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Webb v. Town of St. Joseph

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Monroe Division

March 7, 2017

IVAN WEBB
v.
TOWN OF ST. JOSEPH AND EDWARD BROWN

          KAREN L. HAYES MAG. JUDGE.

          MEMORANDUM RULING

          DONALD E. WALTER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the Court are the following two motions: Motion for Partial Summary Judgment, filed by Plaintiff Ivan Webb ("Plaintiff') [Doc. #66]; and Motion for Summary Judgment, filed by Defendants the Town of St. Joseph, Louisiana ("St. Joseph") and Edward Brown, the Mayor of St. Joseph ("the Mayor") (collectively, "Defendants") [Doc. #67].[1] For the reasons that follow, Defendants' motion [Doc. #67] is GRANTED, and Plaintiffs motion [Doc. #66] is DENIED.

         STATEMENT OF THE CASE

         Plaintiff filed this lawsuit, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1983, alleging violations of his rights under the Fourteenth and Eighth Amendments to the United States Constitution. Plaintiff maintains that Defendants violated his Fourteenth Amendment due process rights by (1) charging him with parking a mobile home on Ms father's property without a permit for 582 days when the ticket noted a violation of only one day; (2) invoking the court's process in obtaining a judgment against him for a fine of $58, 200; and (3) enforcing the judgment by seizing his property and withholding his salary as an alderman for the Town of St. Joseph. Plaintiff asserts Defendants violated his Eighth Amendment right to be free from excessive fines because the $58, 200 fine was disproportionate to the offense.[2]

         Facts and Procedural History[3]

         In November of 2006, Plaintiff obtained a permit to place one mobile home on his father's property in St. Joseph. Plaintiff then placed a second mobile home on the property without obtaining a second permit. On February 7, 2007, St. Joseph, through its Chief of Police, issued a ticket to Plaintiff for placing the second mobile home on the property in violation of Section 19-13 of St. Joseph's ordinances that "no building or other structure shall be built or constructed in the Town of St. Joseph without there being obtained a permit from the Mayor and Board [.]" Trial on the ticket was held before the Mayor's Court of St. Joseph on October 25, 2007.[4] The Mayor's Court found that Plaintiff violated the ordinance and rendered a judgment against Plaintiff for a fine of one hundred dollars ($100) per day, beginning February 14, 2007, and until such time as the trailer was removed from the property.

         Plaintiff appealed the decision to the 6th Judicial District Court of Louisiana ("district court"). On appeal, Plaintiff challenged whether he could be fined for violating the town ordinance for 582 days when the ticket only alleged he violated the ordinance for one day - February 7, 2007. The district court held a trial de novo on September 18, 2008, and ruled in favor of St. Joseph. The judgment ordered Plaintiff to pay St. Joseph a fine totaling $58, 200 (representing $100 per day, for 5 82 days, beginning February 14, 2007, through the date of the district court trial). Plaintiff appealed the district court's judgment to the state appellate court, but the appeal was dismissed due to Plaintiffs failure to pay appeal costs.

         From October 2010 to October 2012, St. Joseph withheld the wages Plaintiff earned as an elected alderman ($500 per month) in order to satisfy the outstanding judgment. St. Joseph also secured a writ of fieri facias from the district court, which authorized it to seize and sell two local properties that belonged to Plaintiff. In December 2010, Plaintiff filed a Motion to Annul Judgment and Stay Proceedings in the district court. Because the action originated in the Mayor's Com! which is limited to issuing fines of $500 or less, Plaintiff contended the district court's judgment imposing a $58, 200 fine was an absolute nullity. The district court denied the motion.

         On May 17, 2011, Plaintiff filed a motion for suspensive appeal in Louisiana's Second Circuit Court of Appeal ("circuit court"). In March 2012, the circuit court annulled the district court's judgment, holding that the $58, 200 fine was illegal under Louisiana law because it fined Plaintiff for 582 violations of the town ordinance when the charging document (the ticket) noted only one violation.[5] As a result, the circuit court reduced Plaintiffs fine to $100. Furthermore, Plaintiff regained possession of one of the previously seized lots, and was reimbursed $792 for the second lot, which had been sold at auction. Although Defendants continued to withhold Plaintiffs alderman's wages until October 2012, all withheld wages were ultimately returned in February 2013.

         According to Plaintiff, the Mayor and St. Joseph violated Ins constitutional rights by bringing an illegal suit against him, and withholding his alderman's wages in contravention of the circuit court's decision. Plaintiff alleges he incurred economic damages; mental and emotional anguish and distress; loss of self-esteem and enjoyment of life; and lost wages as a result of Defendants' actions. Thus, Plaintiff requests reasonable economic and compensatory damages for these injuries under Section 1983. Plaintiff further requests an award of punitive damages against the Mayor to deter him from committing constitutional violations in the future.

         SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) directs that a court "shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a).[6] An issue is "genuine" if "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A genuine issue can be resolved only by a trier of fact because it may be resolved in favor of either party. Id. at 248-49. A fact is "material" if it can "affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law." Id. Facts that are irrelevant or unnecessary for determination of the suit should not be considered. Id. The substantive law will determine which facts are "material." Id.

         The burden of proof in a summary judgment proceeding is on the party moving for summary judgment. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett,477 U.S. 317, 330 (1986). When a defendant moves for summary judgment on the plaintiffs claim, he may satisfy the summary judgment burden in one of two ways: (1) by showing there is no evidence to support an essential element of the plaintiffs claim, or (2) by submitting summary judgment evidence that negates one of the essential elements of the plaintiff claim. Celotex, 477 U.S. At 322-24; Lavespere v. Niagara Mach& Tool Works,Inc.,910 F.2d 167, 178 (5th Cir. 1990). If the motion is properly made, the plaintiff "must set forth facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250. The plaintiff "must go beyond the pleadings and designate specific facts in the record showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Wallace v. Texas Tech. Univ.,80 F.3d 1042, ...


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