Lafrance v. New Orleans City et al
ORDER & REASONS granting 4 Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim. Party Robert Kazik (Judicial Administrator) and Orleans Parish Criminal District Court dismissed. Signed by Judge Sarah S. Vance on 3/17/2017. (mmm)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF LOUISIANA
NEW ORLEANS CITY, ET AL.
SECTION “R” (2)
ORDER AND REASONS
Defendants Orleans Parish Criminal District Court and Judicial
Administrator Robert Kazik (collectively, the Judicial Defendants) move to
dismiss plaintiff Joseph LaFrance’s claims against them. For the following
reasons, the Court grants the motion.
Plaintiff Joseph LaFrance alleges that he was arrested on an invalid
warrant for unpaid fines and fees and held for three weeks in Orleans Parish
Prison without being brought before a judge. 1 LaFrance further alleges that
no bond was ever set in his case.2 While incarcerated, LaFrance allegedly
suffered several seizures and lost his job.3 LaFrance names the City of New
R. Doc. 1 at 8.
Id. at 9.
Orleans, the Orleans Parish Criminal District Court (OPCDC), Judicial
Administrator Robert Kazik, and Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman as
LaFrance challenges his arrest and incarceration on several grounds.
Specifically, LaFrance alleges that:
1. LaFrance had, in fact, paid all fines and fees due to the court, and
his warrant was therefore issued in error. 5
2. Defendants have a policy of issuing and enforcing such
nonpayment warrants without inquiry into the subject’s ability
to pay, and this practice violates the Fourth and Fourteenth
Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. 6
3. LaFrance was “indefinitely” jailed in violation of the Due Process
Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and LaFrance’s
incarceration constitutes wrongful arrest and imprisonment
under Louisiana law. 7
4. LaFrance was deprived of his right to a neutral tribunal because
the prosecutor and judicial officer that seek and approve
Id. at 6-7.
Id. at 32.
Id. at 33.
Id. at 33, 35.
nonpayment warrants, and conduct subsequent hearings, are
financially interested in the outcome of such cases. 8
5. Defendants imposed unduly restrictive methods of collection on
LaFrance in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the
Fourteenth Amendment. 9
The Judicial Defendants now move to dismiss all claims against them.
In support, the Judicial Defendants argue that OPCDC is not a “person”
under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and that claims for damages against OPCDC are
barred by the Eleventh Amendment. As to Kazik, the Judicial Defendants
argue that LaFrance’s claims against him are barred by quasi-judicial
Defendants move to dismiss under Rules 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). To
survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the plaintiff must plead “enough
facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal,
556 U.S. 662, 697 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544,
570 (2007)). A claim is facially plausible when the plaintiff pleads facts that
Id. at 33-34.
Id. at 34-35.
allow the court to “draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable
for the misconduct alleged.” Id. at 678. A court must accept all well-pleaded
facts as true and must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff.
See Lormand v. US Unwired, Inc., 565 F.3d 228, 239 (5th Cir. 2009); Baker
v. Putnal, 75 F.3d 190, 196 (5th Cir. 1996).
Rule 12(b)(1) requires dismissal of an action if the court lacks
jurisdiction over the subject matter of the plaintiff’s claim.
submitted under Rule 12(b)(1) allow a party to challenge the court’s subject
matter jurisdiction based upon the allegations on the face of the complaint.
Barrera–Montenegro v. United States, 74 F.3d 657, 659 (5th Cir. 1996); see
also Lopez v. City of Dallas, Tex., No. 03–2223, 2006 WL 1450420, at *2
(N.D. Tex. May 24, 2006). In ruling on a Rule 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss,
the court may rely on (1) the complaint alone, presuming the allegations to
be true; (2) the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts; or (3) the
complaint supplemented by undisputed facts and by the court’s resolution of
disputed facts. Den Norske Stats Oljeselskap As v. HeereMac Vof, 241 F.3d
420, 424 (5th Cir. 2001); see also Barrera–Montenegro, 74 F.3d at 659. The
plaintiff bears the burden of demonstrating that subject matter jurisdiction
exists. See Paterson v. Weinberger, 644 F.2d 521, 523 (5th Cir. 1981).
The Judicial Defendants move to dismiss claims against OPCDC and
Kazik. The Court considers each defendant in turn.
A. Orleans Parish Criminal District Court
The Judicial Defendants argue that OPCDC is entitled to immunity
under the Eleventh Amendment. Courts in this and other circuits routinely
hold that state courts are immune from suit under the Eleventh Amendment.
See, e.g., Jefferson v. La. State Supreme Court, 46 F. App’x 732, *1 (5th Cir.
2002) (“The Eleventh Amendment clearly bars [plaintiff’s] § 1983 claims
against the Louisiana Supreme Court, which is a branch of Louisiana’s state
government.”); Bourgeois v. Par. of Jefferson, 20 F.3d 465, *1 (5th Cir. 1994)
(holding that the Orleans Parish Civil District Court is “an agency of the
state” entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity); Summers v. Louisiana,
No. 13-4573, 2013 WL 3818560, at *4 (E.D. La. July 22, 2013) (holding that
an official capacity claim against a state court judge “would in reality be a
claim against the state itself, and . . . would be barred by the Eleventh
Amendment”); Wilkerson v. 17th Judicial Dist. Court, No. 08-1196, 2009
WL 249737, at *4 (E.D. La. Jan. 30, 2009) (“It is clear that the Eleventh
Amendment bars § 1983 claims against a state court.”); Rackley v.
Louisiana, No. 07-504, 2007 WL 1792524, at *3 (E.D. La. June 21, 2007)
(“[T]he Eleventh Amendment likewise bars § 1983 claims against a state
court.”); see generally Harris v. Champion, 51 F.3d 901, 905-06 (10th Cir.
1995) (holding that Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals is immune from
suit under Eleventh Amendment as “a governmental entity that is an arm of
the state”); Landers Seed Co., Inc. v. Champaign Nat’l Bank, 15 F.3d 729,
731-32 (7th Cir. 1994) (“The Eleventh Amendment, however, bars federal
suits against state courts and other branches of state government[.]”); Clark
v. Clark, 984 F.2d 272, 273 (8th Cir. 1993) (“Courts are not persons within
the meaning of 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and, if they were, the action would be barred
by the Eleventh Amendment anyway.”). The Court finds LaFrance’s attempt
to distinguish this weighty precedent unconvincing.
Even if OPCDC were not immune, LaFrance’s federal claims against
OPCDC must fail because OPCDC is not a “person” subject to suit under
section 1983. See Dunn v. Louisiana, No. 10-4519, 2011 WL 445684, at *1
(E.D. La. Feb. 3, 2011) (adopting Report and Recommendation concluding
that Section K of the Orleans Parish Criminal District Court is not a section
1983 person); see also Mumford v. Basinski, 105 F.3d 264, 267 (6th Cir.
1997) (“A state court is not a ‘person’ for purposes of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and
hence is not subject to lawsuit under that statute.”). Accordingly, LaFrance’s
claims against OPCDC must be dismissed.
B. Judicial Administrator Kazik
LaFrance sues Kazik in both his official and individual capacities. As
the Fifth Circuit has noted, “[o]fficial capacity suits generally represent
another way of pleading an action against an entity of which an officer is an
agent.” Burge v. Par. of St. Tammany, 187 F.3d 452, 466 (5th Cir. 1999).
Accordingly, LaFrance’s official capacity claims against Kazik are barred for
the reasons offered above.
As to the individual capacity claims, Defendants argue that Kazik is
entitled to absolute immunity because at all times he was assisting the judges
of OPCDC in carrying out their judicial functions. “Despite the broad terms
of § 1983,” the Supreme Court “has long recognized” that immunity doctrines
protect certain potential defendants from liability under the statute.
Rehberg v. Paulk, 566 U.S. 356, 361 (2012). For example, judges are
absolutely immune from monetary liability “for all judicial acts that are not
performed in the clear absence of jurisdiction, however erroneous the act and
however evil the motive.” Johnson v. Kegans, 870 F.2d 992, 995 (5th Cir.
1989) (citing Stump v. Sparkman, 435 U.S. 349 (1978)). As a derivative of
this immunity, “other necessary participants in the judicial process are
entitled to absolute quasi-judicial immunity.” Kirkendall v. Grambling &
Mounce, Inc., 4 F.3d 989, 1993 WL 360732, at *3 (5th Cir. 1993) (citation
This absolute quasi-judicial immunity “protects officials that
perform functions comparable to those of judges. . . .” Da Vinci Inv., Ltd.
P’ship v. Parker, 622 F. App’x 367, 373 (5th Cir. 2015) (quoting Beck v. Tex.
Bd. of Dental Exam’rs, 204 F.3d 629 (5th Cir. 2000)). In determining
whether an official is entitled to absolute quasi-judicial immunity, courts
must take a “functional approach”—looking to “the nature of the function
performed, not the identity or title of the actor who performed it.” Buckley
v. Fitzsimmons, 509 U.S. 259, 269 (1993).
Consistent with this “functional approach,” courts often hold that other
judicial employees, such as clerks of court, law clerks, and others, enjoy
absolute quasi-judicial immunity when “performing a ministerial function at
the direction of the judge.” Williams v. Wood, 612 F.2d 982, 985 (5th Cir.
1980) (quoting Waits v. McGowan, 516 F.2d 2013, 206 (3d Cir. 1975)); see
generally Evans v. Suter, 260 F. App’x 726, 727 (5th Cir. 2007) (“Clerks have
absolute quasi-judicial immunity . . . when they perform tasks that are an
integral part of the judicial process.” (citing Mullis v. United States Bankr.
Court, 828 F.2d 1385, 1390 (9th Cir. 1987)); Bliven v. Hunt, 579 F.3d 204,
214 (2d Cir. 2009) (granting absolute immunity to family court staff
attorneys); Olivia v. Heller, 839 F.2d 37, 40 (2d Cir. 1988) (“[F]or purposes
of absolute judicial immunity, judges and their law clerks are as one.”). In
other words, judicial employees are absolutely immune when they act,
whether “in bad faith or with malice” pursuant to a court order or a judge’s
instructions because the employee is “act[ing] as the arm of the judge and
comes within his absolute immunity.” Williams, 612 F.2d at 985; accord
Johnson, 870 F.2d at 998 (describing parole board members as “serving
essentially as the arm of the sentencing judge”); Severin v. Parish of
Jefferson, 357 F. App’x 601, 605 (5th Cir. 2009) (granting absolute immunity
to “employees of the Louisiana Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal who acted
pursuant to the procedures allegedly implemented by the judges”).
A judicial directive that cloaks court employees with absolute
immunity may be formal and official, such as a court order, or more informal,
such as verbal communication from a judge. See, e.g., Severin, 357 F. App’x
at 603. LaFrance sues Kazik for his role as supervisor of the OPCDC’s
Collections Department.10 LaFrance asserts that Collections Department
employees both “seek” and “issue” arrest warrants against criminal
defendants who fail to pay fines and fees.11 The Collections Department
allegedly issued LaFrance’s warrant—and signed Judge Davilier-Flemings’
name—without presenting information to or notifying a judge. 12
R. Doc. 1 at 7.
Id. at 17.
Id. at 2-3.
In portraying Kazik as “seeking” warrants rather than merely “issuing”
them, plaintiffs hope to tie Kazik to decisions applying qualified immunity to
police and probation officers who submit insufficient affidavits to magistrate
judges in support of warrants. See, e.g., Malley v. Briggs, 475 U.S. 335, 343
(1986); Galvan v. Garmon, 710 F.2d 214, 215-16 (5th Cir. 1983). But unlike
the officers in Malley and Galvan, Kazik does not ask for issuance of a
warrant based on his own investigation. Rather, Kazik is delegated the
authority to issue warrants by judges. This conclusion is supported by an
evidentiary hearing transcript referenced in LaFrance’s complaint. 13 In the
hearing, Shannon Sims, Deputy OPCDC Judicial Administrator, explains
that the authority to issue Collections Warrants is given to the Collections
Department by the judges of OPCDC. According to Ms. Sims, one section of
Court, Section A, issues its own warrants rather than delegating that
responsibility to the Collections Department. As made clear by Ms. Sims’
testimony, when Kazik issues warrants he stands in the shoes of a judge
under a judge’s direction. When Kazik’s authority to issue warrants is
See Id at 3 n.1 (citing Transcript of Evidentiary Hearing in State of
Louisiana v. Michael Addison, No. 426-246J, Jan. 30, 2015.). Uncontested
documents referred to in the pleadings may be considered by the court
without converting the motion to one for summary judgment, even when the
documents are not physically attached to the complaint. See Great Plains
Trust Co. v. Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Co., 313 F.3d 305, 313 (5th Cir.
rescinded, a judge takes over. In this way Kazik allegedly “perform[s]
functions comparable to those of judges,” and is entitled to absolute
immunity. Parker, 622 F. App’x at 373 (quoting Beck v. Tex. State Bd. of
Dental Exam’rs, 204 F.3d 629, 634 (5th Cir. 2000)).
Because, according to LaFrance’s allegations, Kazik acted according to
“procedures allegedly implemented by the judges [and] at the express
direction of the judges, to assist them in carrying out their judicial functions,”
Kazik is also protected by absolute quasi-judicial immunity. Severin, 357 F.
App’x at 603; see also Rogers v. Bruntrager, 841 F.2d 853, 856 (8th Cir.
1988) (immunizing “deputy circuit clerk [who] issued the arrest warrant at
the direction of the assistant circuit judge”). LaFrance’s individual capacity
claims against Kazik must therefore be dismissed.
For the foregoing reasons, defendants’ motion is GRANTED.
claims against defendants Orleans Parish Criminal District Court and
Judicial Administrator Robert Kazik are DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.
New Orleans, Louisiana, this _____ day of March, 2017.
SARAH S. VANCE
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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