Wednesday, August 22, 2007

On official capacity defendants

A few years ago, I filed a motion to dismiss a woman who had been sued only in her official capacity, with this argument:

A suit against a government official in her official capacity is, in effect, a suit against the government entity. See McMillian v. Monroe County, Ala., 520 U.S. 781, 785 n.2 (1997); Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 165-66 (1985). Joining both the Board members in their official capacity and Board itself is unnecessary and redundant. See Graham, 473 U.S. at 167 n. 14 (“There is no longer a need to bring official-capacity actions against local government officials, for . . . local government units can be sued directly for damages and injunctive or declaratory relief”). Based on these principles, federal courts in every region of this United States have dismissed official capacity claims as redundant, duplicative, or unnecessary, where the government itself is also named as a defendant. See Smith v. Metropolitan School Dist. Perry Tp., 128 F.3d 1014, 1021 n.3 (7th Cir. 1997) (“Because Smith’s suit is also against the entity, i.e., the School District and School Board, her claims against the principal and assistant principal, in their official capacities, are redundant”); Jackson v. Marion County Sheriff’s Dept., 67 F.3d 301, 1995 WL 564665 at *1 (7th Cir.) (“Although the suit against the officers in their official capacities was dropped, [plaintiff] was still able to pursue the identical claim against [the] County”); Alicea v. City of Chicago, 2002 WL 1021553 at *4 (N.D. Ill. 2002) (“because Alicea already names the City as a defendant, the claims against Jason in his official capacity are dismissed as duplicative”); Associated Fire Fighters of Illinois, AFL-CIO v. Town of Cicero, 2002 WL 460875 at *1 (N.D. Ill. 2002) (citing cases dismissing official capacity defendants as “redundant”); Love-Lane v. Martin, 2002 WL 745853 at *4 (M.D.N.C. 2002) (official capacity claim “is redundant and will be dismissed”); Goins v. Hitchcock I.S.D., 191 F. Supp.2d 860, 868 (S.D. Tex. 2002) (dismissing official capacity as “redundant”); Burns v. Board of Com’rs of County of Jackson, Kansas, 2002 WL 596137 (D. Kan.); Gonser v. Twiggs County, 182 F. Supp.2d 1253, 1256-1257 (M.D. Ga. 2002) (dismissing official capacity claims as “duplicative of the suit against the County”); Ramsey v. Schauble, 141 F. Supp.2d 584, 591 (W.D.N.C. 2001) (the “official capacity claim . . . is redundant and shall be dismissed”); McCall v. Dallas Ind. School Dist., 2001 WL 1335853 at *2 (N.D. Tex. 2001); Fultz v. Whittaker, 187 F. Supp.2d 695, 708 (W.D. Ky. 2001) (dismissing official capacity claims which “duplicate the action against the” government entity); Holley v. City of Roanoke, 162 F. Supp.2d 1335, 1341 n.2 (M.D. Ala. 2001) (dismissing official capacity claims); Rocha v. Baca, 2000 WL 1909474 at *7 (C.D. Cal. 2000) (dismissing official capacity claims “as duplicative”); Burton v. City of Philadelphia, 121 F. Supp.2d 810, 812-813 (E.D. Pa. 2000) (dismissing official capacity claims as “redundant”); Roberts v. City of Geneva, 114 F. Supp.2d 1199, 1210 (M.D. Ala. 2000) (“Plaintiff’s § 1983 claims against Lindsey, Motley, and Barney in their official capacities are due to be dismissed, because Plaintiff also has brought his § 1983 claims against the City”); Harford v. County of Broome, 1999 WL 615190 at *6 (N.D.N.Y. 1999) (dismissing official capacity claims); Sheriff’s Silver Star Ass’n of Oswego County, Inc. v. County of Oswego, 56 F. Supp.2d 263, 265 n.3 (N.D.N.Y. 1999) (same); Bracey v. Buchanan, 55 F. Supp.2d 416, 420 (E.D. Va. 1999) (granting motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim); Perry v. Carter, 1998 WL 1745365 at *6 (E.D. Va. 1998) (dismissing official capacity claim “since the same is duplicative of the suit against the City itself”); R.S.S.W., Inc. v. City of Keego Harbor, 18 F. Supp.2d 738, 750 (E.D. Mich. 1998) (dismissing official capacity claims “as duplicative of the claims against the municipality”); McCaslin v. Wilkins, 17 F. Supp.2d 840, 844 (W.D. Ark. 1998) (“the Court, in following the majority of courts on this issue, will therefore dismiss those claims as against Wilkins and White in their official capacities,” citing cases); Gibson v. Hickman, 2 F. Supp.2d 1481, 1482-1483 (M.D. Ga. 1998) (official capacity claims dismissed as “indistinguishable” from the claim against the government entity); Alvarez v. Montgomery County, Md., 963 F. Supp. 495, 497 (D. Md. 1997) (noting earlier dismissal of official capacity claims “as they were duplicative of the claim brought directly against Montgomery County”); Luke v. Abbott, 954 F. Supp. 202, 204 (C.D. Cal. 1997) (“If both [the government and an official capacity defendant] are named, it is proper upon request for the Court to dismiss the official-capacity officer, leaving the local government entity as the correct defendant”); Storm v. Town of Woodstock, N.Y., 944 F. Supp. 139, 143 (N.D.N.Y. 1996) (dismissing official capacity claims “as redundant”); Carnell v. Grimm, 872 F. Supp. 746, 752 (D. Haw. 1994) (“Any claims against Flynn and Noguchi in their official capacities duplicate plaintiff’s claims against the CCH and are dismissed”); Thompson v. City of Arlington, Tex., 838 F. Supp. 1137, 1143 (N.D. Tex. 1993) (“Since the official capacity claims are in reality claims against City, the court will dismiss those claims as to the individual defendants”); Zervas v. District of Columbia, 817 F.Supp. 148, 151 (D.D.C. 1993) (dismissing as duplicative claims against officials in their official capacity where municipality had been sued).

Besides redundancy, dismissal of official capacity claims is consistent with the policy that litigation should proceed in the name of the real parties in interest, and “will promote judicial efficiency and reduce the chance of confusion.” Keene v. Rinaldi, 127 F. Supp.2d 770, 774 (M.D.N.C. 2000). As the Fourth Circuit has explained, “[w]here, as here, no claim against officials in their individual capacities was made, a simpler, technically correct, and by far preferable structuring would have been to name the [government entity] as the sole defendant.” Spell v. McDaniel, 824 F.2d 1380, 1396 (4th Cir. 1987). Compare Andrews v. Daw, 201 F.3d 521, 525 (4th Cir. 2000) (“the real party in interest in an official-capacity suit is the entity”); Gray v. Laws, 51 F.3d 426, 431 (4th Cir. 1995) (same); Busby v. City of Orlando, 931 F.2d 764, 776 (11th Cir. 1991) (“To keep both the City and the officers sued in their official capacity as defendants in this case would have been redundant and possibly confusing to the jury”); Sims v. Unified Government of Wyandotte County/Kansas City, Kan., 120 F. Supp.2d 938, 945 (D. Kan. 2000) (“When a plaintiff names both a municipality and a municipal officer in his official capacity as defendants in an action, the suit against the officer is redundant, confusing, and unnecessary and should be dismissed”); Luke v. Abbott, 954 F. Supp. 202, 204 (C.D. Cal. 1997) (“it is no longer necessary or proper to name as a defendant a particular local government officer acting in official capacity. To do so only leads to a duplication of documents and pleadings, as well as wasted public resources for increased attorneys fees”); White v. City of Chicago, 1991 WL 204946 at *2 (N.D. Ill. 1991) (“Dismissing the official-capacity claim will serve to streamline and clarify the complaint”).

The dismissal should be with prejudice. See Rowe v. City of Fort Lauderdale, 8 F. Supp.2d 1369, 1375 n.7 (S.D. Fla. 1998) (dismissal of official capacity claims with prejudice); Garrett v. Clarke County Bd. of Educ., 857 F. Supp. 949, 952 (S.D. Ala. 1994) (same); Kenny v. Whitplain Township, 1996 WL 445352 at *3 (E.D. Pa.) (same); Hamilton v. City of Chicago, 1993 WL 535351 at *2 (N.D. Ill. 1993) (same); compare Busby, 931 F.2d at 776 (upholding directed verdict as to official capacity claims); Douris v. County of Bucks, 2001 WL 767579 at *7 (E.D. Pa.) (granting summary judgment on “unnecessary” official capacity claim); Sims, 120 F. Supp.2d at 945 (entering judgment on the pleadings as to official capacity claims); Walters v. City of Andalusia, 89 F. Supp.2d 1266, 1275 (M.D. Ala. 2000) (granting summary judgment on official capacity claims).

The motion was granted before the other side replied.

Now I read this footnote in a Buchanan County school board case:

"The individual defendants also assert in their Motion to Dismiss that a suit against them in their official capacities is redundant “because the School Board itself is a party and official capacity suits represent only another way of pleading an action against an entity of which an officer is an agent.' (Defs.' Mot. Dismiss Am. Compl. ¶ 5.) While it is true that a suit against a municipal officer is a suit against the entity itself, it is established that individual officers can be named in their official capacities even if the entity is also a party. See Chase v. City of Portsmouth, 428 F. Supp. 2d 487, 489-90 (E.D. Va. 2006) ('A significant amount of case law shows government officials named in their official capacities alongside the entities for which they are associated . . . . Naming [the officials] . . . even though damages cannot be obtained from them, does provide a certain level of public accountability.' Id."

That's really lame, I'm not buying it for a minute. Keeping parties in the case who cannot be liable solely for purposes of "public accountability" is a completely alien concept to any notion of civil procedure that I know about.

Also, you'd think that the individual defendants sued in their individual capacity would have a good shot at a qualified immunity defense to the First Amendment claim in that School Board case.


Anonymous said...

It is interesting to note the success of seeking relief against municipal officials in the individual capacity. See for example City v. Patinkin (07-cv-000482, S.D. Ind.) in which Patinkin successfully pled claims against Stacee Evans, an attorney for Student Legal Services, relating to her participation in a conspiracy with William J. Beggs (Bill Beggs), an attorney from the Bloomington, Indiana, firm of Bunger & Robertson.

Anonymous said...

It is interesting to note the success of seeking relief against municipal officials in the individual capacity. See for example City v. Patinkin (07-cv-000482, S.D. Ind.) in which Patinkin successfully pled claims against Stacee Evans, an attorney for Student Legal Services, relating to her participation in a conspiracy with William J. Beggs (Bill Beggs), an attorney from the Bloomington, Indiana, firm of Bunger & Robertson.