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Hooker v. Campbell

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

April 16, 2018





         Plaintiffs Ruby Hooker and Alice Hooker ("Plaintiffs") brought this lawsuit contending that Defendants had violated their civil rights. Pending before the Court is a Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. No. 63] filed by Defendant Franklin Parish Police Jury ("Defendant"). Plaintiffs have filed an Opposition. [Doc. No. 75]. For the following reasons, the Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED.

         I. FACTS:

         Plaintiffs live on the east end of Ellis Lane in Franklin Parish, Louisiana. Defendant is the Franklin Parish Police Jury ("the Police Jury"). [1');">1" name="FN1');">1" id="FN1');">1">1');">1] Plaintiffs allege that Defendant has maintained a racially discriminating policy, pattern and practice of intentionally denying public services to Plaintiffs because they are African American and/or because they reside in a predominantly African American neighborhood. Plaintiffs allege they have been denied public water service, street paving, adequate roads, maintenance and adequate drainage for nearly forty years, whereas, during the same time period, Defendant has provided water service, black top roads and other public amenities to residents living on the west end of Ellis Lane, which is predominantly white. Plaintiffs allege Defendant has authorized, financed, developed, and/or constructed water projects in white neighborhoods, while continually ignoring the long standing, desperate need for public water and sewer service in their predominantly African-American neighborhood.

         Plaintiffs allege that, in 201');">12, they were the intended beneficiaries of a Community Development Block Grant which received funding from the LaStep Program to provide water and waste services to communities of low-and moderate-income residents, but that Defendant has consistently and intentionally delayed the construction, thereby failing to fulfill the obligations of the project to provide much needed clean public water services to Plaintiffs and residents of the east end of Ellis Lane. Plaintiffs further allege that Defendant provided the same water project to the west end of Ellis Lane, connecting them to the Public Water System with one hundred percent of the work performed by the Police Jury; whereas Plaintiffs and the residents of the east end are required to dig and lay 20 to 25 miles of water pipe along the roadway without any formal assistance or direction.

         Plaintiffs allege that the Police Jury "has always discriminated against the residents of the east end of Ellis Lane by not providing clean drinking water, a paved road, maintenance and up keep of the road and adequate drainage to prevent flooding." [Doc. No. 1');">1, p. 6-7]. They allege they have to travel to their home on a dirt road full of potholes while their west end counterparts travel to their homes on a black top road.

         Plaintiffs allege they suffer flooding of their roads and homes because there is no adequate drainage and that the Police Jury has intentionally failed to make necessary repairs to a bridge at Deer Creek on Earnest Road despite have received funding to make the repairs.

         Plaintiffs allege the Police Jury has failed to provide fire services to them.

         Plaintiffs allege the Police Jury uses relatively low income people to qualify for federal funding, but then fails to provide services to these residents.

         Plaintiffs assert they have claims for relief under (a) 42 U.S.C. § 1');">1983 for alleged violation of the Fourteenth Amendment (denial of rights/denial of equal protection); (b) 42 U.S.C. § 2OOOd, Title VI of the Civil rights Act of 1');">1964, for discrimination on the basis of race by a recipient of federal funds; and (c) for purported "reckless indifference" to their rights. Plaintiffs seek damages as well as declarative and injunctive relief.

         The Police Jury has now moved for summary judgment as to Plaintiffs' remaining claims. The motion is full briefed, and the Court is prepared to rule.


         A. Standard of Review

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a), "[a] party may move for summary judgment, identifying each claim or defense-or the part of each claim or defense-on which summary judgment is sought. The 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." The moving party bears the initial burden of informing the court of the basis for its motion by identifying portions of the record which highlight the absence of genuine issues of material fact. Topalian v. Ehrmann, 1');">11');">125');">954 F.2d 1');">11');">125, 1');">11');">132 (5th Cir. 1');">1992); see also FED. R. Civ. p. 56(c)(1');">1) ("A party asserting that a fact cannot be . . . disputed must support the assertion by . . . citing to particular parts of materials in the record . . .). A fact is "material" if proof of its existence or nonexistence would affect the outcome of the lawsuit under applicable law in the case. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1');">1986). A dispute about a material fact is "genuine" if the evidence is such that a reasonable fact finder could render a verdict for the nonmoving party. Id.

         If the moving party can meet the initial burden, the burden then shifts to the nonmoving party to establish the existence of a genuine issue of material fact for trial. Norman v. Apache Corp., 1');">19 F.3d 1');">101');">17');">1');">19 F.3d 1');">101');">17, 1');">1023 (5th Cir. 1');">1994). In evaluating the evidence tendered by the parties, the Court must accept the evidence of the non-movant as credible and draw all justifiable inferences in its favor. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. However, "a party cannot defeat summary judgment with conclusory allegations, unsubstantiated assertions, or only a scintilla of evidence." Turner v. Baylor Richardson Med. Ctr., 476 F.3d 337, 343 (5th Cir. 2007) (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1');">1986)).

         B. Claims Under 42 U.S.C. § 1');">1983

         "A constitutional violation is an essential element of a prima facie § 1');">1983 claim against a municipality. . . . Supreme Court and Fifth Circuit case law have long established that a constitutional claim for discrimination requires proof of purposeful discrimination; disparate impact is insufficient. . . . The absence of discriminatory purpose precludes a § 1');">1983 violation." Walker v. City of Bogalusa, 1');">168 F.3d 237');">1');">168 F.3d 237, 240 (5th Cir. 1');">1999).

         (1');">1) Fourteenth Amendment Substantive Due Process

         In order to establish either a substantive or a procedural due process violation by claiming denial of a property right, a Plaintiff must first prove the denial of a constitutionally protected property right. Bryant v. City of Madison, 1');">13 F.3d 267');">21');">13 F.3d 267, 274 (5th Cir. 2000). Proof of a property right must be made by reference to state law. Schaper v. City of Huntsville, 1');">13 F.2d 709');">81');">13 F.2d 709 (5th Cir. 1');">1987).

         Plaintiffs claim to have a property right to public water service, street paving, adequate roads, maintenance, and adequate drainage. The Police Jury argues that the general powers conferred upon Louisiana police juries to provide services such as road work or drainage are not coupled with mandates to exercise any or all such powers. It argues that the statutes do not require police juries to perform these acts, thus making the exercise of such powers discretionary and if the benefit may be granted or denied at the discretion of government officials, it is not an entitlement.

         Further, the Police Jury contends that Plaintiffs can establish no duty to provide water, sewer, services, road maintenance, drainage, and fire protection services to Plaintiffs individually-as opposed to the public at large. It argues this precludes Plaintiffs' substantive due process claim relating to the alleged denial of public services.

         Plaintiffs respond that if the Police Jury has the discretion to act in one way or another, then that discretion may be abused and may be exercised with discriminatory intent, as they contend was done in this case.

         The Court finds there is no factual or legal basis for Plaintiffs' denial of services claims.

         (a) Water Services

         In regard to the intentional denial of water services claim, the Police Jury has produced the Affidavit of Sam Wiggins Boyd, Secretary/Treasurer, establishing that the Police Jury does not own, operate, fund, or maintain a water system, and it does not provide water to anyone. Instead, Franklin Parish residents receive water through services of privately owned water companies, one of which is North Franklin Water Works, Inc. ("NFWW"), which provides water to west Ellis Lane. NFWW received a franchise from the Police Jury on May 5, 1');">1970, thus allowing NFWW s operations in ...

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