The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the Commonwealth or its agencies cannot be sued on claims arising under Commonwealth law in federal court without its consent.
The Ninth Circuit’s decision was made in Ramsey v. Muna, a suit filed by physician Gary Ramsey who had worked at Commonwealth Healthcare Corp.
“The ruling represents a significant victory for the Commonwealth, as it corrected a longstanding injustice in the unequal treatment of the Commonwealth compared to every other member of the United States political family,” Attorney General Edward Manibusan said. “The [Appeals] Court has recognized the Commonwealth’s sovereign immunity as to claims under Commonwealth law.”
Before this ruling, the Commonwealth was the only state or territory in the union which did not enjoy sovereign immunity from federal suits based on its own laws.
The Ninth Circuit in this case distinguished its ruling in a 1988 case Fleming v. Department of Public Safety, that the Commonwealth had waived its sovereign immunity. It limited the Fleming holding to claims filed in federal court arising under federal law.
Manibusan stated, “We are pleased with the Ninth Circuit’s decision and will move forward to defending the remaining claims in the complaint.”
Ramsey alleged that CHCC had wrongfully denied his hospital privileges.
The Ramsey decision does not affect claims in which a Commonwealth official is sued in federal court on claims arising under both federal and Commonwealth law. (OAG)