Lawrence v. State Board Of Education
Sovereign immunity barred the action of a former state employee to rescind his severance agreement with the state. Wilbert Lawrence filed a complaint against the defendants, including the state Board of Education and Department of Education, to challenge the validity of a stipulated agreement that terminated the plaintiff's employment as a state vocational school teacher in lieu of termination for misconduct. He alleged that during negotiations, the defendants represented that all actions and charges pending against him would be terminated and he would be able to pursue other employment with the state in the form of administrative positions. He alleged that these representations were false because the defendants knew, or should have known, that other state agencies were investigating him or had charges pending against him. The complaint sought recission of the agreement, a declaratory judgment and monetary relief. The court granted the defendants' motion to dismiss the complaint on the ground of sovereign immunity. The Appellate Court affirmed the judgment. The plaintiff acknowledged that neither the legislature nor the claims commissioner authorized his suit. He claimed that his claim for recission did not implicate sovereign immunity for two reasons. First, he claimed the state would be unaffected fiscally by a judgment of recission in his favor. However, the plaintiff offered no guidance about how a remedy in recission could be fashioned without implicating the state's fiscal resources. His complaint sought reinstatement and back pay. While seeming to abandon the latter claim in his reply brief, if he were to prevail, he still would be entitled to reinstatement with a salary and benefits and the person likely occupying his former position entitled to severance payments. His claim had adverse implications for the state's fiscal well-being and was barred by sovereign immunity. Secondly, the plaintiff failed to allege facts to support his contention that the defendants deprived him of a constitutionally protected property interest during negotiations by failing to inform him of adverse proceedings in other state agencies. The terms of the settlement agreement could not be construed reasonably to confer on the plaintiff a constitutionally cognizable property interest in employment that the defendants were required to honor. The agreement provided only that the plaintiff was not precluded from seeking state employment other than as a teacher. Judge Lavine concurred separately.