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U.S. Space & Rocket Center says former employees' class action should be dismissed

By Kyla Asbury | Oct 10, 2014

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (Legal Newsline) - The U.S. Space and Rocket Center has filed a motion to dismiss in a class action lawsuit against it for allegedly not paying for state holidays for former and current employees.

"Plaintiffs... attempt to assert class claims based on their assertion that their 'employer' allegedly failed to provide holiday and longevity pay pursuant to certain Alabama statutory provisions," the Sept. 23 motion to dismiss states. "Putting aside the plaintiffs’ misguided reliance upon these statutory provisions, plaintiffs rely upon this general concept in attempting to assert a single federal law claim and various state law claims against the state."

The defendants - the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, the Space Science Exhibit Commission, Deborah E. Barnhart, Brooke Balch and Vickie Henderson - claim the plaintiffs' claims fail for a variety of reasons.

"Plaintiffs invoke this court’s federal question jurisdiction solely based upon their averment of a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for purported violations of the Takings Clause of the United States Constitution," the motion states. "Courts have uniformly held, however, that a plaintiff cannot claim an entitlement to or property interest in funds allegedly owed to him or her under a statute as the basis for a claim under the Takings Clause. The court should therefore dismiss Plaintiffs’ § 1983 claim in its entirety."

Even if the plaintiffs could allege a property interest sufficient to support their claim under the Takings Clause, the commission, Barnhart, Balch and Henderson in their official capacities are entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity from § 1983 claims for money damages.

"Thus, even if plaintiffs had properly alleged a Takings Clause violation, which they have not, any relief would be limited to prospective injunctive relief against Barnhart, Balch and Henderson in their official capacities, and plaintiffs would not be entitled to recover money damages," the motion states. "As former employees, plaintiffs do not have standing to seek prospective injunctive relief."

Lastly, the plaintiffs may not sue Barnhart, Balch and Henderson in their individual capacities for alleged monies due as part of their purported employment as the plaintiffs wholly fail to allege any "individual" obligation of Barnhart, Balch or Henderson with respect to the plaintiffs' employment and/or their compensation, according to the motion.

"Even if plaintiffs could somehow state a claim against Barnhart, Balch or Henderson individually, Barnhart, Balch and Henderson would be entitled to qualified immunity from the claim because plaintiffs cannot allege that they violated a clearly established constitutional right," the motion states.

The plaintiffs likewise cannot attempt to recover money damages by virtue of the various state law claims asserted in their lawsuit.

"While plaintiffs attempt to allege a due process claim under the Alabama Constitution, the Alabama Constitution creates no private right of action to sue for money damages, and federal courts do not have jurisdiction over claims seeking to require state officials to comply with state law," the motion states.

To the extent the plaintiffs’ claims for declaratory relief and unjust enrichment seek money damages, they fail as well, because the state is entitled to sovereign immunity from those claims, according to the motion.

The defendants claim that the plaintiffs lack any basis to assert their state law claims against Barnhart, Balch and Henderson in their individual capacities.

"The court should therefore dismiss plaintiffs’ state law claims to the extent they seek money damages," the motion states. "The court should also dismiss the claims for prospective injunctive relief, which is not available to plaintiffs as former employees of the commission."

Janice Ingalls, Milton Parker and Kamara Bowling Davis filed their class action lawsuit on July 23 in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama, claiming they were not paid for state holidays, as required by state law.

The plaintiffs claim until they read a report issued Jan. 17 by the Department of Examiners of Public Accounts regarding the defendants' practices with regard to underpaying employee benefits, they never knew that the defendants had failed to follow Alabama law with regard to longevity pay or state holidays.

During their employments, the plaintiffs were not paid for state holidays or longevity pay as required by state law, according to the suit.

The plaintiffs claim as a consequence, the defendants have improperly retained unpaid benefits which should be rightfully in the hands of USS&RC employees.

The defendants' plan, scheme and common course of conduct was applicable to all current and former full-time, part-time and seasonal employees of the USS&RC, according to the suit.

"Until recently, [the] plaintiffs and class members did not know and could not reasonably have known that they were not paid in accordance with Alabama law," the complaint states.

The plaintiffs claim although the decisions to fail to follow Alabama law with regard to payment of state holiday and longevity pay and to conceal these unlawful practices were made in the past, the defendants continue to act in accordance with and in furtherance of the unlawful practices as set forth herein.

The plaintiffs are seeking class certification and compensatory damages. They are represented by R. Brent Irby of McCallum, Hoaglund, Cook & Irby LLP; and Eric James Artrip of Watson McKinney & Artrip LLP.

The defendants are represented by William R. Lunsford and Matthew W. Stiles of Maynard, Cooper & Gale PC.

The case has been assigned to District Judge Mark Fuller.

U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama case number: 2:14-cv-00699

From Legal Newsline: Kyla Asbury can be reached at

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