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A state, its agencies, and its officials acting in their official capacities cannot be sued in federal court without their consent. A state must expressly consent to suit in federal court to waive its immunity under the Eleventh Amendment.
Frederick Allen, a videographer, and Nautilus Productions, LLC, Allen's video production company, commenced the present action, alleging that North Carolina, its agencies, and its officials violated Allen's copyrights by publishing video footage and a still photograph that Allen took of the 18th-century wreck of a pirate ship that sank off the North Carolina coast. Allen and Nautilus obtained the rights to create the footage and photograph through a permit issued by North Carolina to the ship's salvors, and Allen subsequently registered his work with the U.S. Copyright Office. Allen and Nautilus also sought to declare unconstitutional a 2015 state law — N.C. Gen. Stat. § 121-25(b), which provided that photographs and video recordings of shipwrecks in the custody of North Carolina were public records). According to Allen and Nautilus claim, the state law was enacted in bad faith to provide the State with a defense to their federal copyright infringement action. North Carolina filed a motion to dismiss under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6), asserting sovereign immunity under the Eleventh Amendment, qualified immunity, and legislative immunity. The district court rejected North Carolina's claims of immunity, and North Carolina filed the present interlocutory appeal.
Was North Carolina entitled to sovereign immunity under the Eleventh Amendment, qualified immunity, and legislative immunity?
The court reversed the district court’s decision, holding that Congress did not validly abrogate the State's Eleventh Amendment immunity with the enactment of the Copyright Remedy Clarification Act. Moreover, although plaintiff contended that state officials conspired to convert his copyrighted works into public documents through the enactment of N.C. Gen. Stat. § 121-25(b), the only actual conduct alleged in furtherance of the conspiracy - that the officers wrote, caused to be introduced, lobbied for passage of, and obtained passage of § 121-25(b) - was quintessentially legislative in nature and fell within the scope of legislative immunity.