The Eleventh Circuit's Misguided "Arm-of-the-State" Analysis in Pellitteri v. Prine,
Ga. St. U. L. Rev.
Available at: https://readingroom.law.gsu.edu/gsulr/vol38/iss2/12
The Supreme Court has determined that the Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution exemplifies a greater principle of state sovereign immunity that extends beyond the plain text of the Amendment. When agents and instrumentalities of a state are sued and claim sovereign immunity, courts examine whether these “arms of the state” exercise state power to such an extent that they are entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity. Because the Supreme Court has failed to articulate a clear test for determining whether an entity acts as an arm of the state, the Circuit Courts of Appeal have fashioned their own tests coalesced around several factors.
The Eleventh Circuit first spelled out its arm-of-the-state test in the 2003 case of Manders v. Lee. The Eleventh Circuit examines whether an entity acts as an arm of the state in the specific function at issue in each case. In 2012, the Eleventh Circuit, using its Manders test, held that a Georgia sheriff did not act as an arm of the state when terminating employees. Curiously, in the 2015 case Pellitteri v. Prine, the Eleventh Circuit changed its mind—it held that the same Georgia sheriff’s office with the same sheriff acted as an arm of the state when exercising the same power to hire and fire employees.
This Comment examines the evolution of sovereign immunity doctrine in the United States and discusses the Eleventh Circuit’s arm-of-the-state analysis in Manders and Pellitteri. This Comment then argues that the Eleventh Circuit’s decision in Pellitteri was wrong and proposes alternatives for how the court could arrive at its original, correct decision—a Georgia sheriff does not act as an arm of the state when making day-to-day employment decisions.