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Thursday, November 11, 2010

Two plaintiffs and a petitioner walk into a courthouse...

by Kirsten E. Small

The Fourth Circuit issued three published opinions yesterday. Let's get to 'em.

The Plaintiff
For my money, the most noteworthy of the bunch is Coleman v. Maryland Court of Appeals. Former procurement officer Daniel Coleman alleged that the Court of Appeals violated the Family and Medical Leave Act by terminating him after he requested sick leave for "a documented medical condition." The Fourth Circuit held that the Eleventh Amendment barred the claim.

The court began its analysis by discussing Nevada Dep't of Human Resources v. Hibbs, 538 U.S. 721 (2003), in which the Supreme Court held that Congress validly abrogated states' sovereign immunity when it enacted the family-care provision of the FMLA (which entitles employees to leave to care for a spouse, child, or parent with a serious health condition). The Hibbs Court held that the family-care provision was a proper exercise of Congress' power to enforce the 14th Amendment because that provision was a necessary remedy for gender discrimination.

The Fourth Circuit recognized that Hibbs requires separate constitutional evaluation of each of the four FMLA entitlements (childbirth, adoption, family care, and self-care). Joining the 5th, 6th, 7th, and 10th Circuits, the Fourth Circuit held that there is no discrimination-based justification for the self-care provision, and hence Congress did not validly abrogate sovereign immunity in enacting the self-care provision.

The Other Plaintiff
JTH Tax, Inc. v. Frashier concerns the amount-in-controversy requirement. JTH Tax, owner of Liberty Tax franchises (the ones who put people on the side of the road in Statue of Liberty costumes), sued a former franchisee in federal court alleging $80,000 in damages. At summary judgment, JTH claimed damages of about $60,000, whereupon the district court dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The Fourth Circuit reversed, noting first that there was no allegation of bad faith in JTH's original allegation. Second, the Court held that the actual damages claims, when combined with the value to JTH of injunctive relief, satisfied the jurisdicational threshold. No new law here, but a good walk-through of the relevant principles.

The Petitioner
Finally, in Barnes v. Holder, the Court held that the BIA has properly interpreted immigration regulations to require "an affirmative communication attesting to the alien's prima facie eligibility" before removal proceedings may be terminated.

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