Edwards v. Cofield et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER: Accordingly, it is ORDERED that Defendant Cofield's Motion to Dismiss (Doc. # 30 ) is DENIED, and that Defendant Cofield shall file an answer to the complaint on or before July 28, 2017. It is further ORDERED that the other Defendants Motion to Dismiss (Doc. # 46 ) is also DENIED. Signed by Chief Judge William Keith Watkins on 7/14/2017. (kh, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
KANDACE KAY EDWARDS,
DAVID COFIELD, in his official
capacity as Randolph County Sheriff,
CASE NO. 3:17-CV-321-WKW
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Plaintiff brought this lawsuit against four state officials who each play a role
in Randolph County’s alleged unconstitutional pretrial detention scheme—“one in
which indigent arrestees are jailed because of their inability to make bond, while
well-to-do arrestees are able to quickly purchase their release.” (Doc. # 9, at 2.) One
of the four officials, Defendant Sheriff David Cofield, filed a Motion to Dismiss on
the ground that he “has no authority over setting bond as a matter of law.” (Doc. #
30, at 1.) In other words, Defendant argues he is immune from suit because he had
no discretion to change the policy—he was simply enforcing the law as charged to
him by his superiors. The other three officials—Circuit Clerk Christopher May,
Magistrate Jill Puckett, and District Judge Clay Tinney—filed a Motion to Dismiss
(Doc. # 46) on the ground that this action is moot because Plaintiff is no longer jailed
in Randolph County. For the reasons set forth below, both motions are due to be
Defendant’s only argument ignores hornbook law that has been around for
over 100 years. “The landmark case of Ex parte Young, 209 U.S. 123 (1908), created
an exception to [state sovereign immunity] by asserting that a suit challenging the
constitutionality of a state official’s action in enforcing state law is not one against
the State.” 1 Green v. Mansour, 474 U.S. 64, 68 (1985) (emphasis added). “The
theory of the case was that an unconstitutional enactment is ‘void’ and therefore does
not ‘impart to [the officer] any immunity from responsibility to the supreme
authority of the United States.’” Pennhurst State Sch. & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465
U.S. 89, 102 (1984) (quoting Young, 209 U.S. at 160). Because the State is unable
to authorize an unconstitutional action, its actor is “stripped of his official or
representative character and is subjected to the consequences of his official
conduct.” Young, 209 U.S. at 160. Thus, “the Eleventh Amendment does not
Sheriff Cofield is a state actor, even though he works for Randolph County. Turquitt v.
Jefferson Cty., 137 F.3d 1285, 1289 (11th Cir. 1998) (“Alabama sheriffs act as state officers when
supervising inmates and otherwise operating the county jails.”).
prevent federal courts from granting prospective injunctive relief [against a state
actor] to prevent a continuing violation of federal law.” Green, 474 U.S. at 68.
This is exactly what Plaintiffs seek against Defendant (Doc. # 1, at 19–21),
and Defendant does not enjoy immunity merely because he was following orders.
Indeed, the holding of Ex parte Young assumes that the state actor has done nothing
more than enforce the law as promulgated by the State. See Pennhurst, 465 U.S. at
102 (“[In Young], a federal court enjoined the Attorney General of the State of
Minnesota from bringing suit to enforce a state statute that allegedly violated the
Fourteenth Amendment. This Court held that the Eleventh Amendment did not
prohibit issuance of this injunction.”).
Defendant seems to think it matters that Plaintiffs fail to allege “any
independent action . . . [taken by him in] setting the terms and conditions by which
Plaintiff (or any other person) may be released on bond.” (Doc. # 30, at 3 (emphasis
added).) It does not. The cases Defendant offers to support his argument to the
contrary are inapposite because they deal with the bounds of municipal liability
under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. See, e.g., Grech v. Clayton Cty., Ga., 335 F.3d 1326, 1329–
30 (11th Cir. 2003) (applying the test introduced in Monell v. Dep’t of Soc. Servs.,
436 U.S. 658, 708 (1978), which is used to determine “whether a municipality is
liable in damages for injuries that are the direct result of its official policies”). This
claim is for prospective injunctive relief against Defendant in his official capacity
and thus Ex Parte Young controls. Accordingly, Cofield’s motion to dismiss is due
to be denied.
Defendants May, Puckett, and Tinney
Defendants May, Pucket, and Tinney (“Defendants”) argue that traditional
standing rules require Plaintiff’s claims be dismissed as moot. After all, Plaintiff
has already been released from jail, and the claim she brings centers on her wrongful
detention. See DeFunis v. Odegaard, 416 U.S. 312, 316 (1974) (noting that “federal
courts are without power to decide questions that cannot affect the rights of litigants
in the case before them”). Defendants point out that Plaintiff is no longer a member
of the class of pretrial detainees kept in jail because of Randolph County’s bail
schedule and emphasize that “a plaintiff cannot represent a class of which he is not
a member” (Doc. # 44, at 3). See Tucker v. Phyfer, 819 F.2d 1030, 1033 (11th Cir.
1987) (“In a class action, the claim of the named plaintiff, who seeks to represent
the class, must be live both at the time he brings suit and when the district court
determines whether to certify the putative class. If the plaintiff’s claim is not live,
the court lacks a justiciable controversy and must dismiss the claim as moot.”).
The question is whether an exception applies to the traditional standing rules.
In Sosna v. Iowa, 419 U.S. 393 (1975), the Supreme Court held that a class action is
not “always moot just because the named plaintiff’s claim is moot.” Stein v.
Buccaneers Ltd. P’ship, 772 F.3d 698, 706 (11th Cir. 2014). It may be, for example,
that a claim brought via class action is “capable of repetition, yet evading review.”
Sosna, 419 U.S. at 399, 402. Even prior to certification, the action may be allowed
to proceed if the named plaintiff’s case becomes moot “before the district court can
reasonably be expected to rule on a certification motion.” Id. at 402 n.11.
Defendants recognize this exception. In fact, they even acknowledge that the
exception has been used in previous cases involving “pretrial detention matters.”
(Doc. # 44, at 5.) For example, in Gerstein v. Pugh, 420 U.S. 103 (1975), the Court
reviewed a challenge to a Florida pretrial detention procedure even though the
named plaintiffs were no longer detained. Explaining its holding, the court observed
the unlikelihood that “any given individual, named as plaintiff, would be in pretrial
custody long enough for a district judge to certify the class.” Gerstein, 420 U.S. at
110 n.11. The same difficulty, it would seem, arises in a case like this one.
But Defendants balk at the comparison. “[I]t would be improper to use this
princip[le] in this matter,” they say, because “there has never [been] an instance
where a named plaintiff’s claims became mooted within 24 hours of issuance of the
case and even prior to the issuance of a TRO.” (Doc. # 44, at 5.) The “short
timeframe,” by Defendants’ estimation, calls into question whether Plaintiff “should
be considered a member of the class,” whether she “would diligently pursue the class
claims, and whether [she] has stated a true case in controversy.” (Doc. # 44, at 5.)
This distinction is immaterial. Defendants do not point to a single case
holding that the length of a plaintiff’s live controversy, prior to its becoming moot,
should bear on whether a mootness exception will later apply. And if the length of
the live controversy did bear on that question, it seems a shorter controversy would
work in Plaintiff’s favor, not the other way around. The more quickly a controversy
is mooted, the more likely it is to evade review. Nevertheless, after highlighting the
brevity of the controversy, Defendants go on to assert that “the issues likely will not
evade review.” The court can think of no reason why that would be true, and
Defendants do not explain. All in all, the distinctions Defendants attempt to draw
between this case and the ordinary pretrial detention case are irrelevant, and the
arguments they make in support of those distinctions are vacuous. Courts routinely
apply the Sosna exception in pretrial detention cases because pretrial detentions are
the very sort of transitory subject matter for which the exception was created. See
Dunn v. Dunn, 148 F. Supp. 3d 1329, 1340 (M.D. Ala. 2015) (“Claims that derive
from potentially imminent release from custody are ‘a classic example of a transitory
claim.’”). Defendants have provided no convincing reason why this case is any
different from all the other cases that involve challenges to various pretrial detention
schemes. Because the controversy at the center of this case is transitory in nature,
the Sosna exception applies, and the court will not dismiss it for mootness.
Accordingly, it is ORDERED that Defendant Cofield’s Motion to Dismiss
(Doc. # 30) is DENIED, and that Defendant Cofield shall file an answer to the
complaint on or before July 28, 2017. It is further ORDERED that the other
Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss (Doc. # 46) is also DENIED.
DONE this 14th day of July, 2017.
/s/ W. Keith Watkins
CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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