Thursday, April 20, 2006

Tenth Circuit Sends Guttman Back to District Court for As-Applied Review

Yesterday, the Tenth Circuit issued its remand opinion in Guttman v. Khalsa. The case is a doctor's ADA Title II challenge to proceedings in which his license was revoked. In its original opinion, the Tenth Circuit held that the suit was barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine (an obscure procedural doctrine that bars lower federal courts from hearing appeals from state courts). But the Supreme Court, in an order I blogged about here, summarily vacated that decision and remanded for further consideration in light of an intervening Supreme Court case that made clear that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine is narrow.

In yesterday's opinion, the Tenth Circuit ruled that under current Supreme Court precedent Dr. Guttman's case is not barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. Although the district court had also dismissed Dr. Guttman's claim on the ground that Title II of the ADA does not validly abrogate sovereign immunity, the court of appeals held that the district court had to reconsider that decision in light of Tennessee v. Lane and U.S. v. Georgia. The Tenth Circuit read Georgia as:

la[ying] out a procedural roadmap explaining how Title II claims against a state should proceed:

Once Goodman's complaint is amended, the lower courts will be best
situated to determine in the first instance, on a claim-by-claim basis,
(1) which aspects of the State's alleged conduct violated Title II; (2)
to what extent such misconduct also violated the Fourteenth
Amendment; and (3) insofar as such misconduct violated Title II but
did not violate the Fourteenth Amendment, whether Congress's
purported abrogation of sovereign immunity as to that class of
conduct is nevertheless valid.


Because of our holding in Thompson [a pre-Lane decision that held Title II invalid across the board], the district court did not address whether the plaintiff stated a claim that New Mexico violated Title II of the ADA. Under the Supreme Court's decision in Georgia, we must remand the case to the district court so that it can determine whether Guttman properly alleged violations of Title II. When doing so, the district court also will be able to determine whether Guttman's claims are otherwise barred because they are precluded by res judicata or collateral estoppel.

If the district court decides that Guttman did state a valid claim under Title II, it must then determine whether Congress abrogated sovereign immunity as applied to the class of conduct at issue in this case. Georgia, 126 S. Ct. at 880-81. If his Title II claims against New Mexico also constitute an independent constitutional violation, Guttman may proceed with those claims against the state. Id. If Guttman has stated a valid Title II claim that is not also an independent constitutional violation, the district court must conduct the Lane analysis to determine whether Title II abrogated sovereign immunity for an as applied challenge.
The Tenth Circuit then offered a defense of the as-applied procedure laid out in the Georgia opinion:

The procedural rule laid out in Georgia is wise. Before a court can determine whether Title II abrogated sovereign immunity as applied to a specific suit, it must know the specifics of the claim at issue. Otherwise, the court would be engaged in a guessing game about what class of conduct is implicated by the complaint. Further, a court that tried to determine whether Title II abrogated sovereign immunity before it determined that a plaintiff actually alleged a Title II violation would risk issuing an advisory opinion.
This is a good opinion that takes Lane and Georgia seriously. Across-the-board invalidations of Title II of the ADA are no longer good law. It's good to see yet another court of appeals recognizing that.

(I should note, in the interest of full disclosure, that I helped Dr. Guttman's attorney with the cert. petition that successfully asked the Supreme Court to grant, vacate, and remand the case back to the Tenth Circuit.)


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