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Hughes v. Johnson

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

April 3, 2017

JEFFERSON D. HUGHES, III ASSOCIATE JUSTICE OF THE LOUISIANA SUPREME COURT
v.
BERNETTE J. JOHNSON, CHIEF JUSTICE OF THE LOUISIANA SUPREME COURT, ET AL.

         SECTION “R” (2)

          ORDER AND REASONS

          SARAH S. VANCE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Justice Jefferson D. Hughes of the Louisiana Supreme Court moves to alter or amend[1] this Court's order[2] dismissing his claims against Chief Justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court Bernette J. Johnson and Associate Justices Greg G. Guidry, Marcus R. Clark, and John L. Weimer (collectively, Defendant Justices) on grounds of Eleventh Amendment immunity. Intervening plaintiffs-Clean Water and Land PAC, LLC, Vincent Charles Bundrick, and Cajun Pride, Inc.-move to alter or amend the same order and the related judgment.[3] Justice Hughes and intervenors also move for leave to amend their respective complaints.[4] For the following reasons, plaintiffs' motions are denied.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Justice Hughes' complaint centers around two cases that the Louisiana Supreme Court declined to hear-Robert L. Walton, et al. v. Exxon Mobil Corp., et al., No. 2015-C-0569 (La.), and Vincent Charles Bundrick, et al., v. Anadarko Petroleum Corp., et al., No. 2015-C-0569 (La.). In both cases, Justice Hughes was recused from ruling on plaintiffs' applications for writs of certiorari by order of his fellow Justices, pursuant to La. Code Civ. Proc. art. 159.[5] Justice Hughes alleges that, in voting to recuse him from Walton and Bundrick, the four Defendant Justices violated Justice Hughes' rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Justice Hughes sues Defendant Justices in their official capacities.[6]

         Intervenors are Citizens for Clean Water and Land PAC, LLC and the two plaintiffs in Bundrick: Vincent Charles Bundrick and Cajun Pride, Inc.[7]Clean Water, a political action committee, spent $487, 000 supporting Justice Hughes' election to the Louisiana Supreme Court.[8] Intervenors' allegations substantially mirror Justice Hughes'.

         On October 20, 2016, this Court issued an Order and Reasons dismissing plaintiffs' claims on grounds of Eleventh Amendment immunity.[9]In its order, the Court found that plaintiffs had failed to plausibly allege an ongoing violation of federal law and that the exception to sovereign immunity articulated in Ex parte Young, 209 U.S. 123 (1908), was therefore inapplicable.[10] Plaintiffs now move to alter or amend the dismissal order, and assert that the Court misapplied the ongoing violation requirement. To support their assertion that the alleged violation of federal lawn remains ongoing, plaintiffs rely heavily on motions to recuse Justice Hughes filed in two cases before the Louisiana Supreme Court: Agri-South Group, LLC, et al. v. Exxon Mobil Corporation, et al., No. 2016-C-1856 (La.), and Global Marketing Solutions v. Blue Mills Farms, Inc., et al., No. 2016-C-1963 (La.). On January 31, 2017 the Louisiana Supreme Court denied both recusal motions.[11]

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         A district court has considerable discretion to grant or deny a motion under Rule 59(e). See Edward H. Bohlin Co. v. Banning Co., 6 F.3d 350, 355 (5th Cir. 1993). Reconsideration of an earlier order is an extraordinary remedy, which should be granted sparingly. See Fields v. Pool Offshore, Inc., 1998 WL 43217, *2 (E.D. La. Mar. 19, 1998); Bardwell v. George G. Sharp, Inc., 1995 WL 517120, *1 (E.D. La. Aug. 30, 1995). The Court must “strike the proper balance between the need for finality and the need to render a just decision on the basis of all the facts.” Edward H. Bohlin Co., 6 F.3d at 355. A moving party must satisfy at least one of the following criteria to prevail on a Rule 59(e) motion: (1) the motion is necessary to correct a manifest error of fact or law; (2) the movant presents newly discovered or previously unavailable evidence; (3) the motion is necessary in order to prevent manifest injustice; and (4) the motion is justified by an intervening change in the controlling law. See Fidelity & Deposit Co. of Md. v. Omni Bank, 1999 WL 970526, *3 (E.D. La. Oct. 21, 1999); Fields, 1998 WL 43217 at *2; see also Compass Tech., Inc. v. Tseng Labs., Inc., 71 F.3d 1125, 1130 (3d Cir. 1995) (“Rule 59 and Rule 60(b)(2) share the same standard for granting relief on the basis of newly discovered evidence.”).

         III. DISCUSSION

         Plaintiffs advance three arguments: (1) the Court misapplied the ongoing violation requirement of the Ex parte Young exception; (2) new evidence demonstrates that plaintiffs' alleged constitutional injury is ongoing; and (3) even if the Court's denies plaintiffs' motions to amend its order, the Court should grant plaintiffs leave to amend their complaints. The Court considers each argument in turn.

         A. The Ongoing Violation Requirement Under Ex Parte Young

         Defendant Justices offered no written reasons for recusing Justice Hughes in Walton and Bundrick. Nonetheless, plaintiffs' complaints assert that: (1) these recusals were based on Clean Water's support for Justice Hughes' election campaign; and (2) that the recusals demonstrated that Defendant Justices have instituted a policy of “preventing [a] judicial candidate from hearing any suit involving persons, or their attorneys, who contribute more than some undetermined amount to a political action committee.”[12] In its order dismissing plaintiffs' claims, the Court found that plaintiffs' well-pleaded facts could not support this latter assertion.

         Plaintiffs' failure to plausibly assert an ongoing violation was fatal to their claims because the Young exception to Eleventh Amendment immunity is limited to “cases in which a violation of federal law by a state official is ongoing as opposed to cases in which federal law has been violated at one time or over a period of time in the past . . . .” Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 277-78 (1986). Plaintiffs cannot meet their burden under Young through bare assertions that the alleged violation of federal law is ongoing. See Cantu Servs., Inc. v. Roberie, 535 F. App'x 342, 345 (5th Cir. 2013) (‚ÄúDespite its facial pleading, the question remains whether Cantu alleged an ongoing federal law violation. Cantu must establish that it has a constitutionally protected ...


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