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Carlisle v. Normand

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

May 23, 2017


         SECTION: “H” (1)



         Before the Court are three Motions: A Motion to Dismiss filed by Defendant Joe McNair (Doc. 58); a Motion to Dismiss filed by Defendants Richard Thompson and Joseph Marino (Doc. 59); and a Motion to Dismiss filed by Defendants Kristen Becnel, Tracey Mussal, and Kevin Theriot (Doc. 71). These Motions are GRANTED IN PART as outlined herein.


         In this suit, Plaintiffs challenge the manner in which the Jefferson Parish Drug Court is conducted. In addition to their individual claims, they seek to represent a class of individuals who were similarly sentenced by the Drug Court. The Court will begin by outlining their individual claims.

         I. Taylor Carlisle

         Plaintiff Taylor Carlisle was arrested on November 9, 2012 and charged in the 24th Judicial District Court for the Parish of Jefferson with possession of oxycodone in case no. 12-6158 and with possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia in case no. 12-6159. On January 30, 2015 he entered a guilty plea as to all charges. In case number 12-6159 he was sentenced to time served, while his plea in case number 12-6158 was entered pursuant to Louisiana Revised Statutes § 13:5304, also known as the “Louisiana Drug Court Statute.” He was sentenced to 0-5 years, with the sentence deferred contingent upon his completion of the Jefferson Parish Intensive Drug Court Program while on probation. As part of this program, Carlisle was required to maintain regular contact with the program probation officer and the drug court, attend regular AA meetings, consent to regular drug testing, and present required documentation to the probation officer and the drug court. He also agreed to waive due process rights in Drug Court proceedings.

         His primary claim involves allegations that he received excessive sentences from the Drug Court for failure to comply with the terms of the program. On April 28, 2015, he was sanctioned to 90 days flat time. Later, on August 25, 2015, he was sanctioned with six months of flat time for contempt of court when he failed to appear for a hearing. Carlisle brings six claims relative to his experience at Drug Court, essentially averring that the closed courtroom, lack of court reporter, and lack of adversarial proceedings violate his due process rights. He also alleges that these sentences were in excess of those permitted under the state law authorizing the Drug Court and that they are impermissible “flat time” sentences. He argues that this is violation of the Eighth Amendment's protections against cruel and unusual punishment and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. First, he seeks declaratory and injunctive relief prohibiting the Drug Court from acting in this unconstitutional manner. Second, he brings a § 1983 claim against Sheriff Normand for deliberate indifference in keeping Carlisle in jail for the 90 and 180 day flat time sentences, in violation of Louisiana law and his Equal Protection and Due Process rights. Third, he brings a § 1983 claim against Drug Court Administrator Kristen Becnel, Program Supervisor Tracy Mussal, Probation Coordinator Kevin Theriot, and Director of Counseling Joe McNair for failure to properly train and supervise the implements of the Drug Court policy.

         In addition to these constitutional claims, he brings “pendant state law claims” against several individuals. First, he brings a legal malpractice claim against the Drug Court's Indigent Public Defender Board and its staff attorney, Joe Marino. Mr. Marino was appointed to represent Carlisle in Drug Court, and Carlisle contends that he breached his duty by failing to appropriately defend Carlisle. Second, he brings a claim against Drug Court Clinical Director Joe McNair for breach of his duty as a therapist. He avers that McNair owed him a duty to act within the standard of care governing the treatment of patients with substance abuse problems and that he breached that duty by failing to make proper recommendations as to his treatment.

         II. Emile Heron

         Plaintiff Emile Heron has been a participant in the Drug Court Program since April 17, 2012. He pleaded guilty to one count of possession of oxycodone. He alleges that he has suffered periods of detention for technical violations of his probation without procedural due process.[1] On July 30, 2013, he was sentenced to 24 hours flat time for failing to complete required community service. He next alleges that, on November 12, 2013, he was sentenced to 30 days flat time for “associating with a felon” despite having never committed that offense. On January 14, 2014, he was sanctioned with 60 days flat time for failing to appear at Drug Court on January 3, 2014. He further avers that he was held for an additional four and a half months at the end of this sentence while waiting for a Long Term Care bed to become available. Eventually, he was sent to Assisi Bridge House in Shreveport for seven and half months of inpatient treatment. Upon release, he was again sanctioned for noncompliance and sentenced to 16 hours of community service due November 18, 2014. It seems that he failed to complete this community services and was therefore sentenced to 48 hours in the Jefferson Parish Correctional Center on December 2, 2014. On February 5, 2015 he was held in contempt for failure to pay $1, 624.50 in fines from the original plea agreement. He was later jailed on December 15, 2015 for failure to complete community service. He alleges that he was held until January 26, 2016, at which time he was sanctioned with 6 months' time. He alleges that all of these sanctions were imposed without hearing, a court reporter, or formal notice in violation of due process. He also alleges that, while he was incarcerated, his probation was extended by motion without his knowledge.

         III. Class Allegations

         Plaintiffs also seek certification of the following class:

Those individual natural persons who, while participating as probationers in the 24th Judicial District Court Drug Court program pursuant to Plea Agreement (hereinafter the “probationers”) have been sanctioned, for alleged probation infractions and sentenced with jail time in the Jefferson Parish Correctional Center or other location, in excess often days as proscribed by LA Code Crim. Proc. 891(c). and/or in violation of the Drug Court Act, R.S. 13:5304 et seq. These probationers include but are not limited to those sentenced to “flat time” in connection with said sanctions, as well as those who are alleged to have committed Contempt and sentenced to jail time without a hearing or opportunity to defend, or without a record from which to launch an appeal based on Due Process waivers executed at the time of the Plea Agreement.

         Plaintiffs aver that all of these individuals were subject to a pattern and practice of conduct whereby they were deprived of liberty under color of state law. They aver that the subject class may consist of more than one thousand individuals and that their claims involve common questions of law and fact.


         To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a plaintiff must plead enough facts “to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.”[2] A claim is “plausible on its face” when the pleaded facts allow the court to “[d]raw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.”[3]A court must accept the complaint's factual allegations as true and must “draw all reasonable inferences in the plaintiffs favor.”[4] The Court need not, however, accept as true legal conclusions couched as factual allegations.[5]

         To be legally sufficient, a complaint must establish more than a “sheer possibility” that the plaintiffs claims are true.[6] “A pleading that offers ‘labels and conclusions' or ‘a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action'“ will not suffice.[7] Rather, the complaint must contain enough factual allegations to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of each element of the plaintiffs' claim.[8]


         The Court will address each of the three pending Motions to Dismiss in turn.

         I. Motion to Dismiss filed by Defendant McNair (Doc. 58)

         The first Motion to Dismiss was filed by Defendant Joe McNair, who served as the Drug Court clinical director while Carlisle was in Drug Court. The Complaint alleges that McNair, as an administrator of the Drug Court, is liable for “deliberate indifference” in failing to properly train and supervise the implementation of Drug Court policy, leading to violations of Plaintiffs constitutional rights. It further alleges a pendant state law negligence claim against McNair for breach of his duty to Carlisle as a therapist. McNair avers that he should be dismissed from this action for the following reasons: (1) there is no therapist/patient relationship between Carlisle and McNair; (2) there is no casual connection between McNair's alleged negligence and the alleged deprivation of Carlisle's rights; (3) the deliberate indifference claim against McNair is barred by qualified immunity; (4) the allegations do not meet class action requisites set forth in Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23; and (5) Heron asserted no cause of action against McNair. The Court will address these arguments in turn.

         A. Existence of a Therapist/Patient Relationship

         McNair first argues that the pendant negligence claims asserted against him should be dismissed because there are no facts alleged in the Complaint and Amended Complaint from which the Court could find that a patient/therapist relationship existed. The factual allegations against McNair are contained in paragraphs 62 through 65 of the Complaint. Therein, Carlisle alleges that McNair served as the Clinical Director of Drug Court and recommended Carlisle for the program. He alleges that McNair evaluated him for program eligibility and that he owed a duty to properly evaluate Carlisle throughout the program. He alleges that McNair failed to make appropriate recommendations relative to his treatment throughout the program. The Court finds that these allegations are insufficient, even if taken as true, to establish a patient/therapist relationship. Accordingly, the negligence claims against McNair are dismissed without prejudice.

         B. Causal Connection Between McNair's Negligence and Deprivation of Rights

         McNair next argues that Plaintiffs' “deliberate indifference” claims must fail because there are insufficient factual allegations to show that he was causally connected with the due process violations allegedly stemming from excessive sentences imposed by the Drug Court. “When, as here, a plaintiff alleges a failure to train or supervise, the plaintiff must show that: (1) the supervisor either failed to supervise or train the subordinate official; (2) a causal link exists between the failure to train or supervise and the violation of the plaintiffs rights; and (3) the failure to train or supervise amounts to deliberate indifference.”[9] The Complaint broadly alleges that he and the other Drug Court administrators failed to properly supervise the implementation of Drug Court policy, leading to unlawful sentences imposed in violation of due process protections. The ultimate decision-making power relative to these sentences, however, rested with the judges administering the program.[10]Indeed, the Complaint does not identify subordinate officials whom McNair failed to train or supervise. In fact, quite the opposite, it appears that the complained-of sentences were imposed by the drug court judges, who clearly served as McNair's supervisors in the program.[11] Because the Complaint fails to allege a causal connection between any alleged failure to train or supervise and the deprivation of a constitutional right, Plaintiffs' deliberate indifference claims against McNair are dismissed without prejudice.

         C. Qualified Immunity

         McNair next avers that he is entitled to qualified immunity from suit for damages in his personal capacity on any § 1983 claim. Plaintiff responds, arguing that (1) as a private contractor he is not entitled to qualified immunity and (2) that the alleged violations amount to violations of clearly established law. The Supreme Court has previously held that medical professionals contracted to work part time with the state act under color of state law when treating individuals as part of the terms of their employment.[12] Accordingly, McNair is permitted to assert qualified immunity as a defense. In Saucier v. Katz, the Supreme Court promulgated a two-step analysis to determine if an official has stepped outside the bounds of qualified immunity.[13] Under that test, the initial inquiry is whether the Plaintiff has alleged a constitutional violation.[14] If established, the next inquiry is whether the defendant's conduct was objectively reasonable in light of clearly established law at the time the conduct occurred.[15] In Pearson v. Callahan, the Court retreated somewhat from this rigid two-step inquiry, giving courts leave to decide which prong to consider first.[16] Plaintiff argues that the procedural due process rights violated by Defendants are clearly established, however, it is undisputed that Plaintiff signed a waiver of his due process rights prior to participating in the Drug Court program. To evade qualified immunity, Plaintiffs would have to demonstrate that the invalidity of the due process waiver was clearly established. They have not done so. Accordingly, in light of the due process waiver, Plaintiff cannot establish that McNair's actions violated any clearly established constitutional right. He is therefore entitled to qualified immunity from suit in his personal capacity as to all claims for damages arising under § 1983. Accordingly, all § 1983 claims for damages against McNair in his personal capacity are dismissed with prejudice.

         D. Class Allegations as to McNair

         McNair next argues that the class allegations against him are insufficient because the class action allegations of the Complaint are devoid of any allegations specific to McNair. Plaintiff avers that this attack on the class allegations is premature, as he has not yet moved for class certification. This argument is unavailing. Class actions are governed by Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. “The class action is ‘an exception to the usual rule that litigation is conducted by and on behalf of the individual named parties only.'"[17] In order for an action to be maintained as a class action under Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, each of the four prerequisites of Rule 23(a) must be satisfied.[18] Additionally, one of ...

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