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Rhode Island Dep't of Envtl. Management v. United States

ELR Citation: 33 ELR 20044
Nos. Nos. 00-2326, 01-1543, 304 F.3d 31/(1st Cir., 08/30/2002) Aff'd

The court upholds a district court order enjoining the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) and three Rhode Island employees from proceeding in an administrative adjudication of the employees' claims that the state had retaliated against them in violation of the Solid Waste Disposal Act's (SWDA's) whistleblower provision. An administrative law judge (ALJ) for the DOL awarded the employees monetary relief, but the district court held that the administrative proceedings were barred by sovereign immunity principles. On appeal, a civil liberties organization, writing as amicus curiae, argued that the state impermissibly sought review of agency action that was not yet final under the Administrative Procedure Act. The court first holds that although the administrative proceedings were not final when the state filed its claim because the Secretary of Labor had yet to make a final determination on the employees' claims, the absence of final agency action does not necessarily render the state's claim unreviewable. Under the circumstances of this case, nonstatutory review is an appropriate vehicle for the state to vindicate its claim of immunity. The court also holds that the district court properly issued the injunction. A state's traditional immunity from suit extends to administrative proceedings initiated and prosecuted by private citizens. Further, the state has not waived its immunity, nothing in the SWDA indicates that the U.S. Congress abrogated states' immunity, the Ex Parte Young doctrine does not apply, and the federal government's role in this case does not bar the state's sovereign immunity. The court, however, notes that the Secretary of Labor is not precluded from intervening in the enjoined proceedings, thereby removing the sovereign immunity bar. The court, therefore, modifies the injunction to allow the Secretary to intervene in the case should she so choose.

[Prior decisions in this litigation are published at 31 ELR 20197 and 32 ELR 20572.]

Counsel for Plaintiffs
James R. Lee, Ass't Attorney General
Attorney General's Office
150 S. Main St., Providence RI 02903
(401) 274-4400

Counsel for Defendants
Mark B. Stern
Environment and Natural Resources Division
U.S. Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 514-2000