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Pipkins v. Stewart

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

June 20, 2019

RENEE PIPKINS, et al.
v.
JAMES E. STEWART, SR., IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS DISTRICT ATTORNEY OF CADDO PARISH (FIRST JUDICIAL DISTRICT OF LOUISIANA) STATE OF LOUISIANA ex rel. JEFF LANDRY, LOUISIANA ATTORNEY GENERAL, Intervenor

          MARK L. HORNSBY MAG. JUDGE.

          MEMORANDUM RULING

          DEE D. DRELL UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE.

         Before the Court is a motion for leave to amend complaint (Doc. 66) filed by Plaintiffs, [1]an opposition (Doc. 68) filed by defendant James E. Stewart, Sr., in his official capacity as District Attorney of Caddo Parish, First Judicial District of Louisiana ("District Attorney"), and a reply (Doc. 73) filed by Plaintiffs. The Magistrate Judge issued a memorandum ruling (Doc. 78) granting the motion for leave to amend complaint (Doc. 66). For the following reasons, the Magistrate Judge's memorandum ruling (Doc. 78) is VACATED, the motion for leave to amend complaint (Doc. 66) is DENIED, and the motion to stay civil case management order (Doc. 70) is DENIED AS MOOT.

         I. FACTS & PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         This suit alleges that the District Attorney systematically exercises (and therefore still exercises) peremptory strikes against African-American prospective jurors on the basis of their race for the purpose of empaneling criminal trial juries that are predominately white. The original complaint was filed on November 19, 2015.[2] An amended complaint was filed on December 30, 2015, [3] a second amended complaint was filed with the consent of the District Attorney on April 14, 2016, [4] and a third amended complaint was filed with the consent of the District Attorney on April 21, 2016.[5]

         The District Attorney filed a motion to dismiss on May 5, 2016, [6] which was granted in part and denied in part.[7] Specifically, the Court determined it was necessary to abstain from adjudication of all the claims for injunctive and declaratory relief under O'Shea v. Littleton, 414 U.S. 488 (1974), though Plaintiffs were allowed to proceed with their damages claims.[8] In the present motion, Plaintiffs seek to avoid triggering O'Shea abstention by narrowing the scope of their requested injunctive and declaratory relief.

         II. LAW & ANALYSIS

         A. Standard of Review

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a) provides that leave to amend should be granted "freely . . . when justice so requires." Stripling v. Jordan Production Company, LLC, 234 F.3d 863, 872 (5th Cir. 2000). A court's discretion does not permit denial of leave to amend in the absence of a substantial reason, such as undue delay, bad faith, dilatory motive, futility or undue prejudice to an opposing party. Jones v. Robinson Property Group, L.P., 427 F.3d 987, 994 (5th Cir. 2005). In the context of Rule 15, "futility" is read to mean that a proposed amendment would not state a claim as to which relief may be granted under Rule 12(b)(6). Stripling, 234 F.3d at 873.

         B. Proposed Amendments

         1. Declaratory Relief

         Plaintiffs seek to limit their request for declaratory relief to "a declaratory judgment that the [District Attorney] has employed, and continues to employ, a custom, usage, and/or policy to exercise peremptory challenges against African-American citizens because of their race, in order to empanel criminal trial juries that are predominantly white."[9] This is identical to declaratory relief requested in their third amended complaint.[10] The Court discussed this at length in its memorandum ruling:

It is difficult to overstate the magnitude of chaos that would ripple out from a federal declaratory judgment that the District Attorney has, and continues to, systematically exercise peremptory strikes in a discriminatory manner on the basis of race. Such a judgment would conceivably call into question most criminal conviction in Caddo Parish dating back to at least the time from which Plaintiffs collected data on juries, but perhaps even further. Every single person convicted in Caddo Parish in a criminal jury trial in which the District Attorney exercised a peremptory strike against an African-American prospective juror would have a potentially colorable argument that his/her jury was empaneled in violation of the Equal Protection Clause and Batson/Powers. The creation of this novel avenue for the collateral attack of criminal convictions going back potentially decades may not be Plaintiffs' intent, but it is undoubtedly the end result. Hundreds, if not thousands, of criminal ...

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