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Devall v. Hammond Municipal Fire and Police Civil Service Board

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

December 2, 2014

DEVALL
v.
HAMMOND MUNICIPAL FIRE AND POLICE CIVIL SERVICE BOARD ET AL. SECTION:

ORDER AND REASONS

CARL J. BARBIER, District Judge.

Before the Court are Defendants the Hammond Municipal Fire and Police Civil Service Board (CSB or the Board) and David Danel (Danel)'s Motion to Dismiss Complaint and Request for Injunctive and/or Declaratory Relief or, in the Alternative, to Stay (Rec. Doc. 18), Plaintiff Roddy Devall's opposition thereto (Rec. Doc. 31), and the CSB and Danel's reply (Rec. Doc. 45), as well as Defendants the City of Hammond and Mayor Mason Foster (Mayor Foster)'s Motion to Dismiss, or in the Alternative, to Stay the Case (Rec. Doc. 26), Plaintiff's opposition thereto (Rec. Doc. 32), Defendants' Reply (Rec. Doc. 36), and Plaintiff's Sur-reply (Rec. Doc. 40). Having considered the motion and memoranda of counsel, the record, and the applicable law, the Court finds that the motion should be GRANTED IN PART for the reasons set forth more fully below.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY AND BACKGROUND FACTS

This dispute derives from the Hammond Municipal Fire and Police Ci vil Service Board's investigation of complaints filed against Plaintiff. On April 25, 2014, an officer with the Hammond Police Department (HPD) was arrested on various drug charges. (Rec. Doc. 1, p. 2) Shortly thereafter, the HPD issued a press release containing booking information in connection with the officer's arrest. Id. at 3. The HPD routinely releases arrestees' booking information to the press in compliance with Louisiana Code of Criminal Procedure Article 228, [1] and as Chiefof the HPD, Plaintiff is responsible for such compliance. Id . However, a provision of the Louisiana Police Officers' Bill of Rights prohibits any person, agency, or department from "releas[ing] to the news media... a law enforcement officer's home address, photograph, or any information that may be deemed otherwise confidential, without the express written consent of the law enforcement officer." LA. REV. STAT. ANN. ยง 40:2532. Dispute therefore arises as to whether it was appropriate to release the officer's booking information. (Rec. Doc. 18-1, p. 2) Consequently, the officer arrestee and her ex-husband, who is also a police officer, filed complaints alleging that the HPD violated Louisiana Revised Statute Section 40:2532. (Rec. Doc. 18-3, pp. 1-2, 18-22) The ex-husband's complaint specifically mentions Plaintiff and Hammond City Police Public Information Officer Lieutenant Vince Giannobile (Giannobile). Id. at 21-22.

On May 15, 2014, the Board held a meeting at which it discussed the complaints and decided to initiate an investigation of the allegations.[2] (Rec. Docs. 1, 18-1) The Board voted to issue several orders (1) placing Plaintiff on administrative leave with pay, (2) mandating the surrender of Plaintiff's City-issued vehicle for the duration of the administrative leave, (3) prohibiting Plaintiff from having contact with any employees of the City of Hammond, and (4) requiring Plaintiff to collect and remove his personal effects from his office at HPD. (Rec. Docs. 1, 18-1) Additionally, the Board retained a private firm, Personnel Management, Inc., to assist in the investigation of the allegations contained in the complaints. (Rec. Doc. 18-1, p. 3) Finally, the Board issued wri tten notice of the investigation to Plaintiff and Giannobile, attaching copies of the complaints. Id . Upon receiving notice, Plaintiff on May 16, 2014, requested that the Board suspend his questioning for thirty days to permit him to secure counsel pursuant to Louisiana Revised Statute Section 40:2531(B)(4)(b).[3] Id.

The Board conducted its interrogation of Giannobile on May 22, 2014. Id . Giannobile told the Board that he had released the officer's information to the press in accordance with Plaintiff's orders. Id . Consequently, Giannobile's counsel argued that Plaintiff instructed Giannobile to commit an act that would result in discipline to Giannobile, all in violation of Louisiana Revised Statute Section 33:2505(4).[4] Id . Giannobile's counsel requested at the meeting that the Board investigate Plaintiff's alleged violation of the provision and submitted a written complaint featuring the same request and allegations one week later. Id . Counsel for the officer whose information was released similarly submitted a written complaint to the Board seeking disciplinary action of Plaintiff for this additional alleged violation. Id. at 4.

After securing counsel but before submitting to the Board's interrogation, Plaintiff filed his Complaint and Request for Injunctive and Declaratory Relief in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana against the Board; David Danel, individually and in his capacity as Chairman of the Board; the City of Hammond; and Mayson Foster, individually and in his official capacity as Mayor of the City of Hammond. Plaintiff alleged therein that Defendants violated his "due process [rights] under the 14th Amendment, his rights of free speech and association under the 1st Amendment, his rights under the Law Enforcement Officers' Bill of Rights..., and that the actions were in retaliation for [P]laintiff's opp ositions to unlawful actions taken by [Defendants]." (Rec. Doc. 31, pp. 1-2) Plaintiff subsequently sought a temporary res training order to enjoin Defendants' allegedly unlawful behavior. (Rec. Doc. 6) After a telephone hearing, this Court granted the motion, vacating the decisions by the Board that placed Plaintiff on paid administrative leave and prohibited him from having any contact with any employees of the City of Hammond. (Rec. Doc. 8) Additionally, the Court enjoined Defendants from taking any adverse employment action against Plaintiff without conducting a hearing and affording Plaintiff a right to be heard. Id . However, the Court did not prohibit Defendants from conducting a lawful investigation of the complaints lodged against Plaintiff. Id . Finally, the Order required Plaintiff to appear for questioning in connection with the ongoing investigation of the complaint against him on June 20, 2014. Id.

Plaintiff, accompanied by his attorney, appeared for questioning on June 20, 2014.[5] (Rec. Doc. 11-7, p. 3; Rec. Doc. 17, p. 6) There, Plaintiff had the opportunity to explain his side of the story. (Rec. Doc. 18-1, p. 6) In total, the Board and Personnel Management, Inc. obtained sworn statements from eighteen witnesses as well as a number of documents. Id . The Board accepted Personnel Management, Inc.'s evidence at a June 23, 2014, meeting. Id.

On June 30, 2014, the Board conducted a hearing at which Plaintiff's attorney appeared and commented on the investigation.[6] (Rec. Doc. 11-7, p. 4; Rec. Doc. 17, pp. 8-10) During the hearing, the Board concluded that there was enough evidence to warrant commencing the pre-disciplinary process. (Rec. Doc. 17, pp. 9-10) Consequently, the Board instructed the Appointing Authority to conduct a pre-disc iplinary hearing at which Plaintiff would have the opportunity to be heard and that would serve the purpose of creating a record for any appeal. (Rec. Doc. 17, p. 10) The Appointing Authority therefore issued a pre-disciplinary notice to Plaintiff on the evening of June 30, 2014, and served the notice on Plaintiff on July 1, 2014.[7] Id.

On July 7, 2014, Plaintiff filed a Motion for Contempt of the Temporary Restraining Order. (Rec. Doc. 11) As a result of this motion, the Appointing Authority postponed the pre-disciplinary hearing, which had been scheduled for July 14, 2014.[8] (Rec. Doc. 20, pp. 2-3) In the motion, Plaintiff argued that the Board and Danel violated the Temporary Restraining Order by (1) engaging in an adverse employment action without providing Plaintiff with notice and an opportunity to be heard; (2) conducting an investigation despite a lack of statutory authority; (3) denying Plaintiff a forum for appeal; (4) failing to provide adequate notice of the June 30, 2014, hearing; (5) failing to comply with the 60-day limit for investigations; (6) participating in the investigation in violation of Due Process; (7) violating Louisiana's Open Meetings Law; and (8) employing evidence gathered before the Court issued the Temporary Restraining Order. Id . Plaintiff did not argue that Defendants Mayor Foster or the City of Hammond violated the Temporary Restraining Order. The Court denied the motion, finding that Defendants had not engaged in an adverse employment action or otherwise violated the terms of the Order. (Rec. Doc. 30)

Defendants Board and Danel filed a Motion to Dismiss Complaint and Request for Injunctive and/or Declaratory Relief or, in the Alternative, to Stay on August 1, 2014. (Rec. Doc. 18) Defendants the City of Hammond and Mayson Foster similarly filed a Motion to Dismiss, or in the Alternative, to Stay the Case. (Rec. Doc. 26) Plaintiff opposed both motions. (Rec. Docs. 31, 32) Defendants filed replies (Rec. Doc. 36, 45), and Plaintiff filed a sur-reply to Defendant City of Hammond and Danel's reply. (Rec. Doc. 40)

LEGAL STANDARD

I. 12(b)(1) Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Jurisdiction

A motion to dismiss filed pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure "allow[s] a party to challenge the subject matter jurisdiction of the district court to hear a case." Ramming v. United States, 281 F.3d 158, 161 (5th Cir.2001). Where "a Rule 12(b)(1) motion is filed in conjunction with other Rule 12 motions, the court should consider the Rule 12(b)(1) jurisdictional attack before addressing any attack on the merits." Id . (citing Hitt v. City of Pasadena, 561 F.2d 606, 608 (5th Cir.1977)). Lack of subject matter jurisdiction may be found through an examination of: (1) the complaint alone; (2) the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts evidenced in the record; or (3) the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts plus the Court's resolution of disputed facts. Ramming, 281 F.3d at 161. During this inquiry, "the district court is free to weigh the evidence and resolve factual disputes in order to satisfy itself that it has the power to hear the case.'" Krim v. pcOrder.com, Inc., 402 F.3d 489, 494 (5th Cir. 2005). Because the burden of proof on a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction is on the party asserting jurisdiction, plaintiff "constantly bears the burden of proof that jurisdiction does in fact exist." See Ramming, 281 F.3d at 161. The standard of review for a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1) is the same as that for a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). United States v. City of New Orleans, No. 02-3618, 2003 WL 22208578, at *1 (E.D. La. Sept. 19, 2003).

II. 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim

Under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a complaint must contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." FED. R. CIV. P. 8(a)(2). The complaint must "give the defendant fair notice of what the claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Dura Pharm., Inc. v. Broudo, 544 U.S. 336, 346 (2005). The allegations "must be simple, concise, and direct." FED. R. CIV. P. 8(d)(1).

To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the plaintiff must plead enough facts to "state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 547 (2007)). A claim is facially plausible when the plaintiff pleads facts that allow the court to "draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id . A court must accept all well-pleaded facts as true and must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Lormand v. U.S. Unwired, Inc., 565 F.3d 228, 232-33 (5th Cir. 2009); Baker v. Putnal, 75 F.3d 190, 196 (5th Cir. 1996). The court is not, however, bound to accept as true legal conclusions couched as factual allegations. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.

DISCUSSION

I. Subject Matter Jurisdiction

A. Younger Doctrine

Defendants Board and Danel argue that Plaintiff's suit satisfies each of the prerequisites for application of the Younger abstention doctrine. (Rec. Doc. 18-1, pp. 10-11) First, they argue that the state-court proceedings are ongoing. Id. at 11. Second, they stress that "the State of Louisiana has an important interest in having its state court judgments and orders enforced." Id . Third, the state forum presents an adequate opportunity for Plaintiff to raise his constitutional challenges. Id . Defendants the City of Hammond and Mayor Foster generally offer the same arguments, but they specify that it is Plaintiff's claims for injunctive or declaratory relief that are precluded by Younger. (Rec. Doc. 26-1, pp. 7-8)

Plaintiff insists that application of the Younger abstention doctrine would be inappropriate in this case. (Rec. Docs. 31, 32) Plaintiff stresses that Younger does not apply to claims for monetary relief. (Rec. Doc. 31, p. 8) Further, Plaintiff argues that Younger should not apply to his claims for injunctive or declaratory relief because there is no state court proceeding currently pending, and Plaintiff's constitutional claims are not cognizable in the ongoing administrative proceeding. Id. at 7-8. Thus, Younger does not bar this Court from considering Plaintiff's complaint.

The Younger abstention doctrine generally constrains the ability of federal courts to interfere with parallel, pending state proceedings. It is based upon "a proper respect for state functions... and a continuance of the belief that the National Government will fare best if the States and their institutions are left free to perform their separate functions in their separate ways." Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, 44 (1971). Federal courts initially invoked the doctrine to avoid insterfering with state creiminal proceedings, but have since extended the doctrine to apply to civil proceedings. Additionally, "Younger abstention can be applied to state administrative proceedings in which important state interests are vindicated, so long as in the course of those proceedings, the federal plaintiff would have a full and fair opportunity to litigate his constitutional claim." La. Debating & Literary Ass'n v. City of New Orleans, 42 F.3d 1483, 1490 (5th Cir. 1995). As the United States Supreme Court has stressed, however, "Circumstances fitting within the Younger doctrine... are exceptional'; they include... state criminal prosecutions, ' 'civil enforcement proceedings, ' and civil proceedings involving certain orders that are uniquely in furtherance of the state courts' ability to perform their judicial functions.'" Sprint Commc'ns, Inc. v. Jacobs, 134 S.Ct. 584, 588 (2013). To determine whether to apply the doctrine, courts examine "(1) whether the state proceedings constitute an ongoing state judicial proceeding; (2) whether the proceedings implicate important state interests; and (3) whether there is an adequate opportunity in the state proceedings to raise constitutional challenges." La. Debating & Literary Ass'n, 42 F.3d at 1490 (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). Where such exceptional circumstances are lacking, the general rule that "the pendency of an action in state court is no bar to proceedings concerning the same matter in the Federal court having jurisdiction" applies. Id . (quoting Colo. River Water Conservation Dist. v. United States, 424 U.S. 800, 817 (1976)). Finally, the Younger doctrine does not apply to suits seeking monetary rather than equitable relief. Alexander v. Ieyoub, 62 F.3d 709, 713 (5th Cir. 1995).

As an initial matter, the Court finds that the underlying state proceedings here fall within the exceptional circumstances capable of triggering Younger abstention. See Sprint Commc'ns, Inc., 134 S.Ct. at 592. In response to a complaint, the state actor and federal defendant initiated an investigation of the federal plaintiff to determine whether disciplinary action might be necessary. See id. The Court therefore concludes that the Board's investigation is a civil enforcement proceeding of the kind to which Younger has been extended. Id.

Next, the Court applies a three-part test to determine whether Younger applies. The first factor-whether there is an ongoing state judicial proceeding-derives from the fact that "[w]hen no state proceedings are pending, a federal action does not interfere with or insult state processes and the policies on which the Younger doctrine is premised have little force...." La. Debating & Literary Ass'n, 42 F.3d at 1490 (internal quotation marks omitted). Additionally, the ongoing state proceeding must be judicial in nature. New Orleans Pub. Serv., Inc., 491 U.S. at 367-70 (stating that even if "the litigation, from agency through courts, is to be viewed as a unitary process [in which federal courts should abstain from intervening] the [agency] proceeding [must] be the sort of proceeding entitled to Younger treatment"(emphasis omitted)). "A judicial inquiry investigates, declares and enforces liabilities as they stand on present or past facts and under laws supposed already to exist." Id. at 370 (quoting Prentis v. Atlantic Coast Line Co., 211 U.S. 210, 226 (1908)). Here, the Court finds-as the Supreme Court has twice presumed without deciding-that "an administrative adjudication and the subsequent state court's review of it count as a unitary process' for Younger purposes." Sprint Commc'ns, Inc., 134 S.Ct. at 592 (citing New Orleans Pub. Serv., Inc. v. Council of New Orleans, 491 U.S. 350, 367-70 (1989)). Thus, the current administrative proceedings, which are appealable to state court, constitute an ongoing state proceeding. The Court further finds that the state proceedings at issue here are judicial in nature because the Board and the Appointing Authority are investigating and potentially imposing discipline based on past facts under laws already in existence. See New Orleans Pub. Serv., Inc., 491 U.S. at 367-70. The Court therefore concludes that the ongoing proceedings before the Board and the Appointing Authority constitute an "ongoing state judicial proceeding" in satisfaction of the first factor.

Second, the Court must examine whether the state action implicates important state interests. When courts examine whether the implicated state interest is sufficient to warrant Younger abstention, they "do not look narrowly to its interest in the outcome of the particular case." New Orleans Pub. Serv., Inc., 491 U.S. at 365. Rather, they examine "the importance of the generic proceedings to the [s]tate." Id . This consideration has led courts to expand Younger abstention from cases implicating the states' interest in enforcing their criminal laws to those regarding, for example, obscenity regulation, contempt proceedings, welfare fraud actions, child abuse regulations, and antidiscrimination laws. Pennzoil Co. v. Texaco, Inc., 481 U.S. 1, 30 n.2 (1987)(Stevens, J., concurring). "Further, when the proceedings implicate a function[] traditionally associated with the police powers of the States, ' the state's interest is generally sufficient for purposes of Younger." Merlin Transport, Inc. v. Denton, No. 3:11-cv-365-M, 2011 WL 3510737, at *7 (N.D. Tex. Aug. 9, 2011)(quoting New Orleans Pub. Serv., Inc., 491 U.S. at 365). Here, the Court is asked to enjoin a state proceeding examining police conduct. The primary provision that Plaintiff is accused of voilating was created for the safety of the state's law enforcement officers, which the Court concludes implicates Louisiana's police power over health and safety. The Court therefore finds that the second prong is satisfied.

Third, the Court determines whether the state proceedings provide the federal plaintiff with an adequate opportunity to raise constitutional challenges. Viewing the administrative and state court proceedings as a unitary process, it is clear that the state proceedings provide Plaintiff with an opportunity to raise his constitutional challenges to Defendants' actions. See, e.g., Landry v. Baton Rouge Police Dept., 2008-2289, p. 8 (La.App. 1 Cir. 5/8/09); 17 So.3d 991, 996-97 (examining constitutional implications of retroactive application of statutory amendments in appeal from municipal fire and police civil service board's decision); Middleton v. City of Natchitoches, 2006-1531, pp. 10-12 (La.App. 3 Cir. 4/4/07); 954 So.2d 356, 363-64. The Court therefore concludes that the three criteria for the application of Younger abstention are present here. Having concluded that Plaintiff's claims for ...


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