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Caliste v. Cantrell

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

August 25, 2017


         SECTION "L"(5)

          ORDER & REASONS

         Before the Court is Defendant Harry E. Cantrell Motion to Dismiss. R. Doc. 12. Plaintiff opposes the motion. R. Doc. 25. The Court held oral arguments on this matter on August 23, 2017. Having considered the parties' arguments, submissions, and the applicable law, the Court now issues this Order and Reasons.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On June 27, 2017, a group of Plaintiffs filed suit as a class against one Criminal District Court Judge; Magistrate Judge Harry Cantrell. Plaintiffs Motion to Certify a Class has been continued. R. Doc. 5, 31. This case arises from Defendant Magistrate Judge Cantrell's allegedly unconstitutional practice of imposing unreasonably expensive secured financial conditions of release upon arrestees without inquiring about their ability to pay. R. Doc. 1 at 1. Named Plaintiffs are two criminal defendants with cases pending in the Orleans Parish Criminal District Court. R. Doc. 1 at 2-3. They appear as class representative for the putative class. Defendant Harry Cantrell is the Magistrate Judge for Orleans Parish Criminal District Court, among his duties is to set bail for those arrested. He also has a role in managing the expenditures of the Judicial Expense Fund. R. Doc. 1 at 3.

         Plaintiffs, as class representatives, allege that Defendant routinely sets a $2, 500 minimum secured money bond. Plaintiffs contend Judge Cantrell sets bond without considering the facts of the case to determine whether a lower bond amount or an alternative condition of release might be appropriate. R. Doc. 1 at 6. Plaintiffs further aver that Defendant requires the use of a for-profit bail bond and does not allow arrestees to post cash bail. R. Doc. 1 at 2. Plaintiffs contend that this policy involves a conflict of interest because under Louisiana law, 1.8% of a bond amount collected from a commercial surety (but not from any other type of bond) is allocated directly to the Court for its discretionary use. R. Doc. 1 at 2. Plaintiffs argue that this policy of refusing to consider a criminal defendant's ability to pay, alternative conditions of release, or a lower bond, as well as the resulting institutional financial conflict, violate the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. R. Doc. 1. Thus, Plaintiffs seek a declaratory judgment that Defendant's bond policy, which results in the creation of a modern "debtor's prison, " is a violation of Plaintiffs' constitutional rights, and a declaration that Defendant's financial conflict of interest violates the Due Process rights of criminal defendants. R. Doc. 1 at 26.


         Defendant has filed a Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction. R. Doc. 12. Defendant raises two issues, standing and abstention. R. Doc. 12-1 at 1.

         First, Defendant argues that Plaintiffs whose criminal proceedings have concluded no longer have a case or controversy and therefore lack standing. R. Doc. 12-1 at 2. Defendant asserts that these Plaintiffs lack standing because they are not currently injured (have no pending criminal cases) and are unlikely to suffer the same injury via Defendant in the future. R. Doc. 12-1 at 5. Defendant highlights the Court's opinion in Cain v. City of New Orleans (15-4479). R. Doc. 12-1 at 5. There, the Court held that plaintiffs who had already paid their debts lacked standing because their potential future interest was too speculative. 15-4479, R. Doc. 109 at 18-21; R. Doc. 12-1 at 5. The Court reasoned that it "must assume that the plaintiffs 'will conduct their activities within the law and so avoid prosecution and conviction as well as exposure to the challenged course of conduct.'" 15-4479, R. Doc. 109 at 18-21 (quoting O 'Shea v. Littleton, 414 U.S. 488, 496(1974)).

         Second, Defendant argues that Plaintiffs' ongoing criminal proceedings require federal abstention under the Younger doctrine. R. Doc. 12-1 at 2, 6. The Fifth Circuit applies the Younger doctrine when the following conditions are met: "(1) the federal proceeding would interfere with an ongoing state judicial proceeding; (2) the state has an important interest in regulating the subject matter of the claim; and (3) the plaintiff has an adequate opportunity in the state proceedings to raise constitutional challenges." Bice v. Louisiana Pub. Def. Bd, 677 F.3d 712, 716 (5th Cir. 2012) (internal quotations omitted).

         Defendant asserts that the first condition is met because there are ongoing state court criminal proceedings against the named plaintiffs and other class members and that a federal proceeding will interfere with the state court's ability to handle these proceedings. R. Doc. 12-1 at 7. Defendant contends that the second condition is met because the state has an important interest in criminal law enforcement and the Fifth Circuit has held abstention appropriate when there are current state criminal proceedings against a federal plaintiff. Bice, 677 F.3d 712; R. Doc. 12-1 at 7. Finally, Defendant argues that the third condition is met because Plaintiffs will have an adequate opportunity during the current state criminal proceedings and in future appeals to raise their constitutional concerns. R. Docs. 12-1 at 8, 37 at 1.

         III. LAW & ANALYSIS

         a. Motion to Dismiss Standard

         Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure governs challenges to a court's subject matter jurisdiction. A court must dismiss a case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction "when the court lacks the statutory or constitutional power to adjudicate the case." Home Builders Ass'n of Miss., Inc. v. City of Madison, 143 F.3d 1006, 1010 (5th Cir. 1998) (quoting Nowakv. Ironworkers Local 6 Pension Fund, 81 F.3d 1182, 1187 (2d Cir. 1996)). Dismissal under Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure is appropriate when subject matter jurisdiction is lacking. Ramming v. United States, 281 F.3d 158, 161 (5th Cir. 2001). The party asserting jurisdiction bears the burden of proof. Id. (citing Barrera-Montenegro v. United States, 74 F.3d 657, 659 (5th Cir. 1996)).

         A court reviewing subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) may base its opinion on the face of the complaint, "the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts evidenced in the record, " or "the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts plus the court's resolution of disputed facts." Ramming, 281 F.3d at 161 (internal citations omitted). A district court evaluating subject matter jurisdiction "must resolve disputed facts without giving a presumption of truthfulness to the plaintiffs allegations." Vantage Trailers, ...

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