jurisdiction for a violation of this Act"). Therefore, the Court must determine ...