Brannon et al v. Gadsden, City of et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING IN PART and DENYING IN PART 47 MOTION to Dismiss Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint, GRANTING IN PART and DENYING IN PART 48 MOTION to Dismiss as set out herein. Plaintiffs are HEREBY GRANTED unt il April 9, 2015, to replead only their plausible claims in a non-shotgun format. Finally, the Stay previously in place is HEREBY LIFTED, and the parties are HEREBY ORDERED to meet and file their Report of Parties' Planning Meeting no later than April 30, 2015. Amended Pleadings due by 4/9/2015. Rule 26 Meeting Report due by 4/30/2015. Signed by Judge Virginia Emerson Hopkins on 3/10/2015. (JLC, )
2015 Mar-10 AM 10:58
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
KIMBERLY L. BRANNON, et al.,
CITY OF GADSDEN, et al.,
) Case No.: 4:13-CV-1229-VEH
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
INTRODUCTION AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Plaintiffs1 initiated this civil rights lawsuit and purported class action on July
1, 2013, against Defendants City of Gadsden (“COG”), City of Attalla (“COA”),
Lenesha Zaner (“Ms. Zaner”), and the Etowah County Court Referral Program, LLC
(the “ECCRP”). (Doc. 1). Plaintiffs generally maintain that they have suffered
constitutional and other injuries stemming from drug and alcohol testing services,
rehabilitation services, and monitoring services contractually provided by ECCRP
and its director, Ms. Zaner, for the benefit of COG and COA in conjunction with the
The eight named plaintiffs are Kimberly L. Brannon (“Ms. Brannon”), Charles Cantrell
(“Mr. Cantrell”), Joseph R. Dubose (“Mr. Dubose”), Ricky L. Hunter (“Mr. Hunter”), Dustin A.
Loyd (“Mr. Loyd”), Jason L. Lynn (“Mr. Lynn”), Erica Snow (“Ms. Snow”), and Roy Myers (“Mr.
administration of their respective municipal justice systems. (Doc. 45 at 6 ¶ 16; id.
at 7 ¶ 20). The gravamen of Plaintiffs’ suit is that Defendants are all engaged in an
unconstitutional post-arrest/conviction “court referral program” (the “Program”) that
has deprived them (and the purported subclass members whom they seek to represent)
of their civil rights, including allegedly subjecting Plaintiffs “to probation revocation,
contempt orders, and incarcerations without first making a written finding of the
Plaintiffs’ willful nonpayment of fees” and placing them “into a never-ending cycle
of ECCRP fees, costs and requirements” in violation of “the statutory maximum
allowed for misdemeanors.” (Doc. 45 at 8 ¶ 25; id. at 9 ¶ 27; id. at 8 ¶ 26).
Most of the plaintiffs (i.e., Ms. Brannon, Mr. Cantrell, Mr. DuBose, Mr. Loyd,
Mr. Lynn, and Mr. Hunter) complain about their treatment under the Program after
being convicted of a misdemeanor charge as adults, receiving some type of a jail
sentence (suspended or otherwise), and being required to participate in the Program.
(See Doc. 45 at 17 ¶ 63 (Ms. Brannon’s conviction and terms); see id. at 22 ¶ 85 (Mr.
Cantrell’s conviction and terms);2 see id. at 29 ¶ 102 (Mr. DuBose’s conviction and
terms); id. at 32 ¶ 111 (Mr. Loyd’s conviction and terms); see id. at 41 ¶ 140 (Mr.
Lynn’s conviction and terms); see id. at 44 ¶ 149 (Mr. Hunter’s conviction and
terms)). Others, such as Ms. Snow and Mr. Myers, received youthful offender status
Mr. Cantrell did not receive a jail sentence. (Doc. 45 at 22 ¶ 85).
and apparently no conviction on their record, but still were ordered to participate in
the Program. (See Doc. 45 at 25-26 ¶ 92 (prosecution deferred, no jail sentence, and
Program participation for Ms. Snow); (see id. at 37 ¶ 128 (no conviction mentioned
for Mr. Myers, but subject to 30-day jail sentence and Program participation)).
After a round of briefing on multiple motions to dismiss (Docs. 24, 26), the
court identified several problems with Plaintiffs’ pleading, including its shotgun
nature, granted the initial motions to dismiss in part, and ordered Plaintiffs to file an
amended pleading. (See generally Doc. 40). The remainder of the issues raised in
those motions were termed as moot in light of such repleader order. Id.
Plaintiffs’ Restated Claims
On March 4, 2014, Plaintiffs filed a corrected version of their second amended
and restated complaint. (Doc. 45). This pleading has 20 counts, 434 paragraphs, and
is 125 pages long.
The counts arise under both federal and state law. The federal counts are as
Plaintiffs uniformly assert the following alleged injuries in the last paragraph of each one
of these twelve constitutional counts:
[H]aving fees converted to jail sentences; being unlawfully arrested or incarcerated
for undetermined periods of time; injury to dignity; and the loss of liberty and
property, by having fees levied after any lawful sentencing duration or statutory
probation period has expired, and by being subjected to extended ECCRP
requirements, fees, arrest warrants, arrests and incarcerations beyond any lawful
TWELVE FEDERAL CONSTITUTIONAL COUNTS
Count One–Denial of Due Process by ECCRP and/or Ms. Zaner in her
Personal Capacity Applicable to All Plaintiffs (Doc. 45 ¶¶ 171-198);
Count Two–Denial of Due Process by COG Applicable to Plaintiffs
Brannon, DuBose, Loyd, Lynn, Snow and Myers (Id. ¶¶ 199-218);
Count Three–Denial of Due Process by COA Applicable to Plaintiffs
Cantrell, Hunter and Loyd (Id. ¶¶ 219-218);
Count Four–Violation of the Fourth Amendment by ECCRP and/or Ms.
Zaner in her Personal Capacity Applicable to All Plaintiffs (Id. ¶¶ 239252);
Count Five–Violation of the Fourth Amendment by COG Applicable to
Plaintiffs Brannon, DuBose, Loyd, Lynn, Snow and Myers (Id. ¶¶ 253265);
Count Six–Violation of the Fourth Amendment by COA Applicable to
Plaintiffs Cantrell, Hunter and Loyd (Id. ¶¶ 266-278);
Count Seven–Violation of the Eighth Amendment by ECCRP and/or
Ms. Zaner in her Personal Capacity Applicable to All Plaintiffs (Id. ¶¶
Count Eight–Violation of the Eighth Amendment by COG Applicable
to Plaintiffs Brannon, DuBose, Loyd, Lynn, Snow and Myers (Id. ¶¶
Count Nine–Violation of the Eighth Amendment by COA Applicable to
sentencing duration and the statutory maximum probation period allowed for
(Doc. 45 at 62 ¶ 198; id. at 67-68 ¶ 218; id. at 73 ¶ 238; id. at 77 ¶ 252; id. at 80 ¶ 265; id. at 83 ¶
278; id. at 89-90 ¶ 302; id. at 96 ¶ 325; id. at 102 ¶ 347; id. at 105 ¶ 359; id. at 107-08 ¶ 370; id. at
110 ¶ 381).
Plaintiffs Cantrell, Hunter and Loyd (Doc. 45 ¶¶ 326-347);
Count Ten–Denial of Equal Protection by ECCRP and/or Ms. Zaner in
her Personal Capacity Applicable to All Plaintiffs (Id. ¶¶ 348-359);
Count Eleven–Denial of Equal Protection by COG Applicable to
Plaintiffs Brannon, DuBose, Loyd, Lynn, Snow and Myers (Id. ¶¶ 360370); and
Count Twelve–Denial of Equal Protection by COA Applicable to
Plaintiffs Cantrell, Hunter and Loyd (Id. ¶¶ 371-381).
Plaintiffs’ remaining counts include:
SEVEN STATE LAW COUNTS
Count Thirteen–False Imprisonment and False Arrest by ECCRP and/or
Ms. Zaner (Without Reference to Her Capacity) Applicable to All
Plaintiffs (Doc. 45 ¶¶ 382-390);
Count Fourteen–False Imprisonment and False Arrest by COG
Applicable to Plaintiffs Brannon, DuBose, Loyd, Lynn, Snow and Myers
(Id. ¶¶ 391-398);
Count Fifteen–False Imprisonment and False Arrest by COA Applicable
to Plaintiffs Cantrell, Hunter and Loyd (Id. ¶¶ 399-407);
Count Sixteen–Abuse of Process by ECCRP and/or Ms. Zaner (Without
Reference to Her Capacity) Applicable to All Plaintiffs (Id. ¶¶ 408-413);
Count Seventeen–Negligent, Reckless and/or Wanton Training and/or
Supervision by ECCRP and/or Zaner Applicable to All Plaintiffs (Id. ¶¶
Count Eighteen–Negligent, Reckless and/or Wanton Training and/or
Supervision by COG Applicable to Plaintiffs Brannon, DuBose, Loyd,
Lynn, Snow and Myers (Id. ¶¶ 418-421);
Count Nineteen–Negligent, Reckless and/or Wanton Training and/or
Supervision by COA Applicable to Plaintiffs Cantrell, Hunter and Loyd
(Doc. 45 ¶¶ 422-425); and
ONE DECLARATORY/INJUNCTIVE COUNT
Count Twenty–Declaratory and Injunctive Relief Applicable to All
Plaintiffs (Id. ¶¶ 426-434).
Pending before the court and under submission are two motions relating to
Plaintiffs’ second amended and restated complaint: (1) Defendants ECCRP and Ms.
Zaner’s Motion To Dismiss (Doc. 47) (the “ECCRP and Ms. Zaner’s Motion”) filed
on March 25, 2014; and (2) the COG and COA’s Motion To Dismiss Pursuant to Rule
12(b)(6), Fed. R. Civ. P. (Doc. 48) (the “COG and COA’s Motion”) filed on March
These most recent motions raise a litany of defenses and, in many respects,
mirror those filed earlier with the court. The dismissal grounds asserted by ECCRP
and Ms. Zaner are: (1) failure to state a claim based upon the provisions of the
Mandatory Treatment Act, Ala. Code § 12-23-7 (Doc. 47 at 7-11); (2) qualified
immunity (Doc. 47 at 11-17); (3) lack of standing to pursue declaratory and injunctive
relief (id. at 17-19); and (4) the Heck v. Humphrey doctrine.4 (Doc. 47 at 19-23).
ECCRP does not assert an Eleventh Amendment immunity defense. However, given that
Alabama’s Administrative Office of Courts (the “AOC”) selected the ECCRP to provide probation
The dismissal grounds raised by the COG and COA include: (1) judicial
immunity (Doc. 49 at 18-21);5 (2) probation officer immunity (Doc. 49 at 21-22); (3)
municipal control and the Monell doctrine (id. at 22-26); (4) post-deprivation
remedies, including the Heck v. Humphrey doctrine (Doc. 49 at 26-27); (5) private
debt (id. at 27-28); (6) Rooker-Feldman doctrine (Doc. 49 at 28-31);6 (7) no standing
for injunctive relief (id. at 31); (8) no municipal liability for alleged false
imprisonment and false arrest (id. at 32); (9) no municipal liability for alleged wanton
conduct (id. at 32); (10) no municipal liability for alleged punitive damages (id. at
services to fourteen different courts located in Etowah County in an effort to comply with the
requirements of the Mandatory Treatment Act of 1990, Ala. Code § 12-23-4 (Doc. 47 at 4-4; see also
Doc. 47-1), the court inquired during the hearing whether ECCRP could be considered an agency
or instrumentality of the state such that Eleventh Amendment immunity should apply to bar all
claims asserted against it. See, e.g., Mt. Healthy City School Dist. Bd. of Educ. v. Doyle, 429 U.S.
274, 280, 97 S. Ct. 568, 572, 50 L. Ed. 2d 471 (1977) (“The issue here thus turns on whether the Mt.
Healthy Board of Education is to be treated as an arm of the State partaking of the State’s Eleventh
Amendment immunity, or is instead to be treated as a municipal corporation or other political
subdivision to which the Eleventh Amendment does not extend.”); Sessions v. Rusk State Hospital,
648 F.2d 1066, 1069 (5th Cir. 1981) (“Whether an entity is an arm of the state partaking of the
state’s eleventh amendment immunity turns on its function and characteristics as determined by state
law.” (citing Doyle)); see also Bonner v. City of Prichard, 661 F.2d 1206, 1209 (11th Cir. 1981) (en
banc) (adopting as binding precedent for the Eleventh Circuit all decisions of the former Fifth Circuit
handed down prior to October 1, 1981). As counsel for ECCRP explained in response to the court’s
question, ECCRP is a privately incorporated entity that carries its own professional liability
insurance. Consequently, counsel rejected the defense of Eleventh Amendment immunity, based
upon present information, because no damages (if awarded) would come directly out of the state
All page references to Doc. 49 correspond with the court’s CM/ECF numbering system.
“The Rooker-Feldman doctrine derives from Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413,
44 S. Ct. 149, 68 L. Ed. 362 (1923), and District of Columbia Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S.
462, 103 S. Ct. 1303, 75 L. Ed. 2d 206 (1983).” Alvarez v. Attorney General for Fla., 679 F.3d 1257,
1262 (11th Cir. 2012).
33); (11) no municipal liability for alleged negligent supervision and training (id. at
33-34); (12) statute of limitations (id. at 34-42); (13) failure of certain plaintiffs to
state a claim against COA (id. at 43-44); and (14) failure of certain plaintiffs to state
a claim against COG. (Id. at 44-45).
Plaintiffs opposed these motions on April 18, 2014. (Doc. 51). Defendants
followed with their reply briefs on May 9, 2014. (Docs. 53, 54). On February 4, 2015,
the court held a hearing on these motions in Anniston. (Doc. 58). For the reasons
stated in open court and, as further explained below, both motions are due to be
GRANTED IN PART and otherwise DENIED.
Unlike state courts, federal tribunals are bodies of limited jurisdiction, meaning
that the grounds for the court’s jurisdiction over the claims asserted by the plaintiff
must be present at the time the complaint is filed and must be obvious on the face of
the complaint. Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a); 28 U.S.C. § 1330, et seq. The law is clear that
Plaintiffs, the parties seeking to invoke federal jurisdiction in this case, have the
burden to demonstrate that the court has subject matter jurisdiction. See McNutt v.
General Motors Acceptance Corp., 298 U.S. 178, 189, 56 S. Ct. 780, 785, 80 L. Ed.
1135 (1936) (“They are conditions which must be met by the party who seeks the
exercise of jurisdiction in his favor . . . . [and a]s he is seeking relief subject to this
supervision, it follows that he must carry throughout the litigation the burden of
showing that he is properly in court.”); see also McCormick v. Aderholt, 293 F.3d
1254, 1257 (11th Cir. 2002) (per curiam) (“[T]he party invoking the court’s
jurisdiction bears the burden of proving, by a preponderance of the evidence, facts
supporting the existence of federal jurisdiction.”).
Further, lack of subject matter jurisdiction cannot be waived or expanded by
judicial interpretation, and a jurisdictional deficiency can be raised at any time by
either the parties or the court. See, e.g., Am. Fire & Cas. Co. v. Finn, 341 U.S. 6,
17-18, 71 S. Ct. 534, 542, 95 L. Ed. 702 (1951) (“The jurisdiction of the federal
courts is carefully guarded against expansion by judicial interpretation or by prior
action or consent of the parties.”); Sosna v. Iowa, 419 U.S. 393, 398, 95 S. Ct. 553,
557, 42 L. Ed. 2d 532 (1975) (“While the parties may be permitted to waive
nonjurisdictional defects, they may not by stipulation invoke the judicial power of the
United States in litigation which does not present an actual ‘case or controversy,’ and
. . . we feel obliged to address the question of mootness before reaching the merits of
appellant’s claim.”) (citation omitted).
A Rule 12(b)(6) motion attacks the legal sufficiency of the complaint. See Fed.
R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) (“[A] party may assert the following defenses by motion: (6)
failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted[.]”). 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, 78 S. Ct. 99,
103, 2 L. Ed. 2d 80 (1957) (footnote omitted) (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2)),
abrogated by Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556, 127 S. Ct. 1955,
1965, 167 L. Ed. 2d 929 (2007); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a) (setting forth general
pleading requirements for a complaint including providing “a short and plain
statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief”).
While a plaintiff must provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief, Rule 8
does not mandate the inclusion of “detailed factual allegations” within a complaint.
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 127 S. Ct. at 1964 (quoting Conley, 355 U.S. at 47, 78 S.
Ct. at 103). However, at the same time, “it demands more than an unadorned,
the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662,
678, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949, 173 L. Ed. 2d 868 (2009). “[O]nce a claim has been
stated adequately, it may be supported by showing any set of facts consistent with the
allegations in the complaint.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 563, 127 S. Ct. at 1969.
“[A] court considering a motion to dismiss can choose to begin by identifying
pleadings that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the
assumption of truth.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679, 129 S. Ct. at 1950. “While legal
conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by
factual allegations.” Id. “When there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court
should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to
an entitlement to relief.” Id. (emphasis added). “Under Twombly’s construction of
Rule 8 . . . [a plaintiff’s] complaint [must] ‘nudge [any] claims’ . . . ‘across the line
from conceivable to plausible.’ Ibid.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 680, 129 S. Ct. at 1950-51.
A claim is plausible on its face “when the plaintiff pleads factual content that
allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the
misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678, 129 S. Ct. at 1949. “The plausibility
standard is not akin to a ‘probability requirement,’ but it asks for more than a sheer
possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at
556, 127 S. Ct. at 1965).
Defendants also contend that Plaintiffs lack standing to assert claims for
declaratory and injunctive relief. “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).” Stalley v. Orlando Reg’l Healthcare Sys.,
524 F.3d 1229, 1232 (11th Cir. 2008).
The Eleventh Circuit has summarized the doctrine of standing as follows:
To have standing in federal court, a plaintiff must meet three
requirements. First, he must have suffered an injury in fact: “an invasion
of a legally protected interest.” Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S.
555, 560, 112 S. Ct. 2130, 2136, 119 L. Ed. 2d 351 (1992). The injury
must be “concrete and particularized” and “actual or imminent, not
conjectural or hypothetical.” Id. (quotations and citations omitted).
Second, there must be a causal connection between his injury and the
conduct he challenges, i.e., his injury must be fairly traceable to the
challenged actions of the defendant. Id. Third, it must be likely that
plaintiff's injury will be redressed by a favorable decision of the court.
Id. at 561, 112 S. Ct. at 2136.
Sicar v. Chertoff, 541 F.3d 1055, 1059 (11th Cir. 2008).
The Supreme Court of the United States has more recently elaborated upon
several principles pertaining to standing:
Article III of the Constitution confines the judicial power of
federal courts to deciding actual “Cases” or “Controversies.” §2. One
essential aspect of this requirement is that any person invoking the
power of a federal court must demonstrate standing to do so. This
requires the litigant to prove that he has suffered a concrete and
particularized injury that is fairly traceable to the challenged conduct,
and is likely to be redressed by a favorable judicial decision. Lujan v.
Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U. S. 555, 560–561 (1992). In other words,
for a federal court to have authority under the Constitution to settle a
dispute, the party before it must seek a remedy for a personal and
tangible harm. “The presence of a disagreement, however sharp and
acrimonious it may be, is insufficient by itself to meet Art. III’s
requirements.” Diamond, supra, at 62, 106 S. Ct. 1697. . . .
Most standing cases consider whether a plaintiff has satisfied the
requirement when filing suit, but Article III demands that an “actual
controversy” persist throughout all stages of litigation. Already, LLC v.
Nike, Inc., 568 U. S. ___, ___ (2013) (slip op., at 4) (internal quotation
Hollingsworth v. Perry, 133 S. Ct. 2652, 2661, 186 L. Ed. 2d 768 (2013) (emphasis
Lack of standing bars only some of Plaintiffs’
claims for declaratory and injunctive relief at this
Relying upon the Supreme Court’s decision in O’Shea v. Littleton, 414 U.S.
488, 94 S. Ct. 669, 38 L. Ed. 2d 674 (1974), as well as other authorities, Defendants
maintain that Plaintiffs’ efforts to obtain prospective relief against future adverse
treatment under the Program are too speculative to confer standing upon them. As
clarified during the hearing, Plaintiffs have conceded that Mr. Hunter and Mr.
Cantrell are, indeed, precluded from seeking injunctive relief due to their closed
status under the Program. (See also Doc. 51 at 33 (“There are Plaintiffs[’] notes in a
few court files or return to court forms indicat[ing] that CRO has been closed as
relates to Cantrell, Hunter . . . .”)).7
All page references to Doc. 51 correspond with the court’s CM/ECF numbering system.
However, concerning Ms. Brannon, Mr. DuBose, Mr. Myers, Ms. Snow, Mr.
Lynn, and Mr. Loyd, Plaintiffs contend that these persons still remain subject to the
Program and, consequently, do have sufficient standing to pursue prospective relief
against all Defendants as alleged in their second amended and restated complaint.
(See also id.(“However, none of the other Plaintiffs, Brannon, DuBose, Loyd’s Attalla
case, Myers and Snow, has any mention within the records provided that CRO has
been closed in their respective cases.”)).
Similar to the reasoning set forth in Ray, the court agrees with Plaintiffs that,
at least from a pleadings standpoint, all but Mr. Hunter and Mr. Cantrell have
standing to pursue claims for declarative and injunctive relief because their cases lack
confirmation that they are completely closed out and, consequently, they remain at
risk for recall under the Program. See Ray, 2013 WL 5428395, at *15 (“Plaintiffs face
the prospect of a return to jail at any time, imbuing them with the standing necessary
to make claims for prospective injunctive relief.”). Additionally, and in contrast with
the concerns identified in O’Shea, the type of equitable relief sought here (i.e.,
reforming and implementing new post-conviction procedures versus “monitor[ing]
the behavior of law enforcement officials in the course of criminal prosecutions and
generally ferret[ing] out racial discrimination at the state court level”) is a much more
manageable and objective endeavor. Ray, 2013 WL 5428395, at *15; see id. (“Unlike
the individual behavior targeted in O’Shea, reformation of the procedures complained
of here would not require constant, painstaking determinations.”). Accordingly, the
injunctive section of both motions is due to be GRANTED as to Mr. Hunter and Mr.
Cantrell only, and otherwise is due to be DENIED.
The Rooker–Feldman line of cases has been described as the
“jurisdictional transmutation of res judicata doctrine.” 18 Charles A.
Wright, Arthur R. Miller & Edward H. Cooper, Federal Practice and
Procedure § 4469 (1981). The essence of the Rooker–Feldman doctrine
is that “a United States District Court has no authority to review final
judgments of a state court in judicial proceedings. Review of such
judgments may be had only in [the United States Supreme Court].”
District of Columbia Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462, 482,
103 S. Ct. 1303, 1315, 75 L. Ed. 2d 206 (1983).
Narey v. Dean, 32 F.3d 1521, 1524 (11th Cir. 1994).
As the Eleventh Circuit has more recently explained the meaning of the
The Rooker-Feldman doctrine makes clear that federal district
courts cannot review state court final judgments because that task is
reserved for state appellate courts or, as a last resort, the United States
Supreme Court. See Feldman, 460 U.S. at 482, 103 S. Ct. at 1315. The
doctrine applies both to federal claims raised in the state court and to
those “inextricably intertwined” with the state court’s judgment. Id. at
482 n. 16, 103 S. Ct. at 1315 n. 16. It does not apply, however, where a
party did not have a “reasonable opportunity to raise his federal claim
in state proceedings.” Powell, 80 F.3d at 467 (internal quotation marks
omitted). A claim is inextricably intertwined if it would “effectively
nullify” the state court judgment, id. (internal quotation marks omitted),
or it “succeeds only to the extent that the state court wrongly decided the
issues.” Goodman ex rel. Goodman v. Sipos, 259 F.3d 1327, 1332 (11th
While the Supreme Court’s recent Rooker-Feldman decisions
have noted the “narrowness” of the rule, see Lance v. Dennis, 546 U.S.
459, 464, 126 S. Ct. 1198, 1201, 163 L. Ed. 2d 1059 (2006), they have
also confirmed that it continues to apply with full force to “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 review and rejection of those
judgments.” Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic Indus. Corp., 544 U.S.
280, 284, 125 S. Ct. 1517, 1521-22, 161 L. Ed. 2d 454 (2005). Other
circuits have recognized an exception to the doctrine where the state
court judgment is “void ab initio due to the state court’s lack of
jurisdiction,” see, e.g., 4901 Corp. v. Town of Cicero, 220 F.3d 522, 528
(7th Cir. 2000); In re James, 940 F.2d 46, 52 (3d Cir.1991), but our
circuit has never adopted that exception.
Casale v. Tillman, 558 F.3d 1258, 1260-61 (11th Cir. 2009) (emphasis added).
Additionally, “even if a claim is ‘inextricably intertwined’ with the state court’s
judgment, the doctrine does not apply if the plaintiff had no ‘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 County, 715 F.2d 1543, 1547 (11th Cir.
Rooker-Feldman does not preclude Plaintiffs’ claims.
Whether the Rooker-Feldman doctrine applies to an alleged unconstitutionally
administered court referral program is still an open question within the Eleventh
Circuit. However, based upon the Eleventh Circuit’s express recognition of the
Supreme Court’s limitations placed on the scope of Rooker-Feldman, see Casale v.
Tillman, supra, and the Sixth Circuit’s decision in Powers v. Hamilton County Public
Defender Commission, 501 F.3d 592, 597 (6th Cir. 2007), discussed infra, which
limits Rooker-Feldman’s reach in the context of a plaintiff’s constitutional challenge
to a reinstated sentence, the court concludes that the Eleventh Circuit would likely
find that the doctrine does not apply to claims of mismanagement in the
administration of municipal court sentences, such as the ones that are asserted in this
case. Accordingly, the Rooker-Feldman doctrine poses no bar to Plaintiffs’ claims.
Powers v. Hamilton County Public Defender Com’n, 501 F.3d 592 (6th Cir.
2007), addressed the merits of a § 1983 certified class action premised upon an
unconstitutional policy of neglecting “to seek indigency hearings on behalf of
criminal defendants facing jail time for unpaid fines.” Id. at 597. In Powers, the
plaintiff, who was convicted of a motor vehicle misdemeanor in municipal court, was
subsequently “sentenced to thirty days of incarceration” with twenty-seven of those
days being suspended and “the remaining three days [to be served] in a
driver-intervention program.” Id. The municipal court also ordered Mr. Powers to pay
court costs and a fine in connection with his traffic infraction. Id.
Mr. Powers did not ever pay the fine and he was ordered to appear at a
probation revocation hearing. Powers, 501 F.3d at 597. During this setting, Mr.
Powers was represented by a public defender,8 who failed to request an indigency
hearing on behalf of his client. Id. Because of the still outstanding fine, the state court
revoked Mr. Powers’s probation and reinstated Mr. Powers’s original sentence of
incarceration (less “credit for one day served”). Id. As a result, Mr. Powers “served
at least one day in the Hamilton County jail for his failure to pay the fine.” Id.
Mr. Powers then filed a federal “class-action complaint [against the public
defender office, the public defender commission, and others] seeking damages under
42 U.S.C. § 1983 on the theory that his incarceration, in the absence of any inquiry
into his ability to pay the court-imposed fine, violated his Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth
Amendment rights.”9 Powers, 501 F.3d at 597. The defendants raised numerous
During the hearing, counsel for Ms. Zaner and ECCRP urged that this court should
disregard Powers as completely inapposite because of that decision’s legal malpractice and breach
of fiduciary implications attributable to the public defender’s inactions. The court disagrees with
counsel’s interpretation of Powers and notes that the district court dismissed the plaintiff’s legal
malpractice claim in Powers on summary judgment. 501 F.3d at 598. Further, no portion of the
appellate analysis in Powers implicitly suggests (much less expressly finds) that concerns of legal
malpractice and/or fiduciary duty were critical to the Sixth Circuit’s conclusion about the cognizable
nature of the plaintiff’s federal constitutional claims. 501 F.3d at 619.
Here, Plaintiffs allege a similar type of indigent status deficiency. (See, e.g., Doc. 45 at 19
¶ 69 (“[N]either the Gadsden Municipal Court nor ECCRP made any inquiry into her inability to pay
any such fees. ECCRP has sought to collect amounts owed to it, and ECCRP repeatedly took actions
to arrest and incarcerate Brannon without any due process.”); id. at 35 ¶ 121 (“Loyd was and has
been unable to pay all of the aforementioned fees associated with the ECCRP requirements, but in
accordance with the policies, practices or customs of Attalla neither the Attalla Municipal Court nor
defenses to Mr. Powers’s lawsuit, including one premised upon Rooker-Feldman. Id.
at 598. Ultimately, the district court rejected this theory and also certified a class in
Mr. Powers’s favor. Id. On appeal, the Sixth Circuit affirmed the district court’s
decision that Rooker-Feldman did not preclude Mr. Powers’s claims.
The Rooker–Feldman doctrine bars parties that have lost in state
court from filing suit in federal district courts for the purpose of
obtaining review of the adverse state-court judgments. Rooker v. Fidelity
Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413, 44 S. Ct. 149, 68 L. Ed. 362 (1923); D.C. Court
of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462, 103 S. Ct. 1303, 75 L. Ed. 2d 206
(1983); Johnson v. DeGrandy, 512 U.S. 997, 1005–06, 114 S. Ct. 2647,
129 L. Ed. 2d 775 (1994) (Rooker–Feldman prevents an unsuccessful
state-court party “from seeking what in substance would be appellate
review of the state judgment in a United States district court, based on
the losing party’s claim that the state judgment itself violates the loser's
The Rooker–Feldman doctrine has no bearing on Powers’s claims
because he does not allege that he was deprived of his constitutional
rights by the state-court judgment, but rather by the Public Defender’s
conduct in failing to ask for an indigency hearing as a prerequisite to his
incarceration. Assertions of injury that do not implicate state-court
judgments are beyond the purview of the Rooker–Feldman doctrine. See
McCormick v. Braverman, 451 F.3d 382, 392–93 (6th Cir. 2006)
(holding Rooker–Feldman inapplicable because the plaintiff did not
attack the state-court judgments but “assert[ed] independent claims that
those state court judgments were [improperly] procured by” the
defendants); Todd v. Weltman, Weinberg, & Reis Co., L.P.A., 434 F.3d
432, 436–37 (6th Cir. 2006) (holding Rooker–Feldman not triggered
ECCRP ever made an inquiry into his inability or willful failure to pay any such fee.”); id. at 58 ¶
187 (“Under the policy, practice or custom between ECCRP and Alabama governments such as
Gadsden and Attalla, misdemeanants are routinely and regularly incarcerated for failure to pay
ECCRP fees without a determination of either their ability to pay or the willfulness of their nonpayment.”)).
because the plaintiff did not allege that he was injured by the state-court
judgment, but instead filed an independent federal claim that he was
injured by the defendant’s filing of a false affidavit in the state-court
Powers, 501 F.3d at 606 (emphasis added).
Additionally, relying upon Powers, Judge Proctor concluded that RookerFeldman did not bar the plaintiffs’ claims in Ray v. Judicial Corrections Services,
Inc., No. 2:12–CV–02819–RDP, 2013 WL 5428395 (N.D. Ala. Sept. 26, 2013).
Comparable to the allegations of this case, the Ray plaintiffs “assert[ed] that the Town
of Childersburg, Alabama (“Childersburg”) and Judicial Corrections Services,
Inc./Correctional Healthcare Companies, Inc. (collectively “JCS”) have abused their
authority over municipal criminal defendants.” 2013 WL 5428395, at *1. Under the
Childersburg contractual arrangement with JCS, “[i]f an individual fails to pay a
satisfactory amount, JCS then determines whether to revoke the individual’s
probation (in which case the individual jailed) or whether to impose additional fines
and costs.” Id. at *2.
In rejecting the application of Rooker-Feldman in Ray, the court reasoned:
JCS also seeks dismissal of Plaintiffs’ case on the basis of a lack
of subject-matter jurisdiction, invoking the Rooker–Feldman doctrine
to assert that consideration of Plaintiffs’ suit would constitute
impermissible “interference with valid state court judgments.” The
Rooker–Feldman doctrine stands for the proposition that “federal courts,
other than the Supreme Court [of the United States], have no authority
to review the final judgments of state courts.” Siegel v. LePore, 234 F.3d
1163, 1172 (11th Cir. 2000) (en banc). Indeed, Rooker–Feldman
reinforces notions of federalism generally, and the statutory scheme of
federal jurisdiction in particular, which “does not authorize district
courts to exercise appellate jurisdiction over state-court judgments.”
Verizon Maryland, Inc. v. Public Service Com’n of Maryland, 535 U.S.
635, 644 n.3 (2002). The Rooker–Feldman doctrine has its most direct
application in instances where an unsuccessful state court litigant
chooses not to pursue an appeal at the state level, instead resolving to
challenge the state court decision in a lower federal court. Exxon, 544
U.S. at 284 (describing Rooker–Feldman as largely applicable to “cases
brought by state-court losers ... inviting district court review and
rejection of [the state court’s] judgments”). To be sure, such attempts to
invoke the jurisdiction of the federal courts are clearly misguided. But
this case is not one of them. Here, Plaintiffs do not seek to overturn their
convictions, but rather ask the court for various types of legal and
equitable relief flowing from post-conviction events.
The Rooker–Feldman doctrine also applies to cases that have the
potential to besmirch or void related state court judgments. See, e.g.,
Goodman v. Sipos, 259 F.3d 1327 (11th Cir. 2011). It is within this line
of precedent that Defendant apparently attempts to couch the present
case. Defendant implies that, like Goodman, this case represents an
indirect challenge to the judgments of a state court, i.e., the Childersburg
Municipal Court. In Goodman, the Eleventh Circuit concluded that the
district court did not have subject matter jurisdiction over a Section
1983 suit seeking damages for the submission of a fraudulent affidavit
in a previously-litigated, child custody case. The Goodman court held
that the affidavit in question was too central to the state court’s
judgment to later be challenged in federal court. Goodman, 259 F.3d at
1334. Properly understood, Goodman acts to preserve the spirit of
Rooker–Feldman by shielding state court judgments from collateral
attacks; however, its reasoning is inapplicable to this case. Plaintiffs’
suit does not amount to a collateral attack on any judgment of the
Childersburg Municipal Court. Indeed, the present scenario is readily
distinguishable from that in Goodman in that Plaintiffs’ suit does not
address the judgments of the Childersburg Municipal Court in the least.
Not only does Plaintiffs’ suit not challenge the merits of the municipal
court’s decisions, but it also does not call into question any of the bases
on which those judgments were reached. Rather, Plaintiffs appear only
to challenge the post-judgment probationary program.
In actuality, the instant case much more closely resembles Powers
v. Hamilton County Public Defender Commission, a Sixth Circuit case
in which a former prisoner brought a Section 1983 action, alleging that
the Public Defender’s policy of not pursuing indigency hearings for
defendant due to be placed in jail for unpaid fines had resulted in the
deprivation of his constitutional rights. 501 F.3d 592, 597 (6th Cir.
2007). On appeal, the Public Defender argued that the prisoner’s suit
should be summarily dismissed, as it called into question a previous
state court judgment, i.e., the underlying conviction. Id. at 598-99. The
Sixth Circuit rebuffed this line of argument, holding, “A conclusion that
procedures, or rather the lack of procedures, that culminated in
Power[s’s] incarceration violated his constitutional rights has nothing to
do with the propriety of his underlying convictions.” Id. at 604.
Likewise here, because it is the administration of the municipal court’s
sentences that is the focus of the Plaintiffs’ suit, the Rooker–Feldman
doctrine does not preclude this court’s exercise of subject matter
jurisdiction in the present case.
Ray, 2013 WL 5428395, at *10-*11(footnote and record citations omitted) (emphasis
The court acknowledges that ECCRP attempts to discount the import of the
Ray decision on the basis that it is organized under a different statutory scheme than
JCS. (Doc. 47 at 6-7). However, in the absence of case authority suggesting that such
a statutory distinction is somehow meaningful for purposes of Rooker-Feldman,
ECCRP’s efforts are underdeveloped and unavailing. Cf. Flanigan’s Enters., Inc. v.
Fulton County, Ga., 242 F.3d 976, 987 n.16 (11th Cir. 2001) (holding that a party
waives an argument if the party “fail[s] to elaborate or provide any citation of
authority in support” of the argument); Ordower v. Feldman, 826 F.2d 1569, 1576
(7th Cir. 1987) (stating that an argument made without citation to authority is
insufficient to raise an issue before the court).
Furthermore, the court has been unable to locate any decisions that reach an
opposite conclusion about the scope of Rooker-Feldman when a plaintiff is
challenging the propriety of policies applicable to revoking probation or
administering a sentence. Therefore, guided by Casale, Powers, and Ray, Plaintiffs’
claims are not jurisdictionally barred by Rooker-Feldman because the injuries about
which they complain are not attributable to their state court convictions,10 but rather
to the policies and procedures of the ECCRP and Ms. Zaner (on behalf of the COG
and COA) in the administration of Plaintiffs’ criminal sentences. Cf. Clark v. Beard,
288 F. App’x 1, 2 (3d Cir. 2008) (concluding that Rooker-Feldman does not bar a
criminal defendant from seeking “to be moved off of death row pending his resentencing” because “the injuries he complains of here were not caused by the state
Indeed and as summarized above, apparently two of the eight named plaintiffs (i.e., Ms.
Snow and Mr. Myers) have no record of any criminal judgment or conviction, which makes the
application of Rooker-Feldman to their claims even more dubious for them. Cf. Ray, 2013 WL
5428395, at *10 n.8 (“Substantive judgments were not even entered in three of the four plaintiffs'
cases, as Mr. and Mrs. Fugatt’s cases were nol prossed and Mr. Jews’ case was dismissed.”).
court judgment but rather by the Department of Corrections’s policy.”).
Heck v. Humphrey Doctrine
Heck v. Humphrey Principles
Defendants also maintain that the monetary damages asserted by Plaintiffs for
wrongful imprisonment or punishment are premature under Heck v. Humphrey, 512
U.S. 477, 114 S. Ct. 2364, 129 L. Ed. 2d 383 (1994). (Doc. 47 at 19-23). Heck
involved an inmate’s challenge of a conviction as unconstitutional pursuant to § 1983
while he was still in state custody. See Heck, 512 U.S. at 479, 114 S. Ct. at 2368
(“[The § 1983 lawsuit] did not ask for injunctive relief, and petitioner has not sought
release from custody in this action.”).
As the Supreme Court held in Heck:
[I]n order to recover damages for allegedly unconstitutional
conviction or imprisonment, or for other harm caused by actions whose
unlawfulness would render a conviction or sentence invalid, a § 1983
plaintiff must prove that the conviction or sentence has been reversed on
direct appeal, expunged by executive order, declared invalid by a state
tribunal authorized to make such determination, or called into question
by a federal court’s issuance of a writ of habeas corpus, 28 U.S.C. §
2254. A claim for damages bearing that relationship to a conviction or
sentence that has not been so invalidated is not cognizable under § 1983.
Thus, when a state prisoner seeks damages in a § 1983 suit, the district
court must consider whether a judgment in favor of the plaintiff would
necessarily imply the invalidity of his conviction or sentence; if it
would, the complaint must be dismissed unless the plaintiff can
demonstrate that the conviction or sentence has already been
invalidated. But if the district court determines that the plaintiff’s action,
even if successful, will not demonstrate the invalidity of any outstanding
criminal judgment against the plaintiff, the action should be allowed to
proceed, in the absence of some other bar to the suit.
Heck, 512 U.S. at 486-87, 114 S. Ct. at 2372-73 (footnotes omitted).11
Heck v. Humphrey does not preclude Plaintiffs
from seeking monetary damages or other relief
tied to their federal claims.
How the Eleventh Circuit would address the viability of a Heck defense here
is not easily answered. Compare Harden v. Pataki, 320 F.3d 1289, 1298 (11th Cir.
2003) (reasoning in improper extradition case that “In both Heck and Edwards, the
Court was careful to emphasize that its holding did not impose an exhaustion
requirement on § 1983 actions that would require a prisoner to first petition for a writ
of habeas corpus under 18 U.S.C. § 2254, thus suggesting that the bar would apply
even where habeas corpus review is unavailable”), and Vickers v. Donahue, 137 F.
App’x 285, 288-89 (11th Cir. 2005) (“[I]n Harden we distinguished between claims
under § 1983 that attacked purely procedural issues and those claims that implied the
invalidity of a conviction, and found that the plaintiff’s claim challenging the validity
of the procedures used to extradite him could in no way imply the invalidity of the
While Heck involved a § 1983 claim for monetary damages, “the Supreme Court has said
that dismissal under the principles announced in Heck may be appropriate regardless of the kind of
relief sought.” Esensoy v. McMillan, No. 06-12580, 2007 WL 257342, at *1 n.6 (11th Cir. Jan. 31,
2007) (citing Wilkinson v. Dotson, 544 U.S. 74, 125 S. Ct. 1242, 1248, 161 L. Ed. 2d 253 (2005)).
underlying conviction.”), and Vickers, 137 F. App’x at 288 (“He could have appealed
the revocation order and, had he prevailed, his § 1983 claims would not be barred by
Heck.”), with Gray v. Kinney, No. 3:09CV324/LC/MD, 2009 WL 2634205, at *5
(N.D. Fla. Aug. 25, 2009) (“The Eleventh Circuit has not explicitly decided whether
Heck bars § 1983 suits by plaintiffs who are not in custody and thus for whom federal
habeas relief is not available.”), and with id. (“In dicta and unpublished opinions, the
court has expressed mixed views on the subject.” (emphasis added)).
In support of their position, Defendants primarily rely upon the magistrate
judge’s report and recommendation (Doc. 8) entered in the prisoner suit of Moore v.
Court Referral Office of Etowah County, 4:09-CV-0933-IPJ-JEO,12 which proposed
ruling was subsequently adopted by the district court judge. (Doc. 10).13 As that
report and recommendation reasons:
The plaintiff seeks damages on the claims that his sentence of
unsupervised probation was unconstitutional because it required
participation in the CRO drug testing program, and that defendants acted
under color of state law while engaging in unlawful acts that led to
revocation of probation and imprisonment. However, because the
plaintiff has failed to show that the conviction or sentence in this case
has been invalidated, this suit for damages is premature and is due to be
dismissed under the authority of Heck . . . . Under Heck, if a plaintiff in
Filed electronically as an attachment to Defendants ECCRP and Ms. Zaner’s Motion.
(Doc. 47-2 at 1-10).
Filed electronically as an attachment to Defendants ECCRP and Ms. Zaner’s Motion.
(Doc. 47-3 at 1-2).
a federal civil rights action challenges the validity of his imprisonment
the suit must be classified as a habeas corpus action, even if he has not
sought release. The plaintiff’s claims clearly implicate the validity of his
sentence and subsequent imprisonment. The plaintiff therefore fails to
state a valid claim under § 1983.
(Doc. 24-1 at 6-7 (citations omitted)).
In their opposition brief, Plaintiffs cite to Harden v. Pataki, 320 F.3d 1289,
1295 (11th Cir. 2003), and maintain that, because their § 1983 claims are “purely
procedural” ones, the Heck rule does not apply to them. (Doc. 32 at 43-45). As the
Eleventh Circuit explained this distinction in Harden:
The difference between a purely procedural claim cognizable
under § 1983 and a procedural claim where “the nature of the challenge
to the procedures could be such as necessarily to imply the invalidity of
the judgment,” not cognizable under § 1983, Edwards, 520 U.S. at 645,
117 S. Ct. at 1587, is demonstrated by the contrary holdings in Edwards
and Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 94 S. Ct. 2963, 41 L. Ed. 2d 935
(1974). In the latter, the Court held that prison disciplinary procedures
violated due process if they did not provide for “advance written notice
of the claimed” misconduct resulting in discipline or “a written
statement of the factfinders as to the evidence relied upon and the
reasons for the disciplinary action taken.” Id. at 563, 94 S. Ct. at 2978.
The Court in Heck distinguished Wolff because the damages sought were
“for the deprivation of civil rights resulting from the use of the allegedly
unconstitutional procedures,” Wolff, 418 U.S. at 553, 94 S. Ct. at 2973,
and not for deprivation of good-time credits. Heck, 512 U.S. at 482, 114
S. Ct. at 2370. In essence, the claim was “for using the wrong
procedures, not for reaching the wrong result (i.e., denying good-time
credits). Nor is there any indication in the opinion, or any reason to
believe, that using the wrong procedures necessarily vitiated the denial
of good-time credits. Thus, the claim at issue in Wolff did not call into
question the lawfulness of the plaintiff’s continuing confinement.” Id.
at 482–83, 114 S. Ct. at 2370. In Edwards, as in Wolff, the “complaint
[ ] limited [the plaintiff’s] request to damages for depriving him of
good-time credits without due process, not for depriving him of
good-time credits undeservedly as a substantive matter. That is to say,
his claim posited that the procedures were wrong, but not necessarily
that the result was.” 520 U.S. at 645, 117 S. Ct. at 1587. However, in
Edwards, unlike in Wolff, “[t]he principal procedural defect complained
of [—‘the deceit and bias of the hearing officer’—] would, if
established, necessarily imply the invalidity of the deprivation of [the]
good-time credits,” which would inevitably invalidate the prisoner’s
sentence by challenging the duration of his confinement. Id. at 646, 647,
117 S. Ct. at 1588. Thus, claims brought by state prisoners are not
cognizable under § 1983 if they necessarily invalidate, directly or
indirectly, an underlying criminal conviction or period of confinement,
even if they allege only procedural violations and seek damages only for
the procedural violation and not for the substantive result. Only if such
claims are purely procedural, as in Wolff, where the alleged procedural
defects—lack of advance written notice of the charges and a written
statement of the basis of the decision—or the outcome of the action,
would not necessarily invalidate an underlying conviction or sentence,
will they be cognizable under § 1983. See e.g., Jenkins v. Haubert, 179
F.3d 19, 21 (2d Cir.1999) (holding that Heck and Edwards do not bar a
prisoner’s § 1983 claim alleging bias by the prison’s hearing officer in
a disciplinary proceeding affecting only the conditions, but not the fact
or duration, of confinement).
Harden, 320 F.3d at 1295 n.9 (emphasis added).
Regardless of whether Plaintiffs are correct in their reliance upon Harden and
the exclusively procedural characterization of their claims, the court has found a more
fundamental problem with Defendants’ Heck-related defense: it is directly at odds
with the Eleventh Circuit’s decision in Morrow v. Federal Bureau of Prisons, 610
F.3d 1271 (2010). In Morrow, the Eleventh Circuit reversed a district court that had
entered a Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal of a former prisoner’s § 1983 lawsuit who
maintained that he had unlawfully spent additional time in prison due to an
“employee’s entering the incorrect start date.” 610 F.3d at 1272.
As the Eleventh Circuit explained in Morrow:
But we do not understand Heck’s rule to extend to a case like this
one: where Plaintiff is not in custody and where Plaintiff’s action-even
if decided in his favor-in no way implies the invalidity of his conviction
or of the sentence imposed by his conviction. For background, see
Spencer v. Kemna, 523 U.S. 1, 118 S. Ct. 978, 988, 140 L. Ed. 2d 43
(1998) (explaining that not every civil action by former prisoner for
damages tied in some way to his incarceration involves Heck’s
application). This case is one in which the alleged length of unlawful
imprisonment-10 days-is obviously of a duration that a petition for
habeas relief could not have been filed and granted while Plaintiff was
unlawfully in custody.
Morrow, 510 F.3d at 1272 (emphasis added).
Here, Defendants have not shown that Plaintiffs, who are no longer in custody,
had any realistic access to habeas relief during their period(s) of alleged unlawful, but
apparently relatively short, durations of confinement. Further, in light of Morrow, the
court finds Defendants’ reliance upon Moore, supra, to be misguided because, unlike
the group of plaintiffs in this lawsuit, the plaintiff in Moore was still in custody at the
time he filed his § 1983 prisoner civil rights action. As a result, proceeding by way
of a habeas petition was a realistic option for Mr. Moore.
Additionally, both Powers and Ray, discussed supra, found Heck v. Humphrey
to be inapplicable under circumstances comparable to those presently before this
court. See Powers, 501 F.3d at 603 (“We are persuaded by the logic of those circuits
that have held that Heck’s favorable-termination requirement cannot be imposed
against § 1983 plaintiffs who lack a habeas option for the vindication of their federal
rights.”);14 Ray, 2013 WL 5428395, at *8 (“Here, none of the Plaintiffs are currently
incarcerated and their prior stints in jail were too fleeting to permit the filing and
resolution of a habeas suit[; consequently,] Plaintiffs’ suit is not subject to Heck’s
Accordingly, consistent with Morrow, Powers, and Ray, Heck does not demand
a Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal of Plaintiffs’ claims for monetary damages,15 and that
portion of both motions is due to be DENIED.
Defendants ECCRP and Ms. Zaner further contend that Plaintiffs’ second
amended and restated complaint is due to be dismissed on the grounds of qualified
immunity. As the Eleventh Circuit has explained regarding the scope of this defense
to federal claims:
In reaching this conclusion about Heck’s inapplicability in Powers, the Sixth Circuit relied
upon the Eleventh Circuit’s decision in Harden v. Pataki, discussed supra, as part of its persuasive
support. 501 F.3d at 603.
Once again, the absence of a conviction for Ms. Snow and Mr. Myers means that any
reliance upon Heck as a defense is even more suspect for them. See supra at 23 n.10.
As to Plaintiffs’ § 1983 claims, “[q]ualified immunity offers
complete protection for government officials sued in their individual
capacities if their conduct ‘does not violate clearly established statutory
or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have
known.’” Vinyard v. Wilson, 311 F.3d 1340, 1346 (11th Cir. 2002)
(quoting Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818, 102 S. Ct. 2727,
2738, 73 L. Ed. 2d 396 (1982)). Qualified immunity from suit is
intended to “allow government officials to carry out their discretionary
duties without the fear of personal liability or harassing litigation,
protecting from suit all but the plainly incompetent or one who is
knowingly violating the federal law.” Lee v. Ferraro, 284 F.3d 1188,
1194 (11th Cir. 2002) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).
Grider v. City of Auburn, 618 F.3d 1240, 1254 (11th Cir. 2010) (emphasis added).
Here, the court sees several problems with Defendants’ assertion of this
defense as a bar to Plaintiffs’ claims. First, qualified immunity has no bearing upon
the viability of Plaintiffs’ state law claims.16
Second, while qualified immunity might protect Ms. Zaner from any federal
claims for monetary damages asserted against her individually,17 the court disagrees
that Defendant ECCRP is entitled to rely upon this federal defense because, unlike
Ms. Zaner, it is not an individual, but rather, an entity. Further, as an entity, it can be
held liable for unconstitutional acts of Ms. Zaner even if she may not personally be
Defendants ECCRP and Ms. Zaner have not asserted state-law immunity.
An action against a person in her official capacity seeks to impose liability on the entity
which she represents, and not on her personally. See, e.g., Welch v. Laney, 57 F.3d 1004, 1008 (11th
Cir. 1995) (“Welch’s action against the Sheriff and Chief Deputy Sheriff in their official capacities
imposes liability on the entity they represent, and not on them as individuals.” (citing Brandon v.
Holt, 469 U.S. 464, 471-72, 105 S. Ct. 873, 877-78, 83 L. Ed. 2d 878 (1985))).
liable for them. To the extent that Moore v. Court Referral Office of Etowah County,
4:09-CV-0933-IPJ-JEO, referenced by ECCRP and Ms. Zaner (Doc. 47 at 20-21),
suggests that qualified immunity extends to an entity such as ECCRP, this court is
simply not persuaded. In particular, Moore provides no reasoning why ECCRP is
entitled to rely upon a qualified immunity defense even though it is only suable in one
Third, Ms. Zaner has failed to adequately develop why she should benefit from
the defense of qualified immunity and obtain a with-prejudice dismissal of all federal
claims for monetary relief asserted against her individually at the pleadings stage.
Wanton Conduct Against COA And COG
COA and COG maintain that, because they are municipalities, they cannot be
held liable for wanton conduct. Plaintiffs “concede the claim against Gadsden and
Attalla for wanton conduct is due to be dismissed.” (Doc. 51 at 36). Accordingly, the
wantonness section of COA and COG’s Motion is GRANTED as unopposed.
Punitive Damages Against COA And COG
COA and COG similarly maintain that, because they are municipalities,
At the hearing, counsel for ECCRP explained that the decision to dismiss ECCRP in
Moore was based upon a respondeat superior analysis–ECCRP could not be held liable for the
unconstitutional acts of Ms. Zaner because she was entitled to qualified immunity. This may have
been the reasoning in Moore, but, because the court concludes that Ms. Zaner is not entitled to
qualified immunity at this juncture, Moore does not help ECCRP.
Plaintiffs are prohibited from recovering punitive damages from them. Akin to their
wantonness response, Plaintiffs concede that “the claims against Gadsden and Attalla
for punitive damages [are] also due to be dismissed.” (Doc. 51 at 36). Therefore, the
punitive damages portion of COA and COG’s Motion is GRANTED as unopposed.
Failure Of Certain Plaintiffs To State A Claim Against COA
COA separately seeks a dismissal of any purported claims asserted against it
by Ms. Brannon, Mr. DuBose, Mr. Lynn, Mr. Myers, and Ms. Snow. Plaintiffs’
restated pleading does not attempt to allege any COA-related claims on behalf of
these particular plaintiffs. Further, Plaintiffs do not offer any response to this part of
COA and COG’s Motion in their opposition brief. Accordingly, this portion of COA
and COG’s Motion is GRANTED as unopposed.
Failure Of Certain Plaintiffs To State A Claim Against COG
COG separately seeks a dismissal of any purported claims asserted against it
by Mr. Cantrell and Mr. Hunter. Plaintiffs’ restated pleading does not attempt to
allege any COG-related claims on behalf of these two plaintiffs. Further, Plaintiffs do
not offer any response to this part of COA and COG’s Motion in their opposition
brief. Accordingly, this portion of COA and COG’s Motion is GRANTED as
All other grounds offered in support of dismissal are, similar to qualified
immunity, due to be DENIED as underdeveloped (i.e., the absence of any on-point
case authority cited and/or only 1 or 2 paragraphs of argument are devoted to the
issue) and unpersuasive. Alternatively, these remaining defenses are due to be
DENIED as better suited for disposition on a summary judgment record.19 Such
theories include: failure to state a claim based upon the provisions of Alabama’s
Mandatory Treatment Act; no municipal liability because of judicial immunity;20 no
Additionally and, as briefly touched upon during the hearing, the standing-related issues
of Plaintiffs’ establishment of a non-speculative injury traceable, i.e., causally connected, to the
conduct of these defendants and also capable of redress through a favorable decision by this court
are better suited for disposition on summary judgment. See Hollywood Mobile Estates Ltd. v.
Seminole Tribe of Florida, 641 F.3d 1259, 1266 (11th Cir. 2011) (“Our decision in Doe v. Pryor,
where we held that a plaintiff’s injuries were not fairly traceable to a public official because the
plaintiff had failed to allege how that official had caused those injuries, 344 F.3d 1282, 1285 (11th
Cir. 2003), is instructive.”); Hollywood Mobile, 641 F.3d at 1266 (“Redressability is established
when a favorable decision would amount to a significant increase in the likelihood that the plaintiff
would obtain relief that directly redresses the injury suffered.” (internal quotation marks omitted)
(quoting Mulhall v. UNITE HERE Local 355, 618 F.3d 1279, 1290 (11th Cir. 2010) (alteration and
internal quotation marks omitted))). By way of example only, Plaintiffs have alleged that “ECCRP
employees and/or agents were the individuals who requested the warrants[,] not the municipality
prosecutor.” (Doc. 45 at 8 ¶ 23). At the hearing, however, Plaintiffs indicated that persons with nondischarged criminal cases could be subject to arrest simply under a return to court form requested
by ECCRP without the issuance of any warrant. The discovery process should shed light on the
return to court/warrant process and substantiate ECCRP’s traceable involvement in the treatment of
those who are deemed to be in default under the Program.
As Plaintiffs correctly point out in their opposition brief, the Supreme Court has made it
abundantly clear that “municipalities do not enjoy immunity from suit—either absolute or
qualified—under § 1983.” Leatherman v. Tarrant County Narcotics Intelligence & Coordination
Unit, 507 U.S. 163, 166, 113 S. Ct. 1160, 1162, 122 L. Ed. 2d 517 (1993); see also Owen v. City of
Independence, 445 U.S. 622, 650, 100 S. Ct. 1398, 1415, 63 L. Ed. 2d 673 (1980) (rejecting
municipal liability because of probation officer immunity; private debt; no municipal
liability for alleged false imprisonment and false arrest; no municipal liability for
alleged negligent supervision and training; and statute of limitations (including in
particular each plaintiff’s accrual of claim date and the impact of the continuing
violation doctrine). See, e.g., Ray, 2013 WL 5428395, at *10 (“[A] greater level of
factual development is required to make such an [accrual] evaluation, reinforcing the
notion that ‘a statute of limitations defense is generally not appropriate for evaluation
on a motion to dismiss filed pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6).’” (quoting McDaniel v. City
of Fairfield, No. 2:12–CV–03872–HGD, 2013 WL 1180320, at *1 (N.D. Ala. Feb.
Order Requiring Repleader
While Plaintiffs’ new pleading is somewhat more specific than the prior ones,
it still is rambling, repetitive, too long, and difficult to follow. For example, the
complaint continues to have shotgun characteristics including the incorporation of
allegations by reference.21 The complaint also disregards Rule 8 of the Federal Rules
of Civil Procedure which requires a complaint to have “a short and plain statement
qualified immunity defense for municipalities).
“The typical shotgun complaint contains several counts, each one incorporating by
reference the allegations of its predecessors, leading to a situation where most of the counts (i.e., all
but the first) contain irrelevant factual allegations and legal conclusions.” Strategic Income Fund,
L.L.C. v. Spear, Leeds & Kellogg Corp., 305 F.3d 1293, 1295 (11th Cir. 2002).
of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief” as well as “simple, concise,
and direct” allegations. Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2), (d)(1).
In particular, as it pertains to Plaintiffs’ federal counts, Plaintiffs have only
superficially identified a laundry list of constitutional provisions which they contend
Defendants have violated (i.e., the Due Process Clause, the Fourth Amendment, the
Eighth Amendment, and the Equal Protection Clause) without either breaking down
such claims into their requisite elements or, much less, connecting those elements to
the alleged factual proof that Plaintiffs maintain plausibly supports each one of them.
Plaintiffs’ state law counts are similarly alleged in a generalized and conclusory
fashion. Such a state of disorganization not only violates Twombly, but also, if
permitted to continue, constitutes an impediment to this court’s and the parties’
ability to justly deal with discovery, summary judgment, class certification, and trial.
Additionally, in the absence of requiring a clearer pleading from Plaintiffs, the
Eleventh Circuit may deem the record too ambiguous for it to decide any issues on
appeal. Cf. Magluta v. Samples, 256 F.3d 1282, 1284 (11th Cir. 2001) (“We are
unwilling to address and decide serious constitutional issues on the basis of this
Therefore, Plaintiffs are HEREBY ORDERED to replead their claims
consistent with the above rulings and in a more definite and plausible fashion no later
than April 9, 2015. In redrafting, the court encourages Plaintiffs to refer to pattern
jury charges as a way to streamline their allegations and reduce the scope of their
currently cumbersome complaint into a more manageable and plausible pleading.
Plaintiffs are HEREBY CAUTIONED that their failure to replead in a concise and
meaningful manner may result in the dismissal of one or more of their claims with or
Lifting Of Stay And Potential Severance Of Litigation
On December 4, 2013, the court entered a stay of discovery “until Defendants
have answered or the court has addressed the merits of any subsequently filed
motion(s) to dismiss.” (Doc. 40 at 13). In light of the foregoing rulings, the court has
determined that Plaintiffs’ second amended and restated complaint contains claims
that survive Defendants’ Rule 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) challenges at this initial stage.
Consequently, postponing the entry of a scheduling order is no longer appropriate.
Accordingly, the stay is HEREBY LIFTED and the parties are HEREBY
ORDERED to meet for scheduling purposes and file a report of parties’ planning
meeting no later than April 30, 2015. When filing this report, the parties must address
whether a bifurcated scheduling process is a better approach (i.e., an initial
scheduling order addressing discovery and merits-based issues of the named plaintiffs
only and a second scheduling order to deal with class-based discovery and other Rule
23 issues, if necessary) than a scheduling framework in which individual and class
Within this report and, as discussed preliminarily during the hearing, the parties
must also address whether they are in agreement that severing this case into two
lawsuits is appropriate so that the claims involving the COA will be separate from
those involving the COG. If a party disagrees with this approach, then the status
report shall include an explanation of why along with any supporting case authority
for such position.
As set forth above, ECCRP and Ms. Zaner’s Motion and the COG and COA’s
Motion are both GRANTED IN PART and otherwise are DENIED. Plaintiffs are
HEREBY GRANTED until April 9, 2015, to replead only their plausible claims
(including their elements and any alleged factual support) in a non-shotgun format
consistent with the above rulings and other concerns addressed in this memorandum
opinion. Finally, the stay previously in place is HEREBY LIFTED, and the parties
are HEREBY ORDERED to meet and file their report of parties’ planning meeting
no later than April 30, 2015.
DONE and ORDERED this the 10th day of March, 2015.
VIRGINIA EMERSON HOPKINS
United States District Judge
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