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Pudas v. St. Tammany Parish

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

June 6, 2019

TAMMY PUDAS
v.
ST. TAMMANY PARISH, LOUISIANA, RANDY SMITH, AND PAT BRISTER, IN THEIR OFFICIAL CAPACITIES

         SECTION: “J” (3)

          ORDER

          CARL J. BARBIER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court is a Motion to Dismiss (Rec. Doc. 16) filed by Defendant, Sheriff Randy Smith, in his official capacity (“the Sheriff”). Plaintiff, Tammy Pudas, opposes the motion (Rec. Doc. 19). The Sheriff filed a reply (Rec. Doc. 22). Having considered the motion and legal memoranda, the record, and the applicable law, the Court finds that the motion should be GRANTED.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         This litigation arises from an incident in which Plaintiff alleges that she was arrested for asking for money under an overpass near the intersection of Highway 190 and Highway 22 in Covington, Louisiana. Plaintiff alleges that St. Tammany Parish Sheriff's deputies issued her a citation for violating the St. Tammany Parish Ordinance prohibiting solicitation on a public highway. However, Plaintiff asserts that she was instead charged with violating the Ordinance prohibiting peddling without a permit. The latter charge is currently pending in misdemeanor court in St. Tammany Parish. Plaintiff filed the instant suit in federal court on October 26, 2018, alleging that both Ordinances violate her constitutional rights under the First Amendment.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         Under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a complaint must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). The complaint must “give the defendant fair notice of what the claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Dura Pharm., Inc. v. Broudo, 544 U.S. 336, 346 (2005) (internal citations omitted). The allegations “must be simple, concise, and direct.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(d)(1).

         “Under Rule 12(b)(6), a claim may be dismissed when a plaintiff fails to allege any set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief.” Taylor v. Books A Million, Inc., 296 F.3d 376, 378 (5th Cir. 2002) (citing McConathy v. Dr. Pepper/Seven Up Corp., 131 F.3d 558, 561 (5th Cir. 1998)). To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the plaintiff must plead enough facts to “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A claim is facially plausible when the plaintiff pleads facts that allow the court to “draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. A court must accept all well-pleaded facts as true and must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Lormand v. U.S. Unwired, Inc., 565 F.3d 228, 232 (5th Cir. 2009); Baker v. Putnal, 75 F.3d 190, 196 (5th Cir. 1996). The court is not, however, bound to accept as true legal conclusions couched as factual allegations. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. “[C]onclusory allegations or legal conclusions masquerading as factual conclusions will not suffice to prevent a motion to dismiss.” Taylor, 296 F.3d at 378.

         PARTIES' ARGUMENTS

         A. The Sheriff's Motion

         The Sheriff first notes that a suit against him in his official capacity is truly a suit against the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff, a political subdivision. (Rec. Doc. 16-2 at 4). Thus, the Sheriff contends that Plaintiff's § 1983 claims must satisfy the requirements outlined in Monell v. New York City Department of Social Services. (Rec. Doc. 16-2 at 4). The Sheriff emphasizes that the United States Supreme Court has held that establishing the liability of a government body under § 1983 requires a finding that official policy is the moving force behind the constitutional violation. (Rec. Doc. 16-2 at 4).

         The Sheriff argues that in this case, Plaintiff's allegations that (1) the Sheriff enforces the St. Tammany Parish Code of Ordinances in the parish and (2) by enforcing the Ordinance at Section 32-71, the Sheriff violated Plaintiff's First Amendment right to solicit something of value are insufficient to support Monell liability. (Rec. Doc. 16-2 at 5, 6). Specifically, the Sheriff argues that no policy or custom is mentioned, and the facts alleged are insufficient “to show a pattern or practice of violating the constitutional right to freedom of speech that is so persistent and widespread as to constitute an official custom attributable to [the Sheriff].” (Rec. Doc. 16-2 at 6).

         The Sheriff contends that Plaintiff's position that the Sheriff may be held liable under § 1983 for enforcing a parish ordinance is “inconsistent with Monell's requirement that a municipal policy be the ‘moving force' behind the constitutional violation.” (Rec. Doc. 16-2 at 7). The Sheriff asks the Court to find that given that Louisiana law requires the Sheriff to enforce the St. Tammany Parish Code of Ordinances, the Sheriff's enforcement of the ordinances at issue cannot form the basis of a section 1983 claim against the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff's Office. (Rec. Doc. 16-2 at 8, 9). The Sheriff also argues that he cannot be held liable for the alleged unconstitutionality of an Ordinance that Plaintiff is charged with violating because the District Attorney of St. Tammany Parish has the sole discretion to determine the charge against an offender; the Sheriff may only issue a citation for a particular offense. (Rec. Doc. 16-2 at 9).

         Finally, the Sheriff emphasizes that the Sheriff cannot be held liable under § 1983 because he is not a policymaker as to parish ordinances. (Rec. Doc. 16-2 at 9). Rather, “the power and authority to pass parish ordinances rests solely with the St. Tammany Parish Government.” (Rec. Doc. 16-2 at 10). Because the Sheriff cannot modify, nor did he create or pass the Ordinances alleged to be unconstitutional, he asserts that ...


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