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Vaders v. Commonwealth of PA Dep't of Agriculture

March 17, 2010

JAYNE VADERS, PLAINTIFF
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF PA DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE ET AL. DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Stengel, J.

OPINION

The Philadelphia Park Racetrack Board of Stewards revoked Jayne Vaders's horse racing license. The Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission and the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court affirmed the revocation. Ms. Vaders alleges the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission, Philadelphia Park Racetrack Board of Stewards,*fn1 Sam Boulmetis, Jr., John P. Hicks, and John Gerweck discriminated against her because of her gender in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

Ms. Vaders's claims against the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture and Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission are barred because the entities have sovereign immunity pursuant to the Eleventh Amendment of the United States Constitution. To the extent Mr. Boulmetis, Mr. Hicks, and Mr. Gerweck are sued in their official capacity, the Eleventh Amendment bars the claims. In addition, to the extent Mr. Boulmetis, Mr. Hicks, and Mr. Gerweck are each sued in his personal capacity, the claims are barred because the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania decided the issue.

I. BACKGROUND

Jayne Vaders trained and owned numerous horses stabled at Philadelphia Park Racetrack. Complaint at ¶ 10, Vaders v. Pa. Dept. of Agriculture, No. 09-1352 (E.D. Pa. filed Mar. 30, 2009). Consistent with Racing Commission procedures, Ms. Vaders's horses were subject to drug testing following a race. Complaint at ¶ 14. Following a February 4, 2007 race, a class III drug was found in the system of a horse owned by Ms. Vaders, but it could not be determined whether the drug was administered on the day of the race. Id.; Vaders v. Pa. State Horse Racing Comm'n, 964 A.2d 56, 57-58 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2009). A class III drug is permitted and commonly used during training, but is not allowed in a horse's system on race day. Complaint at ¶ 14.

On several prior occasions, the Board of Stewards disciplined Ms. Vaders through license suspension and a fine for administration of drugs to her horses. Id. at ¶ 15. On April, 13, 2007, Ms. Vaders's license was revoked. Id. at ¶ 16. Her license was revoked pursuant to 58 Pa. Code § 163.303, which calls for the revocation of a license after two positive drug tests. Id. at ¶ 17. This provision had never been invoked before, and has not been invoked since. Complaint at ¶18. Rather, owners and trainers typically receive a fifteen to thirty day suspension and a fine for violating the provision. Id.

Ms. Vaders appealed the decision of the Board of Stewards to the Commission and lost. She appealed the Commission's decision to the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court. In the Commonwealth Court, Ms. Vaders argued the Board of Stewards selectively enforced the provision against her. Vaders, 964 A.2d at 57, 59. The Commonwealth Court relied on the testimony of a steward, who stated the Board of Stewards had never before enforced the section because "they never had a trainer or owner with as many violations as [Ms.] Vaders." Id. at 60. The court noted Ms. Vaders had received a warning before her license was revoked. Id. The Commonwealth Court found the Stewards "did not abuse their discretion" when they revoked Ms. Vaders's license.*fn2

Ms. Vaders alleges the procedures were selectively enforced against her based on her gender. Id. at ¶ 20. Defendants filed a motion to dismiss Ms. Vaders's complaint. For the reasons set forth below, I will grant defendants' motion.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Standard

A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure examines the legal sufficiency of the complaint. Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957). The factual allegations must be sufficient to make the claim for relief more than just speculative. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). In determining whether to grant a motion to dismiss, a federal court must construe the complaint liberally, accept all factual allegations in the complaint as true, and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Id.; see also D.P. Enters. v. Bucks County Cmty. Coll., 725 F.2d 943, 944 (3d Cir. 1984). A court may consider public records and other indisputable authentic documents when reviewing a motion to dismiss. Spruill v. Gills, 372 F.3d 218, 223 (3d Cir. 2004) (court may consider indisputable authentic documents); S. Cross Overseas Agencies, Inc. V. Wah Kwong Shipping Group, Ltd., 181 F.3d 410, 426 (3d Cir. 1999) (court may consider public records, including judicial proceedings).

B. Ms. Vaders's Claim Against the State Agencies

The Eleventh Amendment provides "[t]he Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State." The United States Supreme Court has held "despite the limited terms of the Eleventh Amendment, a federal court could not entertain a suit brought by a citizen against his own State." Pennhurst State Sch. & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 98 (1984) (quoting Hans v. Louisiana, 134 U.S. 1, 15 (1890)). "[T]he principle of sovereign immunity is a constitutional limitation on the federal judicial power established in [Article III]." Id.

A state may waive its sovereign immunity, and consent to be sued in federal court. Pennhurst State Sch. & Hosp., 465 U.S. at 99 (citing Clark v. Barnard, 108 U.S. 436, 447 (1883)). The State's consent, however, must be "unequivocally expressed." Id. (citing Edelman v. Jordan, 415 U.S. 651, 673 (1974)). In addition, although Congress can abrogate the Eleventh Amendment immunity pursuant to the Fourteenth Amendment, Congress must provide "an unequivocal expression of congressional intent to ...


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