Chapman et al v. The City of Clanton
MEMORANDUM OPINION: This case is one of several before the Court that all contain similar allegations: that Alabama cities attempting to increase municipal budgets were running debtors prisons and implementing policies that adversely impacted indige nt residents of those cities. Currently before the Court are motions to dismiss plaintiffs amended complaint under FRCP 12(b)(6). Such motions were filed by the City of Clanton, Judicial Correction Services (JCS), and CHC Companies, Inc. These motio ns will be granted in part and denied in part as further set out in the opinion. Though distinct in certain ways, this case is similar to other cases pending before this Court, most notably McCullough v. City of Montgomery, 2:15-cv-463, and Carter v . City of Montgomery,2:15-cv-555. This memorandum opinion should be read in conjunction with the opinions issued in those cases, as the issues overlap and Court will not repeat its analysis in this memorandum opinion. The memorandum opinions in those cases can be found at docket entry 131 in McCullough and docket entry 97 in Carter. Signed by Honorable Judge Royce C. Lamberth on 4/25/2017. (dmn, )
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
CANDICE CHAPMAN, et al.,
Case No. 2:15-cv-125 (RCL)
THE CITY OF CLANTON, et al.,
This case is one of several before the Court that all contain similar allegations: that
Alabama cities attempting to increase municipal budgets were running debtor’s prisons and
implementing policies that adversely impacted indigent residents of those cities. Currently before
the Court are motions to dismiss plaintiffs’ amended complaint under Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 12(b)(6). Such motions were filed by the City of Clanton, Judicial Correction Services
(JCS), and CHC Companies, Inc. These motions will be granted in part and denied in part.
Though distinct in certain ways, this case is similar to other cases pending before this Court,
most notably McCullough v. City of Montgomery, 2:15-cv-463, and Carter v. City of Montgomery,
2:15-cv-555. This memorandum opinion should be read in conjunction with the opinions issued
in those cases, as the issues overlap and Court will not repeat its analysis in this memorandum
The memorandum opinions in those cases can be found at docket entry 131 in
McCullough and docket entry 97 in Carter.
Like Carter and McCullough, this case concerns the policies and practices of an Alabama
City that contracted with a private probation company, JCS, which is alleged to have denied
indigent defendants a host of rights.
Specifically, they allege that the city of Clanton signed a contract with JCS that nominally
allowed JCS to run probation services. JCS ran on an “offender funded” model, where they would
charge people on probation set-up as well as monthly fees to remain on probation.
When individuals were arrested for minor crimes and unable to pay fees, they were
automatically placed into JCS probation and made monthly payments. If individuals were unable
to pay, their fees were converted to jail time with durations tied to the amounts owed. For example,
one plaintiff’s fine of $1,415 was converted into 28.3 days in jail—a rate of $50 a day. Another
plaintiff was given 21.12 days.
Plaintiffs contend this was all done without any indigency determinations being made and
without access to counsel. They further argue that the entire contract between the City and JCS is
A motion to dismiss is appropriate when the complaint fails “to state a claim upon which
relief can be granted.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). Such a failure occurs when the complaint is so
factually deficient that the plaintiff’s claim for relief is not plausible on its face. Bell Atlantic
Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). Though facts in a complaint need not be detailed,
Rule 8 “demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-harmed-me accusation.” Ashcroft v.
Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). The Court must accept all factual statements as true when
deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. Id. at 678. However, conclusory legal allegations
devoid of any factual support do not enjoy the same presumption of truth. Id. at 679. “Factual
allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550
U.S. at 555. This is not a high bar however, as plaintiffs need only plead facts sufficient to “nudge
their claims across the line from conceivable to plausible.” Id. at 547.
This case contains eleven counts. The first is for denial of due process by the City of
Clanton. The second is for denial of due process by JCS. The third and fourth counts are for
violations of the fourth amendment by Clanton and JCS, respectively. Counts five and six allege
violations of the sixth amendment by the City and JCS. Counts seven and eight allege violations
of the eighth amendment. The ninth and tenth counts are for violations of equal protection by
Clanton and JCS. The final count, eleven, is for declaratory and injunctive relief against both JCS
1. Violations by the City of Clanton
The City spends the bulk of their motion to dismiss arguing that they are not responsible
for the actions of JCS or any actions taken by the Clanton Municipal Court. In this way, the City’s
argument is incredibly similar to that made by the City of Montgomery in Carter and McCullough.
Here, they argue that because the municipal court is an arm of the State, not the City, it is
impossible for the City to be liable for its actions. City Mot. Dismiss 26, ECF No. 80. Moreover,
they claim the alleged violations of plaintiffs’ rights arise from the municipal court, not the City.
Id. at 42-43.
With respect to liability tied to the City contracting with JCS, the City claims that it hired
JCS for the municipal court, and their actions are thus not attributable to the City, but rather the
municipal court. Id. at 45-46. The City’s arguments apply to all the substantive counts against
them in the complaint.
Plaintiffs respond by alleging that the conduct in question is not limited to the municipal
court, but involves a medley of city officials including clerks, the treasurer, and police. Resp.
City’s Mot Dismiss 6, ECF No. 85. To be more precise, the allegations include a “joint scheme”
between JCS and the City that included, but was not limited to, actions occurring in or associated
with the municipal courts. Id.
The City was the entity that decided to use JCS, signing the contract that allowed for the
payment system and policies allegedly undertaken by JCS. Am. Comp. ¶ 33, ECF No. 74. The
City allegedly allowed JCS employees to carry badges. Id. at ¶ 34. Were that insufficient, the
complaint alleges “[t]his public ruse was maintained by Clanton and JCS for purposes of imposing
and collecting fines and costs from citizens.” Id. at ¶ 35.
That is, plaintiffs allege not merely that the City is liable due to JCS’s actions or the
behavior of the municipal court, but also because the City itself was a party to a “ruse” designed
to increase revenue. At this stage of the proceedings, this allegation is sufficient to state a claim.
While the precise nature of the allegations vary by count, the underlying allegation is that the City
and JCS together created a series of policies and practices designed to increase revenue. Plaintiffs
here allege these policies or practices harmed them in a number of distinct ways, including
violations of several constitutional rights. It is not necessary to examine the details of JCS or the
municipal court’s relationship to the City, as the plaintiffs allege the City acted in concert with
those other entities in creating the alleged violations. See also id. at ¶ 242 (discussing the “joint
and inextricably interwoven” policies of the City and JCS).
2. Violations by JCS
At the core of the alleged violation of plaintiffs’ rights are that they were forced onto JCS
“probation” when they couldn’t afford to pay fines. On probation, they were charged monthly fees
and, if they could not pay, their fine was converted into a jail sentence. This was done without
access to counsel or any indigency determinations being made. JCS argues that while indigency
determinations may not have been made, and regardless of whether particular municipal court
orders were proper, JCS had no duty to address many of the issues plaintiffs raise. On the contrary,
JCS asserts the municipal court was responsible for many of the actions (or inaction) in question,
relieving JCS of liability. JCS Mot. Dismiss14-18, ECF No. 86.
Much like the City pointing to JCS and the municipal courts, JCS points to the municipal
courts and the City as the entities responsible for the actions in question. While JCS distinguishes
between counts in a way the City does not, the core issue is the same across the counts. For
example, when discussing violations of due process, JCS maintains it had no duty or authority to
inquire into indigency, the municipal court did. JCS Mot. Dismiss 13-14. With respect to the
fourth amendment, JCS maintains that the City, not JCS, issued the warrants in question and made
arrests, id. at 20-21, and that the municipal court, not JCS, determined who would be placed on
probation, id at 19-20.
As with the City, JCS fails to fully engage with the allegations levied against them.
Plaintiffs maintain that the City and JCS’s policies were “joint and inextricably interwoven,” Am.
Comp. at ¶ 242, and were “designed and sold to various cities” by JCS, Resp. JCS Mot. Dismiss
5, ECF No. 91. That is, plaintiffs are alleging JCS and the City were acting pursuant to a “joint
scheme.” Id. at 5. Plaintiffs allegations are not that things happened in some passive sense and
they now seek the party liable, but rather that JCS and others actively planned to make things
happened in pursuit of profits. As the “things” in the previous sentence are constitutional
violations, they seek to hold the creators of the “scheme” of “joint and inextricably interwoven”
policies—including JCS—accountable for their creation.
As with any case, plaintiffs’ allegations or theory could turn out to be inaccurate. However,
at this stage of the proceedings, where plaintiffs factual claims are accepted as true, plaintiffs make
a broad claim that JCS is responsible, at least in part, for the policies in question as they were a
joint participant in their creation.
This Court has already addressed in some detail various violations similar or identical to
the ones present in this case, including in the Carter and McCullough memorandum opinions. The
Court will not repeat its analysis here, but notes that the allegations include clear violations of
constitutional rights, including jailing individuals for the inability to pay fines without inquiring
as to their indigency and denying individuals counsel before incarcerating them.
Additionally, as noted in a prior memorandum opinion, the Court will not analyze every
argument advanced by JCS. This is because the same arguments have been made, and rejected, in
nearly identical circumstances. See Higginbotham v. Judicial Corrections Servs., Inc., No. CV13-BE-740-S, 2014 WL 507448, at *1 (N.D. Ala. Feb. 6, 2014) (noting that the City and JCS
advanced arguments that had already been rejected in a similar case, including the City’s authority,
quasi-judicial immunity, and the Rooker Feldman doctrine).
3. Declaratory and Injunctive Relief
Plaintiffs concede their claim for declaratory and injunctive relief is due to be dismissed as
to the City given the previous settlement between the parties. Order Granting Joint Motion to
Dismiss, ECF No. 24. While plaintiffs contend that their request for declaratory and injunctive
relief is aimed at both JCS and Clanton, and should not be dismissed with respect to JCS, the text
of the count is very much focused on Clanton, with only passing mentions of JCS. In other
memorandum opinions this Court has noted that cases of this type may allow for declaratory and
injunctive relief even when the city in question is no longer contracting with JCS.
McCullough. This is because of the possibility that the allegations in question are capable of
repetition while evading review. However, in this case plaintiffs have settled with the City and it
is not clear what portion of their count would apply to JCS while not simultaneously be in
contravention of the settlement agreement between the parties. See Am. Comp. ¶¶ 379-399
(requesting that the Court “declare that Clanton had no authority to contractually bind their
municipal court,” “declare the actions of Clanton under this contract to be unconstitutional,” and
“enjoin the actions of Clanton identified herein,” while only occasionally referencing JCS).
Given the previous settlement agreement between the plaintiffs and the City, the language
of this count being clearly directed to the City, and the fact that no party contests JCS’s
representation that the contract between the City and JCS has been canceled and JCS does not do
business in Alabama, the Court finds that count eleven is due to be dismissed as to JCS as well as
4. CHCC’s Motion to Dismiss and Statute of Limitations
As they have done in other cases, defendant CHC Companies, Inc. (CHCC) filed a motion
to dismiss. Here they articulate that the correct legal names for the companies in question are CHC
Companies, LLC (CHC Co.) and Correct Care Solutions, LLC (CCS, LLC). 1 CHCC Mot. Dismiss
1, ECF No. 82-1. In addition to the general types of arguments made by JCS, CHCC also argues
that there are no direct claims against CHCC and that adding them as a party runs afoul of the
statute of limitations in this case.
To the extent that CHCC is arguing that it is not liable given its distinct corporate structure,
the Court has already addressed a nearly identical argument in Carter. Carter, Mem. Op. 6-7,
2:15-cv-555. The same reasoning there, also raised by plaintiffs here, applies in this case.
However, CHCC also ties its argument to the statute of limitations, an argument also
advanced by JCS. CHCC and JCS argue that at least some of the plaintiffs did not raise their
claims in a timely manner, as the amended complaint was not docketed until December 2016 and
some of events described concluded in mid-2014.
As an initial matter, the Court notes that the statute of limitations was tolled when plaintiffs
filed for leave to amend in April 2016—not when this Court granted leave to amend in December
2016. See Rademaker v. ED Flynn Export Co., 17 F. 2d 15, 17 (5th Cir. 1927) (“[W]e think the
better rule, supported by the weight of authority, is that an application for leave to amend, as full
and comprehensive as this one is in its averment of facts, stands in the place of an actual
amendment.”). Additionally, while defendants argue that some of the events in question would
still be outside the statute of limitations, defendants do not address the doctrine of continuing
For the purposes of this memorandum opinions, all of these entities are being referred to as CHCC.
violations. Though addressing discrimination, the Court finds the Circuit’s language in Perez v.
Laredo Junior Coll., 706 F.2d 731, 733–34 (5th Cir. 1983), to be informative:
If . . . the statutory violation does not occur at a single moment but in a series of
separate acts and if the same alleged violation was committed at the time of each
act, then the limitations period begins anew with each violation and only those
violations preceding the filing of the complaint by the full limitations period are
foreclosed. Similarly, if the statutory violation occurs as a result of a continuing
policy, itself illegal, then the statute does not foreclose an action aimed at the
company’s enforcement of the policy within the limitations period.
As the Court understands this complaint, it addresses both JCS/CHCC policy and also
repeated acts by JCS/CHCC. That is, it is not merely the first payment that a plaintiff had to pay
to JCS, the allegation is that each payment over the course of the “probation” period was improper.
Moreover, and contrary to defendants’ representations, plaintiffs appear to allege violations
within the statute of limitations. For example, in CHCC’s own motion they note that Candice
Chapman was arrested, assessed fines, placed on probation, and jailed, between May and October
2014. CHCC Mot. Dismiss 8-9. Likewise, Deangelo Barnett allegedly had his fine converted into
jail time in June 2014 and Tracy Dubose states she was making payments to JCS until June 2014.
Id. at 9-10; Am. Comp. ¶ 189.
Accordingly, plaintiffs state a claim against CHCC.
Plaintiffs in this case allege a series of practices and policies that deprived them of their
rights or visited unique harms upon them due to their indigency. While the complaint spans some
400 paragraphs and there is extensive briefing on the nature of the Alabama state court system and
its relationship to Clanton’s municipal court, the underlying issue is one of deep importance.
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