Foster et al v. Judicial Correction Services, Inc. et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION: This case is before the court on Defendants' 49 Motion to Dismiss Second Amended Complaint, Plaintiffs' 85 Motion for Partial Summary Judgment, and Defendants' 109 Motion for Summary Judgment. For the reaso ns explained as further set out in the opinion, Plaintiffs motion for partial summary judgment is due to be denied. Defendants motion for summary judgment is due to be granted. An order consistent with this memorandum opinion will be entered. Signed by Honorable R. David Proctor on 9/12/2017. (dmn, )
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
LINDA THURMAN, et al.,
JUDICIAL CORRECTION SERVICES,
INC., et al.,
Case No.: 2:12-cv-00724-RDP-TFM
This case is before the court on Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss Second Amended
Complaint (Doc. # 49), Plaintiffs’ Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (Doc. # 85), and
Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. # 109). The motions have been fully briefed.
(See Docs. # 52, 99, 104, 116, 118). The court held oral argument for the motions on July 24,
2017. After careful review of the parties’ submissions and the Rule 56 record, the court
concludes that while Plaintiffs’ motion for partial summary judgment is due to be denied,
Defendants’ motion for summary judgment is due to be granted.1
In Plaintiffs’ Second Amended Complaint, Plaintiffs Linda Thurman and Courtnee
Carroll raise four categories of claims against Defendants Judicial Correction Services, Inc.
(“JCS”) and Correctional Healthcare Companies, Inc. (“CHC”). (See Doc. # 53 at ¶¶ 30-41).
First, Plaintiffs claim that they are entitled to declaratory judgments against Defendants. (Id. at ¶
32). Specifically, Plaintiffs ask the court to declare that: (1) JCS violated state and federal law
Based upon the court’s ruling on Defendants’ motion for summary judgment, their motion to dismiss the
complaint is now moot.
by commanding probationers to pay fines and fees pursuant to documents that were not lawful
orders of probation; (2) JCS violated state and federal law by commanding or coercing monetary
payments from individuals above the relevant statutory maximums; (3) JCS violated state and
federal law by imposing probation for periods longer than the relevant statutory maximum; (4)
JCS was unjustly enriched by its conduct; and (5) JCS obstructed justice and violated Plaintiffs’
equal protection rights. (Id.). Second, Plaintiffs allege that Defendants were unjustly enriched
by their collection of fees without legal authority and “should be ordered to disgorge the illgotten gains.” (Id. at ¶ 35). Third, they allege that Defendants unlawfully obstructed the
administration of law, in violation of Alabama Code § 13A-10-2, by warning the named
Plaintiffs to not contact the municipal court about probation matters. (Id. at ¶¶ 20, 39-41).
Finally, Plaintiffs allege that Defendants violated their rights under the Equal Protection Clause
of the Fourteenth Amendment. (Id. at ¶¶ 40-41).
In January 2013, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss the Second Amended Complaint.
(Doc. # 49). In that motion, Defendants argue that: (1) the Second Amended Complaint fails to
state a claim for relief; (2) the Second Amended Complaint fails to allege a causal connection
between Defendants’ conduct and Plaintiffs’ alleged injuries; (3) Defendants are entitled to
absolute quasi-judicial immunity; (4) JCS did not act under the color of state law; and (5) the
Second Amended Complaint does not plead fraud with particularity. (See generally Doc. # 50).
In April 2013, Plaintiffs filed a motion for partial summary judgment. (Doc. # 85). In
their summary judgment motion, Plaintiffs seek a declaratory judgment that JCS was not
authorized to collect probation fees from orders that had not been signed by a municipal court
judge. (See id. at 2). In turn, Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment in September
2013. (Doc. # 109).
Plaintiffs’ claims arise from their traffic cases before the Municipal Court for
Montgomery, Alabama (“Municipal Court”). The court addresses the material facts regarding
each Plaintiff’s claims, in turn.
In April 2010, Montgomery police issued three tickets to Plaintiff Carroll for failing to
use a child restraint, switching tags, and driving without a license. (See Doc. # 99-14 at 2, 5, 8).
When Carroll received the tickets, she called the Municipal Court and asked them how much she
would be required to pay for the tickets. (Doc. # 85-3 at 6-7). A Municipal Court employee told
Carroll that she would be required to pay approximately $500 for the three tickets. (Id. at 7).
In May 2010, Carroll pled guilty to all three charges. (See Doc. # 99-14 at 3, 6, 9).
Carroll went to the Municipal Court on the assigned court date. (Doc. # 85-3 at 6). She
informed an employee at the Municipal Court’s window that she wanted a payment plan, and the
employee instructed her to wait by a door. (Id. at 9). Carroll has testified that she wanted to
admit that she was guilty of the offenses so that she could pay off the fines and not wait. (Id. at
10). Moreover, she desired to pay off the fines and fees levied against her. (Id.). The Municipal
Court imposed $25 fines for the child-restraint and switched-tag offenses and a $75 fine for
driving without a license. (See Doc. # 99-14 at 3, 6, 9). The Municipal Court also charged
Carroll $113 in court costs for each offense. (See id.). The Municipal Court’s orders regarding
the tickets state that it referred Carroll to JCS. (See id.) (statement stamped onto the orders).
The facts set out in this opinion are gleaned from the parties’ submissions of facts claimed to be
undisputed, their respective responses to those submissions, and the court’s own examination of the evidentiary
record. All reasonable doubts about the facts have been resolved in favor of the nonmoving party. See Info Sys. &
Networks Corp. v. City of Atlanta, 281 F.3d 1220, 1224 (11th Cir. 2002). These are the “facts” for summary
judgment purposes only. They may not be the actual facts that could be established through live testimony at trial.
See Cox v. Adm’r U.S. Steel & Carnegie Pension Fund, 17 F.3d 1386, 1400 (11th Cir. 1994).
On May 14, 2010, Carroll signed an “order of probation,” issued on the Municipal
Court’s letterhead. (See Doc. # 85-2 at 2). The order placed Carroll on probation for 12 months.
(Id.). It directed her to pay a $10 set-up fee and a $40 per month fee to JCS. (Id.). It also
directed her to pay $140 per month towards the amounts she owed to the Municipal Court and
JCS. (Id.). The order listed the fines and costs Carroll owed for her April 2010 offenses. (Id.).
But, the probation order also stated that Carroll owed $341 from an earlier case. (Id.).
Along with the financial obligations, Carroll’s order of probation directed her to report to
a probation officer as instructed and to notify the probation officer of any change in residence or
employment. (Id.). It instructed Carroll to work during her probation, unless she was a full-time
student. (Id.). The order warned Carroll that she could be arrested for violating any term of
probation and that her probation could be revoked “accordingly.” (Id.). Carroll and a JCS
employee each signed the order.
(Id.). But, the signature block for the Municipal Court
remained blank. (Id.).
According to Plaintiffs, Carroll also received a document from JCS with additional
probation instructions. (Doc. # 85-4 at 2). JCS’s document directed Plaintiff to not contact the
Municipal Court. (See Doc. # 85-4 at 2) (“Do not contact the Municipal Court they will be
unable to help you.”) (emphasis in original).
Instead, JCS directed Carroll to contact her
probation officer, Elizabeth Allen, with any questions. (Id.).
Carroll has conceded that no one forced her to sign the probation order. (Doc. # 111-1 at
5). Nor did anyone coerce or command her to make monthly payments to JCS. (Id. at 12). But,
she has testified that she was unaware of the probation sentence and believed that the forms she
signed were “the process of the payment plan.” (Doc. # 85-3 at 13). Carroll paid off her
financial obligations for the three offenses by January 2011. (See generally Doc. # 99-7).
According to the Municipal Court’s electronic records, in January 2012, Plaintiff
Thurman received a citation for failing to possess or display insurance. (Doc. # 99-8 at 1-2).
Thurman has testified that she was guilty of the offense and agreed to plead guilty to it. (Doc. #
99-3 at 5). She pled guilty to the offense by signing her traffic ticket. (Id. at 5-6). Thurman
wished to pay the fine imposed by the Municipal Court “over an extended period of time.” (Id.
On February 10, 2012, Thurman signed an “order of probation,” issued on the Municipal
Court’s letterhead. (Doc. # 85-11 at 2). The order directed Thurman to pay $279 in court costs
for failing to possess or display insurance.3 (Id.). It instructed her to pay $140 per month
towards the amount she owed. (Id.). It also contained the same probation conditions as those in
Carroll’s order, including the obligation to pay a one-time fee and monthly fees to JCS. (Id.).
Thurman and a JCS employee signed the order of probation. (Id.). Judge Les Hayes’s last name
was handwritten into the order, along with a set of initials. (Id.).
According to Thurman, she voluntarily agreed to the conditions of probation. (Doc. # 993 at 8-9). Although she agreed to sign the probation order, she recalled that she did not have an
opportunity to choose whether to pay the $40 probation fee to JCS. (Id. at 9). She did not
consider challenging the ticket before one of the Municipal Court’s judges. (Id. at 10-11).
Thurman has testified that a JCS employee instructed her to bring $35 or $40 with her to
scheduled probation appointments. (Id. at 7-8). JCS employees threatened to issue arrest
warrants against her if she did not bring “at least $5.00” with her to a probation appointment.
(Id. at 13). Thurman paid off the amounts owed for the citation on August 3, 2012. (Doc. # 99-8
The Municipal Court’s records state, though, that Plaintiff received a traffic fine of $150. (Doc. # 99-8 at
2). This fine is not reflected in the order of probation.
at 1). On that same day, the Municipal Court entered her guilty plea and the sentence against
Other Material Facts
Tonia Hamby, a JCS employee, has testified that the Municipal Court had an unwritten
policy for placing individuals on probation at the Municipal Court. (Doc. # 99-12 at 5-6). If a
defendant appeared at the clerk’s window and agreed to be placed on probation with JCS, a JCS
intake specialist would sign the defendant up for probation, write the judge’s name on the
probation order, and initial the order. (Id. at 6). Judge Hayes memorialized the Municipal
Court’s probation policy with JCS in a 2013 standing order. (Doc. # 99-11). The standing order
explained that, if the defendant owed less than $250, the Municipal Court would grant a 30-day
extension to pay the amount owed. (Id.). The Municipal Court placed defendants “with JCS” if
they owed less than $1500 to the Municipal Court and requested a payment plan for the amounts
owed. (Id.). If a defendant owed more than $1500 and requested a payment plan, the Municipal
Court held a hearing before a judge to determine whether the defendant should be placed with
JCS.4 (Id.). According to the general order, the Municipal Court instituted these policies in June
Summary Judgment Standard
Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c), summary judgment is proper “if the
pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the
affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving
party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322
Judge Hayes admitted to the Alabama Court of the Judiciary that he had previously “placed some
municipal court defendants who appeared before him on what was nominally referred to in the court’s order as
‘probation’ even though they had not received a suspended sentence or any jail time, but had been given only fines
and court costs.” In the Matter of: Armstead Lester Hayes III, 2017 WL 132929, at *2 (Ala. Ct. of the Judiciary Jan.
(1986). The party asking for summary judgment always bears the initial responsibility of
informing the court of the basis for its motion and identifying those portions of the pleadings or
filings which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Id. at 323.
Once the moving party has met its burden, Rule 56(c) requires the non-moving party to go
beyond the pleadings and – by pointing to affidavits, or depositions, answers to interrogatories,
and/or admissions on file – designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.
Id. at 324.
The substantive law will identify which facts are material and which are irrelevant. See
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986) (“Anderson”). All reasonable doubts
about the facts and all justifiable inferences are resolved in favor of the non-movant. See Allen v.
Bd. of Pub. Educ. For Bibb Cty., 495 F.3d 1306, 1314 (11th Cir. 2007); Fitzpatrick v. City of
Atlanta, 2 F.3d 1112, 1115 (11th Cir. 1993). A dispute is genuine “if the evidence is such that a
reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. If
the evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be
granted. See id. at 249.
When faced with a “properly supported motion for summary judgment, [the non-moving
party] must come forward with specific factual evidence, presenting more than mere
allegations.” Gargiulo v. G.M. Sales, Inc., 131 F.3d 995, 999 (11th Cir. 1997). As Anderson
teaches, under Rule 56(c) a plaintiff may not simply rest on her allegations made in the
complaint; instead, as the party bearing the burden of proof at trial, she must come forward with
at least some evidence to support each element essential to her case at trial. See Anderson, 477
U.S. at 252. “[A] party opposing a properly supported motion for summary judgment ‘may not
rest upon the mere allegations or denials of [her] pleading, but . . . must set forth specific facts
showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.’” Id. at 248 (citations omitted).
Summary judgment is mandated “against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient
to establish the existence of an element essential to that party’s case, and on which that party will
bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 322. “Summary judgment may be
granted if the non-moving party’s evidence is merely colorable or is not significantly probative.”
Sawyer v. Sw. Airlines Co., 243 F. Supp. 2d 1257, 1262 (D. Kan. 2003) (citing Anderson, 477
U.S. at 250-51).
“[A]t the summary judgment stage the judge’s function is not himself to weigh the
evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue
for trial.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249. “Essentially, the inquiry is ‘whether the evidence presents
a sufficient disagreement to require submission to the jury or whether it is so one-sided that one
party must prevail as a matter of law.” Sawyer, 243 F. Supp. 2d at 1262 (quoting Anderson, 477
U.S. at 251-52); see also LaRoche v. Denny’s, Inc., 62 F. Supp. 2d 1366, 1371 (S.D. Fla. 1999)
(“The law is clear . . . that suspicion, perception, opinion, and belief cannot be used to defeat a
motion for summary judgment.”).
After careful review of the parties’ briefs, and with the benefit of oral argument, the court
concludes that Defendants are entitled to summary judgment on all claims in this suit. As
explained below, Plaintiffs’ unjust enrichment claim and their request for the court to declare
JCS’s administration of purportedly unlawful orders of probation to be unlawful are due to be
dismissed without prejudice under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine due to the court’s lack of
subject-matter jurisdiction.5 In the alternative, Defendants are entitled to summary judgment on
Plaintiffs’ unjust enrichment claim because the claim either fails under the voluntary payment
doctrine or constitutes an impermissible collateral attack on the municipal court’s judgments.
Plaintiffs’ claims for obstruction of law and violations of equal protection are due to be
dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Finally, the named
Plaintiffs lack standing to seek declaratory relief regarding probation terms or fines above the
relevant statutory maximums.
The Rooker-Feldman Doctrine Bars Plaintiffs’ Claims for Unjust Enrichment
and a Declaratory Judgment Regarding the Collection of Fines Under
Purportedly Unlawful Probation Orders
Among other arguments, Defendants seek summary judgment because they believe that
the Rooker-Feldman doctrine forecloses this court’s review of Plaintiffs’ claims. (Docs. # 99 at
6-8; 110 at 2 n. 1). According to Defendants, Plaintiffs seek a ruling from this court that their
probation orders are a void nullity. (Doc. # 99 at 7). Defendants insist that Plaintiffs cannot seek
such a ruling from this court under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. (Id.). Indeed, Defendants
claim that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, as applied by the Eleventh Circuit, extends to claims
that even indirectly challenge a state court’s judgment. (Id. at 7-8).
Plaintiffs respond that the Supreme Court’s opinion in Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic
Industries Corp., 544 U.S. 280 (2005), limited the scope of the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. (Doc.
At oral argument, Defendants’ counsel contended that Plaintiffs’ claims were due to be dismissed under
Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994). (Doc. # 162 at 133-34). Plaintiffs note in their supplemental brief that
Defendants did not present a Heck issue in their motion to dismiss, motion for summary judgment, or opposition
brief to Plaintiffs’ partial motion for summary judgment. (Doc. # 161 at 6). Moreover, Plaintiffs claim that Heck
does not apply in this action because they have not brought suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Id. at 7). The court agrees
with Plaintiffs that Heck does not apply to their action because they have not brought suit under § 1983. The Heck
opinion addressed the “intersection” between § 1983 and 28 U.S.C. § 2254. 512 U.S. at 480. It held that “a § 1983
plaintiff” must prove the reversal, expungement, or invalidation of a state-court criminal judgment or sentence in
order to recover damages for a constitutional violation that would necessarily imply the unlawfulness of the
plaintiff’s conviction or sentence. Id. at 486-87. Defendants have not cited, and the court has not found, any
authority extending the Heck v. Humphrey bar to claims brought under the court’s diversity jurisdiction.
# 104 at 6-7). They argue that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine does not apply where a plaintiff
challenges the actions of a defendant, rather than a state court decision. (Id. at 7). Plaintiffs
insist that they challenge JCS’s unlawful collection of fees, rather than their putative orders of
probation. (Id. at 8). Moreover, as they have explained, they do not contest the underlying
Municipal Court judgments, the Municipal Court’s imposition of fines, or the Municipal Court’s
imposition of court costs. (Id. at 9). Additionally, Plaintiffs argue that they should not be
considered state-court losers because they never brought a claim against JCS in state court. (Id.
“The Rooker-Feldman doctrine places limits on the subject-matter jurisdiction of federal
district courts and courts of appeal over certain matters related to previous state court litigation.”
Cormier v. Horkan, 397 F. App’x 550, 552 (11th Cir. 2010) (quoting Goodman ex rel. Goodman
v. Sipos, 259 F.3d 1327, 1332 (11th Cir. 2001)). The Rooker-Feldman doctrine provides that
federal district courts lack authority to review “final judgments of a state court.”6 Lozman v. City
of Riviera Beach, Fla., 713 F.3d 1066, 1072 (11th Cir. 2013) (quoting Nicholson v. Shafe, 558
F.3d 1266, 1271 (11th Cir. 2009)). This narrow doctrine forecloses a federal district court from
considering “cases brought by state-court losers complaining of injuries caused by state-court
judgments rendered before the district court proceedings commenced and inviting district court
In their supplemental brief, Plaintiffs argue that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine does not apply to suits
brought under diversity jurisdiction, rather than federal question jurisdiction. (Doc. # 161 at 1-2). The Fifth,
Seventh, Ninth, and Tenth Circuits disagree. See, e.g., Noel v. Hall, 341 F.3d 1148, 1155 (9th Cir. 2003) (asserting
that two non-applicable statutory exceptions exist to the general rule that federal trial courts lack jurisdiction to
review state-court judgments); Bergquist v. Mann Bracken, LLP, 592 F.3d 816, 818 (7th Cir. 2010) (“The RookerFeldman doctrine was originally stated as a limitation on federal-question jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and
1343; today no one doubts that it is equally applicable to diversity litigation.”); Morris v. Wells Fargo Bank, 677 F.
App’x 955, 957 (5th Cir. 2017) (citing Bergquist); Segler v. Felfam Ltd. P’ship, 324 F. App’x 742, 743 (10th Cir.
2009) (citing Noel) See also Exxon Mobil, 544 U.S. at 291 (stating that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine can prevent a
district court from exercising federal question or diversity jurisdiction). In light of these authorities, the court finds
that Plaintiff’s reliance on diversity jurisdiction does not preclude the court from applying Rooker-Feldman. If
Plaintiffs had originally filed this action in state court, the court would be faced with the issue of whether remand
was warranted pursuant to the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. But, Plaintiffs directly filed this suit in federal court; no
remand issue is presented. (See Doc. # 1).
review and rejection of those judgments.” Exxon Mobil, 544 U.S. at 284. See also id. at 293
(describing the “paradigm situation” for Rooker-Feldman preclusion as one where a plaintiff
seeks “to undo the [state-court] judgment in its favor”). According to the Supreme Court,
Rooker-Feldman does not prevent a party from litigating a matter previously litigated in a state
court proceeding. Id. at 293. Indeed, as the Supreme Court has expressly recognized, state-law
preclusion, rather than Rooker-Feldman preclusion, should be considered when analyzing an
independent claim from that raised in a state court that “denies a legal conclusion that a state
court has reached in a case to which [the plaintiff] was a party.” Id. (quoting GASH Assocs. v.
Rosemont, 995 F.2d 726, 728 (7th Cir. 1993)).
Nevertheless, after Exxon Mobil, the Rooker-Feldman doctrine continues to bar “federal
court jurisdiction where the issue before the federal court [is] ‘inextricably intertwined’ with the
state court judgment so that (1) the success of the federal claim would ‘effectively nullify’ the
state court judgment, or that (2) the federal claim would succeed ‘only to the extent that the state
court wrongly decided the issues.’” Alvarez v. Att’y Gen. of Fla., 679 F.3d 1257, 1262-63 (11th
Cir. 2012) (explaining that the inextricably intertwined standard continues to apply after the
Supreme Court’s narrowing of the Rooker-Feldman doctrine in Exxon Mobil and Lance v.
Dennis, 546 U.S. 459 (2006)) (quoting Casale v. Tillman, 558 F.3d 1258, 1260 (11th Cir. 2009)).
In Alvarez, the Eleventh Circuit held that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine barred a state prisoner
from challenging a state court’s denial of post-trial DNA testing through a § 1983 action.
Alvarez, 679 F.3d at 1263. It distinguished a plaintiff’s as-applied challenge to the state court’s
handling of his particular motion for post-trial testing from a § 1983 challenge to a state’s DNA
access statute, which would not be barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. Id. (distinguishing
Alvarez’s case from the § 1983 case considered by the Supreme Court in Skinner v. Switzer, 562
U.S. 521 (2011)).
Following Exxon Mobil, the Eleventh Circuit, in an unpublished opinion, upheld the
dismissal of an action that sought an order declaring state court rulings to be void. Hirschhorn v.
Ross, 250 F. App’x 916, 916 (11th Cir. 2007). And, as a member of the undersigned’s court has
explained, federal courts lack subject-matter jurisdiction under Rooker-Feldman “only if the
relief requested requires [the federal court] to determine that the state court decision was wrong,
or otherwise should be voided.” Blackburn v. Calhoun, 2008 WL 850191, at *18 (N.D. Ala.
Mar. 4, 2008), aff’d, 296 F. App’x 788 (11th Cir. 2008). See also Abbott v. Michigan, 474 F.3d
324, 328 (6th Cir. 2007) (explaining that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine bars a federal court from
considering a claim “[i]f the source of the injury is the state court decision”); Desi’s Pizza, Inc. v.
City of Wilkes-Barre, 321 F.3d 411, 419 (3d Cir. 2003) (explaining that the Rooker-Feldman
doctrine prevents review of a claim that requests voiding a state court’s judgment)
In Abbott, the Sixth Circuit considered whether the Rooker-Feldman doctrine barred
claims against state entities for converting pension benefits. See 474 F.3d at 326, 329. Before
that case was filed, the Michigan Supreme Court had upheld a law directing prisoners to assign
their pension payments to a prison warden, who acted as a receiver, and had denied a prisoner’s
ERISA claim against the state statute. Id. at 327. A state court had ordered the Abbott plaintiffs
to assign their pension payments to the prison warden for distribution to the state of Michigan
and their families. Id. The plaintiffs then sued the state of Michigan, Michigan executive
departments, and state officials under the Due Process Clause, ERISA, and state law. Id. The
Sixth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of the action under the Rooker-Feldman
doctrine, explaining that the injuries alleged were caused by the state court’s orders rather than
any official’s actions. Id. at 329.
In this case, the plaintiffs are ostensibly complaining of injuries caused by the
actions of third parties—the conversion of their pension benefits by state
officials—but those actions were the direct and immediate products of the statecourt SCFRA judgments. The plaintiffs’ claims and arguments make this clear:
They assert that the state courts erred in issuing the SCFRA judgments and do not
claim that the defendants have injured them in any way except by strictly
executing those judgments. Accordingly, the plaintiffs’ claims of specific injuries
that they have suffered are actually challenges to the state-court SCFRA
judgments and are barred by the Rooker–Feldman doctrine
Here, certain of Plaintiffs’ claims are due to be dismissed under the Rooker-Feldman
doctrine. First, the Rooker-Feldman doctrine bars the court from considering Plaintiffs’ request
to declare JCS’s administration of purportedly unlawful orders of probation to be unlawful. (See
Doc. # 53 at ¶ 32(a)).
Like the claims at issue in Abbott, this request for declaratory relief
expressly rests on JCS’s enforcement of state court orders and requires the court to find that
those orders “are not lawful orders of probation.”
This court lacks subject-matter
jurisdiction to review and reject those state court orders. Exxon Mobil, 544 U.S. at 284.
Moreover, Plaintiffs’ unjust enrichment claim, which is premised on the assertion that
JCS received “ill-gotten gains” from collecting monies under the orders of probation, cannot be
considered by the court under Rooker-Feldman either. (See Doc. # 53 at ¶ 35). For the court to
conclude that JCS’s fees were ill-gotten gains, it would necessarily have to find that the orders of
probation did not authorize JCS to collect those fees because they were nullities.7 Accordingly,
Because this count states that Defendants were unjustly enriched by the “foregoing alleged activities”
described earlier in the complaint, it is somewhat unclear what actions led to JCS receiving ill-gotten gains. The
Second Amended Complaint could be read to allege that JCS received unlawful gains when it collected monetary
payments from probationers for periods of time that exceeded the two-year statutory maximum. (See Doc. # 53 at
¶ 32(b)). But, neither Carroll nor Thurman possess standing to bring such a claim because their terms of probation
lasted less than two years. (See generally Docs. # 99-7; 99-8).
the claim ultimately asks the court to review and reject the orders of probation that purportedly
justified JCS’s collection of monies from Carroll and Thurman. This the court cannot do. Exxon
Mobil, 544 U.S. at 284.
Further, as Plaintiffs’ unjust enrichment claim is inextricably
intertwined with the Municipal Court’s probation orders, logically, that claim can only succeed if
the court finds the probation orders to be invalid. Cf. Alvarez, 679 F.3d at 1262-63. As in
Alvarez, Plaintiffs have raised a claim contesting the legal effect of their individual probation
orders, rather than a more abstract constitutional claim against the Municipal Court’s window
See id. at 1263 (explaining why an as-applied challenge to a denial of post-
conviction DNA testing is distinguishable from a § 1983 suit challenging state-court rules for
bringing motions for post-conviction DNA testing).
For these reasons, Plaintiffs’ unjust
enrichment claim and first request for declaratory relief are due to be dismissed without
prejudice, pursuant to the Rooker-Feldman doctrine.
Plaintiffs’ attempt to distinguish JCS’s conduct from the orders of probation is
unconvincing. By all accounts, JCS collected the amounts owed to itself and the Municipal
Court in execution of the “orders of probation.” Cf. Abbott, 474 F.3d at 329 (explaining that the
state defendants had collected monies owed to the state under express state court judgments).
Thus, although Plaintiffs’ claim purportedly is based on the actions of JCS, it is actually based on
the “direct and immediate products” of the Municipal Court orders they seek to declare void. Cf.
In their supplemental brief, Plaintiffs argue that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine should not
bar Plaintiff Carroll’s unjust enrichment claim because her state court probation order was not
final until the Municipal Court’s records reflected the probation order. (Doc. # 161 at 3). That
argument misses the mark. Indeed, the records available to the court reveal that Carroll pled
guilty to the charges in May 2010 and signed a probation order in May 2010 as well. (Docs. #
85-2 at 2; 99-14 at 3, 6, 9). Under Alabama law, Carroll could have appealed the judgments and
associated sentences well before this suit was filed in August 2012.8 See Ala. R. Crim. P. 30.1(a)
(permitting a municipal court defendant to appeal his or her conviction to a circuit court within
14 days of the judgment).
Plaintiffs also claim in their supplemental brief that Rooker-Feldman should not bar their
claims because they lacked a reasonable opportunity to raise legal challenges to their probation
orders before the Municipal Court. (Doc. # 161 at 5-6). They contend that JCS denied them any
opportunity to contest the orders by obstructing their access to the Municipal Court. (Id. at 6). It
is well-settled that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine does not apply in situations where the plaintiff
lacked a “reasonable opportunity to raise his federal claim in state proceedings.” Powell v.
Powell, 80 F.3d 464, 467 (11th Cir. 1996) (quoting Wood v. Orange Cty., 715 F.2d 1543, 1547
(11th Cir. 1983)). Having said that, Plaintiffs cite no authority for the proposition that a nonincarcerated individual lacks a reasonable opportunity to raise a claim in state proceedings
because another party discouraged the individual from contacting a court. (See Doc. # 161 at 56). Plaintiffs have not explained how JCS’s admonition deprived them of “meaningful access to
the courthouse,” particularly given that Plaintiffs maintained the legal right to file papers with
the Municipal Court or any other appropriate court. Zabriskie v. Court Admin., 172 F. App’x
906, 909 (11th Cir. 2006) (affirming the dismissal of a non-prisoner’s access-to-courts claim
regarding access to a center for pro se litigants because the Due Process Clause does not require
governmental officials to provide non-prisoners access to legal research resources). Unlike
To be clear, this case is distinguishable from Ray v. Judicial Correction Services, Inc., Case No. 2:12-cv02819-RDP, because three of the four plaintiffs in that suit arguably were not initially convicted of an offense.
Thus, they lacked a right to appeal their judgments and probation orders to a circuit court under Alabama law. See
Ala. R. Crim. P. 30.1.
prisoners, Plaintiffs possessed the freedom to “seek access to additional sources of information”
or legal advice from entities other than JCS. Id. The court is not convinced that Plaintiffs lacked
a reasonable opportunity to challenge their orders of probation, either through the Municipal
Court or an appeal to another state court. Cf. Casale, 558 F.3d at 1261 (“If [the plaintiff]
believed the state court’s result was based on a legal error, the proper response was the same one
open to all litigants who are unhappy with the judgment of a trial court: direct appeal.”). Thus,
Rooker-Feldman preclusion applies.9
Alternatively, Defendants are Entitled to Summary Judgment on the Unjust
Enrichment Count Due to the Voluntary Payment Doctrine
A defendant is unjustly enriched if: (1) the payor “acted under a mistake of fact”; (2) the
payor mistakenly relied “on a right or duty”; or (3) the defendant “engaged in some
unconscionable conduct, such as fraud, coercion, or abuse of a confidential relationship.”
Mantiply v. Mantiply, 951 So. 2d 638, 654-55 (Ala. 2006) (quoting Welch v. Montgomery Eye
Physicians, P.C., 891 So. 2d 837, 843 (Ala. 2004)). It is well settled, though, that a plaintiff’s
unjust enrichment claim is “precluded by proof that the plaintiff voluntarily paid what he or she
is seeking to recover.” Stone v. Mellon Mortg. Co., 771 So. 2d 451, 456 (Ala. 2000). Thus, if a
plaintiff, “with full knowledge of all the facts, voluntarily pays money to satisfy the colorable
legal demand of another, no action will lie to recover such a voluntary payment, in the absence
of fraud, duress, or extortion.” Id. (quoting Mt. Airy Ins. Co. v. Doe Law Firm, 668 So. 2d 534,
Plaintiffs’ argument that a claim must be adjudicated in state court in order to be subject to RookerFeldman is unavailing. Plaintiffs rely on Vasquez v. YII Shipping Co., 692 F.3d 1192, 1196 (11th Cir. 2012), where
the Eleventh Circuit held that a Florida court’s judgment on whether the plaintiffs’ claims were subject to state
forum non conveniens rules did not foreclose federal court review of whether those claims were justiciable under
maritime law. Under the circumstances presented in Vasquez, the Eleventh Circuit held that the Florida judgment
was not being reviewed because the Florida courts had not been asked to resolve the maritime law issue. Id.
Nevertheless, the Vasquez opinion reaffirmed Exxon Mobil’s prohibition on reviewing and rejecting state court
judgments. Id. That is what Plaintiffs’ unjust enrichment claim seeks to do.
537 (Ala. 1995)). A mere threat of legal proceedings does not constitute duress. Mt. Airy Ins.
Co., 668 So. 2d at 538.
Defendants argue that they are entitled to summary judgment for Plaintiffs’ unjust
enrichment claims under the voluntary payment doctrine. (Doc. # 110 at 12-15). They claim
that Plaintiffs voluntarily agreed to pay the monthly fees and admitted that they were not coerced
into making the payments. (Id. at 12-13). Plaintiffs contend that Thurman agreed to the terms of
probation under JCS supervision because she did not want to go to jail. (Doc. # 116 at 11).
According to Plaintiffs, the Rule 56 record reveals that JCS threatened to jail probationers unless
they paid the amounts owed under the probation orders. (Id. at 12).
Defendants rely upon Kruse v. City of Birmingham, 67 So. 3d 910 (Ala. Civ. App. 2011),
and assert that the voluntary payment doctrine applies to fines paid for traffic tickets. In Kruse,
the plaintiff brought an unjust enrichment claim against the City of Birmingham, among other
claims, after paying fines that purportedly were time-barred. 67 So. 3d at 911. The plaintiff
claimed that the city threatened to incarcerate him unless he paid the fines for parking citations
issued to his vehicle. Id. Kruse paid those fines during a period where the city granted amnesty
from prosecution for outstanding parking citations. Id. at 911-12. Nevertheless, he alleged that
the city was unjustly enriched by retaining the fines because it attempted to collect fines after the
statute of limitations for doing so had expired. Id. at 912. Nevertheless, the Alabama Court of
Civil Appeals held that the plaintiff’s unjust enrichment claim failed because he had voluntarily
paid the fines. Id. at 916-17. It rejected the plaintiff’s claim that he had acted under duress
because he did not dispute his liability before paying the fines. See id. Plaintiffs seek to
distinguish Kruse noting that the plaintiff in that case made payments during a period in which
Birmingham lifted the threat of incarceration for non-payment of fees. After careful analysis, the
court concludes Defendants have the better side of the argument.
In Brown v. State, 565 So. 2d 585, 585-86 (Ala. 1990), the Alabama Supreme Court
addressed whether the plaintiffs could bring a class action suit seeking a refund of fines and costs
paid pursuant to traffic tickets that had not been verified before a judicial officer. The plaintiffs
in Brown showed that their traffic tickets appeared to be verified because a trial court clerk had
directed her staff to stamp her signature on tickets. Id. at 588-89. However, the clerk later
testified that the officers who issued the tickets never appeared before her to verify the charges.
Id. at 588. The Alabama Supreme Court acknowledged that the procedure used by the trial court
violated the plaintiffs’ state-law rights because state law required officers to formally accuse a
defendant under oath to institute the misdemeanor charges at issue. Id. at 589-90.
Nevertheless, the Alabama Supreme Court held in Brown that the plaintiffs could not
recover the fines and fees charged to them because their suit brought an untimely collateral
challenge to their judgments. Id. at 590. The Court found no “evidence of fraud or corruption”
by the trial court’s officers. Id. And, it cited a federal court’s ruling that “when one pays a fine
voluntarily under a mistake of law, that fine cannot be recovered unless payment was induced by
the fraud or the undue advantage of the one receiving it.” Id. (quoting Callahan v. Sanders, 339
F. Supp. 814, 818 (M.D. Ala. 1971)). Because the plaintiffs in Brown sought “to dispose of their
misdemeanor cases as expeditiously and as conveniently as possible” and did not contest their
guilt of the underlying charges, the Alabama Supreme Court held that the plaintiffs could not
seek reimbursement of the fines. Id. at 591.
Here, the court agrees with Defendants that the state-law unjust enrichment claims are
barred by Alabama’s voluntary payment doctrine. Plaintiffs do not claim in their opposition
brief that they lacked full knowledge of the facts when they agreed to pay probation fees to JCS
so that they could receive a payment plan for their Municipal Court fines and fees. (See Doc. #
116 at 11-14). And, while Plaintiffs have claimed that Defendants lacked legal authority to
impose their probation fees, they have not argued that Defendants lacked a colorable legal basis
to charge the additional fees. (See id.). See also Stone, 771 So. 2d at 456 (holding that the
voluntary payment doctrine applies if the recipient has a colorable legal basis for its demand).
Indeed, Plaintiffs rest their challenge to Defendants’ invocation of the voluntary payment
doctrine on the fraud, duress, and extortion exception to the doctrine.
A review of the Rule 56 record makes plain that Plaintiffs have not presented a triable
issue of whether JCS obtained the probation fees through fraud, duress, or improper pressure.
First, Plaintiffs’ argument that JCS unjustly obtained probation fees by threatening imprisonment
fails because nothing in the Rule 56 record indicates that JCS threatened to incarcerate Plaintiffs
without seeking legal process through the Municipal Court. (See Doc. # 85-2 at 2) (warning
individuals that they could be arrested for violating terms of probation and that JCS could
request revocation from the Municipal Court). Alabama law clearly provides that a threat to
institute legal proceedings is not a form of improper pressure upon which an unjust enrichment
claim may lie.
See Mt. Airy Ins. Co., 668 So. 2d at 538. Second, Plaintiffs’ attempt to
distinguish their unjust enrichment claim from the claim presented in Kruse is unavailing. As in
Kruse, Plaintiffs agreed to pay the probation fee as part of the payment for fines imposed against
them by a municipal court. Moreover, as in Kruse, Plaintiffs do not contest that they were liable
for the traffic offenses for which the Municipal Court issued the fines. Kruse indicates that a
threat of incarceration by a party enforcing a municipal court’s order or judgment is not a form
of fraud, duress, or improper pressure that can support an unjust enrichment claim. Cf. Kruse, 67
So. 3d at 911 (recounting the plaintiff’s allegation that the city was unjustly enriched by
threatening to incarcerate him for failing to pay fines that were time-barred). Accordingly,
Plaintiffs’ argument that Defendants cannot rely on the voluntary payment doctrine due to fraud,
duress, or improper pressure fails as a matter of law.
Alternatively, even if the voluntary payment doctrine did not bar Plaintiffs’ unjust
enrichment claims (and, plainly, it does), Alabama Supreme Court precedent demonstrates that
the unjust enrichment claims would nevertheless fail as a matter of law. See Brown, 565 So. 2d
at 590-91. In Brown, the Alabama Supreme Court held that analogous claims for refunds of
fines and fees paid by traffic offenders were unsuccessful collateral attacks on the criminal
judgments. Id. at 590. As in Brown, Plaintiffs seek to collect amounts previously paid pursuant
to an order issued in connection with an adjudicated municipal court traffic case. As a matter of
Alabama state law, such a claim is an impermissible collateral attack on the municipal court’s
judgment. See id. Therefore, pursuant to Brown, Defendants would also be entitled to summary
judgment on Plaintiffs’ unjust enrichment claims.
Plaintiffs Have Not Shown That Alabama Law Provides a Private Cause of
Action for Obstruction of Law
Defendants argue that Plaintiffs’ obstruction of law claim in Count Three of the Second
Amended Complaint is due to be dismissed for the lack of a private cause of action. (Doc. # 50
at 9-11). Plaintiffs respond that “this claim fits within and is allowed to proceed under the law
which the Plaintiffs invoke for their unjust enrichment claim and for declaratory and injunctive
relief.”10 (Doc. # 52 at 16). The court agrees with Defendants.
At oral argument, Plaintiffs’ counsel stated that they had pled an obstruction claim under 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983, in addition to a state-law claim. (Doc. # 162 at 139). Plaintiffs have clarified in their supplemental brief
that “they are not proceeding on a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.” (Doc. # 161 at 1-2).
At one time, Alabama law provided that “every criminal act which injures the person or
property of another is also a civil tort, redressable by the courts.” Hardie-Tynes Mfg. Co. v.
Cruse, 66 So. 657, 661 (Ala. 1914). However, in Martinson v. Cagle, 454 So. 2d 1383, 1385
(Ala. 1984), the Alabama Supreme Court clarified that statement by explaining that, although an
act that constitutes a crime may also serve as the basis of a civil action, civil liability does not
exist automatically. Rather, civil liability exists “only if the acts complained of violate the legal
rights of the plaintiff, constitute a breach of duty owed to the plaintiff, or constitute some cause
of action for which relief may be granted.” Id. at 1385. See also Prill v. Marrone, 23 So. 3d 1,
11 (Ala. 2009) (holding that Alabama law did not provide a private right of action for criminal
conspiracy or criminal complicity).
Alabama law criminalizes the obstruction of governmental operations through
intimidation, physical force, interference, or any other unlawful act. Ala. Code § 13A-10-2(a).
Nothing in § 13A-10-2, though, indicates that it is intended to provide a private cause of action.
Nor have the Plaintiffs cited authority where an Alabama court recognized a private cause of
action for an obstruction of governmental operations that caused harm to a particular plaintiff.
Because Plaintiffs’ obstruction of law claim does nothing more than assert that Defendants
violated a criminal statute and that Plaintiffs were thereby harmed,11 Defendants are entitled to
summary judgment for this claim.
Plaintiffs’ Equal Protection Claims Fail to State a Claim for Relief
Defendants argue in their motion for summary judgment that Plaintiffs’ equal protection
claims fail to state a claim for relief. (Doc. # 110 at 25). Plaintiffs have not responded to this
argument in their summary judgment opposition brief. In their opposition brief to the motion to
(See Doc. # 53 at ¶ 41) (“JCS, by the wrongdoing alleged, has obstructed and violated the foregoing law,
and the Plaintiffs and Class have been . . . harmed [ ] as a result.”).
dismiss, Plaintiffs argued that, if JCS acted under color of state law, then it violated their equal
protection rights by not treating similarly situated people alike. (See Doc. # 52 at 19). The court
agrees with Defendants that this claim is not adequately pled.
Plaintiffs have argued that the equal protection claim should go forward as a wealthbased equal protection claim. The Supreme Court has issued two opinions that are relevant to
the question of equal protection rights of indigent probationers. In Williams v. Illinois, 399 U.S.
235 (1970), the Supreme Court held that a court “may not constitutionally imprison beyond the
maximum duration fixed by statute a defendant who is financially unable to pay a fine.” Id. at
243. In its opinion, though, the Williams Court explained that a state is “not powerless to enforce
judgments against those financially unable to pay a fine.” Id. at 244. In a footnote, it referred to
the State’s argument that a state court could, consistent with the Equal Protection Clause,
“impose a parole requirement on an indigent that he do specified work during the day to satisfy
the fine.” Id. at 244 n. 21. In Tate v. Short, 401 U.S. 395 (1971), the Supreme Court held that a
court may not subject a defendant to imprisonment “solely because of his indigency.” Id. at 39798. But, again, the Supreme Court recognized that the state court could address an indigent’s
inability to pay the fine by directing that a defendant pay a fine in installments. See id. at 400 n.
Plaintiffs’ equal protection claim does not explain how JCS’s conduct treated similarly
situated individuals differently. To the extent Plaintiffs argue that JCS treated individuals that
could immediately pay fines differently from those who could not do so,12 the Second Amended
Complaint does not discuss the Municipal Court’s or JCS’s conduct towards individuals who
Cf. City of Cleburne, Tex. v. Cleburne Living Ctr., 473 U.S. 432, 439 (1985) (“The Equal Protection
Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment commands that no State shall ‘deny to any person within its jurisdiction the
equal protection of the laws,’ which is essentially a direction that all persons similarly situated should be treated
were able to immediately pay their fines. (See generally Doc. # 53 at ¶¶ 39-41). Thus, the
Second Amended Complaint does not adequately plead that JCS treated similarly situated
individuals differently in violation of equal protection. To the extent Plaintiffs allege an equal
protection claim based on JCS’s unlawful administration of their probation sentences, their equal
protection claim does not fall within the Supreme Court’s authority from Williams or Tate
because the Municipal Court did not imprison either named Plaintiff to jail for failing to pay
fines or fees. Williams and Tate both acknowledge that a court can impose a different sentence
on an indigent defendant than a non-indigent defendant. Williams, 399 U.S. at 244 n. 21; Tate,
401 U.S. at 400 n. 5. And, neither case forecloses a court from imposing a probationary sentence
on a defendant while he or she pays fines in installments. Accordingly, Plaintiffs have not
presented an plausible equal protection claim, and Defendants are entitled to summary judgment
on that claim.
The Remaining Plaintiffs Lack Standing to Seek a Declaratory Judgment
Regarding Violations of Statutory Maximums
In their Second Amended Complaint, Plaintiffs seek a declaration that JCS violated state
and federal law “by commanding and coercing payments of fines or fees, or charges of any kind,
in excess of any such amount allowed by law, or for periods of time which exceed the maximum
amount [of] time prescribed by law for probation.” (Doc. # 53 at ¶ 32(b)). However, Greg
Solley was the only named plaintiff in this action who allegedly faced a probation sentence
exceeding the two-year statutory maximum. (See id. at ¶ 26). Indeed, both Carroll and Thurman
completed their probation terms in less than one year.13 (See generally Docs. # 99-7; 99-8).
And, at oral argument, Plaintiffs’ counsel acknowledged that they did not allege payment of a fine, fee,
or court cost above any applicable statutory maximum. (Doc. # 162 at 138-39).
Thus, the question is whether Carroll and Thurman have standing to bring this declaratory
Before certifying a class action, the court must review whether at least one named
plaintiff has Article III standing to bring each subclaim presented in the action.14 Prado-Steiman
ex rel. Prado v. Bush, 221 F.3d 1266, 1279 (11th Cir. 2000). A plaintiff seeking declaratory
relief from a federal court must show “a reasonable expectation that the injury they have suffered
will continue or will be repeated in the future.” Malowney v. Fed. Collection Deposit Grp., 193
F.3d 1342, 1347 (11th Cir. 1999). A party’s Article III standing to bring suit is determined by
whether it had standing at the time of filing. Focus on the Family v. Pinellas Suncoast Transit
Auth., 344 F.3d 1263, 1275 (11th Cir. 2003).
In this case, both named Plaintiffs lack standing to bring the declaratory subclaim
concerning administration of sentences above the relevant statutory maximums. Neither named
Plaintiff was under JCS probation for more than one year, much less two years. (See generally
Docs. # 99-7; 99-8). Plaintiffs have not alleged or argued that Carroll or Thurman paid any fine,
fee, or cost above any applicable statutory maximum. (See Doc. # 162 at 138-39). Nor does the
Rule 56 record show that they reasonably expected to be subject to a fine, fee, or cost above a
statutory maximum when they filed this action. Accordingly, the court finds that Plaintiffs
Carroll and Thurman lack standing to bring the declaratory subclaim in paragraph 32(b) of the
Second Amended Complaint. Accordingly, that claim is due to be dismissed.
The court may raise standing issues sua sponte. Bischoff v. Osceola Cty., Fla., 222 F.3d 874, 877-78
(11th Cir. 2000).
For the reasons explained above, Plaintiffs’ motion for partial summary judgment is due
to be denied. Defendants’ motion for summary judgment is due to be granted. An order
consistent with this memorandum opinion will be entered.
DONE and ORDERED this September 12, 2017.
R. DAVID PROCTOR
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?