Lafrance v. New Orleans City et al, No. 2:2016cv14439 - Document 21 (E.D. La. 2017)

Court Description: 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)
Download PDF
Lafrance v. New Orleans City et al Doc. 21 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT EASTERN DISTRICT OF LOUISIANA J OSEPH LAFRANCE CIVIL ACTION VERSUS NO. 16-14439 NEW ORLEANS CITY, ET AL. SECTION “R” (2) ORD ER AN D REASON S Defendants Orleans Parish Crim inal District Court and J udicial Adm inistrator Robert Kazik (collectively, the J udicial Defendants) m ove to dism iss plaintiff J oseph LaFrance’s claim s against them. For the following reasons, the Court grants the m otion. I. BACKGROU N D Plaintiff J oseph 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 1 2 3 R. Doc. 1 at 8. Id. Id. at 9. Dockets.Justia.com Orleans, the Orleans Parish Crim inal District Court (OPCDC), J udicial Adm inistrator Robert Kazik, and Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusm an as defendants. 4 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 nonpaym ent warrants without inquiry into the subject’s ability to pay, and this practice violates the Fourth and Fourteenth Am endm ents to the U.S. Constitution. 6 3. LaFrance was “indefinitely” jailed in violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Am endm ent, and LaFrance’s incarceration constitutes wrongful arrest and im prisonm ent 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 4 5 6 7 Id. at Id. at Id. at Id. at 6-7. 32. 33. 33, 35. 2 nonpaym ent warrants, and conduct subsequent hearings, are financially interested in the outcom e of such cases. 8 5. Defendants im posed unduly restrictive m ethods of collection on LaFrance in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Am endm ent. 9 The J udicial Defendants now m ove to dism iss all claim s against them. In support, the J udicial Defendants argue that OPCDC is not a “person” under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and that claim s for damages against OPCDC are barred by the Eleventh Am endment. As to Kazik, the J udicial Defendants argue that LaFrance’s claim s against him are barred by quasi-judicial im m unity. II. LEGAL STAN D ARD Defendants m ove to dism iss under Rules 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) m otion to dism iss, the plaintiff m ust plead “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 697 (20 0 9) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Tw om bly , 550 U.S. 544, 570 (20 0 7)). A claim is facially plausible when the plaintiff pleads facts that 8 9 Id. at 33-34. Id. at 34-35. 3 allow the court to “draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the m isconduct alleged.” Id. at 678. A court m ust accept all well-pleaded facts as true and m ust draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. See Lorm and v. US Unw ired, Inc., 565 F.3d 228, 239 (5th Cir. 20 0 9); Baker v. Putnal, 75 F.3d 190 , 196 (5th Cir. 1996). Rule 12(b)(1) requires dism issal of an action if the court lacks jurisdiction over the subject m atter of the plaintiff’s claim . Motions subm itted under Rule 12(b)(1) allow a party to challenge the court’s subject m atter jurisdiction based upon the allegations on the face of the com plaint. Barrera– Montenegro v. United States, 74 F.3d 657, 659 (5th Cir. 1996); see also Lopez v. City of Dallas, Tex., No. 0 3– 2223, 20 0 6 WL 1450 420 , at *2 (N.D. Tex. May 24, 20 0 6). In ruling on a Rule 12(b)(1) motion to dism iss, the court m ay rely on (1) the com plaint alone, presum ing the allegations to be true; (2) the com plaint supplem ented by undisputed facts; or (3) the com plaint supplemented by undisputed facts and by the court’s resolution of disputed facts. Den N orske Stats Oljeselskap As v. HeereMac Vof, 241 F.3d 420 , 424 (5th Cir. 20 0 1); see also Barrera– Montenegro, 74 F.3d at 659. The plaintiff bears the burden of dem onstrating that subject m atter jurisdiction exists. See Paterson v. W einberger, 644 F.2d 521, 523 (5th Cir. 1981). 4 III. D ISCU SSION The J udicial Defendants m ove to dism iss claim s against OPCDC and Kazik. The Court considers each defendant in turn. A. Orle an s Paris h Crim in al D is trict Co u rt The J udicial Defendants argue that OPCDC is entitled to im m unity under the Eleventh Am endm ent. Courts in this and other circuits routinely hold that state courts are imm une from suit under the Eleventh Am endment. See, e.g., Jefferson v. La. State Suprem e Court, 46 F. App’x 732, *1 (5th Cir. 20 0 2) (“The Eleventh Am endm ent clearly bars [plaintiff’s] § 1983 claims against the Louisiana Supreme Court, which is a branch of Louisiana’s state governm ent.”); 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 Am endm ent im m unity); Sum m ers v. Louisiana, No. 13-4573, 20 13 WL 3818560 , at *4 (E.D. La. J uly 22, 20 13) (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 Am endm ent”); W ilkerson v. 17th Judicial Dist. Court, No. 0 8-1196, 20 0 9 WL 249737, at *4 (E.D. La. J an. 30 , 20 0 9) (“It is clear that the Eleventh Am endm ent bars § 1983 claim s against a state court.”); Rackley v. Louisiana, No. 0 7-50 4, 20 0 7 WL 1792524, at *3 (E.D. La. J une 21, 20 0 7) 5 (“[T]he Eleventh Am endment likewise bars § 1983 claim s against a state court.”); see generally Harris v. Cham pion, 51 F.3d 90 1, 90 5-0 6 (10 th Cir. 1995) (holding that Oklahom a Court of Crim inal Appeals is im m une from suit under Eleventh Am endment as “a governm ental entity that is an arm of the state”); Landers Seed Co., Inc. v. Cham paign N at’l Bank, 15 F.3d 729, 731-32 (7th Cir. 1994) (“The Eleventh Am endm ent, however, bars federal suits against state courts and other branches of state governm ent[.]”); Clark v. Clark, 984 F.2d 272, 273 (8th Cir. 1993) (“Courts are not persons within the m eaning of 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and, if they were, the action would be barred by the Eleventh Amendm ent anyway.”). The Court finds LaFrance’s attempt to distinguish this weighty precedent unconvincing. Even if OPCDC were not im m une, LaFrance’s federal claim s against OPCDC m ust fail because OPCDC is not a “person” subject to suit under section 1983. See Dunn v. Louisiana, No. 10 -4519, 20 11 WL 445684, at *1 (E.D. La. Feb. 3, 20 11) (adopting Report and Recom m endation concluding that Section K of the Orleans Parish Crim inal District Court is not a section 1983 person); see also Mum ford v. Basinski, 10 5 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 claim s against OPCDC m ust be dism issed. 6 B. Ju d icial Ad m in is trato r 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. Tam m any , 187 F.3d 452, 466 (5th Cir. 1999). Accordingly, LaFrance’s official capacity claim s against Kazik are barred for the reasons offered above. As to the individual capacity claim s, Defendants argue that Kazik is entitled to absolute im m unity because at all tim es he was assisting the judges of OPCDC in carrying out their judicial functions. “Despite the broad term s of § 1983,” the Suprem e Court “has long recognized” that im m unity doctrines protect certain potential defendants from liability under the statute. Rehberg v. Paulk, 566 U.S. 356, 361 (20 12). For exam ple, judges are absolutely im m une from m onetary liability “for all judicial acts that are not perform ed in the clear absence of jurisdiction, however erroneous the act and however evil the m otive.” Johnson v. Kegans, 870 F.2d 992, 995 (5th Cir. 1989) (citing Stum p v. Sparkm an, 435 U.S. 349 (1978)). As a derivative of this im m unity, “other necessary participants in the judicial process are entitled to absolute quasi-judicial im m unity.” Kirkendall v. Gram bling & Mounce, Inc., 4 F.3d 989, 1993 WL 360 732, at *3 (5th Cir. 1993) (citation 7 om itted). This absolute quasi-judicial im m unity “protects officials that perform functions com parable to those of judges. . . .” Da Vinci Inv., Ltd. P’ship v. Parker, 622 F. App’x 367, 373 (5th Cir. 20 15) (quoting Beck v. Tex. Bd. of Dental Exam ’rs, 20 4 F.3d 629 (5th Cir. 20 0 0 )). In determ ining whether an official is entitled to absolute quasi-judicial im m unity, courts m ust take a “functional approach”—looking to “the nature of the function perform ed, not the identity or title of the actor who perform ed it.” Buckley v. Fitzsim m ons, 50 9 U.S. 259, 269 (1993). Consistent with this “functional approach,” courts often hold that other judicial em ployees, such as clerks of court, law clerks, and others, enjoy absolute quasi-judicial im m unity when “perform ing a m inisterial function at the direction of the judge.” W illiam s v. W ood, 612 F.2d 982, 985 (5th Cir. 1980 ) (quoting W aits v. McGow an, 516 F.2d 20 13, 20 6 (3d Cir. 1975)); see generally Evans v. Suter, 260 F. App’x 726, 727 (5th Cir. 20 0 7) (“Clerks have absolute quasi-judicial im m unity . . . 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 20 4, 214 (2d Cir. 20 0 9) (granting absolute im m unity to fam ily court staff attorneys); Olivia v. Heller, 839 F.2d 37, 40 (2d Cir. 1988) (“[F]or purposes of absolute judicial im m unity, judges and their law clerks are as one.”). In 8 other words, judicial em ployees are absolutely im m une when they act, whether “in bad faith or with m alice” pursuant to a court order or a judge’s instructions because the em ployee is “act[ing] as the arm of the judge and com es within his absolute im m unity.” W illiam s, 612 F.2d at 985; accord Johnson, 870 F.2d at 998 (describing parole board m em bers as “serving essentially as the arm of the sentencing judge”); Severin v. Parish of Jefferson, 357 F. App’x 60 1, 60 5 (5th Cir. 20 0 9) (granting absolute imm unity to “em ployees of the Louisiana Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal who acted pursuant to the procedures allegedly im plemented by the judges”). A judicial directive that cloaks court em ployees with absolute im m unity m ay be form al and official, such as a court order, or m ore inform al, such as verbal comm unication from a judge. See, e.g., Severin, 357 F. App’x at 60 3. LaFrance sues Kazik for his role as supervisor of the OPCDC’s Collections Departm ent. 10 LaFrance asserts that Collections Department em ployees both “seek” and “issue” arrest warrants against crim inal defendants who fail to pay fines and fees. 11 The Collections Department allegedly issued LaFrance’s warrant—and signed J udge Davilier-Flem ings’ nam e—without presenting inform ation to or notifying a judge. 12 10 11 12 R. Doc. 1 at 7. Id. at 17. Id. at 2-3. 9 In portraying Kazik as “seeking” warrants rather than merely “issuing” them , plaintiffs hope to tie Kazik to decisions applying qualified im m unity to police and probation officers who subm it insufficient affidavits to m agistrate judges in support of warrants. See, e.g., Malley v. Briggs, 475 U.S. 335, 343 (1986); Galvan v. Garm on, 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 com plaint. 13 In the hearing, Shannon Sim s, Deputy OPCDC J udicial Adm inistrator, explains that the authority to issue Collections Warrants is given to the Collections Department by the judges of OPCDC. According to Ms. Sim s, one section of Court, Section A, issues its own warrants rather than delegating that responsibility to the Collections Departm ent. As m ade clear by Ms. Sims’ testim ony, 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 13 See Id at 3 n.1 (citing Transcript of Evidentiary Hearing in State of Louisiana v. Michael Addison, No. 426-246J , J an. 30 , 20 15.). Uncontested docum ents referred to in the pleadings may be considered by the court without converting the m otion to one for sum m ary judgment, even when the docum ents are not physically attached to the com plaint. See Great Plains Trust Co. v. Morgan Stanley Dean W itter & Co., 313 F.3d 30 5, 313 (5th Cir. 20 0 2). 10 rescinded, a judge takes over. In this way Kazik allegedly “perform [s] functions com parable to those of judges,” and is entitled to absolute im m unity. Parker, 622 F. App’x at 373 (quoting Beck v. Tex. State Bd. of Dental Exam ’rs, 20 4 F.3d 629, 634 (5th Cir. 20 0 0 )). Because, according to LaFrance’s allegations, Kazik acted according to “procedures allegedly im plem ented 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 im m unity. Severin, 357 F. App’x at 60 3; see also Rogers v. Bruntrager, 841 F.2d 853, 856 (8th Cir. 1988) (im m unizing “deputy circuit clerk [who] issued the arrest warrant at the direction of the assistant circuit judge”). LaFrance’s individual capacity claim s against Kazik m ust therefore be dism issed. IV. CON CLU SION For the foregoing reasons, defendants’ m otion is GRANTED. All claim s against defendants Orleans Parish Crim inal District Court and J udicial Adm inistrator Robert Kazik are DISMISSED WITH PREJ UDICE. New Orleans, Louisiana, this _ 17th _ day of March, 20 17. ___ _____________________ SARAH S. VANCE UNITED STATES DISTRICT J UDGE 11