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Lewis v. Governor of Alabama

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

July 25, 2018

GOVERNOR OF ALABAMA, in his Official Capacity as Governor of the State of Alabama, ATTORNEY GENERAL, STATE OF ALABAMA, in his Official Capacity as Attorney General of the State of Alabama, STATE OF ALABAMA, THE, BIRMINGHAM, CITY OF, THE, WILLIAM A. BELL, SR., Defendants - Appellees.

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama D.C. Docket No. 2:16-cv-00690-RDP

          Before WILSON and JORDAN, Circuit Judges, and CONWAY, [*] District Judge.

          WILSON, Circuit Judge

         For a single day in February 2016, Marnika Lewis and Antoin Adams secured a pay raise. The Mayor of Birmingham, Alabama, William Bell, had just affixed his signature to Birmingham Ordinance No. 16-28, which guaranteed Lewis, Adams, and all other wage earners in the city $10.10 per hour. But the following afternoon, Alabama Governor Robert Bentley signed the Minimum Wage and Right-to-Work Act (The Minimum Wage Act or the Act) into law. The Minimum Wage Act nullified Birmingham Ordinance No. 16-28, preempted all local labor and employment regulation, and mandated a uniform minimum wage throughout Alabama-which, then and now, sits at $7.25 per hour. At the heart of this appeal is whether Lewis and Adams have stated a plausible claim that the Minimum Wage Act had the purpose and effect of discriminating against Birmingham's black citizens, in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Because they have, we reverse the dismissal of that claim. We affirm the dismissal of all other claims.


         The events giving rise to this proceeding began in April 2015, when the Birmingham City Council passed a resolution calling upon the state legislature to raise the minimum wage to $10 per hour across Alabama. At that time, no Alabama municipality had a minimum wage above the federal floor of $7.25. See 29 U.S.C. § 206(a)(1)(C). After the state refused the city's request, the city council adopted its own minimum wage law that August. The unanimous ordinance, which was scheduled to take effect in July 2016, raised the minimum wage to $8.50 per hour, and to $10.10 in 2017. The ordinance declared the need "to take legislative steps to help lift working families out of poverty, decrease income inequality, and boost [Birmingham's] economy." Birmingham, the largest city in Alabama, has more total residents living in poverty (30% of its citizens) than anywhere else in the state.[1] The city is also home to the largest black population in Alabama (72%), which is reflected in the racial composition of its city council.

         About a week after the ordinance's approval, a white state representative from the neighboring community of Mountain Brook (where only 1.5% of residents are black and just 3% of residents live below the poverty line) introduced a bill in the Alabama House of Representatives designed to quash Birmingham's ordinance and establish a uniform minimum wage throughout the state. The bill stalled, but at the start of the 2016 session, a variation of the bill (now called HB 174) was introduced by the same representative, this time with the support of fifty-two additional sponsors, all of whom were white.

         Things progressed quickly. Within a week of its introduction on February 9, 2016, HB 174 sailed through the House Committee on State Government and won the approval of a majority of the House, 71-31. No black member of the House voted in favor of the bill. Thirty-six hours later, the bill cleared the Alabama Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs and was on its way to the Senate floor.

         Meanwhile, the Birmingham City Council moved to accelerate the implementation of its own minimum wage law. On February 23, it adopted Ordinance No. 16-28, raising the minimum wage for Birmingham workers to $10.10 per hour, adjusted annually, effective immediately. Mayor Bell signed it into law the following day. Notice of the new minimum wage was slated for publication in the Sunday edition of the Birmingham News.

         But on February 25, just a day after Birmingham raised its minimum wage, the Alabama Senate approved the Minimum Wage Act, 23-12, rendering Ordinance No. 16-28 null and void. The Act lacked support from any black senators. Governor Bentley signed it into law less than two hours later.

         The Minimum Wage Act, codified at Alabama Code §§ 25-7-40 et seq., "establish[es] within the Legislature complete control over regulation and policy pertaining to collective bargaining . . . or the wages, leave, or other employment benefits provided by an employer to an employee . . . in order to ensure that such regulation and policy is applied uniformly throughout the state." Id. § 25-7-45(a). To that end, the Act "occupies and preempts the entire field of regulation" in these areas "to the complete exclusion of any policy, ordinance, rule, or other mandate promulgated or enforced by any . . . political subdivision of th[e] state." Id. § 25-7-45(b).

         A few months after the Alabama Legislature passed the Minimum Wage Act, Lewis and Adams-who live in Birmingham and make less than $10.10 per hour-along with several public interest groups, sued the Governor and the Attorney General of Alabama, claiming racial discrimination under multiple theories. The plaintiffs amended their complaint to include claims under the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments and § 2 of the Voting Rights Act. They also added the State of Alabama, the City of Birmingham, and Birmingham Mayor William Bell as defendants, while dropping the governor from the suit. The defendants moved to dismiss for lack of standing and failure to state a claim.

         The district court agreed with the defendants and dismissed the complaint. It concluded that the plaintiffs lacked Article III standing to sue any of the defendants; that the attorney general was an improper defendant under Ex parte Young, 209 U.S. 123, 28 S.Ct. 441 (1908); that § 2 of the Voting Rights Act did not abrogate Eleventh Amendment state sovereign immunity; and that, in any event, the plaintiffs had failed to assert any plausible claims. The plaintiffs now appeal the dismissal of their Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendment claims against the attorney general and the City of Birmingham, [2] and their Voting Rights Act claim against the State of Alabama.


         We review both subject matter jurisdiction and Eleventh Amendment sovereign immunity issues de novo. Summit Med. Assocs., P.C. v. Pryor, 180 F.3d 1326, 1333-34 (11th Cir. 1999). Likewise, we review the grant of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss de novo, "accepting the allegations in the complaint as true and construing them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff." Mills v. Foremost Ins. Co., 511 F.3d 1300, 1303 (11th Cir. 2008). "'[W]hen standing becomes an issue on a motion to dismiss, general factual allegations of injury resulting from the defendant's conduct may be sufficient to show standing.'" Moody v. Warden, 887 F.3d 1281, 1286 (11th Cir. 2018) (quoting Bischoff v. Osceola Cnty., 222 F.3d 874, 878 (11th Cir. 2000)).



         We begin, as we must, by addressing whether the plaintiffs have standing to sue each of the defendants for each of the claims asserted. See Jackson v. Okaloosa Cty., Fla., 21 F.3d 1531, 1536 (11th Cir. 1994). This is a threshold requirement that "springs from the nature and limits of the judicial power of the United States." Steel Co. v. Citizens for a Better Env't, 523 U.S. 83, 94-95, 118 S.Ct. 1003, 1012 (1998) (alteration adopted). If the plaintiffs lack standing, "the 'case' or 'controversy' requirement of Article III, § 2 of the U.S. Constitution is not satisfied, and the case must be dismissed." Koziara v. City of Casselberry, 392 F.3d 1302, 1304 (11th Cir. 2004).

         "[T]he irreducible constitutional minimum of standing contains three elements." Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560, 112 S.Ct. 2130, 2136 (1992). The plaintiffs must show: (1) that they have suffered an injury in fact that is (a) concrete and particularized and (b) actual or imminent, not conjectural or hypothetical; (2) that there is a causal connection, so that the injury is fairly traceable to the challenged action of the defendant; and (3) that it is likely, as opposed to merely speculative, that the injury will be redressed by a favorable decision. Id. at 560-61, 112 S.Ct. at 2136. An injury in fact must be a cognizable harm, but that harm may be "physical, economic, reputational, contractual, or even aesthetic." Koziara, 392 F.3d at 1305. "[I]n evaluating Article III's causation (or 'traceability') requirement, we are concerned with something less than the concept of 'proximate cause.'" Focus on the Family v. Pinellas Suncoast Transit Auth., 344 F.3d 1263, 1273 (11th Cir. 2003). "'Proximate cause' . . . 'is not a requirement of Article III standing.'" Moody, 887 F.3d at 1287 (citation omitted). "[E]ven harms that flow indirectly from the action in question can be said to be 'fairly traceable' to that action for standing purposes." Focus on the Family, 344 F.3d at 1273.

         An organization has suffered a concrete injury and thus "has standing to sue on its own behalf if the defendant's illegal acts impair its ability to engage in its projects by forcing the organization to divert resources to counteract those illegal acts." Fla. State ...

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