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Board of Trustees of University of Arkansas v. Andrews

Supreme Court of Arkansas

January 18, 2018

THE BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF THE UNIVERSITY OF ARKANSAS APPELLANT
v.
MATTHEW ANDREWS APPELLEE

         APPEAL FROM THE POLK COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. CV-2013-192] HONORABLE JERRY RYAN, JUDGE

          David A. Curran, Associate General Counsel, University of Arkansas System, for appellant.

          Sanford Law Firm, PLLC, by: Josh Sanford, for appellee.

          Leslie Rutledge, Attorney General, by: Lee Rudofsky, Arkansas Solicitor General; Nicholas J. Bronni, Arkansas Deputy Solicitor General; and Delena C. Hurst, Assistant Attorney General, counsel for amicus curiae in support of appellant.

          JOHN DAN KEMP, CHIEF JUSTICE.

         Appellant, The Board of Trustees of the University of Arkansas (Board), filed this interlocutory appeal of an order of the Polk County Circuit Court denying a motion to dismiss an action brought by appellee Matthew Andrews for violations of the overtime provisions of the Arkansas Minimum Wage Act, codified at Arkansas Code Annotated sections 11-4-201 to -222 (Repl. 2012 & Supp. 2017). For reversal, the Board argues that the circuit court erred in denying Andrews's motion to dismiss because the doctrine of sovereign immunity applies. Pursuant to Arkansas Supreme Court Rule 1-2(a)(1) (2017), we have jurisdiction of this appeal because it involves our interpretation of the Arkansas Constitution. We reverse and dismiss.

         I. Facts

         Rich Mountain Community College (RMCC), a publicly-funded, nonprofit college in Mena, employed Andrews as a bookstore manager from November 15, 2010, through May 9, 2013.[1] His salary was $26, 824 per year. When Andrews began working for the college, he received compensation time for any hours worked beyond his average forty-hour work week. According to Andrews, his "comp time stopped" in August 2011. RMCC classified him as exempt from the overtime requirements set forth in the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and the Arkansas Minimum Wage Act (AMWA). RMCC terminated Andrews for insubordination in May 2013.

         On November 14, 2013, Andrews filed a complaint against RMCC pursuant to the AMWA for failing to compensate him for working overtime. On January 29, 2014, Andrews filed a first amended and substituted complaint, alleging violations of the overtime provisions of the AMWA and seeking overtime and liquidated damages. In his prayer for relief, he requested (1) the entry of a declaratory judgment that RMCC's pay practices violated the AMWA; (2) the entry of a judgment for damages for all unpaid regular rate and overtime compensation under the AMWA; (3) an award of liquidated damages pursuant to the AMWA; (4) the entry of a judgment for punitive damages owed to Andrews pursuant to the Arkansas Civil Justice Reform Act in an amount to be proven at trial; (5) the entry of a judgment for any and all civil penalties to which Andrews may be entitled; and (6) an order directing RMCC to pay Andrews prejudgment interest, attorney's fees, and costs.

         RMCC answered and pleaded sovereign immunity as an affirmative defense. The parties filed cross motions for summary judgment, which the circuit court denied. Subsequently, on August 18, 2016, RMCC filed a motion to dismiss Andrews's complaint, arguing that Andrews's claim under the AMWA was barred by sovereign immunity, pursuant to article 5, section 20 of the Arkansas Constitution. RMCC asserted that the General Assembly did not have the authority to abrogate the State's sovereign immunity in the AMWA.

         On September 14, 2016, the circuit court conducted a hearing on RMCC's motion to dismiss and heard arguments from both parties. The circuit court subsequently issued a letter order denying RMCC's motion to dismiss. The circuit court ruled that "RMCC has [not] met its burden of demonstrating that the provision of the Arkansas Minimum Wage Act as it applies to Andrews is unconstitutional" and that the State may be sued for violations of the AMWA. In an order entered October 24, 2016, the circuit court memorialized these findings, denied RMCC's motion to dismiss, and found that RMCC was "not entitled to sovereign immunity as it relates to [Andrews's] claims under the AMWA." RMCC filed a motion for reconsideration; the motion was deemed denied. RMCC appeals.

         II. Sovereign Immunity

         For the sole point on appeal, RMCC argues that the circuit court erred in denying its motion to dismiss. Specifically, RMCC claims that section 11-4-218(e), as it applies to Andrews, is unconstitutional because it violates article 5, section 20 of the Arkansas Constitution. RMCC contends that the Arkansas Constitution does not authorize the General Assembly to waive the State's sovereign immunity. RMCC argues that this court's case law that recognizes a legislative waiver as an exception to sovereign immunity is not consistent with our constitution.

         Andrews responds that the circuit court properly denied RMCC's motion to dismiss because the General Assembly's abrogation of sovereign immunity in the AMWA is constitutional. Andrews claims that the sovereign-immunity exception applies because the plain language of section 11-4-218 demonstrates that the intent of the General Assembly allows for a right of action against the State.

         A. Interlocutory Appeal and Standard of Review

         Rule 2(a)(10) of the Arkansas Rules of Appellate Procedure-Civil permits an appeal from an interlocutory "order denying a motion to dismiss or for summary judgment based on the defense of sovereign immunity or the immunity of a government official." The rationale behind this rule is that immunity from suit is effectively lost if the case is permitted to go to trial when an immunity argument can prevail. Ark. Lottery Comm'n v. Alpha Mktg., 2012 Ark. 23, 386 S.W.3d 400.

         We generally review a circuit court's decision on a motion to dismiss by treating the facts alleged in the complaint as true and by viewing them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Kennedy v. Ark. Parole Bd., 2017 Ark. 234. When the circuit court is presented with documents outside the pleadings, we treat the case as an appeal from a summary judgment and view the evidence in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion. Bayird v. Floyd, 2009 Ark. 455, 344 S.W.3d 80. However, when the issues on appeal do not involve factual questions but rather the application of a legal doctrine, we simply determine whether the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Id., 344 S.W.3d 80.

         B. Doctrine of Sovereign Immunity

         The Board moved to dismiss Andrews's action based on sovereign immunity. Article 5, section 20 of the Arkansas Constitution provides that "[t]he State of Arkansas shall never be made defendant in any of her courts." Sovereign immunity is jurisdictional immunity from suit, and jurisdiction must be determined entirely from the pleadings. See LandsnPulaski, LLC v. Ark. Dep't of Corr., 372 Ark. 40, 269 S.W.3d 793 (2007); Clowers v. Lassiter, 363 Ark. 241, 213 S.W.3d 6 (2005); Ark. Tech Univ. v. Link, 341 Ark. 495, 17 S.W.3d 809 (2000). A suit against the State is barred by the sovereign-immunity doctrine if a judgment for the plaintiff will operate to control the action of the State or subject it to liability. Ark. State Med. Bd. v. Byers, 2017 Ark. 213, 521 S.W.3d 459.

         This court has held that the Board is an instrumentality of the State and is immune from suit. See Washington Cty. v. Bd. of Trs., 2016 Ark. 34, 480 S.W.3d 173 (holding that the university is an instrumentality of the State and that it was immune from ad valorem taxation); Bd. of Trs. v. Burcham, 2014 Ark. 61 (holding that Burcham's wrongful-termination complaint was barred by sovereign immunity and that a sovereign-immunity exception did not apply).

         This court has held that the doctrine of sovereign immunity is rigid but that it may be waived in limited circumstances. Office of Child Support Enf't v. Mitchell, 330 Ark. 338, 954 S.W.2d 907 (1997). This court has recognized that a claim of sovereign immunity may be surmounted in the following three instances: (1) when the State is the moving party seeking specific relief; (2) when an act of the legislature has created a specific waiver of sovereign immunity; and (3) when the state agency is acting illegally or if a state agency officer refuses to do a purely ministerial action required by statute. Ark. Dep't of Cmty. Corr. v. City of Pine Bluff, 2013 Ark. 36, 425 S.W.3d 731.

         C. Arkansas Constitution and Applicable Case Law

         In determining whether the Board is entitled to judgment as a matter of law, we provide a brief history of the doctrine of sovereign immunity in the Arkansas Constitution. Originally, in 1868, the Arkansas Constitution read, "The general assembly shall direct by law in what manner and in what courts suits may be brought by and against the state." Ark. Const. of 1868, art. 5, § 45. However, in 1874, the people passed what was the fifth and current version of the Arkansas Constitution. It altered the previous language and stated that "[t]he State of Arkansas shall never be made a defendant in any of her courts." Ark. Const. art. 5, § 20.

         Subsequently, in 1935, this court considered the issue of whether the legislature could waive the State's sovereign immunity. See Ark. Hwy. Comm'n v. Nelson Bros., 191 Ark. 629, 87 S.W.2d 394 (1935). This court stated, "It is our settled conviction that the state cannot give its consent to the maintenance of an action against it." Id. at 636, 87 S.W.2d at 397. This court followed that precedent in Fairbanks v. Sheffield, 226 Ark. 703, 292 S.W.2d 82 (1956), by stating that a statute allowing suit against the state park system was "an unconstitutional attempt on the part of the legislature to consent to a suit against the State." Id. at 706, 292 S.W.2d at 84. In Fairbanks, this court held that article 5, section 20 was "mandatory and cannot be waived by the General Assembly." Id. at 706, 292 S.W.2d at 84. Again, in 1993, this court held that a statutory requirement for DHS to make restitution to foster parents who sustained ...


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