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Caliste v. Cantrell

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

December 11, 2017


         SECTION "L"5

          ORDER & REASONS

         Before the Court is Defendant's 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss. R. Doc. 65. Plaintiff opposes the motion. R. Doc. 74. 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 against Magistrate Judge Harry Cantrell. This case arises from Defendant Magistrate Judge Cantrell's allegedly unlawful practice of imposing unreasonably expensive secured financial conditions of release upon arrestees without inquiring about their ability to pay. R. Doc. 1 at 1. Plaintiffs are two criminal defendants currently in the custody of the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office. R. Doc. 1 at 2-3. Defendant Harry Cantrell is the Magistrate Judge for Orleans Parish Criminal District Court, where he is responsible for setting bail upon arrest, and has a role in managing the expenditures of the Judicial Expense Fund. R. Doc. 1 at 3.

         Plaintiffs, representing a class of similar people, [1] 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, violates the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. R. Doc. 1. Thus, Plaintiffs seek a declaratory judgement 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.

         On November 7, 2017, Defendant Cantrell answered Plaintiffs' complaint. R. Doc. 66. Defendant generally denies Plaintiffs' allegations. R. Doc. 66 at 1. Defendant also alleges twenty-eight affirmative defenses including: failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, failure to join a party, lack of subject matter jurisdiction, absolute and qualified immunity, and non-justiciable political question. R. Doc. 66. Defendant requests a jury trial. R. Doc. 66 at 10.


         Defendant has filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. R. Doc. 65. Defendant argues that some of Plaintiffs' claims assert that La. R.S. 22:822 and La. R.S. 13:1381.5 are unconstitutional. R. Doc. 65-1 at 2. Therefore, Defendant argues that Defendant Cantrell is not the proper party to be sued. R. Doc. 65-1 at 3. Accordingly, Defendant moves the Court to dismiss Plaintiffs' claims relating to the unconstitutionality of these statutes. R. Doc. 65-1 at 4.

         Plaintiffs respond in opposition arguing that when a judge allegedly commits constitutional violations they are the proper party to be sued under § 1983. R. Doc. 74. First, Plaintiffs argue that § 1983 provides for declaratory relief against judges when they violate the constitutional rights of parties who appear before them in court. R. Doc. 74 at 5. Second, Plaintiffs aver that they have standing to seek declaratory relief because of the alleged constitutional violations committed during their first appearance hearings before Defendant Cantrell. R. Doc. 74 at 6.

         Third, Plaintiffs argue that Defendant Cantrell was not merely a neutral arbiter during these hearings. R. Doc. 74 at 7. Rather, Plaintiffs argue, Defendant Cantrell was the actor in the alleged violation of Plaintiffs' constitutional rights and it is his conduct that is being challenged as unconstitutional. R. Doc. 74 at 9-11. Fourth, Plaintiffs reiterate that they are not making a facial challenge to the constitutionality of any statute. R. Doc. 74 at 12.


         A. Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings Standard

          Defendant failed to raise a 12(b)(6) defense in his first motion to the Court. Therefore, this motion will be considered as a Rule 12(c) motion for judgment on the pleadings. A party may move for judgment on the pleadings after the pleadings are closed. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c). The purpose of Rule 12(c) is to dispose of cases where the material facts are not in dispute and a judgment on the merits can be rendered by looking to the substance of the pleadings and any judicially noticed facts. Great Plains Trust. Co. v. Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Co., 313 F.3d 305, 312 (5th Cir. 2002). In deciding a 12(c) motion, the Court “accepts all well-pleaded facts as true, viewing them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” In re Katrina Canal Breaches Litig., 495 F.3d 191, 205 (5th Cir. 2007). To avoid dismissal, a plaintiff must plead “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). Judgment on the pleadings is appropriate where there are no disputed issues of material fact and only questions of law remain. Stewart v. Grand Isle Shipyard, Inc., 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 148603, at *6 (E.D. La. Dec. 23, 2011) (Berrigan, J.).

         As a general rule, in considering a Rule 12(c) motion, a district court must limit itself to the facts stated in the complaint. Hughes v. Tobacco Inst., Inc., 278 F.3d 417, 420 (5th Cir. 2001). This Court recognizes that the Fifth Circuit has made exceptions to this limitation. See Herbert Abstract Co. v. Touchstone Props., Ltd., 914 F.2d 74, 76 (5th Cir. 1990) (holding that a district court may look to the substance of the pleadings and any judicially noticed facts); see also Voest-Alpine Trading USA Corp. v. Bank of China, 142 F.3d 887 (5th Cir. 1998) (holding that the district court could consider documents attached to the complaint); Great Plains Trust, 313 F.3d. at 311-13 (affirming district court's Rule 12(c) dismissal where the court considered documents that were referred to in the complaint even though they were not physically attached to the complaint). ...

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