Alex et al v. St. John the Baptist Parish Sheriff's Office et al, No. 2:2016cv17019 - Document 136 (E.D. La. 2017)

Court Description: ORDER AND REASONS granting 118 Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim. Signed by Judge Susie Morgan on 8/2/2017. (clc)
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Alex et al v. St. John the Baptist Parish Sheriff's Office et al Doc. 136 U N ITED S TATES D ISTRICT COU RT EASTERN D ISTRICT OF LOU ISIAN A SH AW AN D A N EVERS ALEX, ET AL., Pla in tiffs CIVIL ACTION VERSU S N o . 16 -170 19 ST. J OH N TH E BAPTIST PARISH SH ERIFF’S OFFICE, ET AL., D e fe n d an ts SECTION “E” ORD ER AN D REAS ON S This m atter is before the Court on the m otion to dism iss filed by the Defendant J udge Mary Hotard Becnel (retired). 1 Plaintiffs Shawanda Nevers Alex, Daryl Alex an d LaQuan a Lewis oppose the m otion. 2 For the reasons that follow, the m otion to dism iss is GRAN TED . In their com plaint, the Plaintiffs m ake claim s under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against J udge Becn el, a form er Louisiana district court judge for the 40 th J udicial District for the Parish of St. J ohn the Baptist, who presided over proceedings in Plaintiff Nevers’s state crim inal case. 3 The Plaintiffs sue J udge Becnel in her official capacity 4 on the following grounds: (1) J udge Becnel should have recused herself when, upon the advice of Plaintiff Nevers’s attorney, Plaintiff Nevers hired J udge Becnel’s relative to secure her recusal, 5 and (2) J udge Becnel set an excessive bail in Plaintiff Nevers’s state crim inal case. 6 1 R. Doc. 118 . R. Doc. 133. 3 See R. Doc. 7-1 at 19– 21. 4 R. Doc. 29 at 3. 5 R. Doc. 7-1 at 19– 20 . 6 Id. at 18 – 20 . 2 1 Dockets.Justia.com J udge Becnel seeks dism issal of the Plaintiffs’ claim s against her, arguing she is entitled to absolute judicial im m unity. 7 J udges enjoy absolute im m unity from liability in suits brought under Section 1983. 8 Absolute judicial im m unity can be overcom e by (1) nonjudicial actions; and (2) judicial actions taken in the com plete absence of all jurisdiction. 9 The Suprem e Court has explained that the inquiry of whether an act is judicial “relate[s] to the nature of the act itself, i.e., whether it is a function norm ally perform ed by a judge, and to the expectations of the parties, i.e., whether they dealt with the judge in his judicial capacity.”10 The Fifth Circuit uses a four-factor test to determ ine if an act is judicial in nature: (1) whether the precise act com plained of is a norm al judicial function; (2) whether the acts occurred in the courtroom or appropriate adjunct spaces such as the judge's cham bers; (3) whether the controversy centered around a case pen ding before the court; and (4) whether the acts arose directly out of a visit to the judge in his official capacity. 11 In the instant case, the acts of setting bail an d declining a request for recusal are both norm al judicial functions. 12 Both the acts presum ably occurred in J udge Becnel’s courtroom or cham bers and were directly regarding Plaintiff Nevers’s crim inal case pending before J udge Becnel in state court. The setting of Plaintiff Nevers’s bail and J udge Becn el’s refusal to recuse herself arose directly out of Plaintiff Nevers’s appearan ce before J udge Becnel as part of her crim inal docket. Thus, the Court finds J udge Becnel’s actions were judicial in n ature. 7 See R. Doc. 118-1. Stum p v. Sparkm an, 435 U.S. 349, 355– 56 (1978 ). 9 Mireles v. W aco, 50 2 U.S. 9, 11– 12 (1991). 10 Sparkm an, 435 U.S. at 362. 11 Davis v. Tarrant Cty ., Tex., 565 F.3d 214, 222 (5th Cir. 20 0 9). 12 E.g., Sharp v. Palm isan o, No. CIV.A. 13-5429, 20 13 WL 5969661, at *3 (E.D. La. Nov. 8 , 20 13) (“Determ in in g whether to recuse oneself from a case, setting bond . . . are norm al judicial functions.”). 8 2 Absolute judicial im m unity m ay also be overcom e if the judicial actions were taken in “com plete absence of all jurisdiction.” The Court m ust ask “whether at the tim e [the J udge] took the challenged action he had jurisdiction over the subject m atter before him [.]”13 J udge Becnel, as a district judge in the 40 th J udicial District Court for the Parish of St. J ohn the Baptist, had original subject m atter jurisdiction to hear all state-law crim in al m atters. 14 Thus, J udge Becnel is entitled to absolute im m unity from the acts alleged by the Plaintiffs. Accordingly; IT IS ORD ERED that J udge Becnel’s m otion to dism iss 15 is GRAN TED . N e w Orle a n s , Lo u is ian a, th is 2 n d d ay o f Au gu s t, 2 0 17. ____________ _______ _______ S U SIE MORGAN U N ITED S TATES D ISTRICT J U D GE 13 Sparkm an, 435 U.S. at 356. LA. CONST. ANN . art. V, § 16 (“[A] district court shall have original jurisdiction of all civil and crim inal m atters[.]”). 15 R. Doc. 118 . 14 3