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Media Alerts - Balogh v. Lombardi - Eighth Circuit
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April 5, 2016
  Balogh v. Lombardi - Eighth Circuit
Headline Eighth Circuit panel reverses district court order denying immunity to director of Missouri Department of Corrections

Area of Law Eleventh Amendment Immunity

Issue(s) Presented Whether a district court properly determined that the director of the Missouri Department of Corrections was not entitled to immunity from suit in an action by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Brief Summary A Missouri statute grants the director of the Missouri Department of Corrections (Department) the authority to selection an "execution team." The statute prohibits the disclosure of the identities of individuals who participate in executions. It further provides a private right of action to those individuals against anyone who "knowingly disclose[s] the identity of a current or former member of an execution team" without the Department director's approval. Mo. Rev. Stat. ยง 546.720.3.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) obtained documents related to executions under the Missouri Sunshine Law. It then posted the documents to its website, but later removed them when it learned of the statute prohibiting disclosure of the identities of execution team members. The ACLU sued the Department director, arguing that the statute was unconstitutional because it violated the ACLU's rights of free speech, free press, and due process under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. The director moved for summary judgment, claiming that he was immue from suit under the Eleventh Amendment, that the ACLU lacked standing, and that the claims failed as a matter of law.

The district court held that the director was not immune from suit, denied his motion in part on that basis, and deferred ruling on the other arguments. The district court found that because the director had a duty to enforce the statute by implementing an execution protocol and selecting the execution team, he was determining whose identities must be kept confidential, and therefore was not immune from suit.

On appeal, the Eighth Circuit disagreed. It first addressed the director's standing argument, and concluded that the ACLU did not having standing to bring this suit against the director. This conclusion was based on the fact that the director had no enforcement authority, because the statute only allowed for a private right of action by those whose identities were disclosed. The statute did not authorize the director to take any enforcement action against the ACLU for improper disclosure of execution team member identities. As such, the ACLU's claimed injury, chilled speech, was not "fairly traceable" to the director, and he had no ability to redress the alleged injury. The Eighth Circuit also found that because the director had no authority to enforce the challenged statute, he was also immune from suit under the Eleventh Amendment.

The full text of the opinion may be found at http://media.ca8.uscourts.gov/opndir/16/03/143603P.pdf

Panel Chief Judge Riley, Circuit Judges Bye and Gruender

Date of Issued Opinion March 11, 2016

Decided Reversed

Docket Number 14-3603

Counsel Caroline Coulter for Appellant and Anthony Rothert for Appellees

Author Chief Judge Riley

Case Alert Circuit Supervisor Joelle Larson, University of Minnesota Law School

    Posted By: Joelle Larson @ 04/05/2016 12:46 PM     8th Circuit  

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