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Pratt v. Giroir

April 8, 2008

JONIE PRATT, ET AL.
v.
JASON GIROIR, ET AL.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Jay C. Zainey United States District Judge

CIVIL ACTION SECTION: "A" (3)

ORDER AND REASONS

Before the Court is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (Rec. Doc. 24) filed by the City of New Orleans, New Orleans Police Department, Police Superintendent Warren Riley, and Officers Ryan Vaught, Jason Giroir, Joseph Haines, and Eddie Compass. Plaintiffs, Jonie and Desmond Pratt, oppose the motion. The motion, set for hearing on April 2, 2008, is before the Court on the briefs without oral argument. For the reasons that follow, the motion is DENIED.

I. BACKGROUND

The instant matter arises out of incidents which occurred on April 4, 2006. Plaintiffs' version of the facts is alleged as follows. On the night of April 4, 2006, Jonie Pratt was driving her car to her home, accompanied by her younger sisters. (Pla. Compl. ¶ 6). While parking her car in the driveway, Ms. Pratt was approached by Officer Jason Giroir, who had arrived in a New Orleans police car. (Id.) According to Pratt, Giroir approached her with his gun drawn and demanded that she get out of her car. (Id.) She further alleges that "[w]hen Petitioner asked to know why, defendant pulled her out of her car, cursed her and assaulted her physically by punching her, pulling her hair and spraying her with pepper spray." (Id.) Pratt's sisters left the vehicle in an attempt to call for help; Giroir called for assistance as well. (Id. at ¶ 7). In response to Giroir's call, defendants Ryan Vaught and Joseph Haines arrived on the scene. (Id.) Plaintiffs allege that Vaught and Haines "grabbed Petitioner, threw her to the ground and pepper sprayed, handcuffed her and threw her into a police car with unnecessary force." (Id.)

Plaintiffs allege that Ms. Pratt was held "only a matter of hours" on traffic charges, which were ultimately dismissed. (Pla. Mem. in Opp. p. 6). Ms. Pratt was not convicted of any traffic offense in relation to the course of events sued upon. (Id.) (Citing Pla. Exh. B, Letter from Deputy Clerk of Traffic Court). Plaintiffs contend that "[a]t some point, Ms. Pratt was charged with assault on Officer Giroir and resisting arrest, not in Criminal Court, but in Municipal Court." (Id.)

Plaintiffs filed the instant action on April 3, 2007, asserting that Defendants Giroir, Vaught, Haines, Compass, and Riley violated her civil rights to due process and equal protection. (Pla. Compl. ¶ 3). Plaintiffs seek damages arising out of the allegedly intentional and outrageous acts of law enforcement, including damages for mental, physical and emotional suffering, loss of consortium, and special damages. (Id.) In addition, Plaintiffs allege that the New Orleans Police Department and the City of New Orleans are vicariously liable for the tortious acts of their employees while acting under the apparent authority of their positions. (Id. at ¶ 4).

In light of newly-discovered information, on March 13, 2008, Defendants moved for leave to file a motion to dismiss Plaintiffs' claims as procedurally barred under Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 114 S.Ct. 2364, 129 L.Ed.2d 383 (1994), based on a determination of Ms. Pratt's guilt to municipal violations of battery against an officer and resisting arrest.

The facts surrounding Ms. Pratt's state court proceeding are disputed. The New Orleans Municipal Court Case Chronology Report reads as follows:

4/04/2006 Charge of 54-96 - BATTERY filed With Court 4/04/2006 Charge of 54-441 -- RESIST/OBSTRUCT OFFICR [sic] filed With Court

. . . 4/04/2006 Defendant pled not guilty to all charges. Defendant was advised of counsel.

. . . 3/29/2007 Event of TRIAL scheduled for 4/17/2007 at 9:00 AM in division A . . . 4/17/2007 Event of SENTENCING scheduled for 6/01/2007 at 9:00 AM in division A 5/18/2007 Event of SENTENCING scheduled for 6/22/2007 at 9:00 AM in division A 6/22/2007 Defendant pled guilty to 54-96 6/22/2007 Defendant sentenced to ONE HUNDRED for 54-96 (ONE HUNDRED SUSPENDED) 6/22/2007 Defendant pled guilty to 54-441 concurrent with 54-96. (Pla. Exh. D; Def Exh. B).

The Court notes that the record conflicts with the testimony of Robert Jenkins, the attorney who represented Ms. Pratt in Municipal Court in this matter. (See Pla. Exh. A, Affidavit). According to Plaintiffs, "[o]n March 14, 2007 Ms. Pratt was convicted on municipal charges following a trial in which she was prosecuted by the office charged with defending the City and the NOPD in this federal court for actions arising from the same course of events, and her counsel appealed." (Id. at p. 7; See Pla. Exh. A). However, Pratt's "appeal has yet to be heard because the record of trial has not been lodged and is by all accounts missing." (Id.) (citing Pla. Exh. C, Letter from the Criminal Court Judicial Administrator). Plaintiffs maintain that "[t]here seems to be no explanation for the notation in the Municipal Court record that Ms. Pratt pled guilty to the assault*fn1 charge, as that certainly never happened, or the apparent absence in the record of the appeal having been filed." (Id. at p. 7-8) (citing Pla. Exh. D, Municipal Court Case Chronology; Pla. Exh. E, Affidavit of Carl Thibodeaux). Furthermore, "[t]here also seems to be no explanation why the trial record for appeal has not been lodged in Criminal Court more than a year after the trial took place. (Id. at p. 8) (citing Pla. Exh. A, C).

In light of the foregoing, the Court, over the objections of Plaintiffs' counsel, allowed Defendants to file a dispositive motion based on Heck v. Humphrey, despite the deadline provided in the Scheduling Order. (Rec. Doc. 27). Through their motion, Defendants move to dismiss the underlying proceeding based on recently-discovered evidence of a determination of guilt to the municipal violations of battery against Officer Giroir and resisting arrest, both charges incurred as a result of Ms. Pratt's actions on the evening of April 4, 2006. (Def. Mem. in Supp. p. 1) (citing Def. Exh. A, Municipal Citation # 937886). As such, Defendants contend that this matter is procedurally barred. (Def. Motion p. 1).

Plaintiffs oppose the motion, arguing that the present case is distinguishable from Heck and its progeny. (Pla. Mem. in Opp. p. 5). Consequently, Plaintiffs submit that they should be permitted to proceed to trial. (Id. at p. 9).

In reply, Defendants assert that "Plaintiff's philosophical discussion concerning the underpinnings of Heck . . . do[es] not change the underlying fact that the plaintiff was found guilty of Simple Battery and Resisting Arrest in Municipal Court." (Def. Repl. Mem. p. 1). Defendants urge that to allow Plaintiffs to proceed in ...


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