United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana
TAMARA G. NELSON and TIMOTHEA RICHARDSON, ET AL
MAYOR BELINDA CONSTANT, ET AL
Tamara G. Nelson and Timothea Richardson filed a
“Motion to Certify Class” (Rec. Doc. 2), seeking
to certify two classes of prospective plaintiffs.
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
December 05, 2017, Plaintiffs filed a class action complaint
seeking to rectify “[d]ue [p]rocess and [e]qual
[p]rotection violation[s]” in the Mayor's Court of
Gretna, Louisiana. Rec. Doc. 1 at 1-2. Specifically,
Plaintiffs allege that the Mayor's Court is improperly
operated by Defendants as a source of income for the
municipality. See id. The fines and fees that are
assessed by the Mayor's Court fund the City of Gretna,
the Mayor's Court, and the salaries of police officers,
prosecutors, and judges. See id. at 2. Defendants
and other officials of the Mayor's Court, who none of are
disinterested or neutral, are incentivized to maximize
arrests and prosecutions. See id. “A
disproportionate number of those arrested are African
American citizens of Gretna.” Id. Plaintiffs
further allege that Defendants target the poor through their
Deferred Prosecution Program. See id. at 2-3.
instant motion seeks to certify two classes of prospective
plaintiffs, Class A and Class B. See Rec. Doc. 2.
Class A, purportedly represented by Plaintiff Nelson, is
comprised of “all persons with criminal prosecutions
pending before the Gretna Mayor's Court who are awaiting
trial of their criminal or traffic offenses.” Rec. Doc.
2-1 at 2; see also Rec. Doc. 28-1 at 14. Class B,
purportedly represented by Plaintiff Richardson, is comprised
of “persons who in the past year were denied
participation in, terminated from, or threatened with
termination from the Deferred Prosecution Program due to
their inability to pay program fees.” Rec. Doc. 2-1 at
2; see also Rec. Doc. 28-1 at 15.
20, 2018, this Court held oral argument on the Motion (Rec.
Doc. 2). Since then, pursuant to an Order by this Court (Rec.
Doc. 47), the parties have completed limited discovery and
submitted additional briefing on legal questions raised at
oral argument, including but not limited to sub-classes,
standing, applicability of Younger, and numerosity.
See Rec. Doc. Nos. 50, 51, 52, 54, 55, 56, 59.
contend that they easily satisfy Rule 23(a) and 23(b)(2).
See Rec. Doc. 2-1 at 3. The number of class members,
for both classes, range from the hundreds to the thousands.
See id. at 4. That number will continue to grow as
the Mayor's Court continues to hold court sessions.
See id. The indeterminate number of future class
members makes joinder impracticable, further satisfying
numerousity. See id. There is a common question as
to whether Defendants are violating the class members'
equal protection and due process rights, satisfying
commonality. See id. at 9. Plaintiffs were subjected
to the same practices and constitutional violations as
alleged in their complaint for the class members, satisfying
typicality. See id. at 9-10. Of the two named
Plaintiffs, one has a case pending before the Mayor's
Court and the other is a current participant in the Mayor
Court's Deferred Prosecution, satisfying adequate
representation. See id. Their counsel, MacArthur
Justice Center, has experience in litigating complex civil
rights matters, further satisfying adequate representation.
See id. at 11. The relief sought by Plaintiffs for
the class is declaratory or injunctive, satisfying Rule
23(b)(2). See id. at 12.
their supplemental briefing, Plaintiffs further contend that
they meet the numerousity prong. See Rec. Doc. 51 at
1-2. Plaintiffs offer more exact numbers and suggest that
Class B be split into two sub-classes. See id. at
2-3. Sub-class B1 consists of approximately 50 people and
sub-class B2 consists of an unknown number of people because
of the shifting of people as new people are cited and go to
trial. See id. at 3. Plaintiffs believe that this
case “must be maintained as a class action because of
the scope of relief sought and to ensure that this
Court's ultimate orders are enforceable.”
Id. at 5. A class action is the only efficient way
to secure relief because a declaration that the Mayor's
Court violates due process will not operate as an injunction
against the practices of the court and this Court would have
to continuously adjudicate individual cases in the future.
See id. at 6-7. The availability of declaratory
relief does not weigh against class certification.
See Rec. Doc. 59 at 2. Younger abstention
does not apply here because the Mayor's Court is biased
and there are no ongoing state court proceedings.
See Rec. Doc. 51 at 7-8.
their reply, Plaintiffs clarify that their action challenges
only the Mayor's Court's practices not the Lawrason
Act. See Id. at 3. Plaintiffs contend that
Defendant's concerns regarding Class B and its potential
sub-classes are unwarranted. See id. at 2.
Defendant's settlement negotiations and policy changes
are allegations of voluntary cessation and do not serve as a
basis to deny class certification. See id. at 1.
This Court will be able “to quickly and accurately
determine membership of Class B and its potential
sub-classes” through financial affidavits. Id.
at 2. Plaintiffs restate that Younger abstention is
not applicable and that this Court should not make a ruling
on its applicability without allowing parties a “full
opportunity for discovery.” Id. at 4-9.
Defendants Arthur Lawson, Jr. and Terri Brossette
their response, Defendants 1 contend that class certification
should be denied and that jurisdiction over this matter
should be declined. See Rec. Doc. 55 at 15.
Defendants 1's contentions regarding the denial of class
certification focus on Class B and its sub-classes. For
example, the alleged numerousness of the sub-class may be
moot due to settlement negotiations and policy changes.
See id. at 5. Several of Plaintiffs' requests
for relief are in the process of being remedied or have
already been remedied. See id. at 6. Further, the
definition that Plaintiffs offer for Class B is not as
fitting as they make it seem because a class member's
ability to pay requires individual, case-by-case
determination, making it hard for this Court to determine who
is and who is not a member of the class. See id. at
4-6. Lastly, a class action is not the only method available
to Plaintiff to adjudicate their alleged controversies.
See id. at 7. The proper avenue for Plaintiffs is a
declaratory judgment action, without class certification.
See id. at 14-15.
1 also contend that Younger abstention is
appropriate. See id. at 8. Plaintiffs' assertion
that the Mayor's Court is biased does not preclude
Younger abstention because Plaintiffs do not have to
file a declaratory judgment action in the Mayor's Court.
See id. They can also file it in the District Court
as to the constitutionally of the Lawrason Act. See
id. Further, the mayor does not solely appoint court
representatives and the salaries of those representatives are
not based on the number of convictions they obtain. See
Defendants Mayor Belinda C. Constant, Magistrate Raymond A.
Osborn, Jr., Magistrate Olden C. Toups, Jr., and Prosecutor
Walter J. LeBlanc (“Defendants 2”)
2 adopt all arguments and position advanced by Defendant 1.
See Rec. Doc. 54 at 1. Defendants 2 add that the
cases Plaintiffs use to support their contentions are
“inapposite to the actual structure of Gretna's
Mayor's Court and the Magistrates who preside over
it.” See id. Magistrate Toups and Osborn ...