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Payton v. Town of Maringouin

United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana

April 29, 2019

CYNTHIA PAYTON
v.
TOWN OF MARINGOUIN, ET AL.

          RULING AND ORDER

          JOHN W. DEGRAVELLES JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

         This matter comes before the Court on the Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) (Doc. 34) filed by Defendant, Eugene Simpson, Justice of the Peace, Ward Six, Parish of Iberville (“Justice of the Peace Simpson” or “Defendant Simpson”).[1] Plaintiff Cynthia Payton (“Payton” or “Plaintiff”) opposes the motion. (Doc. 42.) Defendant Simpson has filed a reply. (Doc. 45.) Oral argument is not necessary. The Court has carefully considered the law, facts in the record, and arguments and submissions of the parties and is prepared to rule. For the following reasons, Defendant Simpson's motion is granted.

         I. Relevant Factual Background

         The relevant factual allegations are taken from the Plaintiff's Amended and Superseding Complaint (“Amended Complaint” or “Am. Compl.”) (Doc. 16). They are assumed to be true for purposes of this motion. Thompson v. City of Waco, Tex., 764 F.3d 500, 502-03 (5th Cir. 2014).

         Beginning in August 2015, trucks and trailers began parking in close proximity to Plaintiff's house. (Am. Compl., Doc. 16 at 4.) The trucks were operated on behalf of RJ's Transportation by employees of RJ's (“other defendants”). (Id.) Believing the trucks were hauling dangerous substances, Plaintiff sent a series of unanswered complaints to public officials in the Town of Maringouin. (Id.) Plaintiff alleges that, after submitting these complaints, RJ's employees began stalking and harassing her. (Id. at 5.) Plaintiff asserts that she reported the incidents of harassment to the Iberville Sheriff's Office, but she was again ignored. (Id.) Plaintiff attempted to file charges against the employees who allegedly stalked and harassed her with Defendant Simpson, who is the Justice of the Peace for the Parish of Iberville. (Id.) Defendant Simpson expressed to Plaintiff that she could not bring any charges without Chief of Police Anderson's approval. (Id.)

         On September 27, 2017, Plaintiff wrote a letter to RJ's concerning the conduct of RJ's employees and their operation of RJ's trucks. (Id. at 8.) Subsequently, on October 17, 2017, after having all her complaints to local officials and RJ's ignored, Plaintiff issued a complaint to the District Attorney (“DA”). (Id. at 9). In that complaint, Plaintiff noted that she attempted to file charges against RJ's employees after the alleged harassment, but she did not do so because of Defendant's instructions that she could not file charges without Chief of Police Anderson's approval. (Id. at 9.) The DA did not respond to Plaintiff's complaints. (Id.)

         That same day, Justice of the Peace Simpson attended a meeting at the Maringouin Substation with RJ's employees and other named defendants. (Id. at 10.) At some point in time during the meeting, RJ's employees executed affidavits stating that Plaintiff criminally defamed them. (Id.) According to Plaintiff, the employees did so in retaliation to the letter she sent to RJ's on September 27th . (Id. at 10.) Plaintiff states that Justice of the Peace Simpson conferred with the other defendants at the substation and then signed warrants for Plaintiff's arrest for criminal defamation in violation of La. R.S. 14:47. (Id. at 11.)

         Shortly after Justice of the Peace Simpson executed the arrest warrants, Officer Davis and an unidentified Iberville Parish Sheriff's deputy arrested Plaintiff. (Id.) Plaintiff alleges that Officer Davis did not inform her that he was arresting her for allegedly defaming the other defendants but told Plaintiff that she was wanted as a fugitive from justice. (Id.) Subsequent to Plaintiff's arrest, Officer Davis created a false police report, placed into the public records, claiming he arrested Plaintiff after seeing her car parked at her house because he knew she was wanted as a fugitive from justice. (Id. at 12.) In the false report, Officer Davis states that he arrested Plaintiff as a fugitive from justice in violation of La. R.S. 14:000, a non-existent statute. (Id.) When Plaintiff asked Officer Davis to provide her a warrant for her arrest, he refused. (Id.) Plaintiff was taken to West Baton Rouge Parish Jail where she was released the following day. (Id. at 12-13.) Thereafter, the District Attorney refused all charges against Plaintiff alleging that she was a fugitive from justice in violation of La. R.S. 14:000. (Id. at 13) Additionally, thereafter, the District Attorney refused all charges against Plaintiff alleging that she was guilty of defamation in violation of La. R.S. 14:47. (Id.)

         Plaintiff asserts the following causes of action against Justice of the Peace Simpson for his role in executing the alleged bogus warrants: malicious prosecution, abuse of process, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and being conspiratorially liable “for all torts and misconduct set forth in [the Amended Complaint] under Louisiana Civil Code art. 2324 and 42 U.S.C. 1983.” (Id. at 15, 17-19.) In short, Plaintiff contends that Justice of the Peace Simpson conspired with local authorities to initiate charges against her without probable cause and to maliciously prosecute her in retaliation to her complaints made to public officials by issuing unjustified warrants for her arrest, notwithstanding the “unconstitutionality of Louisiana's criminal defamation law, notwithstanding that defendants did not allege the necessary elements of the crime of defamation, and notwithstanding that Payton allegedly committed the crime of defamation outside Iberville Parish.” (Id. at 11.) Defendant Simpson's motion and the issue addressed herein arise from Plaintiff's claim that Defendant Simpson is liable for all torts set forth in the Amended Complaint. (Id. at 18.)

         II. Relevant Standard

         A. Rule 12(b)(6) Standard

         “Federal pleading rules call for a ‘short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief,' Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2); they do not countenance dismissal of a complaint for imperfect statement of the legal theory supporting the claim asserted.” Johnson v. City of Shelby, Miss., 135 S.Ct. 346, 346-47 (2014) (citation omitted).

         Interpreting Rule 8(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the Fifth Circuit has explained:

The complaint (1) on its face (2) must contain enough factual matter (taken as true) (3) to raise a reasonable hope or expectation (4) that discovery will reveal relevant evidence of each element of a claim. “Asking for [such] plausible grounds to infer [the element of a claim] does not impose a probability requirement at the pleading stage; it simply calls for enough fact to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal [that the elements of the claim existed].”

Lormand v. U.S. Unwired, Inc., 565 F.3d 228, 257 (5th Cir. 2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1965 (2007)).

         Applying the above case law, the Western District of Louisiana has stated:

Therefore, while the court is not to give the “assumption of truth” to conclusions, factual allegations remain so entitled. Once those factual allegations are identified, drawing on the court's judicial experience and common sense, the analysis is whether those facts, which need not be detailed or specific, allow “the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” [Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009)]; Twombly, 55[0] U.S. at 556. This analysis is not substantively different from that set forth in Lormand, supra, nor does this jurisprudence foreclose the option that discovery must be undertaken in order to raise relevant information to support an element of the claim. The standard, under the specific language of Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), remains that the defendant be given adequate notice of the claim and the grounds upon which it is based. The standard is met by the “reasonable inference” the court must make that, with or without discovery, the facts set forth a plausible claim for relief under a particular theory of law provided that there is a “reasonable expectation” that “discovery will reveal relevant evidence of each element of the claim.” Lormand, 565 F.3d at 257; Twombly, 55[0] U.S. at 556.

Diamond Servs. Corp. v. Oceanografia, S.A. De C.V., No. 10-00177, 2011 WL 938785, at *3 (W.D. La. Feb. 9, 2011) (citation omitted).

         In deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, all well-pleaded facts are taken as true and viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Thompson v. City of Waco, Tex., 764 F.3d 500, 502-03 (5th Cir. 2014). The task of the Court is not to decide if the plaintiff will eventually be successful, but to determine if a “legally cognizable claim” has been asserted.” Id. at 503.

         III. Parties' Arguments

         A. Defendant Simpson's Original Memorandum (Doc. 34-1)

         Defendant Simpson argues that dismissal is appropriate in this case because all of Plaintiff's claims against him are barred by the doctrine of judicial immunity. (Doc. 34 at 2.) Defendant Simpson states that “judicial functions” are entitled to absolute judicial immunity and that, therefore, he is entitled to judicial immunity because in issuing the arrest warrants he was acting pursuant to his capacity as magistrate under La. R.S. 13:2586(C)(1) and his authority to issue arrest warrants under Louisiana Code of Criminal Procedure article 202(A). (Id. at 3.) Further, Defendant Simpson contends that judges have the same judicial immunity regardless of their status in the judicial hierarchy and that, therefore, he is entitled to receive the same judicial immunity as judges of a superior jurisdiction. (Id.)

         Defendant Simpson asserts that Plaintiff's claims should be dismissed because she failed to make any factual allegation required to meet the “high standard” which imposes liability on judges only when the judge has acted in the “clear absence of all jurisdiction”. (Id. at 3-4.) Citing Malina v. Gonzales, 994 F.2d 1121 (5th Cir. 1993), Defendant Simpson argues that if a court has any subject matter jurisdiction, then sufficient jurisdiction exists for judicial immunity purposes. Thus, Defendant Simpson claims, his court had subject matter jurisdiction since, in issuing the warrants, he was acting in his capacity as a magistrate. (Id. at 5.) Defendant Simpson notes that even if he did act in excess of his jurisdiction by issuing the arrest warrants, this type of action does not deprive a judge of all jurisdiction. (Id.)

         In short, Defendant Simpson argues that Plaintiff failed to state a cognizable claim because he is entitled to judicial immunity; his actions were normal judicial functions performed by a judge and were not done in the absence of all jurisdiction. (Id.)

         B. Plaintiff's Memorandum in Opposition (Doc. 42)

         In response to Defendant Simpson's motion, Plaintiff argues that the doctrine of absolute judicial immunity does not apply to the present set of facts. (Doc. 42.) Plaintiff does so on several grounds.

         First, Plaintiff argues that Justice of the Peace Simpson is not entitled to judicial immunity because he acted in clear absence of jurisdiction by deliberately and knowingly issuing a warrant for an arrest outside his jurisdiction. (Doc. 42 at 2.) Citing Louisiana Attorney General Opinion No. 98-419 (“Justice of the Peace has no jurisdiction outside the parish in which he holds office”), Plaintiff maintains that Defendant Simpson acted in clear absence of all jurisdiction since he issued the arrest warrants for a crime that allegedly occurred outside of his jurisdiction, namely Iberville Parish. (Id.)

         Next, Plaintiff asserts that Justice of the Peace Simpson's alleged wrongful acts are not “incidental or normal function[s] of the justice of the peace's office” and therefore cannot be entitled to immunity. (Id. at 3.) Louisiana Revised Statute 49:251.4 requires that justices of the peace receive special training and certification before issuing criminal arrest warrants. Plaintiff urges that the requirements set forth in the statute indicate that issuing arrest warrants is not an incidental or normal function of the justice of the peace's office.[2] (Id. at 3.)

         Plaintiff next points to the McAlester factors, which are often used by Louisiana courts to determine whether an act is a normal judicial function. These factors are:

(1) whether the precise act complained of is a normal judicial function; (2) whether the acts occurred in the courtroom or appropriate adjunct spaces such as the judge's chambers; (3) whether the controversy centered around a case pending before the court; and (4) whether the ...

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