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Leleux v. Hassan

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

September 6, 2018

BARBARA LELEUX
v.
LUFTE HASSAN

          TERRY A. DOUGHTY JUDGE.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          PATRICK J. HANNA UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Currently pending are three related motions: (1) a Motion For Summary Judgment filed by the defendant, Lufte Hassan (“Mr. Hassan”) (Record Document 24); (2) a Motion To Compel filed by the plaintiff, Barbara Leleux (“Mrs. Leleux”) (Record Document 26); and (3) a Motion To Defer Consideration Of Motion For Summary Judgment filed by Mrs. Leleux (Record Document 29). All of the motions were opposed. See Record Documents 28, 32 and 33. The motions were referred to the undersigned for review, report, and recommendation in accordance with the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636 and the standing orders of this Court. Considering the evidence, the law, and the arguments of the parties, and for the reasons fully explained below, it is recommended that the defendant's motion for summary judgment be GRANTED and that the plaintiff's claims against the defendant be DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE. Furthermore, it is recommended that the plaintiff's motion to compel, the plaintiff's motion to defer, and the defendant's request for attorney's fees be DENIED.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND[1]

         Mrs. Leleux alleges that her constitutional rights were violated when the defendant, Mr. Hassan, failed to provide her with sufficient notice before garnishing her wages. Mrs. Leleux is employed by the St. Mary Parish School Board, and is married to Calvin Leleux.[2]Mr. Hassan secured a money judgment against Mr. Leleux and others in a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, in which Mrs. Leleux was not a party. Mr. Hassan registered the judgment in this court, by means of an action separate from this one, in which Mrs. Leleux again was not a party. See Hassan v. Swiftships Shipbuilders LLC, et al., 16-mc-0014, Record Document 1 (hereinafter referred to as “Garnishment Proceeding”). Thereafter, Mr. Hassan instituted a proceeding under Louisiana law, by which Mrs. Leleux's wages were sought to be garnished to satisfy the judgment in favor of Mr. Hassan and against Mr. Leleux. See id., Record Document 33.

         Mr. Hassan filed his motion for garnishment on August 21, 2017, and served it on Mr. Leleux through his counsel of record. See Record Document 6-2. The garnishment interrogatories attached thereto inquired as to Mrs. Leleux's wages and asserted that her wages “comprise a portion of the community of acquets and gains existing between [Mrs.] Leleux and Calvin Leleux and are consequently subject to execution in satisfaction of Calvin Leleux's indebtedness to Mr. Hassan, ” citing Louisiana Civil Code Article 2345.[3]See id. at 3 ¶ 7. On August 23, 2017, the motion for garnishment was granted in part, [4] and on September 26, 2017, the United States Marshal served the motion for garnishment with garnishment interrogatories on the St. Mary Parish School Board. The School Board filed its answers to the garnishment interrogatories on September 27, 2017, and on September 28, 2017, Mrs. Leleux filed the instant complaint.[5]

         The amount of $1, 163.31 was deducted as a garnishment from Mrs. Leleux's November 2017 paycheck, which appears to have been issued near the end of the month. However, that amount was reimbursed to Mrs. Leleux by the School Board on November 30, 2017.[6] In Mrs. Leleux's December paycheck, dated December 21, 2017, the amount of $1, 163.31 was again deducted as garnishment but was reimbursed by the School Board on December 28, 2017. See Record Document 28, Declaration of Mrs. Leleux and Exs. A-D. These were the only funds ever withheld from Mrs. Leleux's wages.

         In her complaint, Mrs. Leleux alleges that she was not served with any notice of the garnishment proceeding before her wages were seized. She further asserts that this was a violation of the due process rights guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. She argues that only after Mr. Hassan discovered his error of failing to provide notice to her of the garnishment did he file a second motion for order of garnishment, of which he notified Mrs. Leleux “by letter dated November 6, 2017.” Record Document 28 at 2.[7] Mrs. Leleux brought her lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and she seeks to recover her lost wages, damages for her emotional pain, suffering and distress, and punitive damages.

         Mr. Hassan initially filed a motion to dismiss Mrs. Leleux's claims against him. See Record Document 6. The undersigned denied the motion to dismiss, finding that Mr. Hassan's arguments therein went to the merits of Mrs. Leleux's claim and not to the issue of whether a plausible claim was stated in the complaint. Therefore, this Court recommended that the motion to dismiss be denied, as Mrs. Leleux's allegations had articulated a plausible claim for relief. See Record Document 10. This recommendation was adopted by the district court. See Record Document 15. Thereafter, Mr. Hassan filed the instant motion for summary judgment, asserting that Mrs. Leleux “cannot evidence that she was deprived of any property interest without the sufficient notice and the opportunity to be heard required by due process because she has not been deprived of any property and has admitted by filing her Complaint on September 28, 2017 that she had actual notice prior to any actual withholding of wages paid to her by St. Mary Parish School Board.” See Record Document 24 at 3 (emphasis in original). Mrs. Leleux opposed the motion for summary judgment, arguing there are genuine issues of material fact that preclude summary judgment. See Record Document 28.

         LAW AND ANALYSIS

         I. Summary Judgment Standard.[8]

         Under Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment is appropriate when there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact, and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. A fact is material if proof of its existence or nonexistence might affect the outcome of the lawsuit under the applicable governing law. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); Sossamon v. Lone Star State of Tex., 560 F.3d 316, 326 (5th Cir. 2009); Hamilton v. Segue Software, Inc., 232 F.3d 473, 477 (5th Cir. 2000). A genuine issue of material fact exists if a reasonable jury could render a verdict for the nonmoving party. See Brumfield v. Hollins, 551 F.3d 322, 326 (5th Cir. 2008) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252); Hamilton, 232 F.3d at 477.

         The party seeking summary judgment has the initial responsibility of informing the court of the basis for its motion and identifying those parts of the record that demonstrate the absence of genuine issues of material fact. See Washburn v. Harvey, 504 F.3d 505, 508 (5th Cir. 2007) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986)). If the moving party carries its initial burden, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to demonstrate the existence of a genuine issue of a material fact. See Washburn, 504 F.3d at 508. All facts and inferences are construed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. See Brumfield, 551 F.3d at 326 (citing Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986)).

         If the dispositive issue is one on which the nonmoving party will bear the burden of proof at trial, the moving party may satisfy its burden by pointing out that there is insufficient proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's claim. See Norwegian Bulk Transp. A/S v. Int'l Marine Terminals P'ship, 520 F.3d 409, 412 (5th Cir. 2008) (citing Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 325). The motion should be granted if the nonmoving party cannot produce evidence to support an essential element of its claim. See Condrey v. SunTrust Bank of Ga., 431 F.3d 191, 197 (5th Cir. 2005).

         When both parties have submitted evidence of contradictory facts, a court is bound to draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party. See Boudreaux v. Swift Transp. Co., Inc., 402 F.3d 536, 540 (5th Cir. 2005). The court cannot make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence, and the nonmovant cannot meet his burden with unsubstantiated assertions, conclusory allegations, or a scintilla of evidence. Id. “When all of the summary judgment evidence presented by both parties could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party, there is no genuine issue for trial and summary judgment is proper.” Greene v. Syngenta Crop Prot., Inc., 207 F.Supp.2d 537, 542 (M.D. La. 2002) (citing Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986)).

         Further, the Court notes that this case will be tried to the bench. The Fifth Circuit has “determined that a district court has somewhat greater discretion to consider what weight it will accord the evidence in a bench trial than in a jury trial.” Matter of Placid Oil Co., 932 F.2d 394, 397 (5th Cir. 1991). “[W]here ‘the evidentiary facts are not disputed, a court in a nonjury case may grant summary judgment if trial would not enhance its ability to draw inferences and conclusions.'” Id. at 398 (quoting Nunez v. Superior Oil Co., 572 F.2d 1119, 1124 (5th Cir. 1978)). To that end, the Fifth Circuit has upheld “the grant of a summary judgment motion requiring the district court to make a factual determination ‘in light of all the circumstances surrounding a given transaction.'” Id. (quoting Hous. N. Hosp. Props. v. Telco Leasing, Inc., 680 F.2d 19, 22 (5th Cir. 1982)). “Although, as always, a district court must be aware that assessments of credibility come into sharper focus once live witnesses are heard, ” the Fifth Circuit has found “that even at the summary judgment stage a judge in a bench trial has the limited discretion to decide that the same evidence, presented to him or her as trier of fact in a plenary trial, could not possibly lead to a different result.” Id. (citing Nunez, 572 F.2d at 1123-24). “If a trial on the merits will not enhance the court's ability to draw inferences and conclusions, ” then the court should “draw [] inferences without resort to the expense of trial.” Id. (quoting Nunez, 572 F.2d at 1124). With these standards in mind, the Court turns now to the merits of the instant motion for summary judgment.

         II. Applicable Law.

         A. Due Process.

         Title 42, United States Code, Section 1983 provides a cause of action against anyone who “under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State” violates another person's constitutional rights. Section 1983 is not itself a source of substantive rights but merely provides a method for vindicating federal rights conferred elsewhere. See Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 393-94 (1989); Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S. 137, 144 n.3 (1979); Hernandez ex rel. Hernandez v. Tex. Dep't of Protective & Regulatory Servs., 380 F.3d 872, 879-80 (5th Cir. 2004). To state a Section 1983 claim, a plaintiff must: (1) allege a violation of a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States, and (2) demonstrate that the alleged deprivation was committed by a person acting under color of state law. See Whitley v. Hanna, 726 F.3d 631, 638 (5th Cir. 2013). With regard to the second criterion, “a private party's joint participation with state officials in the seizure of disputed property based on that party's ex parte application is sufficient to characterize the party as a ‘state actor' for purposes of the Fourteenth Amendment.” Doyle v. Landry, 67 Fed.Appx. 241, 2003 WL 21108477, *4 (5th Cir. 2003) (citing Lugar v. Edmondson Oil Co., Inc., 457 U.S. 922, 941-42 (1982)).[9]

         The Supreme Court has “described ‘the root requirement' of the Due Process Clause as being ‘that an individual be given an opportunity for a hearing before he is deprived of any significant property interest.'” Cleveland Bd. of Educ. v. Loudermill, 470 U.S. 532, 542 (1985) (citation omitted) (emphasis in original). Due process, however, “does not require that a property owner receive actual notice before the government may take his property.” Jones v. Flowers, 547 U.S. 220, 226 (2006) (citing Dusenbery v. United States, 534 U.S. 161, 170 (2002)). A state actor need only provide “‘notice reasonably calculated, under all the circumstances, to apprise interested parties of the pendency of the action and afford them an opportunity to present their objections.'” Id. (quoting Mullane v. Cent. Hanover Bank & Trust Co., 339 U.S. 306, 314 (1950)).[10] The analysis of a claim of the denial of procedural due process requires that (1) the court determine whether state action has deprived the plaintiff of life, liberty, or property, and, if such a deprivation is found, (2) the court must then determine whether state procedures for challenging the deprivation satisfy due process. See Augustine v. Doe, 740 F.2d 322, 327 (5th Cir. 1984). “[D]ue process is flexible and calls for such procedural protections as the particular situation demands.” Mathews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319, 334 (1976) (quotations and citation omitted). Due process “is not a technical conception with a fixed content unrelated to time, place and circumstances.” Id. (quotations and citation omitted).

         B. Garnishment.

         Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 69(a)(1), a “money judgment is enforced by a writ of execution, unless the court directs otherwise. The procedure on execution-and in proceedings supplementary to and in aid of judgment or execution-must accord with the procedure of the state where the court is located, but a federal statute governs to the extent it applies.”[11] According to Louisiana Code of Civil Procedure Article 2411, a judgment creditor, “by petition and after the issuance of a writ of fieri facias, may cause a third person to be cited as a garnishee to declare under oath what property he has in his possession or under his control belonging to the judgment debtor. . . .” The article further provides that the “seizure shall take effect upon service of the petition, citation, interrogatories, and a notice of seizure, as required by Article 2412(A)(1).” La. Code Civ. Proc. art. 2411(B). Louisiana Code of Civil Procedure Article 2412(A)(1) provides that the “sheriff shall serve upon the garnishee the citation and a copy of the petition and of the interrogatories, together with a notice that a seizure is thereby effected against any property of or indebtedness to the judgment debtor.” Section (A)(2) of Article 2412 states that the judgment creditor shall “send to the judgment debtor written notice of the filing of the garnishment petition by mail or electronic means” but that the “notice provided to the judgment debtor shall have no effect on the validity of the seizure.”

         III. Analysis.

         A. Deprivation Of Property.

         In a Section 1983 claim that asserts a violation of due process, the court must first determine whether the state action has deprived the individual of a protected interest. See Augustine v. Doe, 740 F.2d 322, 327 (5th Cir. 1984). Mr. Hassan's first argument as to why Mrs. Leleux's claims should be dismissed is that Mrs. Leleux did not suffer a deprivation of property. He contends that “[s]ince no wage garnishment actually took place, ” there was no deprivation and thus no actionable claim. Record Document 24 at 5. Mrs. Leleux counters with Louisiana Code of Civil Procedure Article 2411(B)(1) which addresses garnishment and ...


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