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Jones v. Gusman

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

September 28, 2018


         SECTION: “I” (5)


         Before the Court is the Motion to Clarify Stipulated Order filed by the Independent Jail Compliance Director (“Director”), Darnley R. Hodge, Sr. (Rec. doc. 1170).[1] The motion seeks to have the Court “clarify” the Stipulated Order and find that the Director shares the “absolute judicial immunity of the Court.” (Id.). The motion is opposed by the Plaintiff Class and the United States Department of Justice (“DOJ”). (Rec. docs. 1178, 1180). Neither the City of New Orleans nor the Sheriff's Office filed an opposition or response.

         The District Judge referred the motion to me for issuance of a Report and Recommendation pursuant to Section A.7 of the Stipulated Order, which provides that “[i]ssues regarding the interpretation or implementation of this agreement shall be referred to the United States Magistrate Judge assigned to the case for resolution. Any Party or the Compliance Director may seek review of the Magistrate Judge's determination by the District Judge.” (Rec. doc. 1082 at p. 4).

         I. Relevant Procedural Background

         This litigation was filed in April 2012 as a putative class action against Defendants, Sheriff Marlin Gusman (the “Sheriff”), and other prison officials by prisoners housed in the Orleans Parish Jail (“Plaintiffs”). Plaintiffs alleged that they and other putative class members were subjected to various unconstitutional conditions of confinement and sought injunctive relief to remedy those alleged conditions. (Rec doc. 1). The DOJ intervened pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1997, similarly alleging constitutional and statutory violations and seeking injunctive relief. (Rec. doc. 70). The City of New Orleans (the “City”) was brought into the case via third-party complaints filed by the Sheriff. (Rec. docs. 75, 76).

         The Plaintiffs, the DOJ, and Sheriff Gusman ultimately resolved the underlying litigation by entering into an agreement that was adopted by this Court as a consent judgment (the “Consent Judgment”), which sets forth extensive procedures and protocols to be followed by the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office (“OPSO”) in operating the Orleans Parish Jail, for the purpose of redressing the alleged unconstitutional conditions. (Rec. doc. 466). The District Judge approved the Consent Judgment on June 6, 2013. (Rec. doc. 465).

         Unhappy with the pace of reform under the Consent Judgment, on April 25, 2016, the Plaintiffs and the DOJ filed a Motion for an Order to Show Cause and for Appointment of a Receiver to Implement Consent Judgment (rec. doc. 1009), requesting that the Court appoint “a receiver with full authority to administer operations of the Orleans Parish Jail, including the ability to discipline, reassign, terminate, and promote Jail employees; develop and implement policies and procedures; allocate Jail budget funds; and enter into contracts for Jail services.” (Rec. doc. 1009-11, pp. 1-2).

         Prior to the conclusion of a lengthy evidentiary hearing held on that motion, the parties (including the City) engaged in extensive settlement negotiations, in which the undersigned was actively involved. The parties ultimately entered into an agreement “to avoid continued litigation and appeals.” (Rec. doc. 1083). The District Judge approved the agreement as a “Stipulated Order.” (Rec. doc. 1082).

         II. The Positions of the Parties

          The Director seeks to have the Court “clarify” the Stipulated Order to make clear that the Compliance Director is “entitled to absolute judicial or quasi-judicial immunity for actions taken within the scope of his court-granted authority.” (Rec. doc. 1170-1 at p. 5). The essential basis for the Director's position is the notion that he or she is “functionally equivalent to a court-appointed receiver and entitled to the same immunity” as such a receiver. (Id. at p. 7)(citing Plata v. Schwarzenegger, No. 01-CV-1351, 2005 WL 2932253 (N.D. Cal. Oct. 3, 2005) and Forrester v. White, 484 U.S. 219, 108 S.Ct. 538 (1988)).

         The Plaintiffs disagree, arguing that the Parties did not agree that the Compliance Director would enjoy any sort of immunity and that this Court cannot determine whether the Director is immune in other lawsuits. Plaintiffs also take serious issue with the Director's position that his office and position are “analogous to a court-appointed receiver.” (Rec. doc. 1178 at p. 2). The DOJ's “Opposition” merely seeks referral of the matter to the undersigned pursuant to section A.7 of the Stipulated Order and expresses a willingness to discuss whether the agreement between the parties “contemplated a grant of absolute immunity to the Compliance Director. . . .” (Rec. doc. 1180 at p. 4).

         III. Analysis

         The relief sought by the Director is effectively distilled in this statement in his reply brief (rec. doc. 1184):

Mr. Hodge does not seek a binding declaration from this Court that he is absolutely immune from every suit that has been, or ever will be, brought against him-nor would such a thing be possible. He merely seeks a ruling from this Court confirming that the Compliance Director is an officer of ...

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