Webb v. St. Joseph et al

Filing 92

MEMORANDUM RULING re 66 MOTION for Partial Summary Judgment filed by Ivan Webb, 67 MOTION for Summary Judgment filed by Edward L Brown, Town of St Joseph, 70 APPEAL OF MAGISTRATE JUDGE DECISION to District Judge re 64 Memor andum Order filed by Ivan Webb. Plaintiffs Motion for Partial Summary Judgment doc 66 is hereby DENIED. Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment doc 67 is hereby GRANTED. IT IS FURTHER ORDERED, in light of the Court's ruling on Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment, Plaintiffs Appeal of Magistrate Judge Decision doc 70 is hereby MOOT. Signed by Judge Donald E Walter on 3/7/17. (crt,Keller, J)

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UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT WESTERN DISTRICT OF LOUISIANA MONROE DIVISION IVAN WEBB CIVIL ACTION NO: 12-02644 VERSUS JUDGE DONALD E. WALTER TOWN OF ST. JOSEPH AND EDWARD BROWN MAG. JUDGE KAREN L. HA YES MEMORANDUM RULING Before the Co mi are the following two motions: Motion for Partial Summary Judgment, filed by Plaintiff Ivan Webb ("Plaintiff') [Doc. #66]; and Motion for Summary Judgment, filed by Defendants the Town of St. Joseph, Louisiana ("St. Joseph") and Edward Brown, the Mayor of St. Joseph ("the Mayor") (collectively, "Defendants") [Doc. #67]. 1 For the reasons that follow, Defendants' motion [Doc. #67] is GRANTED, and Plaintiffs motion [Doc. #66] is DENIED. STATEMENT OF THE CASE Plaintiff filed this lawsuit, pmsuant to 42 U.S.C. §1983, alleging violations of his rights m1der the F omieenth and Eighth Amendments to the United States Constitution. Plaintiff maintains that Defendants violated his Fourteenth Amendment due process rights by (1) charging him with parking a mobile home on his father's prope1iy without a permit for 582 days when the ticket noted a violation of only one day; (2) invoking the comi's process in obtaining a judgment against him for a fine of $5 8,200; and (3) enforcing the judgment by seizing his prope1iy and withholding his salary as an aldennan for the Town of St. Joseph. Plaintiff asserts Defendants violated his Eighth Amendment right to be free from excessive fines because the $58,200 fine was disprop01iionate to 1 Plaintiff's motion to strike Defendants' motion for summary judgment [Doc.#68] as untimely isDENIED. 1 the offense. 2 Facts and Procedural History3 In November of2006, Plaintiff obtained a permit to place one mobile home on his father's property in St. Joseph. Plaintiff then placed a second mobile home on the property without obtaining a second permit. On February 7, 2007, St. Joseph, through its Chief of Police, issued a ticket to Plaintiff for placing the second mobile home on the property in violation of Section 19-13 of St. Joseph's ordinances that "no building or other structure shall be built or constructed in the Town of St. Joseph without there being obtained a permit from the Mayor and Board[.]" Trial on the ticket was held before the Mayor's Court of St. Joseph on October 25, 2007. 4 The Mayor's Cami fotmd that Plaintiff violated the ordinance and rendered a judgment against Plaintiff for a fine of one htmdred dollars ($100) per day, begim1ing February 14, 2007, and tmtil such time as the trailer was removed from the prope1iy. Plaintiff appealed the decision to the 6th Judicial District Cami of Louisiana ("district comi"). On appeal, Plaintiff challenged whether he could be fined for violating the town ordinance for 582 days when the ticket only alleged he violated the ordinance for one day-February 7, 2007. The district court held a trial de nova on September 18, 2008, and ruled in favor of St. Joseph. The judgment ordered Plaintiff to pay St. Joseph a fine totaling $58,200 (representing $100 per day, for 582 days, beginning February 14, 2007, through the date of the district court trial). Plaintiff appealed 2 To the extent Plaintiff contends that Defendants have also violated his right to be free of excessive fines under mticle I, section 20 of the Louisiana Constitution, the analysis herein applies with equal force. 3 The facts of this case are largely undisputed.See generally Doc. #66-1 (Plaintiffs statement of uncontested facts) and Doc. #73-2 (Defendants' statement of contested material facts). Pursuant to Local Rule 56.1, the moving pmty shall file a shmt and concise statement of the material facts as to which it contends there is no genuine issue to be tried. Local Rule 56.2 requires that a pmty opposing the motion for summary judgment set forth a "shmt and concise statement of the material facts as to which there exists a genuine issue to be tried." All material facts set forth in the statement required to be served by the moving pmty "will be deemed admitted, for purposes of the motion, unless controverted as required by this rule." Local Rule 56.2. 4 The Louisiana Supreme Comt appointed Judge Glynn D. Roberts to preside in place of Mayor Brown. 2 the district comi' s judgment to the state appellate comi, but the appeal was dismissed due to Plaintiffs failure to pay appeal costs. From October 2010 to October 2012, St. Joseph withheld the wages Plaintiff earned as an elected alderman ($500 per month) in order to satisfy the outstanding judgment. St. Joseph also secured a writ offieri facias from the district court, which authorized it to seize and sell two local prope1iies that belonged to Plaintiff. In December 2010, Plaintiff filed a Motion to Annul Judgment and Stay Proceedings in the district court. Because the action originated in the Mayor's Cami which is limited to issuing fines of $500 or less, Plaintiff contended the district court's judgment imposing a $58,200 fine was an absolute nullity. The district court denied the motion. On May 17, 2011, Plaintiff filed a motion for suspensive appeal in Louisiana's Second Circuit Cami of Appeal ("circuit court"). In March 2012, the circuit comi annulled the district comi's judgment, holding that the $58,200 fine was illegal under Louisiana law because it fined Plaintiff for 5 82 violations of the town ordinance when the charging docmnent (the ticket) noted only one violation. 5 As a result, the circuit court reduced Plaintiffs fine to $100. Fmihe1more, Plaintiff regained possession of one of the previously seized lots, and was reimbursed $792 for the second lot, which had been sold at auction. Although Defendants continued to withhold Plaintiffs aldennan' s wages until October 2012, all withheld wages were ultimately returned in February 2013. According to Plaintiff, the Mayor and St. Joseph violated his constitutional rights by bringing an illegal suit against him, and withholding his alde1man' s wages in contravention of the circuit court's decision. Plaintiff alleges he incmTed economic damages; mental and emotional anguish and distress; loss of self-esteem and enjoyment oflife; and lost wages as a result of Defendants' actions. Thus, Plaintiff requests reasonable economic and compensatmy damages for these injuries m1der 5 See Town ofSt. Joseph v. Webb, 46-923 (La. Ct. App. 2 Cir. 3/14/12); 87 So. 3d 958, 963. 3 Section 1983. Plaintiff frniher requests fill awm·d of punitive dmnages against the Mayor to deter him from committing constitutional violations in the future. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) directs that a comi "shall grm1t summmy judgment if the movm1t shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact m1d the movm1t is entitled to judgment as amatter oflaw." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). 6 An issue is "genuine" if"the evidence is such that a reasonable jmy could return a verdict for the nonmoving pmiy." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A genuine issue can be resolved only by a trier of fact because it may be resolved in favor of either party. Id at 248-49. A fact is "material" if it can "affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law." Id Facts that m·e irrelevant or unnecessaiy for determination of the suit should not be considered. Id The substm1tive law will determine which facts are "material." Id The burden of proof in a summaiy judgment proceeding is on the party moving for summmy judgment. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 4 77 U.S. 317, 330 (1986). When a defendm1t moves for summaiy judgment on the plaintiffs claim, he may satisfy the summmy judgment burden in one of two ways: (1) by showing there is no evidence to suppmi an essential element of the plaintiffs claim, or (2) by submitting summaiy judgment evidence that negates one of the essential elements . ....... of the.plaintiff's~claim . .Celotex,A77U.S. at 322-24; Lavespere v.Niagara Mach &ToorWorks, Inc., 910 F.2d 167, 178 (5th Cir. 1990). If the motion is properly made, the plaintiff"must set forth facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250. The plaintiff"must 6 Rule 56 was amended effective December 1, 2010. Per the comments, the 2010 amendment was intended "to improve the procedures for presenting and deciding summary-judgment motions and to make the procedures more consistent with those already used in many courts. The standard for granting summary judgment remains unchanged." Therefore, the case law applicable to Rule 56 prior to its amendment remains authoritative, and this court will rely on it accordingly. 4 go beyond the pleadings and designate specific facts in the record showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Wallace v. Texas Tech. Univ., 80F.3d1042, 1047 (5th Cir. 1996) (citations omitted). The co mi is to resolve all reasonable doubts about the facts in favor of the plaintiff. Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. v. Farese, 423 F.3d 446, 456 (5th Cir. 2005). LAW AND ANALYSIS At issue in the paiiies' cross motions for summary judgment is whether there is sufficient evidence to sustain Plaintiffs Section 1983 claim against St. Joseph and the Mayor. Suit Against Mayor Brown Plaintiff contends that the Mayor violated his due process rights by withholding his alderman's salary. Presumably, Plaintiff filed suit against the Mayor in both his individual and official capacities, although this distinction is not briefed. The Mayor maintains he cannot be held liable in an individual capacity because, as a state official, he is entitled to qualified immmiity. Qualified immunity shields federal and state officials from money damages and "gives government officials breathing room to make reasonable but mistaken judgments about open legal questions .... [I]t protects all but the plainly incompetent who lmowingly violate the law." Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, 563 U.S. 731, 743 (2011). Additionally, "[p]laintiffs suing governmental officials in their individual capacities ... must allege specific conduct [and] facts giving rise to a constitutional violation." Oliver v. Scott, 276 F.3d 736, 741 (5th Cir. 2002). Plaintiff does not allege specific facts or conduct showing that the Mayor lmowingly, rather than mistalcenly, withheld his alderman's salary in violation of the law. Fmihermore, Plaintiffs withheld wages were retmned to him in full in Febrnary 2013, rectifying any mistake that occuned. Thus, the Mayor enjoys qualified immunity and cannot be sued in his individual capacity. Official capacity suits "generally represent only another way of pleading an action against 5 an entity of which an officer is an agent." Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 165 (1985) (citing Monell v. Dept't ofSoc. Servs. of City ofNY., 436 U.S. 658, 691 n.55 (1978)). Therefore, this lawsuit, as it relates to the Mayor in his official capacity, is essentially one and the same as the action against St. Joseph. Suit Against St. Joseph Mtmicipalities are considered persons subject to liability for purposes of Section 1983. Monell, 436 U.S. at 691. Municipal liability tmder Section 1983 requires proof of tlu·ee elements: (1) a policymaker, (2) an official policy, and (3) a violation of constitutional rights whose "moving force" is the policy or custom. Piotrowski v. City ofHouston, 237 F.3d 567, 578 (5th Cir. 2001) (citing Monell, 436 U.S. at 694). "[O]ur first inquiry in any case alleging municipal liability under § 1983 is the question whether there is a direct causal link between a municipal policy or custom and the alleged constitutional deprivation." City of Canton, Ohio v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 385 (1989). Fmihennore, "[e]ach and any policy which allegedly caused constitutional violations must be specifically identified by a plaintiff," so it may be determined whether the policy is facially constitutional or m1constitutional. Piotrowski, 237 F.3d at 579. For pmposes of Section 1983, a policy is "[a] policy statement, ordinance, regulation or decision that is officially adopted and prnmulgated by the municipality's lawmalcing officers or by an official to whonithelawn1akers have delegated policy-ma.Icing authority." Webster v. City ofHouston, 735 F.2d 838, 841 (5th Cir. 1984) (per curiam). A custom amounting to policy may be established by a "persistent, widespread practice of city officials or employees, which, although not authorized by officially adopted and promulgated policy, is so common and well settled as to constitute a custom that fairly represents a municipal policy." Id. Rarely, a plaintiff may establish the existence of a 6 policy based on an isolated decision made by an authorized policymaker who possesses "final policymaking authority" for the action in question. Brown v. Bryan Cty., Oka., 219 F.3d 450, 461 (5th Cir. 2000). In the case at bar, Plaintiff does not identify any municipal policy or custom as the moving force behind a constitutional violation. Rather, Plaintiff alleges that the attorney for St. Joseph exercised final policymaking authority in preparing and enforcing the district court's judgment against him in violation of his constitutional rights. Thus, the question before this Court is whether St. Joseph's attorney is an official whose decisions represent municipal policy. "[W]hether a particular official has final policymaking authority is a question of state law." Jett v. Dallas Indep. Sch. Dist., 491 U.S. 701, 737 (1989) (internal quotations omitted) (emphasis in the original). Regarding the role of a municipal attorney, Louisiana law states: The mayor, subject to confirmation by the board of aldermen, may appoint and fix compensation for an attorney at law for the municipality, whose duties in such capacity may include representation of all municipal officers as defined by R.S. 33:381(A) in actions against them in connection with and arising out of their functions as such officers, and other duties as prescribed by the mayor. The municipality may also employ counsel to represent its interest should the occasion require. La. Rev. Stat. 33:386(C). The statute creating a municipal attorney's position does not identify __ the_attorney,§.~~J!!l~Lrn11ository--'ofany-policymakingauthority:Rather,-thestatufoma.Kes"cfear"--'----- .:.-~~~-----·-----~··- that the municipal attorney is to act in a representative capacity, and answers to the mayor and municipal officers. The Fifth Circuit has also noted that "[c]ity policymakers not only govern conduct; they decide the goals for a particular city function and devise the means of achieving those goals." Bennett v. City ofSlidell, 728 F.2d 762, 769 (5th Cir. 1984). Plaintiff has made no showing that St. Joseph's attorney decided goals for St. Joseph or created any policy affecting the 7 town at large. Moreover, Plaintiff has failed to allege sufficient facts showing that St. Joseph delegated policymaking authority to its municipal attorney. While it is true that a municipal attorney may make strategic decisions during litigation, "the delegation of policymaking authority requires more than a showing of mere discretion or decisionmaking authority on the part of the delegee." Id. In this case, St. Joseph's municipal attorney clearly does not meet the definition of a final policymaker. Thus, the attorney's decisions do not equate to official municipal policy. Because Plaintiff has failed to identify a policy as the cause of his constitutional deprivation, no municipal liability can attach. CONCLUSION For the reasons stated herein, Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. #67] is hereby GRANTED. Plaintiffs Motion for Partial Summary Judgment [Doc. #66] is hereby DENIED. IT IS FURTHER ORDERED, in light of the Court's ruling on Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment, Plaintiffs Appeal of Magistrate Judge Decision [Doc. #70] is hereby MOOT. THUS DONE AND SIGNED in Shreveport, Louisiana, this L day of March, 2017. DONALDE. WALTER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE 8

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