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Lee v. Lamas

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

December 27, 2019

ROBERT LEE, JR., individually and for all others similarly situated, Plaintiff,
MARIROSA LAMAS, MICHAEL WENEROWICZ and TY STANTON, in their individual capacities, Defendants.


          RUFE, J.

         Plaintiff Robert Lee, Jr. filed this proposed collective action[1] against Defendants Marirosa Lamas, Michael Wenerowicz, and Ty Stanton, on behalf of all similarly situated people, alleging that the Defendants violated the overtime provisions of the federal Fair Labor Standard Act[2] (FLSA) and the Pennsylvania Minimum Wage Act[3] (PMWA) by requiring Corrections Officer Trainees and Corrections Officer 1s (“COs”) to perform approximately 45 minutes of unpaid post-shift work each day. Defendants have moved to dismiss the Complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, alleging that they are entitled to sovereign immunity. For the reasons that follow, the motion will be denied.

         I. BACKGROUND[4]

         Plaintiff worked for about a year as a Corrections Officer Trainee at the State Correctional Institution Chester. Because prisons operate on a 24-hour basis, COs are scheduled to work one of three eight-hour shifts that run from 6:00am to 2:00pm, from 2:00pm to 10:00pm and from 10:00pm to 6:00am. Generally, COs are paid only for their eight hour shift.

         However, at the end of each shift, COs are required to remain at their post until the next shift arrives to replace them. But before the replacement can take place, the COs on the next shift have to wait in a single-file line to pass through security, receive their daily post assignments from a Lieutenant, scan their fingerprints and enter their payroll numbers to clock-in, walk to their post, perform an inventory of their equipment, and review a log of events from the prior shift. Then, the COs whose shifts have concluded are required to brief the incoming COs about any events that occurred on the previous shift and convey any specific instructions for the next shift. Finally, in order to leave, COs have to walk to the equipment window, wait in a single-file line to return their equipment, pass through security, scan their fingerprints, and enter their payroll numbers to clock-out.

         Therefore, Lee alleges that, at the end of each shift, COs have about 45 minutes of uncompensated work-related responsibilities. Although Lee concedes that the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (“DOC”) maintains FLSA-compliant and PMWA-compliant policies, he alleges that the Defendants maintained internal systems and procedures at SCI Chester that lead to COs not receiving compensation for their post-shift work.

         Lee initially filed suit only against the DOC, [5] which moved to dismiss on the basis of sovereign immunity.[6] Lee then filed an Amended Complaint naming Lamas, Wenerowicz, and Stanton as defendants, in their individual capacities.[7] Lee alleges that Lamas, who is the Superintendent of SCI Chester, and Wenerowicz, who is the DOC's Deputy Secretary Eastern Region, are responsible for ensuring that DOC policies are followed at SCI Chester. Lee further alleges that Stanton, who is the DOC's Bureau of Human Resources Director, is responsible for ensuring that DOC's Human Resources policies are followed at the prison. According to Lee, all of the Defendants have significant control over the terms and conditions of the employment of COs and are also responsible for devising, directing, implementing, and supervising the wage and hour practices and policies relating to this action.

         Defendants now move to dismiss both claims in Lee's Amended Complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Defendants assert that the Eleventh Amendment bars Lee's FLSA claim because, although Lee has now named individual defendants, the State remains the real party in interest. Defendants also asserts that they are entitled to state sovereign immunity on the PMWA claim.


         A defendant may move to dismiss a civil action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1).[8] A challenge to subject matter jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1) may be either a facial or a factual attack.[9] A facial challenge is where, as here, a defendant “challenges subject matter jurisdiction without disputing the facts alleged in the complaint.”[10] In such a case, the court is required to “consider the allegations of the complaint as true.”[11] However, because “[f]ederal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction . . .[12] [i]t is to be presumed that a cause lies outside this limited jurisdiction, [13] and the burden of establishing the contrary rests upon the party asserting jurisdiction.”[14] Immunity under the Eleventh Amendment challenges the court's subject matter jurisdiction, and thus is properly raised under Rule 12(b)(1).[15] If the Court determines that it lacks subject matter jurisdiction, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(h)(3) requires dismissal.[16]


         A. FLSA Claim

         “[A]bsent waiver by the State or valid congressional override, the Eleventh Amendment bars a damages action against a State in federal court.”[17] Pennsylvania has expressly withheld its consent to be sued[18] and the FLSA is not a valid abrogation of a state's Eleventh Amendment immunity.[19] Moreover, “[a]lthough the language of the Eleventh Amendment refers only to ‘States,' the Supreme Court has held that the immunity extends to entities that are considered arms of the state.”[20] The Third Circuit has held that the “Pennsylvania Department of Corrections is thus immune from suit in federal court pursuant to the Eleventh Amendment.”[21]This protection from suit extends to state officials sued in their official capacities for monetary damages.[22] However, the Eleventh Amendment does not protect state officials from being sued in their individual capacity.[23] Therefore, “even a suit for money damages may be prosecuted against a state officer in his individual capacity for unconstitutional or wrongful conduct fairly attributable to the officer himself, so long as the relief is sought not from the state treasury but from the officer personally.”[24]

         However, even “[w]hen the suit is brought only against state officials, a question arises as to whether that suit is a suit against the State itself” because “[t]he Eleventh Amendment bars a suit against state officials when ‘the state is the real, substantial party in interest.'”[25] This is because “allowing an action to proceed simply because the complaint names a state official in his or her individual capacity ‘would be to adhere to an empty formalism and to undermine the principle . . . that Eleventh Amendment immunity represents a real limitation on a federal court's federal-question jurisdiction.'”[26] “[T]he general rule is that relief sought nominally against an officer is in fact against the sovereign if the decree would operate against the latter.”[27] More specifically, a suit brought against state officials is actually a suit “against the sovereign if the judgment sought would expend itself on the public treasury or domain, or interfere with the public administration, or if the effect of the judgment would be to restrain the Government from acting, or to compel it to act.”[28]

         Lee's claims are against Lamas, Wenerowicz, and Stanton in their individual capacities, and therefore, he asserts that the Eleventh Amendment does not insulate the Defendants from suit. However, Defendants argue that Lee's suit “nonetheless effectively states a claim against the Commonwealth itself.”[29]

         However, at this time, there is no basis for determining that a ruling against the Defendants would “impose a liability which must be paid from public funds.”[30] Lee alleges that Pennsylvania's compensation system complies with the FLSA but that the individual Defendants' acted to deny him, as well as others similarly situated, proper overtime pay. Thus, based on the allegations in the Amended Complaint, Lee is seeking relief “not from the state treasury but from the officer personally” for “wrongful conduct fairly attributable to the officer himself.”[31] Moreover, neither a state's voluntary decision to indemnify its employees who are sued in federal court, [32] nor the defendants' inability to satisfy the judgment, functions to remove Eleventh Amendment immunity.[33] Furthermore, because Lee alleges that Pennsylvania's compensation scheme was lawful, this suit does not interfere with the “primary purpose of the eleventh amendment” which “is to assure that the federal courts do not interfere with a state's public policy and its administration of internal public affairs.”[34] Therefore, on the current limited record, the Eleventh Amendment does not bar Lee's suit.[35]

         B. PMWA Claim

         Under the Pennsylvania Constitution, “the Commonwealth, and its officials and employees acting within the scope of their duties, shall continue to enjoy sovereign immunity and official immunity and remain immune from suit except as the General Assembly shall specifically waive the immunity.”[36] The parties agree that this immunity has not been waived but Lee argues that the Defendants acted outside the scope of their duties because his “claims arise from Defendants' knowing and intentional violation of DOC wage and hour policies.”[37]

         “Pennsylvania has accepted the Restatement (Second) of Agency's definition of conduct ‘within the scope of employment.'”[38] According to the Restatement, “conduct is within the scope of employment if, but only if: (a) it is the kind [the employee] is employed to perform; (b) it occurs substantially within the authorized time and space limits [and] (c) it is actuated, at least in part, by a purpose to serve the master....”[39] Significantly, even actions that violate the ...

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