Bice v. Louisiana Public Defender Bd
Justia.com Opinion Summary: Plaintiff brought suit against the Board, arguing that the fee charged at the conclusion of his public intoxication and public inhabitation case violated his rights under the Sixth Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment because it discouraged public defenders from exonerating their clients. Louisiana's funding mechanism for indigent defense required indigent defendants who were found guilty, or plead nolo contendere, to pay a $35 fee at the conclusion of their cases, but it did not require defendants who were exonerated to pay the fee. The district court ruled that abstention was required under the Younger doctrine and, alternatively, that plaintiff did not state a claim for relief under the Sixth or Fourteenth Amendment. Because the court held that the district court did not err in abstaining from exercising jurisdiction over plaintiff's lawsuit, the court affirmed the judgment of the district court.
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Case: 11-30537 Document: 00511823276 Page: 1 Date Filed: 04/16/2012 IN THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS United States Court of Appeals FOR THE FIFTH CIRCUIT Fifth Circuit FILED April 16, 2012 No. 11-30537 Lyle W. Cayce Clerk STEVEN BICE, on his own behalf, and on behalf of a class of all similarly situated indigent criminal defendants, Plaintiff - Appellant, v. LOUISIANA PUBLIC DEFENDER BOARD, Defendant - Appellee. Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana Before STEWART, CLEMENT, and GRAVES, Circuit Judges. CARL E. STEWART, Circuit Judge: After Steven Bice was charged with public intoxication and public inhabitation, he was brought before the Municipal Court of the City of New Orleans and qualified for representation by a public defender. Louisianaâs funding mechanism for indigent defense requires indigent defendants who are found guilty, plead guilty, or plead nolo contendere to pay a $35 fee at the conclusion of their cases, but it does not require defendants who are exonerated to pay the $35 fee. Bice brought suit against the Louisiana Public Defender Board (the âBoardâ), arguing that this fee violates his rights under the Sixth Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution by Case: 11-30537 Document: 00511823276 Page: 2 Date Filed: 04/16/2012 No. 11-30537 discouraging public defenders from exonerating their clients. The district court ruled that abstention was required under the Younger doctrine and, alternatively, that Bice did not state a claim for relief under the Sixth Amendment or the Fourteenth Amendment. Because we hold that the district court did not err when it abstained from exercising jurisdiction over Biceâs lawsuit, we AFFIRM the district courtâs judgment. I. The Public Defender Reform Act, enacted by the Louisiana legislature in 2007, was intended to reform Louisianaâs entire system of indigent defense, including âconsolidated management and oversight at the state level, professionalization of local offices, and a permanent funding mechanis[m] through the establishment of local indigent defender systems.â It was supported by a range of groups across Louisiana, including the Louisiana Public Defenders Association, the Louisiana State Bar Associationâs Right to Counsel Committee and the Louisiana Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. Among the provisions in the Public Defender Reform Act was La. R.S. Â§ 15-168, which provides that a $35 fee âshall be assessed in cases in which a defendant is convicted after a trial, a plea of guilty or nolo contendere, or after forfeiting bond and shall be in addition to all other fines, costs, or forfeitures imposed.â The $35 fee is to be collected within each court of original criminal jurisdiction and in mayorsâ courts in cities having fewer than 5,000 residents, and then remitted to a fund administered by the public defender in each judicial district. Id. The statute provides that the money in that fund can only be used to deliver indigent defender services in that district. Id. Section 15-168 proved less successful at raising funds than the Board had hoped, however, because judges often refused to assess the fees against defendants. Accordingly, the Board brought a mandamus suit in 2010 against all Orleans Parish judges with criminal jurisdiction, seeking an order that 2 Case: 11-30537 Document: 00511823276 Page: 3 Date Filed: 04/16/2012 No. 11-30537 judges in Orleans Parish be forced to assess the fees. The writ of mandamus was issued against all judges in Orleans Parish with criminal jurisdiction. On February 23, 2011, Steven Bice was arrested in Orleans Parish on charges of public intoxication and public habitation. After his arrest, Bice was qualified for representation by the indigent defenderâs office. When Bice appeared in New Orleans Municipal Court on these charges, the New Orleans Municipal Judge appointed the Tulane Law Clinic to represent Bice with respect to Biceâs challenge to the constitutionality of La. R.S. Â§ 15-168. The New Orleans Municipal Judge also ordered the municipal court proceedings to continue uninterrupted against Bice. Bice failed to appear for his last scheduled court date in the municipal court proceeding. Bice brought suit against the Louisiana Public Defender Board in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, arguing that La. R.S. Â§ 15-168 violated his rights under the Sixth Amendment and the Fourteenth Amendment.1 He filed a complaint on his own behalf and on behalf of similarly situated plaintiffs on February 28, 2011, asserting claims under 42 U.S.C. Â§ 1983. He then moved to certify a class on March 1, 2011, but the district court never ruled on the motion. On March 11, 2011, the Board filed a motion to dismiss; on March 30, 2011, Bice filed a motion for summary judgment. The parties argued their respective motions before the district court on May 11, 2011. After a lengthy colloquy with the attorneys for both sides, the district court ruled from the bench. The district court held that the prerequisites for Younger abstention were satisfied. In the alternative, the district court held that Bice did not state a claim under section 1983 for violation of his rights under either the Sixth Amendment or the Fourteenth Amendment.2 1 Bice has not raised these constitutional challenges in the municipal court proceeding. 2 Even though it abstained under Younger, the district court addressed the merits of Biceâs claims by assessing whether the case presented âextraordinary circumstancesâ such that 3 Case: 11-30537 Document: 00511823276 Page: 4 Date Filed: 04/16/2012 No. 11-30537 The district court therefore denied Biceâs motion for summary judgment and granted the Boardâs motion to dismiss. This timely appeal followed. II. A. This court reviews a district courtâs abstention ruling for abuse of discretion, but it reviews de novo whether the elements for Younger abstention are present. Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971); Tex. Assân of Bus. v. Earle, 388 F.3d 515, 518 (5th Cir. 2004). âA court necessarily abuses its discretion when it abstains outside of the doctrineâs strictures.â Tex. Assân of Bus., 388 F.3d at 518 (quoting Webb v. B.C. Rogers Poultry, Inc., 174 F.3d 697, 701 (5th Cir. 1999)). it justified invoking an exception to the Younger doctrine: But I wanted to really address the merits of this, and thatâs why I wanted to consider whether â because you had very compelling arguments as it would relate [to the] Sixth Amendment, as it relates to Equal Protection under the Fourteenth Amendment, so I wanted to address those as well, and thatâs why maybe we all got a little creative and said letâs address that under the extraordinary circumstances. With respect to Biceâs Sixth Amendment claim, the district court concluded that âLouisianaâs Public Defender funding scheme does not present, in my opinion, an actual conflict of interest between the plaintiff and his public defender. Due to the complex distribution of funds and the role of the budget in allocating spending, any potential conflict is too attenuated and too remote to warrant separate counsel.â With respect to Biceâs Fourteenth Amendment claim, the district court concluded the following: Because this Court finds that Louisianaâs Public Defenderâs funding scheme does not create an actual conflict of interest, I also find that it does not infringe on plaintiffâs fundamental right to counsel, therefore, I feel that plaintiff has not demonstrated a violation of Equal Protection of Due Process on these grounds as well. 4 Case: 11-30537 Document: 00511823276 Page: 5 Date Filed: 04/16/2012 No. 11-30537 B. In general, the Younger doctrine requires that federal courts decline to exercise jurisdiction over lawsuits when three conditions are met: (1) the federal proceeding would interfere with an âongoing state judicial proceedingâ; (2) the state has an important interest in regulating the subject matter of the claim; and (3) the plaintiff has âan adequate opportunity in the state proceedings to raise constitutional challenges.â Middlesex Cnty. Ethics Comm. v. Garden State Bar Assân, 457 U.S. 423, 432 (1982). If the three prerequisites are satisfied, then a federal court can assert jurisdiction only if âcertain narrowly delimited exceptions to the abstention doctrine apply.â3 Tex. Assân of Bus., 388 F.3d at 519. Bice does not contest that Louisiana has an important state interest in regulating the subject matter of his claim, nor does he argue that any of the exceptions to the Younger doctrine apply. Accordingly, the issues before us implicate only two prerequisites for the application of the Younger doctrine: whether Biceâs federal lawsuit will interfere with the ongoing state court proceeding, and whether the municipal court is an adequate forum to hear Biceâs constitutional claims. We address each of these in turn. 1. We first consider whether ruling in favor of Bice would interfere with an ongoing state proceeding. âIn order to decide whether the federal proceeding would interfere with the state proceeding, we look to the relief requested and the 3 The Younger exceptions are as follows: (1) the state court proceeding was brought in bad faith or with the purpose of harassing the federal plaintiff, (2) the state statute is âflagrantly and patently violative of express constitutional prohibitions in every clause, sentence, and paragraph, and in whatever manner and against whomever an effort might be made to apply it,â or (3) application of the doctrine was waived. Tex. Assân of Bus., 388 F.3d at 519 (quoting Younger, 401 U.S. at 49). 5 Case: 11-30537 Document: 00511823276 Page: 6 Date Filed: 04/16/2012 No. 11-30537 effect it would have on the state proceedings.â 31 Foster Children v. Bush, 329 F.3d 1255, 1276 (11th Cir. 2003). The interference with ongoing state proceedings need not be direct to invoke Younger abstention. The Younger doctrine prevents federal courts from exercising jurisdiction when the relief requested âwould indirectly accomplish the kind of interference that Younger v. Harris and related cases sought to prevent.â OâShea v. Littleton, 414 U.S. 488, 500 (1974) (internal citation omitted). Interference is established âwhenever the requested relief would interfere with the state courtâs ability to conduct proceedings, regardless of whether the relief targets the conduct of a proceeding directly.â Joseph A. ex rel. Wolfe v. Ingram, 275 F.3d 1253, 1272 (10th Cir. 2002). The ongoing state proceeding here is Biceâs criminal prosecution in municipal court. A successful challenge to the statutory scheme for funding public defenders, the Board argues, would require the state to postpone Biceâs prosecution until adequate funding is located. The Board contends that imperiling the framework that funds public defenders therefore constitutes âinterferenceâ with a state court proceeding. In support of its argument, the Board cites to a case in which the Supreme Court of Louisiana wrote that prosecutions can be suspended if the state has insufficient funding for indigent defense. See State v. Citizen, 898 So. 2d 325, 338-39 (La. 2005). The withdrawal of Biceâs public defender would unquestionably interfere with Biceâs proceeding, in that it would âinterfere with the state courtâs ability to conduct proceedingsâ by requiring the municipal court judge to locate new counsel for Bice. See Joseph A. ex rel. Wolfe, 275 F.3d at 1272. The parties dispute, however, whether ruling the fee unconstitutional would affect the Boardâs funding so drastically as to require public defenders to withdraw from pending proceedings. The Board argues that, in the aggregate, the $35 fees constitute a sufficient percentage of the Boardâs budget that its public defenders 6 Case: 11-30537 Document: 00511823276 Page: 7 Date Filed: 04/16/2012 No. 11-30537 would be forced to withdraw from the proceedings of Bice and other indigent defendants if the fee is ruled unconstitutional until the Board locates an alternative funding source. See Appelleeâs Br. at 54 (âA state-wide injunction against enforcement of the statute would in effect resolve the conflict âproblemâ Bice insists exists, in that it would immediately end the provision of attorneys by the State to criminal court defendants, including Bice.â). Bice responds that the fee is a relatively minor component of Louisianaâs system of funding indigent defense, and that declaring it unconstitutional would not affect the ability of the Board to provide public defenders to all qualifying defendants.4 In deciding whether to abstain pursuant to Younger, we must be practical in assessing the most likely result of granting plaintiffâs requested relief. See Luckey v. Miller, 976 F.2d 673, 679 (11th Cir. 1992) (âThis Court is constrained, therefore, to focus on the likely result of an attempt to enforce an order of the nature sought here.â). Even if an order from this court does not directly require Biceâs public defender to withdraw from a proceeding, relief that is likely to produce that result constitutes interference with Biceâs proceeding. See Luckey, 976 F.2d at 678 (abstaining from ruling on a challenge to Georgiaâs indigent defense system where holding for plaintiffs would imperil pending proceedings by âlea[ving state defendants] to their own resourcesâ in complying with a federal order). Here, Biceâs proceedings would likely be halted until the Board determines a way to fill the funding gap that would be created by an injunction prohibiting the state from collecting the $35 fee. The Board asserts unequivocally in its briefing that a ruling in favor of Bice would lead it to withdraw from Biceâs proceedings. That the Board thought it necessary to bring a lawsuit in 2010 4 Neither the Board nor Bice cites data showing what percentage of indigent defense funding in Orleans Parish or statewide comes from the fee. Bice merely speculates that the Louisiana legislature might be able to appropriate funds that would offset the fee if we declare it unconstitutional. 7 Case: 11-30537 Document: 00511823276 Page: 8 Date Filed: 04/16/2012 No. 11-30537 compelling judges to assess the $35 fee tends to show the feeâs importance to the Boardâs operations. Further, the license from the Louisiana Supreme Court to suspend proceedings in the case of funding shortages enhances the credibility of the Boardâs pronouncement that a ruling in favor of Bice would halt Biceâs proceeding. State, 898 So. 2d at 338-39. Because a ruling in Biceâs favor would likely result in interference with Biceâs ongoing municipal court proceeding, this prerequisite for Younger abstention is satisfied.5 2. We next consider whether Bice has an adequate opportunity to raise his claim in the ongoing municipal court proceedings. âThe operation of the Younger doctrine is dependent upon the ability of the state courts to provide an adequate remedy for the violation of federal rights.â DeSpain v. Johnston, 731 F.2d 1171, 1178 (5th Cir. 1984). Bice argues that the municipal court lacks jurisdiction to grant his requested relief, preventing him from obtaining an adequate remedy for his alleged injuries in municipal court proceedings.6 Because he did not attempt to bring his claim in state court, Bice bears the burden of establishing this contention. Penzoil Co. v. Texaco, Inc., 481 U.S. 1, 14 (1987) (quoting Moore v. Sims, 442 U.S. 415, 432 (1979)). 5 Because we conclude that a funding shortage would likely result in withdrawal of Biceâs public defender and that such a withdrawal constitutes interference with the municipal proceeding, we need not address the Boardâs contention that interference would result from the potential disqualification of Biceâs counsel due to conflict of interest rules. 6 In his brief, Bice also argues that the municipal court has no jurisdiction over the Board and that the municipal court has no jurisdiction over Biceâs civil claim. These arguments, however, are based on two provisions of the Louisiana Code of Civil Procedure that are inapplicable to the municipal court. See La. Code Civ. P. art. 4847(A)(3) (2011); La. Code Civ. P. art. 4847(A)(6) (2011). The municipal court hearing Biceâs case is a special court of original criminal jurisdiction. The Louisiana Code of Civil Procedure does not apply to its proceedings. 8 Case: 11-30537 Document: 00511823276 Page: 9 Date Filed: 04/16/2012 No. 11-30537 Section 13:2493 of the Louisiana Revised Statutes governs the municipal court.7 This statute authorizes the court to issue injunctions âpursuant to the provision of Code of Civil Procedure Articles 3601 through 3613, when irreparable injury, loss, or damage may otherwise result to any person over whom the court has jurisdiction pursuant to this Section or as provided by law . . . .â None of the cited Articles of the Code of Civil Procedure limit the authority of the municipal court to enjoin the Board from collecting a fee that violates Biceâs rights under the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments. Bice nevertheless argues that the municipal court cannot provide an adequate remedy for his alleged injury because the municipal court is incapable of granting statewide injunctive relief against the Board. 7 Specifically, he The statute provides in relevant part: A. The jurisdiction of the court shall extend to the trial of violations of the ordinances of the city of New Orleans, except traffic violations. B. The jurisdiction of the courts shall further extend to the trial of violations of state statutes which are not triable by a jury; which jurisdiction shall be concurrent with that of the Criminal District Court for the Parish of Orleans. This jurisdiction shall not extend to traffic violations. C. When exercising said concurrent jurisdiction and in cases involving violation of an ordinance adopted pursuant to R.S. 14:143(B), all procedures shall comply with those parts of the Louisiana Constitution of 1974, the Louisiana Revised Statutes, and the Code of Criminal Procedure pertaining to the prosecution of criminal cases not requiring trial by jury. D. The jurisdiction of the Housing and Environmental Court Division shall extend to the trial of violations of the Building Code, the Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance and Chapters 28, 30, 48, and 54 of the City Code of the city of New Orleans as provided by law, in addition to the general jurisdiction of the Municipal Court of New Orleans. E. The jurisdiction of the court shall extend to the granting of an injunction, preliminary injunction, or temporary restraining order pursuant to the provisions of Code of Civil Procedure Articles 3601 through 3613, when irreparable injury, loss, or damage may otherwise result to any person over whom the court has jurisdiction pursuant to this Section or as provided by law; however, the court shall not have the authority to grant injunctive relief with respect to any matter provided in Code of Civil Procedure Article 3604(B)(1) and (3) and (C). F. The court shall have no other jurisdiction. La. Rev. Stat. Ann. Â§ 13:2493. 9 Case: 11-30537 Document: 00511823276 Page: 10 Date Filed: 04/16/2012 No. 11-30537 contends that statewide relief would avoid the risk of inconsistent judgments in different districts, and that it would take too much time for each municipal court to determine whether La. R.S. Â§ 15-168 constitutes a violation of defendantsâ rights. But these arguments do not establish that Bice cannot obtain an adequate remedy for the putative violations of his constitutional rights. The only actual injury Bice alleges is the putative conflict between him and his public defender. The municipal court has the authority to grant injunctive relief to protect âany person over whom this court has jurisdiction pursuant to this Section or as provided by law.â La. R.S. Â§ 13:2493(E). By this authority, the municipal court can simply enjoin the collection of the fee as it pertains to Bice, which would protect him against any asserted constitutional violations. Accordingly, statewide relief is not necessary to protect Biceâs rights. While Bice argues in his brief that the rights of his putative class cannot be vindicated by the municipal court, the district court did not certify a class. Bice cites no support for the proposition that relief sought on behalf of an uncertified class should be considered in the Younger abstention analysis.8 Since a class has not been certified, an injunction from the municipal court that applies only to Bice would be sufficient to âprovide an adequate remedy for the violationâ of Biceâs constitutional rights. DeSpain, 731 F.2d at 1178. For these reasons, Bice has not borne his burden of showing the municipal court cannot grant the relief that he seeks. 8 Bice cites M.D. v. Perry, 799 F. Supp. 2d 712, 721-22 (S.D. Tex. 2011), revâd on other grounds, No. 11-40789, 2012 WL 974878 (5th Cir. Mar. 23, 2012), to support his argument that the limited relief offered by the municipal court is insufficient to remedy the violations he asserts. In M.D., the district court did focus on the failure of state court placement review hearings to address âoverarching systemic concerns or constitutional violations.â Id. In that case, however, a class had already been certified before the court decided whether to abstain under Younger. Id. at 714. Additionally, the reasoning of the district court was based on the unique circumstances faced in state foster care proceedings. Id. at 721-22. 10 Case: 11-30537 Document: 00511823276 Page: 11 Date Filed: 04/16/2012 No. 11-30537 C. Accordingly, the prerequisites for Younger abstention have been satisfied. Bice does not contend that his appeal implicates any exceptions to the Younger doctrine. Thus, the district court correctly ruled that Younger required it to abstain from exercising jurisdiction. Accordingly, we do not address the merits of Biceâs constitutional claims. III. We AFFIRM the district courtâs judgment. 11