Yes, there is more to say about independent claims!


We (hey, if The New Yorker can use the royal we, why can't I) have been very busy and neglectful of the blog, but now that the holidays are upon us and things are slowing down, hopefully we can do some catching up on what's been going on  

A reader has brought the following decision to our attention – Kane v. DHHS, 2008 ME 185.  Look at the last bit on independent claims:

The SJC basically holds that if you raise a Section 1983 independent claim with a Rule 80C, the independent action can be knocked out as duplicative. 

We've talked about the relations between 80Bs and 80Cs and independent claims before.  Basically, if the Section 1983 is based on procedures that the plaintiff argues have gone awry in the individual adjudication (e.g. bias), and the relief sought is vacatur of that adjudication, then it seems to me that the Section 1983 claim fails on its face for failure to state a claim under Parratt v. Taylor.  The Section1 983 claim is based on lack of procedural due process, and the appellate review is due process, so there's no deprivation as a matter of law.  

It seems to me that the issue gets trickier, however, if the Section 1983 claim attached to an administrative appeal is based on a generic procedure, e.g., that there is a rule or systematic agency procedure that violates due process, and the goal of the independent claim is to strike down that rule.  That's more than flipping the individual adjudication, so not entirely duplicative of the 80C.  Hence, if the plaintiff crafted his or her complaint in a way that asked not only that its adjudication get flipped, but that the rule or procedure be enjoined across the board, then I think whether that across-the-board claim is an independent action is a much more difficult question. 

If the procedure about which the plaintiff complains is not an individual aspect of the challenged adjudication, but a generic rule, then the post-deprivation 80C adjudicatory review might not be sufficient under Parratt v. Taylor.  There's lots of Section 1983 law saying there no duty to exhaust administrative remedies before filing a Section 1983 claim.  Also, a plaintiff is normally entitled to costs under Section 1983, including attorney's fees.  If the Section 1983 states a viable claim (i.e. isn't just an alleged individual procedural problem), then that claim isn't entirely duplicative of the 80C appeal, where no costs are allowed under the state statute.

This remedy difference between an administrative appeal and a Section 1983 claim is more obvious in the 80B context, when compensatory damages may be available against the town officials because sovereign immunity doesn't apply.  There is language in SJC precedent that a claim for damages is an independent action that can be tacked onto an administrative appeal – it's independent because damages are unavailable as a part of the appeal.

If this decision were read broadly to preclude all Section 1983s independent actions with 80Bs or 80Cs, then all sorts of thorny procedure issues would arise.  For example, if it's clear you can't raise your Section 1983 as a part of the administrative appeal in state court, does that mean you can file your Section 1983 in federal court?  It's normally not splitting your cause of action if you can't raise your claim in state court.  

At this point, therefore, and without reading any of the pleadings in Kane, I'm going to read this decision narrowly, as saying that you can't assert a Section 1983 claim as an independent action in an 80C if the sole relief you want is a change in an individual adjudication based on an individualized agency action.  Just from reading this opinion, there's some language about how the plaintiff was unhappy with a general interpretation of the statute.  But the SJC seems to have ruled that a narrower statutory interpretation applies and is so applied generally by the agency, so the only thing wrong here was the individual application in this adjudication.  In this case, with only an individualiized snafu,there is no meritorious Section 1983 claim under Parratt v. Taylor.  While it looks like DHHS raised this Parratt v. Taylor point in the appeal (the decision says that DHHS raised the argument that the state remedy was adequate), and the SJC didn't talk in these terms, but rather just spoke about duplication, I think we arrive at the same place:  if an independent claim is wholly duplicative, then it wouldn't state a claim under Parratt v. Taylor.  If you read the decision more broadly, then you get into these tricky issues I've noted above.