Stubbs et al v. The City of Center Point, Alabama et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION Signed by Chief Judge Karon O Bowdre on 12/19/13. (SAC )
2013 Dec-19 AM 11:43
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
RHONDA LASHON STUBBS, et al.,
THE CITY OF CENTER POINT,
ALABAMA, et al.,
Case No. 2:13-cv-1200-KOB
This matter comes before the court on the “Joint Motion to Dismiss by Defendant City of
Center Point, Alabama and Defendant Redflex Traffic Systems Inc.” (Doc. 5). Plaintiffs Rhonda
Lashon Stubbs and Celeita Snow brought a class action complaint in the Circuit Court of
Jefferson County, Alabama, claiming the City of Center Point’s traffic camera citation system
violates Plaintiffs’ due process rights. Defendants removed the case to federal court on the basis
of federal question jurisdiction. (Doc. 1). Defendants’ motion to dismiss, brought pursuant to
Rules 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6), presents a variety of arguments for why the court should dismiss the
complaint, some jurisdictional and others on the merits. For the following reasons, the court will
GRANT the motion IN PART and REMAND the remaining counts to the Circuit Court of
Jefferson County, Alabama IN PART.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
The standard of review for a Rule 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss for lack of subject-matter
jurisdiction is the same as the standard of review for a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss attacking
the legal sufficiency of the complaint. See JWS Samuel, LLC v. Hillsborogh Cnty., Fla., Case
No. 8:11-CV-02803-T-MAP, 2012 WL 3291831, at *1 (M.D. Fla. Aug. 13, 2012) (citing
Carmichael v. Kellogg, Brown & Root Servs., Inc., 572 F.3d 1271, 1279 (11th Cir. 2009);
Lawrence v. Dunbar, 919 F.2d 1525, 1528-29 (11th Cir. 1990)). Generally, the Federal Rules of
Civil Procedure require only that the complaint provide “‘a short and plain statement of the
claim’ that will give the defendant fair notice of what the plaintiff’s claim is and the grounds
upon which it rests.” Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957) (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)).
The Supreme Court explained that “[t]o survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must
contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its
face.’” Ashcroft v. Iqbal 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting and explaining its decision in Bell
Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). To be plausible on its face, the claim must
contain enough facts that “allow[ ] the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant
is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.
In considering a 12(b) motion, the court is primarily limited to the face of the complaint
and its attachments. “However, where the plaintiff refers to certain documents in the complaint
and those documents are central to the plaintiff’s claim, then the Court may consider the
documents part of the pleadings . . .” Brooks v. Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Fla., Inc., 116 F.3d
1364, 1368-69 (11th Cir. 1997) (internal citations omitted).
Furthermore, several circumstances exist in which a court may consider matters outside
of the pleadings in ruling on a 12(b) motion without converting the motion to a motion for
summary judgment. See Davis v. Self, Case No. CV-12-S-2401-NW, 2013 WL 754853, at *2
(N.D. Ala. Feb. 25, 2013). One of these circumstances arises when facts or documents are subject
to judicial notice. See Fed. R. Evid 201(a)-(d); La Grasta v. First Union Securities, Inc., 358
F.3d 840, 845 (11th Cir. 2004) (“In analyzing the sufficiency of the complaint, we limit our
consideration to the well-pleaded factual allegations, documents central to or referenced in the
complaint, and matters judicially noticed.”).
The considerations in this case, as reflected in the facts below, are heavily influenced by
proceedings occurring in the Alabama state courts and the Alabama state legislature. Some of the
relevant documents are provided as attachments to the complaint; others have been subsequently
submitted to the court. Because these documents are part of the public record, the court takes
judicial notice of all the proceedings, filings, and orders in City of Center Point v. Kenneth
Crowder, CV-2012-0929, as well as Act 2013-228. See Universal Express, Inc. v. U.S. S.E.C.,
177 Fed. App’x 52, 53 (11th Cir. 2006) (“A district court may take judicial notice of certain facts
without converting a motion to dismiss into a motion for summary judgment . . . Public records
are among the permissible facts that a district court may consider.”); United States v. Jones, 29
F.3d 1549, 1553 (11th Cir. 1994) (“a court may take notice of another court’s order . . . for the
limited purpose of recognizing the ‘judicial act’ that the order represents or the subject matter of
the litigation”); Redner v. Citrus County, Fla., 919 F.2d 646, 651 n. 14 (11th Cir. 1990) (taking
judicial notice of the outcome of state criminal proceedings in dismissing a claim under the
doctrine of Younger abstention).
The court, therefore, considers these documents in its evaluation of this motion to dismiss
without converting the motion to a motion for summary judgment. Although the court has not
independently consulted the Alabama courts or legislature for the accuracy of the documents that
the parties have provided, neither party has challenged the accuracy of the documents provided to
the court through the briefing process and in response to the court’s Order to Show Cause.
STATEMENT OF FACTS
The Act and The Ordinance
In June 2011, Alabama Act 2011-580 became law. It provided for a local law that made
running a red light, running a traffic control device, or speeding within the City of Center Point
an Alabama civil offense. The Act also provided for the use of automated photographic
enforcement of these violations, to be supervised by the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department
or an authorized representative of the City as appointed by the Mayor.
Section 16(b) of the Act states: “An additional fee of ten dollars ($10) shall be collected
by the Center Point Municipal Court in connection with notices issued under this act . . . as
compensation for record keeping and transaction processing with respect to violation notices
issued under this act.” Act 2011-580, § 16(b). Under section 5(f), however, “[i]f the person is
found not liable at the administrative adjudication hearing . . . any penalty and fee paid related to
that citation shall be refunded.” According to the complaint, the City has not collected the $10
fee for such notices and “Plaintiffs and all those similarly situated remain at risk for assessment
and collection” of the fee. (Doc. 1, at ¶ 10).
On August 11, 2011, the Center Point City Council adopted Ordinance 2011-02, “An
Ordinance Authorizing Automated Photographic Enforcement of Traffic Violations in the City of
Center Point, Alabama,” which governs the traffic camera program in the City. The Ordinance
took effect on September 9, 2011. The City contracted with Redflex Traffic Systems, Inc. to
implement the Ordinance.
The complaint alleges both that the Mayor selected and appointed the hearing officer to
adjudicate all fines, penalties, and other matters arising under Ordinance 2011-02 (doc. 1, at ¶ 21)
and that Redflex provided the administrative hearing officer (doc. 1, at ¶ 33). The complaint also
alleges that “Center Point has maintained that it does not operate a municipal court . . . .” (Doc.
1, at ¶ 27). Section 1.5(i) of the Ordinance, as well as Act 2011-580 §§ 5(i) and 13(i), state:
The decision of the hearing officer shall be the final decision by the City. A
person or persons aggrieved by a decision may file a petition for judicial review to
the District Court of Jefferson County, Alabama within 30 days after the date of
entry of the decision. The District Court shall conduct the appeal in the case in the
same manner as the Court hears a small claims civil action.
(Doc. 5, Exhibit B) (emphasis added).
Section 1.7(c) of the Ordinance states: “The City Attorney of the City is authorized to file
suit to enforce collection of unpaid fines or related fees and penalties, or both, imposed under this
Article by lawful means to secure such payments.” (Doc. 5, Exhibit B).
On March 8, 2012 and March 12, 2012, Plaintiff Rhonda Lashon Stubbs was driving her
2001 Lexus automobile in the City when equipment provided by Redflex Traffic Systems
photographed her at a stop sign at the intersection of 24th Avenue Northeast and 23rd Avenue
Northeast, where “she allegedly ran the stop sign.” (Doc. 1, at ¶ 1). Ms. Stubbs received a notice
that she had violated Center Point City Ordinance 2011-02 Article 1 and instructions on how to
“take care of the Notice.” The instructions stated that she must select one of two options: either
pay the civil penalty by personal check, money order, or credit card, or exercise her right to a
hearing by submitting a hearing request and appearing at the scheduled time. (Doc. 1, Exhibit 6).
According to the complaint, Ms. Stubbs paid her tickets “because the Defendants left her
with the false impression that the administrative hearing would be binding and would be
conducted by the ‘Municipal Court.’” The complaint further alleges: “By leaving the Plaintiff
with the false impression that she would appear in front of a ‘court,’ the Notice of Violation
carried the full imprimatur of the State of Alabama and misled and intimidated Ms. Stubbs and
the Class members into paying the ‘fine.’” (Doc. 1, at ¶ 31). The Notice of Violation did not
explain that the $100 fine could not be collected unless the City later filed a separate civil suit.
The complaint alleges that neither Ms. Stubbs nor any other Class Member were
informed of the following matters:
(1) “the Notice of Violation was not judicial in nature but was actually a non-binding
(2) “the ‘court’ was actually staffed by an administrative hearing officer with no binding
judicial power;” and
(3) “the decision of the hearing officer could be reviewed de novo by a Jefferson County
All of these omissions contributed to Ms. Stubbs’s decision to pay the fine. Ms. Stubbs was not
asked to pay and did not pay the $10 fee set out in Act 2011-580 § 16(b).
Beginning in February of 2012, Plaintiff Celeita Snow received fourteen citations for
running a stop sign at Reed Road and Polly Reed Road in her 1999 Mercedes Benz automobile.
Ms. Snow requested hearings on those citations and the City granted and scheduled the hearings.
Ms. Snow received “Hearing Notification Letter[s]” stating: “Hearings are held at: Center Point
Municipal Court, 2209 Center Point Parkway, Center Point AL 35215." (Doc 1, Exhibit 3). Ms.
Snow then received notice that the City was postponing her hearing. She has not yet been
notified of a rescheduled date for her hearing and has made no payment to the City regarding any
of the Notices of Violation.
Plaintiffs Stubbs and Snow filed their complaint in the Circuit Court of Jefferson County,
Alabama on May 13, 2013. (Doc. 1, Exhibit A). On June 27, 2013, Defendants removed the case
to federal court based on this court’s federal question jurisdiction over Counts Two and Three
and supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining counts. (Doc. 1, at ¶¶ 5-6). Plaintiffs seek to
represent a Class consisting of “any and all individuals who were issued a Notice pursuant to
Ordinance 2011-02.” Plaintiffs bring the following claims: Count One for declaratory judgment
as to alleged violations of the United States and Alabama constitutions1, Count Two for
deprivation of Plaintiffs’ civil rights under color of state law pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Count
Plaintiffs seek a determination of their rights and obligations regarding the following
issues: “(1) [whether] Ordinance 2011-02 is void ab initio as violative of the United States
Constitution and the Alabama Constitution; (2) whether Ordinance 2011-02 is void ab initio as
violative of the United States Constitution and the Alabama Constitution; (3) whether the lack of
appellate review or the adjudication of the Plaintiffs’ case without a judicial officer deprived
Plaintiffs and others similarly situated violated (sic) Plaintiffs’, and others similarly situated,
rights to due process under the U.S. and Alabama Constitutions; (4) whether the Plaintiffs, and
others similarly situated, must pay the $10.00 fee required by Act 2011-580, Section 16(b), but
which the City of Center Point failed to collect; (5) whether the right of appeal granted to
Plaintiffs, and others similarly situated, by Act 2011-580 has been violated; (7) (sic) whether the
City of Center Point must adhere to section 6.11 of amendment 328 of the Alabama Constitution,
and other specified portions of the Alabama Code relative to the selection or appointment of
hearing officers; whether the administrative adjudications required by Act 2011-580 constitutes
an administrative adjudication by the State of Alabama; (8) whether the fines paid to Defendants
must be returned to Plaintiffs and others similarly situated; (9) whether holding of the property of
the Class by the Defendants is a taking as prohibited by the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments of
the Untied States Constitution; and (10) whether the notices issued to Plaintiffs and others
similarly situated falsely stated that the City of Center Point had a Center Point Municipal
Court.” (Doc. 1, at ¶ 51).
Three for violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, and Count Four for suppression of
material facts. In response to the complaint, Defendants filed the motion to dismiss that is
currently before the court, and the parties fully briefed the issue.
The Crowder Litigation
In a separate action, three drivers who are not parties in this case challenged the decision
of a hearing officer to uphold the traffic citations they had received under the Ordinance. On June
11, 2012, Judge David N. Lichtenstein of the Jefferson County District Court entered an order in
each action, finding that the district court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction over the actions and
purporting to transfer them to the Jefferson County Circuit Court. (Doc. 11, Exhibit A).
On August 17, 2012, Judge Lichtenstein, sitting as a circuit judge of the Jefferson County
Circuit Court, entered an order in City of Center Point v. Kenneth Crowder, CV-2012-0929,
finding that Alabama district courts do not have jurisdiction to hear appeals of any matters
concerning fines, adjudications, or other actions pursuant to Ordinance 2011-02. (Doc. 1, at
¶ 24). This decision in the “Crowder litigation” is relied on in the complaint and discussed in
both parties’ briefs on Defendants’ motion to dismiss.
In its motion to dismiss, the Defendants informed the court that an appeal was pending
before the Alabama Supreme Court in the Crowder litigation. (Doc. 5, pg. 37). While this court
was considering the motion, it discovered that the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals had issued a
decision on the appeal. The Alabama Court of Civil Appeals found that the Jefferson County
Circuit Court was “without jurisdiction to enter its August 17, 2012, judgments in these actions.
Accordingly, those judgments are void, and the appeals are due to be dismissed.” It based this
decision on its finding that “the district court’s purported transfers of the drivers’ petitions for
judicial review were without effect because the trial court could not exercise exclusive original
jurisdiction over those petitions, or appeals.” (Doc. 11, Exhibit A).
On November 7, 2013, the court issued an Order requiring both parties to show cause in
writing how the October 4, 2013 decision of the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals in the Crowder
litigation affected the arguments set forth in their briefs on the motion to dismiss. “Defendants’
Response to Show-Cause Order” informed the court that the City had filed an Application for
Rehearing in Crowder, seeking “clarification and guidance as to whether the three drivers still
have petitions for judicial review actively pending before the Jefferson County district court.”
(Doc. 11, pg. 1). “Plaintiffs’ Response to Order to Show Cause” informed the court that during
the 2013 Alabama legislative session, “the City of Center Point successfully persuaded the
legislature to grant the circuit court jurisdiction to hear appeals from the administrative
adjudications of its automated traffic enforcement system and eliminated the requirement of Act
2-11-580 that it operate a municipal court . . . Act 2013-228 effectively repealed Act 2011-580.”
(Doc. 12, pg. 5). Plaintiffs’ response also attached Act 2013-228 as an exhibit. (Doc. 12-1).
On December 17, 2013, Defendants filed a notice with the court that on December 13,
2013, the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals denied the City of Center Point’s Application for
Rehearing in the Crowder litigation. (Doc. 13).
For the sake of clarity, the court will deal with the various counts in a different order than
that used in Plaintiffs’ complaint and Defendants’ motion to dismiss.
Count III - Violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act
Count III of Plaintiffs’ complaint asserts that the “Defendants are guilty of making false
or misleading representations in violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. §
1692a(6).” (Doc. 1, at ¶ 64). Defendants argue that by failing to respond to Defendants’
arguments in its motion to dismiss regarding Count III, Plaintiffs have waived their objection on
this matter. This is not the case. The case Defendants cite in their Reply brief applies to motions
for summary judgment, not motions to dismiss. The Eleventh Circuit has explicitly addressed the
abandonment of claims in response to a motion to dismiss:
[A]t the motion to dismiss stage, the scope of a court’s review must be limited to
the four corners of the complaint. Accordingly, in considering the defendants’
motion for judgment on the pleadings, the district court erred by going beyond the
face of the complaint. [The plaintiff] did not abandon his due process and
malicious prosecution claims by failing to adequately address them in his response
Boyd v. Peet, 249 Fed. App’x 155, 157 (11th Cir. 2007) (internal citations omitted). See also
Gailes v. Marengo County Sheriff’s Dept., 916 F. Supp. 2d 1238, 1241-44 (S.D. Ala. 2013)
(finding that “the Court will not treat a claim as abandoned merely because the plaintiff has not
defended it in opposition to a motion to dismiss”). As such, Plaintiffs have not abandoned this
claim and the court will evaluate the merits of whether it is due to be dismissed.
Defendants argue that Plaintiffs fail to state a claim as to the Fair Debt Collection
Practices Act (FDCPA) because the FDCPA does not apply to traffic violations. This argument
has merit. The FDCPA imposes liability on “debt collectors” who “use any false, deceptive, or
misleading representation or means in connection with the collection of any debt.” 15 U.S.C. §
1692e. A “debt” is defined as “any obligation or alleged obligation of a consumer to pay money
arising out of a transaction in which the money, property, insurance, or services which are the
subject of the transaction are primarily for personal family, or household purposes, whether or
not such obligation has been reduced to judgment.” 15 U.S.C. § 1692a(5).
In Hawthorne v. Mac Adjustment, Inc., the Eleventh Circuit determined that “not all
obligations to pay are considered ‘debts’ subject to the FDCPA.” 140 F.3d 1367, 1371 (11th Cir.
1998). The Court found that the FDCPA is triggered only when that obligation arises out of a
“specified ‘transaction’” and then clarified that “when we speak of ‘transactions,’ we refer to
consensual or contractual arrangements, not damages obligations thrust upon one as a result of no
more than her own negligence.” Id.
Under this precedent, a traffic ticket does not constitute a “debt” under the FDCPA
because it is not the product of a consumer transaction, but is instead thrust upon its recipient as a
result of inattention to traffic laws. Other district courts have reached similar conclusions. See
Marfut v. City of North Port, Fla., No. 8:08-cv-2006-T-27EAJ, 2009 WL 790111, at *8-9 (M.D.
Fla. March 25, 2009) (finding that plaintiff failed to state a claim under the FDCPA where she
alleged that the city was impermissibly collecting fines for violating a local permitting
ordinance); Durso v. Summer Brook Preserve Homeowners Ass’n, No. 6:07-cv-2007-Orl19KRS, 2008 WL 2557558, at *6 (M.D. Fla. June 23, 2008) (concluding that the fine imposed by
the homeowners association did not create a debt under the FDCPA). Thus, even assuming all of
the Plaintiffs’ allegations are true, they have failed to state a valid FDCPA claim and Defendants’
motion to dismiss is due to be GRANTED as to Count III.
Count II - Deprivation of Plaintiffs’ Civil Rights Under Color of State Law
Count II of the complaint alleges, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, that Defendants “while
acting under the color of state law, unlawfully deprived the Plaintiffs of their due process rights
guaranteed them under the Fourteenth Amendment” by subjecting them to unlawful citations,
depriving them of their property, providing no enforceable appellate review process, and
adjudicating the alleged violation by a nonjudicial officer. (Doc. 1, at ¶¶ 53-60). Defendants’
motion to dismiss asserts that the complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief may be
granted under § 1983. The Defendants also, however, make a standing argument as to one of the
plaintiffs and a ripeness argument as to the other. Because standing and ripeness are
jurisdictional, the court will address them first.
i. Ms. Stubbs lacks standing to make a due process challenge to a traffic citation
from an automated camera in the City.
Defendants argue that “Ms. Stubbs lacks standing to assert such a claim [challenging the
constitutional sufficiency of the administrative process] because she cannot show that the alleged
insufficiencies of the hearing process harmed her in any way.” (Doc. 5, at 33). The court must
consider the plaintiff’s standing to assert a cause of action, “because standing is an element of the
constitutional requirement of ‘case or controversy,’ [and] lack of standing deprives the court of
subject matter jurisdiction.” In re Weaver, 632 F.2d 461, 463 n.6 (11th Cir. 1980) (citing Fairley
v. Patterson, 493 F.2d 598 (5th Cir. 1974)). “Because standing is jurisdictional, a dismissal for
lack of standing has the same effect as a dismissal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under
Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1).” Cone Corp. v. Fla. Dep’t of Transp., 921 F.2d 1190, 1203 n.42 (11th
To establish standing under Article III of the U.S. Constitution, a plaintiff must show (1)
“an injury in fact,” (2) “a causal connection between the injury and the conduct complained of,”
and (3) that “it [is] likely, as opposed to merely speculative, that the injury will be redressed by a
favorable decision.” Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560-61 (1992) (internal
quotation marks and citations omitted). The injury in fact must be “concrete and particularized”
and “actual or imminent, not conjectural or hypothetical.” Id. at 560 (internal quotation marks
and citations omitted). Also, the causal connection must be “fairly traceable to the challenged
action of the defendant, and not the result of the independent action of some third party not
before the court.” Id. (internal quotation marks, citations, and alterations omitted). “The line of
causation between the [alleged] illegal conduct and injury” must not be “too attenuated.” Allen v.
Wright, 468 U.S. 737, 752 (1984).
In this case, while payment of the fine could be considered an injury, Ms. Stubbs injury is
not causally connected to the conduct of which she complains because she paid her fine without
taking advantage of the process provided by the City to challenge it. Even if that process were
insufficient to satisfy constitutional standards, it did not cause Ms. Stubbs to voluntarily pay her
fine; no traceable connection exists. Furthermore, were the court to find the process insufficient,
Ms. Stubbs would receive no redress for having paid the fine. While the court has not found any
Eleventh Circuit precedent specifically dealing with the standing of a plaintiff to challenge the
due process of already paid fines, various other courts have made similar findings, supporting the
court’s reasoning here. See Herrada v. City of Detroit, 275 F.3d 553, 558 (6th Cir. 2001) (finding
that the plaintiff “lacks standing to argue that hearings are not held despite requests by vehicle
owners, because she elected to pay the fine rather than request a hearing”); Mills v. City of
Springfield, Mo., No. 2:10-cv-04036-NKL, 2010 WL 3526208, at *6 (W.D. Mo. Sept. 3, 2010)
(“the Court need not rule upon the constitutionality of the City of Springfield’s procedures
because Plaintiffs do not have standing to challenge the procedures they declined to use”); Clark
v. Humane Soc. of Carroll County, Inc., No. WMN-11-108, 2011 WL 2791041, at *6 (D. Md.
July 13, 2011), aff’d, 468 F. App’x 342 (4th Cir. 2012) (“courts have consistently held that,
where an individual elects to pay a civil fine and thus avoid the criminal procedures provided to
contest the alleged violation, that individual lacks standing to challenge the procedures they
declined to use”).
Alternatively, even if Ms. Stubbs had standing to pursue this action, she has failed to state
a claim for a constitutional violation under § 1983. The Supreme Court has held that a
“constitutional violation actionable under § 1983 is not complete when the deprivation occurs; it
is not complete unless and until the State fails to provide due process.” Zinermon v. Burch, 494
U.S. 113, 126 (1990) (finding that the patient in a state mental health facility had sufficiently
stated a § 1983 claim, notwithstanding availability of postdeprivation tort remedies). Ms. Stubbs
may have adequately alleged a deprivation—the payment of her fine—but does not allege that the
City failed to provide due process because she admits that she never sought to challenge the
traffic citation. As such, Defendants motion to dismiss is due to be GRANTED as to Ms.
Stubbs’s claim under Count II.
ii. Ms. Snow’s 1983 claim is not ripe for adjudication.
The Defendants also argue that Ms. Snow’s claim is not ripe for adjudication. Like
standing, ripeness is a jurisdictional issue; however, “ripeness assumes that an asserted injury is
sufficient to support standing, but asks whether the injury is too contingent or remote to support
present adjudication.” 13B CHARLES ALAN WRIGHT & ARTHUR R. MILLER, FEDERAL PRACTICE
AND PROCEDURE §
3532.1 (3d ed.).
In National Advertising Co. v. City of Miami, the Eleventh Circuit gave a thorough
overview of the ripeness doctrine. 402 F.3d 1335 (11th Cir. 2005). Article III of the U.S.
Constitution limits federal court jurisdiction to actual “cases” and “controversies.” U.S. CONST.
art. III, § 2. In addition to this constitutional limit, however, courts have also recognized
important prudential limits on the power of federal courts to decide cases. National Advertising,
402 F.3d at 1339. “While the constitutional aspect of our inquiry focuses on whether the Article
III requirements of an actual ‘case or controversy’ are met, the prudential aspect asks whether it
is appropriate for this case to be litigated in a federal court by these parties at this time.” Id. Even
when constitutional requirements are met, prudential concerns may “counsel judicial restraint.”
Id. (quoting Digital Props., Inc. v. City of Plantation, 121 F.3d 586, 589 (11th Cir. 1997)).
In this circuit, the “ripeness inquiry requires a two part ‘determination of (1) the fitness of
the issues for judicial decision and (2) the hardship to the parties of withholding court
consideration.’” Id. (quoting Digital, 121 F.3d at 589). Furthermore, courts have often invoked
the ripeness doctrine when already pending state court proceedings “hold open the prospect that
the federal questions may be altered or dissolved by further action in state courts.” 13B CHARLES
ALAN WRIGHT & ARTHUR R. MILLER, FEDERAL PRACTICE AND PROCEDURE § 3532.1 (3d ed.).
In this case, the court finds that the pending traffic citation provides a “case or
controversy” for the court to decide, but that prudential concerns counsel judicial restraint. The
court looks first to the fitness of the issue for judicial decision. Ms. Snow received a traffic
citation and is still in the process of challenging that citation. She requested a hearing, the City
granted the request, but the hearing has not yet occurred. Although Ms. Snow is not at fault that
the hearing has been postponed, the delay is not unreasonable on the part of the City, given the
uncertainty of the entire scheme due to the Crowder litigation, which was ongoing in state court
until very recently, and the efforts to modify legislation. The court has no reason to believe that
Ms. Snow will not receive her hearing now that the Crowder litigation has concluded. As such,
Ms. Snow is still in the middle of her “process;” therefore, her claim that she has not received the
process she is due under the constitution is not yet fit for judicial decision.
Furthermore, the same Crowder litigation that has caused the City to postpone its pending
hearing would make it very difficult for this court to determine what process it should examine
were it to conduct a constitutional due process evaluation on the merits of this case. Judge
Lichtenstein’s first order—as a state district court judge—concluded that the district court lacked
subject-matter jurisdiction over the action and purported to transfer the action to the Jefferson
County Circuit Court. Judge Lichtenstein’s second order—as a state circuit court
judge—declared that the Act failed to provide the district court with jurisdiction to hear appeals
from the determination of the hearing officer. Since that time, the Alabama Court of Civil
Appeals has found that the state circuit court did not have jurisdiction over the action and voided
its judgment. The Alabama Court of Civil Appeals did not, however, rule on the merits of the
state district court’s determination that it lacked jurisdiction; as such, this court is still unable to
determine which court would hear a challenge to a hearing officer’s decision.
Although the Crowder litigation is likely over because the City’s Application for
Rehearing with the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals was denied, it did not ultimately resolve the
issue of how the appellate process of this type traffic violation should proceed. While the district
court ruling that it lacked jurisdiction may stand, the merits of that decision were not considered
by any of the state appellate courts. The due process issue in this case is not yet ripe for federal
judicial decision because the state courts are in the best position to make such a determination.
Another factor that cautions this court against reaching a decision on the merits of this
case is the passage of Alabama Act 2013-228, which repealed Act 2011-580, granted the state
circuit court jurisdiction to hear appeals from the decision of the hearing officers. The existence
of this 2013 Act shows that this issue is not only being worked out in the Alabama state courts,
but in the legislature as well. The court cannot determine based upon the copy of the Act that
Plaintiffs provided to the court whether the Act is retroactive and what effect it will have on
currently pending challenges, such as Ms. Snow’s. Until Ms. Snow gets her hearing and goes
through the entire process of appealing her traffic citation, the issue is not ready for judicial
Finally, the court considers the Eleventh Circuit holding in McKinney v. Pate as it relates
to the ripeness of Ms. Snow’s claim. 20 F.3d 1550 (11th Cir. 1994). Although McKinney is not a
ripeness doctrine case, its substantive application to the claims in this case make it relevant to the
ripeness determination. Under McKinney, “[w]hen a state procedure is inadequate, no procedural
due process right has been violated unless and until the state fails to remedy that inadequacy.”
Id., at 1560.
In McKinney, a former employee brought a § 1983 action alleging that his termination by
the board of county commissioners violated his due process rights because the facially adequate
termination procedure was biased against him. Id. The court found that “the appropriate forum
for addressing McKinney’s claim is not federal court but a Florida state court possessing the
ability to remedy the alleged procedural defect; that forum might well have prevented a violation
of McKinney’s procedural due process rights and thereby obviated the need for this suit.” Id., at
1561. The Court continued, finding that “even if McKinney suffered a procedural deprivation at
the hands of a biased Board at his termination hearing, he has not suffered a violation of his
procedural due process rights unless and until the State of Florida refuses to make available a
means to remedy the deprivation.” Id., at 1563 (emphasis in original).
The Eleventh Circuit further clarified this holding in Horton v. Board of County Com’rs
of Flagler County, stating that “the McKinney rule looks to the existence of an opportunity-to
whether the state courts, if asked, generally would provide an adequate remedy for the procedural
deprivation the federal court plaintiff claims to have suffered.” 202 F.3d 1297, 1300 (11th Cir.
2000). The Court noted that “the rule is not based on ripeness or exhaustion principles,” but “on
a recognition that the process a state provides is not only that employed by the board, agency, or
other governmental entity whose action is in question, but also the remedial process state courts
would provide if asked.” Id.
The McKinney rule, as applied to this case, means that even if the hearing officer is
biased, as alleged by the complaint, no due process violation exists unless the state courts fail to
remedy the inadequate procedure. Ms. Snow has requested a hearing; the ordinance provides for
a hearing; she must continue to pursue her remedy in state court before this court can determine
whether a due process violation has occurred. Although Horton makes clear that McKinney itself
is not a ripeness rule, this court still looks to it as one of the rules on the merits of a § 1983 due
process claim that would apply in this case and that informs this court’s decision concerning
whether the claim is ripe. Because the court has not yet seen whether the state courts will provide
a remedy to the allegedly inadequate procedure, it does not have the necessary information to
make a substantive determination under McKinney. Therefore, it concludes that the issue is not
yet fit for judicial determination.
The second factor the court must take into account is the hardship to the parties of
withholding court consideration. The Defendants are requesting that this case be dismissed;
therefore, they should not suffer any hardship from its dismissal. Ms. Snow has not yet paid any
money on her traffic citation and will not be prejudiced in any way by having to wait a bit longer
for her appeal to be heard. She will not suffer any social stigma from having an unresolved traffic
citation pending. Her driver’s license has not been revoked or otherwise affected. She is free to
continue driving and carrying out her business as usual. Should she receive any additional traffic
citations from the cameras in issue, she will be free to challenge those just as she is challenging
the ones that are currently pending against her. Because the court finds that the parties will not
suffer any hardship if the court withholds consideration of this case, and because the court
determines that the issue is not yet ripe for judicial consideration, the court will GRANT
Defendants’ motion to dismiss as to Ms. Snow’s Count II claim and dismiss the claim for lack of
ripeness based on prudential concerns.
iii. Ms. Snow’s claim is also due to be dismissed based on the doctrine of Younger
As an alternative to this court’s ripeness ruling, the court also finds that Ms. Snow’s
claim is due to be dismissed based on the doctrine of Younger abstention. In Younger v. Harris,
the Supreme Court found that under some circumstances, a federal court should abstain from
exercising its jurisdiction to avoid interfering with state court proceedings. 401 U.S. 37 (1971).
While Younger itself applied to state criminal proceedings, “its principles are ‘fully applicable to
noncriminal judicial proceedings when important state interests are involved.’” 31 Foster
Children v. Bush, 329 F.3d 1255, 1274 (11th Cir. 2003) (quoting Middlesex County Ethics
Comm. v. Garden State Bar Ass’n, 457 U.S. 423, 432 (1982)). Federal courts are typically
required to exercise the jurisdiction given them, but “in exceptional cases federal courts may and
should withhold equitable relief to avoid interference with state proceedings.” Id.
The Supreme Court has explained that “[p]roceedings necessary for the vindication of
important state policies or for the functioning of the state judicial system . . . evidence the state’s
substantial interest in the litigation. Where vital state interests are involved, a federal court
should abstain unless state law clearly bars the interposition of the constitutional claims.” 31
Foster Children, 329 F.3d at 1274 (internal citation and quotations omitted). In determining
whether to apply the Younger doctrine, a court must ask three questions: “first, do the
proceedings constitute an ongoing state judicial proceeding; second, do the proceedings implicate
important state interests; and third, is there an adequate opportunity in the state proceedings to
raise constitutional challenges.” Id.
First, Ms. Snow’s still-pending hearing on her traffic citation constitutes an ongoing state
judicial proceeding. See Middlesex County, 457 U.S. at 432 (finding that a state bar disciplinary
hearing constitutes an ongoing state judicial proceeding because “a disciplinary proceeding is
judicial in nature” and “of a character to warrant federal-court deference.”). The hearing officer
performs the role of a court in evaluating the alleged violation and making a finding as to the
driver’s liability. Furthermore, the hearing is but the first step in the judicial process and if the
driver pursues the challenge, it will make its way through the Alabama state court system.
Although Ms. Snow’s hearing is currently postponed, this delay does not prevent it from
being on ongoing state judicial proceeding. In Women’s Community Health Center of Beaumont,
Inc. v. Texas Health Facilities Commission, the Fifth Circuit found that the fact that the state did
not actively pursue its state court action while the federal court action was pending did not
preclude the application of Younger abstention. 685 F.2d 974, 979 (5th Cir. 1982). The Court
stated: “We do not think, however, that the dormancy of the enforcement proceeding reflects any
bad faith on the part of the state,” but rather “reflects a sound exercise of prosecutorial
discretion.” Id. Likewise, in this case, the City’s decision to postpone the hearings while the
Crowder litigation works its way through the court system and the issue is addressed legislatively
does not reflect bad faith, but a wise decision to temporarily halt the proceedings until the courts
and legislature decide how best to proceed.
Second, the proceedings in this case implicate important state interests. Although at first
glance this proceeding may concern a mere traffic ticket, it has become a part of a much larger
dispute about the jurisdiction of state courts. As such, it is “necessary . . . for the functioning of
the state judicial system.” 31 Foster Children, 329 F.3d at 1274.
Third, an adequate opportunity exists in the state proceedings to raise constitutional
challenges. The Alabama Supreme Court has long held that “whenever a legal right arises, and
the state court is competent to administer justice, the right may be asserted in the state court,
although the federal court may have jurisdiction of the same question, subject, however, to the
proviso that there is no law limiting jurisdiction to the federal courts.” Raisler v. Oliver, 12 So.
238 (Ala. 1893). Furthermore, the United States Supreme Court has also held that “the
Constitution and laws passed pursuant to it are as much laws in the States as laws passed by the
state legislature,” and are, therefore, required to be enforced in state courts in most
circumstances. Hewlett v. Rose, 496 U.S. 356, 367 (1990). As such, Ms. Snow will have the
opportunity to raise her constitutional challenge in her appeal to one of the Alabama state courts
if she receives an unfavorable hearing decision.
Because the issue that Ms. Snow brings before the court satisfies all three elements
necessary for the court to abstain under the Younger doctrine, the court will GRANT Defendants’
motion to dismiss as to Ms. Snow’s § 1983 claim.
Count I - Declaratory Judgment
Count I of Plaintiffs’ complaint asserts that a bona fide justiciable controversy exists
between the Plaintiffs and Defendants and seeks a determination of the Plaintiffs’ rights and
obligations with respect to ten different issues, some of which are matters of federal law and
others are matters of state law. The federal matters, as presented in the complaint, are: (1)
whether Ordinance 2011-02 is void ab initio as violative of U.S. Constitution; (2) whether the
lack of appellate review or the adjudication of the Plaintiffs’ case without a judicial officer
violated Plaintiffs’ rights to due process under the U.S. Constitution; and (3) whether holding of
the property of the Class by the Defendants is a taking as prohibited by the Fifth and Fourteenth
Amendments of the United States Constitution.2 This court reads all three of these matters as
Although the third matter is framed as a “takings” issue under the Fifth Amendment, it
appears that Plaintiffs are merely restating their due process claim. Earlier in the complaint,
Plaintiffs state: “Furthermore, the United States Constitution declares that, ‘No person...be
deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.’ The Takings Clause of the Fifth
Amendment is applicable to the States through the Fourteenth Amendment.” (Doc. 1 at ¶ 23).
The Fifth Amendment clause that the complaint quotes is not the “Takings Clause,” but
the Fifth Amendment Due Process Clause. The “Takings Clause” states: “. . . nor shall private
property be taken for public use, without just compensation.” U.S. CONST. amend X; see also
Lingle v. Chevron U.S.A. Inc., 544 U.S. 528, 536 (2005). Because this part of the Fifth
restatements of the same ultimate issue: whether the traffic citation scheme established by Act
2011-580 and Ordinance 2011-02 deprive the Plaintiffs of due process of law.
Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 57, a party may request a declaratory judgment
under 28 U.S.C. § 2201. Section 2201(a) states: “In a case of actual controversy within its
jurisdiction . . . any court of the United States, upon the filing of an appropriate pleading, may
declare the rights and other legal relations of any interested party seeking such declaration,
whether or not further relief is or could be sought.” 28 U.S.C. § 2201(a) (emphasis added). The
granting of a declaratory judgment rests in the sound discretion of the district court. See Brillhart
v. Excess Ins. Co. of America, 316 U.S. 491 (1942); see also Public Affairs Associates, Inc. v.
Rickover, 369 U.S. 111, 112 (1962) (“The Declaratory Judgment Act was an authorization, not a
command. It gave the federal courts competence to make a declaration of rights; it did not
impose a duty to do so.”). Although this court has the authority to rule on Plaintiffs’ request for a
declaratory judgment, it declines to exercise that power.
As to Ms. Snow’s claims, the court has many of the same concerns about the declaratory
judgment claim as it did about the § 1983 claim. The discretionary decision of whether to issue a
declaratory judgment piggy backs to the ripeness analysis in this case. Just as the court decided
the § 1983 claim was note ripe for prudential reasons—even though it may be a valid Article III
case or controversy—the court could decide Plaintiffs’ declaratory judgment count, but chooses
Amendment does not apply to the facts of this case—as no property is being held, the court
assumes that Plaintiffs are actually referring to the Fifth Amendment Due Process Clause.
Although they are correct in stating that the Fourteenth Amendment incorporates the Fifth
Amendment to the states, such a route is unnecessarily circuitous in this circumstance, as the
Fourteenth Amendment itself contains its own Due Process Clause that applies directly to the
not to out of respect for the state court system and its autonomy to work this issue out itself. The
First Circuit stated it well when it said: “[W]hen a state court has matters well in hand,
withholding federal declaratory relief premised on constitutional grounds will maintain and
facilitate federalism; foster state-created accommodations of constitutional principles and state
interests; and husband federal judicial resources.” El Dia, Inc. v. Hernandez Colon, 963 F.2d
488, 497 (1st Cir. 1992).
In Brillhart, the Supreme Court reviewed a case involving “the important question
affecting the interrelationship of the state and federal courts in the administration of the Federal
Declaratory Judgments Act.” 316 U.S. at 494. It noted that the district court was not compelled to
exercise its jurisdiction and stated that “gratuitous interference with the orderly and
comprehensive disposition of a state court litigation should be avoided.” Id., at 495. Likewise, in
Samuels v. Mackell, which was a companion case to Younger v. Harris, the Supreme Court
determined that where Younger was dispositive on a prayer for an injunction, an alternative
prayer for declaratory judgment did not require a different result. 401 U.S. 66, 68-69 (1971).
Essentially, a plaintiff cannot bypass Younger abstention by requesting a declaratory judgment
when the same concerns for unnecessary interference with state litigation still apply.
The court has already discussed the many reasons why this case is not yet ready to be
decided in federal court, including Ms. Snow’s outstanding hearing request, the uncertainty
resulting from the Crowder litigation, and the recent passage of Alabama Act 2013-228. (See
Section B.ii, supra). The court will not rehash those reasons here, but simply notes that they
support the decision not to entertain the request for declaratory judgment as to Ms. Snow’s
As to Ms. Stubbs’s claims, she does not have standing to request a declaratory judgment
on the constitutional sufficiency of a procedure she did not invoke any more than she had
standing to bring a § 1983 claim about it. “That a plaintiff seeks relief under the Declaratory
Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201, does not relieve him of the burden of satisfying the
prerequisites for standing, since ‘a declaratory judgment may only be issued in the case of an
actual controversy.” DiMaio v. Democratic Nat. Comm., 520 F.3d 1299, 1301 (11th Cir. 2008)
(quoting Emory v. Peeler, 756 F.2d 1547, 1552 (11th Cir. 1985)). Alternatively, even if Ms.
Stubbs did have standing, the court would still decline to exercise its discretionary jurisdiction
over her declaratory judgment claim for many of the same reasons it declines to exercise
jurisdiction over Ms. Snow’s claim. Although Ms. Stubbs is not awaiting a hearing like Ms.
Snow, the Alabama state courts and legislature are still working through the issue; therefore, this
court chooses not to interfere. As such, the court will GRANT Defendants’ motion to dismiss as
to the federal portions of Count I of Plaintiffs’ complaint.
Because these federal claims, and all other federal claims in this case, are being dismissed
from this suit, the court will REMAND the remaining state law aspects of Count I for
Declaratory Judgment to state court. See Myers v. Central Florida Investments, Inc., 592 F.3d
1201, 1226 (11th Cir. 2010) (“federal district courts in removal cases must remand, rather than
dismiss, state claims over which they decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction”).
Count IV - Suppression of Material Facts
Count IV, the final count of Plaintiffs’ complaint, alleges that Defendants suppressed
material facts in violation of Alabama Code § 6-5-102. This count consists entirely of a state law
claim and is only before this court via supplemental jurisdiction. The court has dismissed all
claims over which it has original jurisdiction, and, therefore, declines to exercise supplemental
jurisdiction over the Plaintiffs’ remaining state law claims. The court will REMAND Count IV to
the Circuit Court of Jefferson County, Alabama.
For the reasons stated above, the court finds that the “Joint Motion to Dismiss by
Defendant City of Center Point, Alabama and Defendant Redflex Traffic Systems Inc” is due to
be GRANTED IN PART and REMANDED IN PART to the Circuit Court of Jefferson County,
Alabama. The court will DISMISS Counts II and III in their entirety; DISMISS the federal claims
in Count I, as outlined above, and REMAND the remaining state claims in Count I and all of
Count IV to the Circuit Court of Jefferson County, Alabama. The court simultaneously will enter
a separate Order to that effect.
DONE and ORDERED this 19th day of December, 2013.
KARON OWEN BOWDRE
CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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