Tuesday, March 20, 2012

SCOTUS Holds States Immune from FMLA Self-Care Suits

The Supreme Court decided Coleman v. Md. Court of Appeals today. (Background | Opinion).

To make a long story short, per the syllabus, Justices Alito, Roberts, Kennedy, and Thomas "concluded that suits against States under the [FMLA] self-care provision are barred by sovereign immunity." But wait! That's only four Justices... how can that be? Yup, we have a 4-1-4 decision.

The "1" is Justice Scalia, who left little doubt where he stood:
I would limit Congress’s [14th Amendment] §5 power to the regulation of conduct that itself violates the Fourteenth Amendment. Failing to grant state employees leave for the purpose of self-care—or any other purpose, for that matter—does not come close.
I guess you could say Justice Scalia had some problems with the analysis employed by the other Justices:
The plurality’s opinion seems to me a faithful application of our "congruence and proportionality" jurisprudence. So does the opinion of the dissent. That is because the varying outcomes we have arrived at under the "congruence and proportionality" test make no sense. Which in turn is because that flabby test is "a standing invitation to judicial arbitrariness and policy-driven decisionmaking."
Tell us how you really feel! In any event, complicated analysis and a weird split... but a pretty simple outcome: state immunity for lawsuits arising out of the FMLA self-care provisions.