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Uberoi v. Labarga

United States District Court, N.D. Florida, Tallahassee Division

August 18, 2017

BARBARA U. UBEROI, Plaintiff,
v.
JORGE LABARGA, in his capacity as Chief Justice of the Florida Supreme Court, Defendant.

          ORDER OF DISMISSAL

          ROBERT L. HINKLE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         The plaintiff challenges on due-process grounds the Florida Supreme Court's rejection of her application for admission to the Florida Bar. The defendant has moved to dismiss. This order grants the motion, partly based on the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, and partly for lack of standing under City of Los Angeles v. Lyons, 461 U.S. 95 (1983).

         I. Background

         The plaintiff Barbara U. Uberoi applied for admission to the Florida Bar. The Florida Board of Bar Examiners alleged that she had engaged in prior misconduct that rendered her unfit. After an evidentiary hearing, Ms. Uberoi and the Board entered an agreement calling for her conditional admission on specific terms. The agreement was expressly subject to approval by the Florida Supreme Court, which has plenary authority over admission decisions.

         The Florida Supreme Court did not approve the agreement. Instead, the court denied Ms. Uberoi's application. The court said she could apply again in three years. And the court said that on any new application, Ms. Uberoi would be required to demonstrate sufficient rehabilitation.

         Ms. Uberoi filed an action against the Florida Supreme Court in the Middle District of Florida. The court dismissed the action. Ms. Uberoi appealed. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed based on the Eleventh Amendment. This was hardly surprising. See Seminole Tribe of Fla. v. Florida, 517 U.S. 44 (1996) (holding that a state sued in its own name has Eleventh Amendment immunity, regardless of the relief sought, unless the immunity has been waived or validly abrogated by Congress).

         Ms. Uberoi next filed this action, again in the Middle District, naming as a defendant only the Chief Justice of the Florida Supreme Court in his official capacity. Ms. Uberoi asserts that the Florida Supreme Court rejected her agreement with the Board of Bar Examiners without affording her notice and an opportunity to be heard on the issue of whether the agreement should be approved. Ms. Uberoi demands two forms of relief: first, notice and an opportunity to be heard on the issue already decided by the Florida Supreme Court; and second, invalidation of rules that she says allowed the denial of due process.

         The Middle District transferred the action to this court. The Chief Justice has moved to dismiss. The motion is before the court on the magistrate judge's report and recommendation, ECF No. 39, and the objections, ECF No. 40. I have reviewed de novo the issues raised by the objections.

         The recommendation is for dismissal of the complaint. This order accepts the recommendation but gets there through somewhat different reasoning.

         II. Eleventh Amendment

         As Ms. Uberoi correctly notes, a claim for prospective relief against a state official with a role in a constitutional violation is not barred by the Eleventh Amendment. This is the holding of Ex parte Young, 209 U.S. 123 (1908). Ms. Uberoi's demand for notice and an opportunity to be heard is a demand for prospective relief-she seeks an injunction requiring the Florida Supreme Court to provide notice and an opportunity to be heard, not a payment of damages or other compensation for a past denial. The same is true of the demand to invalidate the allegedly offending rules.

         To be sure, Ms. Uberoi's claim arises from a past violation-she says she was denied notice and an opportunity to be heard in the past-but that is neither unusual nor a basis for disallowing an Ex parte Young claim. Many, probably most, claims for prospective relief are based on past violations. Thus a plaintiff seeking admission to a school on the ground of racial discrimination-a prototypical Ex parte Young claim-has usually been denied admission in the past, but the case may go forward because the plaintiff seeks admission in the future. See, e.g., Gratz v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 244 (2003). The same is true here: Ms. Uberoi seeks notice and an opportunity to be heard in the future, albeit on an application that was denied in the past.

         III. Necessary Parties

         Ms. Uberoi has named as a defendant only the Chief Justice, not the other members of the court. In Florida, the Supreme Court makes admission decisions and adopts the rules that govern the consideration of ...


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