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Brazil v. Arkansas Department of Human Services

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

June 12, 2018

Mary Brazil Plaintiff- Appellant
Arkansas Department of Human Services; John Selig, Director, Department of Human Services; Andy Allison, Director of Division of Medical Services; Marilyn Strickland, Chief Operating Officer; Drenda Harkins, Assistant Director; Victor Sterling, Manager; Doug Nelson, Manager; Tracy Mitchell, Manager Defendants - Appellees

          Submitted: April 11, 2018

          Appeal from United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas - Pine Bluff

          Before COLLOTON, SHEPHERD, and STRAS, Circuit Judges.


         Mary Brazil alleges that her supervisors at the Arkansas Department of Human Services retaliated against her for filing a civil-rights lawsuit. With her retaliation claim pending, Brazil changed jobs and is now free of the conditions that caused her to sue. Because all that remains is a speculative possibility that Brazil will face further retaliation, we vacate the district court's judgment, remand the case, and instruct the district court to dismiss her retaliation claim due to a lack of subject-matter jurisdiction.


         Mary Brazil has spent over three decades working for the Arkansas Department of Human Services, initially as a typist and more recently as an administrative assistant. Brazil's work environment began to deteriorate in 2010 when a disagreement with her supervisor eventually led her to seek a transfer to another division. When she did not receive a transfer, she sued the Department and several of its officials for allegedly violating her civil rights, but none of her claims survived summary judgment.[1]

         Brazil's work environment did not improve. Brazil believes that she received lower performance evaluations in retaliation for the lawsuit. Brazil's supervisors-Victor Sterling, Doug Nelson, and Tracy Mitchell-also reassigned her from performing traditional administrative-assistant tasks to working in a document-scanning room. The new assignment required heavy lifting, long periods of sitting, and repetitious activities. Though her official title remained the same, Brazil regarded the assignment as a demotion because it required manual labor and diminished her opportunities for promotion.

         Brazil filed this lawsuit alleging retaliation and racial discrimination against the Department and her supervisors. Over a year into the litigation, Brazil changed positions. In her current job, Brazil reports to different supervisors and performs only administrative-assistant duties.

         For its part, the district court dismissed all of Brazil's claims, except those against her former supervisors. For the remaining claims, the court concluded on summary judgment that Brazil had waived the race-discrimination claim and that the retaliation claim failed as a matter of law. Only Brazil's retaliation claim is currently before us on appeal.


         Article III of the Constitution limits the jurisdiction of federal courts to deciding only "Cases" or "Controversies." U.S. Const. art. III, § 2, cl. 1. A case or controversy must be present at the beginning of a lawsuit and must continue throughout. "[W]hen the issues presented are no longer live or the parties lack a cognizable interest in the outcome, " a case or controversy under Article III no longer exists because the litigation has become moot. Already, LLC v. Nike, Inc., 568 U.S. 85, 91 (2013). We have recognized, for example, that a party loses a cognizable interest when "changed circumstances already provide the requested relief and eliminate the need for court action." McCarthy v. Ozark Sch. Dist., 359 F.3d 1029, 1035 (8th Cir. 2004).

         The circumstances have materially changed since Brazil first filed her lawsuit. In addition to her transfer, which placed her under the direction of different supervisors, the district court has narrowed the action. Early in the case, the court dismissed the claims against all but Brazil's former supervisors and separately concluded that Brazil had waived her race-discrimination claim. Brazil did not appeal either decision. For the lone claim remaining, one for retaliation against her former supervisors, Brazil now seeks only injunctive relief requiring the Department to transfer her to a suitable position under the direction of different supervisors.

         She has already received what she seeks. It is undisputed that she no longer works in the same division or for the same supervisors. To be sure, a future transfer could land her back under the control of her former supervisors, who could then renew their retaliatory efforts. But a speculative possibility of future harm is not enough to preserve a live ...

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