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Cassady v. Hall

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

June 15, 2018

DAVID WAYNE CASSADY, Plaintiff - Appellant,

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Georgia D.C. Docket No. 5:14-cv-00025-MTT-MSH

          Before TJOFLAT, WILLIAM PRYOR, and ANDERSON, Circuit Judges.

          PER CURIAM.

         David Cassady appeals the District Court's denial of his motion for garnishment against the Georgia Department of Administrative Services ("GDAS"). We hold that garnishment actions are "suits" under the Eleventh Amendment, Georgia has not waived its immunity to the type of garnishment Mr. Cassady seeks, and Congress has not clearly abrogated the states' immunity to such garnishments. We accordingly affirm the District Court's denial of the motion.


         On January 21, 2014, Mr. Cassady, a Georgia inmate, brought suit against Mr. Hall, a state corrections officer, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Mr. Cassady alleged that in October 2010, Mr. Hall physically and sexually attacked him in the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison, where Mr. Cassady was an inmate and Mr. Hall was a corrections officer. The case proceeded to trial, and a jury found in favor of Mr. Cassady. The jury awarded him $150, 000 in compensatory damages and $50, 000 in punitive damages. The District Court rendered judgment in accordance with the jury's verdict.

         Thereafter, Mr. Cassady moved the District Court to issue a writ of garnishment ordering the State of Georgia to redirect to him the funds he argues are due to be paid to Mr. Hall under Georgia's General Liability Agreement ("GLA"), which he says gives state employees like Mr. Hall a right of indemnification for judgments arising out of the performance of their official duties. As statutory authority for the writ of garnishment, Mr. Cassady cited 28 U.S.C. § 3205 or, alternatively, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 69.[1] Mr. Cassady argued that these federal sources authorize district courts to issue writs of garnishment. Moreover, Mr. Cassady averred, Georgia has, in its Constitution, waived sovereign immunity in contract actions against the State; thus, because the GLA is a contract between the State and its employees, sovereign immunity is waived as to the garnishment of Mr. Hall's contractual entitlement to indemnification.

         The District Court denied the motion on the ground that Georgia has not waived sovereign immunity with respect to garnishment actions, and, alternatively, that Mr. Hall's indemnification rights (if any) under the GLA do not constitute a "property interest" as that term is defined under § 3205. Mr. Cassady timely appealed.


         We review the District Court's legal conclusions de novo. E.g., Mitchell v. Farcass, 112 F.3d 1483, 1486 (11th Cir. 1997). The Eleventh Amendment of the United States Constitution bars suits against states in federal court unless a state has waived its sovereign immunity or Congress has abrogated it. Nichols v. Ala. State Bar, 815 F.3d 726, 731 (11th Cir. 2016) (per curiam). This bar includes state agencies and other arms of the state.[2] Robinson v. Ga. Dep't of Transp., 966 F.2d 637, 638-40 (11th Cir. 1992). With respect to congressional abrogation, a federal statute will not be read to abrogate a state's sovereign immunity unless Congress has made its intention to do so "unmistakably clear" in the language of the statute. Atascadero State Hosp. v. Scanlon, 473 U.S. 234, 242, 105 S.Ct. 3142, 3147 (1985).

         As an initial matter, that Mr. Cassady sought garnishment in a document styled as a motion, rather than as a separate lawsuit naming the State of Georgia as a defendant, has no bearing on the sovereign immunity inquiry. The Eleventh Amendment extends only to "suits in law or equity." (Emphasis added). However, the Supreme Court has instructed us to eschew a formalistic reading of the term "suit" when considering whether the Eleventh Amendment protects its sovereign immunity. Instead, we are to look to "the essential nature and effect of the proceeding." Idaho v. Coeur d'Alene Tribe of Idaho, 521 U.S. 261, 277, 117 S.Ct. 2028, 2038 (1997) (quotation omitted). Long ago, Chief Justice Marshall elaborated on this inquiry. He remarked: "What is a suit? We understand it to be the prosecution, or pursuit, of some claim, demand, or request." Cohens v. Virginia, 19 U.S. (6 Wheat.) 264, 407 (1821).

         In the action below, Mr. Cassady sought an order from the District Court under the auspices of federal law requiring the State of Georgia to redirect money to him that it would otherwise pay to Mr. Hall, in accordance with a contract under Georgia law to which Mr. Cassady was not a party. And the District Court would do this although the State of Georgia was not a party to Mr. Cassady's suit against Mr. Hall. In form and function, the "essential nature and effect" of the motion was to coerce the State to alter the terms of its contract with Mr. Hall so that it paid money it owed him to Mr. Cassady instead. This is certainly "prosecution . . . of some claim, demand, or request." Hence, the motion falls within the Eleventh Amendment's embrace.[3]

         Accordingly, Georgia is immune from such actions unless it has given federal courts permission to entertain garnishment actions against it. It has not done so. Under the Georgia Constitution, the State's sovereign immunity "can only be waived by an Act of the General Assembly which specifically provides that sovereign immunity is thereby waived and the extent of such waiver." Ga. Const. art. I, § II. There is no act that expressly waives Georgia's immunity to the type of garnishment Mr. Cassady seeks.[4] The only Georgia statute authorizing garnishment of State funds permits garnishments to recover "[m]oney due officials or employees of a municipal corporation or county of this state or of the state government, or any department or institution thereof, as salary for services performed for or on behalf of the municipal corporation or county of this state or the state, or any department or institution thereof." O.C.G.A. § 18-4-26(a) (emphasis added). This statute makes no mention of ordering garnishment of state funds paid to a state employee under an indemnification agreement for the purposes of securing a third party's judgment.

         Further, the statute restricts jurisdiction over such actions to "a court located in the county in which the warrant is drawn on the treasury of the government or in which the check is issued for the salary due the official or employee of the state or its political subdivisions." Id. § 18-4-26(b). It says nothing about the federal courts; thus, even if the statute could be read to waive Georgia's sovereign immunity for such purposes, it does not indicate that it waives the State's immunity in federal court. See Schopler v. Bliss, 903 F.2d 1373, 1379 (11th Cir. 1990) (per curiam) ("Evidence that a state has waived sovereign immunity in its own courts is not by itself sufficient to establish waiver of Eleventh Amendment immunity from suit in federal court."). The same is true of Georgia's waiver of its sovereign immunity in contract actions: this Court has already held ...

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