Caliste et al v. Cantrell
ORDER AND REASONS denying 12 MOTION to Dismiss filed by Defendant Harry E. Cantrell. IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the parties shall attend a status conference in chambers set for 9/7/2017 at 8:30 a.m. Signed by Judge Eldon E. Fallon on 8/25/2017.(jls)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF LOUISIANA
ADRIAN CALISTE AND BRAIN GISCLAIR,
INDIVIDUALLY AND ON BEHALF OF ALL
OTHERS SIMILARLY SITUATED
HARRY E. CANTRELL, MAGISTRATE JUDGE *
OF ORLEANS PARISH CRIMINAL DISTRICT *
ORDER & REASONS
Before the Court is Defendant Harry E. Cantrell Motion to Dismiss. R. Doc. 12. Plaintiff
opposes the motion. R. Doc. 25. The Court held oral arguments on this matter on August 23,
2017. Having considered the parties’ arguments, submissions, and the applicable law, the Court
now issues this Order and Reasons.
On June 27, 2017, a group of Plaintiffs filed suit as a class against one Criminal District
Court Judge; Magistrate Judge Harry Cantrell. Plaintiff’s Motion to Certify a Class has been
continued. R. Doc. 5, 31. This case arises from Defendant Magistrate Judge Cantrell’s allegedly
unconstitutional practice of imposing unreasonably expensive secured financial conditions of
release upon arrestees without inquiring about their ability to pay. R. Doc. 1 at 1. Named
Plaintiffs are two criminal defendants with cases pending in the Orleans Parish Criminal District
Court. R. Doc. 1 at 2-3. They appear as class representative for the putative class. Defendant
Harry Cantrell is the Magistrate Judge for Orleans Parish Criminal District Court, among his
duties is to set bail for those arrested. He also has a role in managing the expenditures of the
Judicial Expense Fund. R. Doc. 1 at 3.
Plaintiffs, as class representatives, allege that Defendant routinely sets a $2,500 minimum
secured money bond. Plaintiffs contend Judge Cantrell sets bond without considering the facts of
the case to determine whether a lower bond amount or an alternative condition of release might
be appropriate. R. Doc. 1 at 6. Plaintiffs further aver that Defendant requires the use of a forprofit bail bond and does not allow arrestees to post cash bail. R. Doc. 1 at 2. Plaintiffs contend
that this policy involves a conflict of interest because under Louisiana law, 1.8% of a bond
amount collected from a commercial surety (but not from any other type of bond) is allocated
directly to the Court for its discretionary use. R. Doc. 1 at 2. Plaintiffs argue that this policy of
refusing to consider a criminal defendant’s ability to pay, alternative conditions of release, or a
lower bond, as well as the resulting institutional financial conflict, violate the Due Process and
Equal Protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. R. Doc. 1. Thus, Plaintiffs seek a
declaratory judgement that Defendant’s bond policy, which results in the creation of a modern
“debtor’s prison,” is a violation of Plaintiffs’ constitutional rights, and a declaration that
Defendant’s financial conflict of interest violates the Due Process rights of criminal defendants.
R. Doc. 1 at 26.
Defendant has filed a Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction. R. Doc.
12. Defendant raises two issues, standing and abstention. R. Doc. 12-1 at 1.
First, Defendant argues that Plaintiffs whose criminal proceedings have concluded no
longer have a case or controversy and therefore lack standing. R. Doc. 12-1 at 2. Defendant
asserts that these Plaintiffs lack standing because they are not currently injured (have no pending
criminal cases) and are unlikely to suffer the same injury via Defendant in the future. R. Doc. 121 at 5. Defendant highlights the Court’s opinion in Cain v. City of New Orleans (15-4479). R.
Doc. 12-1 at 5. There, the Court held that plaintiffs who had already paid their debts lacked
standing because their potential future interest was too speculative. 15-4479, R. Doc. 109 at 1821; R. Doc. 12-1 at 5. The Court reasoned that it “must assume that the plaintiffs ‘will conduct
their activities within the law and so avoid prosecution and conviction as well as exposure to the
challenged course of conduct.’” 15-4479, R. Doc. 109 at 18-21 (quoting O’Shea v. Littleton, 414
U.S. 488, 496 (1974)).
Second, Defendant argues that Plaintiffs’ ongoing criminal proceedings require federal
abstention under the Younger doctrine. R. Doc. 12-1 at 2, 6. The Fifth Circuit applies the
Younger doctrine when the following conditions are met: “(1) the federal proceeding would
interfere with an ongoing state judicial proceeding; (2) the state has an important interest in
regulating the subject matter of the claim; and (3) the plaintiff has an adequate opportunity in the
state proceedings to raise constitutional challenges.” Bice v. Louisiana Pub. Def. Bd., 677 F.3d
712, 716 (5th Cir. 2012) (internal quotations omitted).
Defendant asserts that the first condition is met because there are ongoing state court
criminal proceedings against the named plaintiffs and other class members and that a federal
proceeding will interfere with the state court’s ability to handle these proceedings. R. Doc. 12-1
at 7. Defendant contends that the second condition is met because the state has an important
interest in criminal law enforcement and the Fifth Circuit has held abstention appropriate when
there are current state criminal proceedings against a federal plaintiff. Bice, 677 F.3d 712; R.
Doc. 12-1 at 7. Finally, Defendant argues that the third condition is met because Plaintiffs will
have an adequate opportunity during the current state criminal proceedings and in future appeals
to raise their constitutional concerns. R. Docs. 12-1 at 8, 37 at 1.
LAW & ANALYSIS
a. Motion to Dismiss Standard
Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure governs challenges to a court’s
subject matter jurisdiction. A court must dismiss a case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction
“when the court lacks the statutory or constitutional power to adjudicate the case.” Home
Builders Ass'n of Miss., Inc. v. City of Madison, 143 F.3d 1006, 1010 (5th Cir. 1998) (quoting
Nowak v. Ironworkers Local 6 Pension Fund, 81 F.3d 1182, 1187 (2d Cir. 1996)).
Dismissal under Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure is appropriate when
subject matter jurisdiction is lacking. Ramming v. United States, 281 F.3d 158, 161 (5th Cir.
2001). The party asserting jurisdiction bears the burden of proof. Id. (citing Barrera-Montenegro
v. United States, 74 F.3d 657, 659 (5th Cir. 1996)).
A court reviewing subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) may base its
opinion on the face of the complaint, “the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts
evidenced in the record,” or “the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts plus the court's
resolution of disputed facts.” Ramming, 281 F.3d at 161 (internal citations omitted). A district
court evaluating subject matter jurisdiction “must resolve disputed facts without giving a
presumption of truthfulness to the plaintiff's allegations.” Vantage Trailers, Inc. v. Beall Corp.,
567 F.3d 745, 748 (5th Cir. 2009) (citing Williamson v. Tucker, 645 F.2d 404, 413 (5th Cir.
Article III of the Constitution limits the jurisdiction of the judiciary to “cases” or
“controversies.” U.S. Const. III, § 2. “No principle is more fundamental to the judiciary’s proper
role in our system of government than the constitutional limitation of federal-court jurisdiction to
actual cases or controversies.” DaimlerChrylser Corp. v. Cuno, 547 U.S. 332, at 341–42 (2006)
(quoting Simon v. Eastern Ky. Welfare Rights Organization, 426 U.S. 26, 37 (1976)). In order to
satisfy the Constitution’s Article 3 standing requirements, a plaintiff must show, (1) that he has
suffered an “injury in fact” that is (a) concrete and particularized and (b) actual or imminent, not
conjectural or hypothetical; (2) the injury is fairly traceable to the challenged action of the
defendant; and (3) 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).
To meet the case or controversy requirement, plaintiffs “must allege some threatened or
actual injury resulting from the [defendants’] putatively illegal action before a federal court may
assume jurisdiction.” O’Shea, 414 U.S. at 493. “Abstract injury is not enough. . . . The injury or
threat of injury must be both real and immediate.” Id. at 494 (quoting Golden v. Zwickler, 394
U.S. 103, 109-110 (1969)). If a plaintiff is seeking equitable relief, it is not sufficient that they
were previously exposed to illegal conduct; rather, prior exposure must be “. . . accompanied by .
. . continuing, present adverse effects.” Id. at 495-96. However, when plaintiffs who were injured
at the time of the filing of the suit, by incarceration or deprivation of due process, bring due
process violation claims, these claims are not mooted by plaintiff’s subsequent release from
custody or provision of due process. See Cty. of Riverside v. McLaughlin, 500 U.S. 44, 52 (1991)
(holding plaintiffs’ claims not mooted by release from custody or provision of probable cause
hearing after filing of complaint).
Named and proposed Plaintiffs in this putative class action have criminal cases pending
before Defendant. Therefore, they have ongoing actual injuries, traceable to the defendant, and
will likely be redressed by a favorable decision. Defendant argues that Named Plaintiff Gisclair
lacks standing because he has been released from custody subsequent to the filing of this suit. R.
Doc. 32 at 2. However, in Cain v. City of New Orleans, 186 F. Supp. 3d 536 (E.D. La. 2016), the
Court only dismissed plaintiffs for lack of standing who were not incarcerated or did not have
court debts outstanding at the time the suit was filed. Id. at 546-47 n.62. Here, Plaintiff Gisclair
was incarcerated at the time the suit was filed and his claim is not mooted by his release from
custody. Therefore, Plaintiff Gisclair has standing to bring this claim. Finally, regarding the
putative class members, there are issues related to standing that may depend on facts not present
at this time.
The Younger abstention doctrine applies when exercising federal jurisdiction would
interfere with an ongoing state criminal proceeding. 403 U.S. 37 (1971). Application of the
Younger doctrine is appropriate when three requirements are satisfied: “(1) the federal
proceeding would interfere with an ongoing state judicial proceeding; (2) the state has an
important interest in regulating the subject matter of the claim; and (3) the plaintiff has an
adequate opportunity in the state proceedings to raise constitutional challenges.” Bice, 677 F.3d
at 716 (internal quotations omitted). The Fifth Circuit has held that “[u]nder the rule set out by
the United States Supreme Court in Younger v. Harris, federal courts must refrain from
considering requests for injunctive relief based upon constitutional challenges to state criminal
proceedings pending at the time the federal action is instituted.” Harvey v. Cannizzaro, No. 121187, 2012 WL 1946435, at *3 (E.D. La. May 30, 2012).
However, “a necessary predicate for a Younger dismissal . . . is, the opportunity to raise
and have timely decided by a competent state tribunal the federal issues involved.” Yamaha
Motor Corp. U.S.A. v. Riney, 21 F.3d 793, 797 (8th Cir. 1994). Further, the opportunity for
appeal does not negate a denial of due process in the initial proceeding. Ward v. Village of
Monroeville, Ohio, 409 U.S. 57, 61 (1972). Defendant argues that adequate appeals are available
in the state courts and that, under Esso Standard Oil Co. v. Lopez-Freytes, Plaintiffs must
complete the state court appeal process before coming to the federal court for relief. 522 F.3d
136, 141 (1st Cir. 2008). On the contrary, in Esso the court reasoned that abstention was
appropriate “because [Plaintiff] had not yet demonstrated irreparable harm,” rather than
reasoning that Plaintiff was required to complete the state court appeal process. Id.
Allegations contained on the face of Plaintiffs’ complaint are sufficient to support denial
of their 14th Amendment rights to due process for purposes of determining subject matter
jurisdiction. The merits of Plaintiffs’ complaint are not yet at issue. Plaintiffs allege that
Defendant Judge Cantrell does not adequately inquire into Plaintiff’s ability to pay the set bond
or consider alternative conditions of release. R. Doc. 1 at 1, 4. Further, they claim that Plaintiffs
do not have an adequate opportunity to raise the relevant claim in Criminal District Court. R.
Doc. 1 at 9-11. They allege that when constitutional arguments regarding bond policies and
practices are raised that Magistrate Cantrell refuses to consider the arguments and threatens to
hold defense counsel in contempt. R. Doc. 1 at 12-13.
While these Plaintiffs have various procedural mechanisms available to challenge the
bonds set by Defendant, the delay required by these appeals is problematic because the damage
is done by the time the appeal is perfected. Named Plaintiffs and members of the proposed class
will suffer irreparable harm via incarceration and/or the financial burden of the bonds even if
their appeals are eventually successful. Additionally, any appeals would not abrogate denial of
due process during initial bond hearings. See Ward, 409 U.S. at 61.
Therefore, this Court has subject matter jurisdiction and Younger abstention is not
appropriate. Plaintiffs’ complaint is sufficient on its face to make a claim of denial of due
process. Further, Plaintiffs have not and likely will not have an adequate opportunity in the state
court to raise constitutional challenges in a manner that prevents irreparable harm.
For the foregoing reasons, IT IS ORDERED that the Motion to Dismiss filed by
Defendant Harry E. Cantrell is hereby DENIED.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the parties shall attend a status conference in
chambers set for September 7, 2017, at 8:30 a.m.
New Orleans, Louisiana, this 25 day of August, 2017.
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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