Lawyer Sues After Feds Reject Her Job Application

By Robyn Hagan Cain on December 18, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Malla Pollack, a lawyer and resident of Kentucky, wants work for the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts in Washington, D.C. The Administrative Office rejected her application because she doesn't live or work in the Washington metropolitan area.

So she sued.

Considering that Pollack just wiped the floor with the government's lawyers in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, maybe they should consider hiring her.

Pollack applied online for a job as an Attorney-Advisor at the Administrative Office (AO), the central administrative support organization for the federal judiciary. The job announcement stated that only applicants living or working in the Washington metropolitan area would be considered. Pollack didn't satisfy that criterion.

Pollack sued officials at the Administrative Office, solely in their official capacities, alleging that they rejected her job application in violation of her constitutional right to travel. The district court dismissed Pollack's complaint, concluding that it lacked jurisdiction because the Administrative Office has sovereign immunity from suit. Last week, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that decision.

As a general rule, the U.S. can't be sued without its consent. Pollack, however, argued that her suit was not barred by sovereign immunity -- even absent consent -- under the Larson-Dugan exception to the general rule.

Under the exception, "suits for specific relief against officers of the sovereign" allegedly acting "beyond statutory authority or unconstitutionally" are not barred by sovereign immunity. The exception is based on the principle that such ultra vires action by a federal officer "is beyond the officer's powers and is, therefore, not the conduct of the sovereign."

Pollack pretty much nailed the Larson-Dugan exception: Her sole allegation is that the named officers acted unconstitutionally, and she requests only injunctive and declaratory relief.

Pollack won the sovereign immunity battle, but that doesn't mean she'll win her constitutional war; the case now returns to the district court with her right to travel claim.

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