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Singleton v. Cannizzaro

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

July 2, 2019

RENATA SINGLETON ET AL.
v.
LEON CANNIZZARO ET AL.

         SECTION: “H”

          ORDER AND REASONS

          JANE TRICHE MILAZZO, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court are Defendants' Motion to Confirm a Stay of Proceedings (Doc. 121) and Plaintiffs' Rule 62.1 Motion for an Indicative Ruling (Doc. 141). For the following reasons, the Motions are DENIED.

         BACKGROUND

         This is a civil rights lawsuit brought by victims and witnesses of crimes against Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro and a handful of his assistant district attorneys.[1] Plaintiffs allege that Defendants violated the U.S. Constitution and Louisiana law by fraudulently compelling them to cooperate in criminal prosecutions. Plaintiffs seek monetary damages and injunctive relief from Defendants.

         On March 1, 2018, Defendants filed a Joint Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' claims.[2] Defendants argued that they enjoyed both absolute and qualified immunity from many of Plaintiffs' claims seeking monetary damages from the Defendants in their individual capacities. Defendants also argued that, with respect to many of Plaintiffs' claims, Plaintiffs had failed to state claims on which relief could be granted and that many of the same claims were prescribed. For one reason or another, Defendants argued that all of Plaintiffs' claims should be dismissed.

         On February 28, 2019, the Court dismissed some, but not all, of Plaintiffs' claims.[3] Shortly thereafter, on March 12, 2019, Defendants filed a Notice of Appeal of this Court's February 28, 2019 Order and Reasons.[4] Two days after that, Defendants filed the instant Motion to Confirm a Stay of these proceedings pending the Fifth Circuit's ruling on Defendants' appeal.[5]

         In their Motion, Defendants argued that they are entitled to a stay of the proceedings before this Court while the Fifth Circuit considers their appeal. Because this Court's decision depends in part on the issues being appealed, the Court on April 29, 2019 ordered Defendants to specify the issues they were appealing.[6] In response, Defendants argued that “most of the claims in this case are encompassed within the Defendants' appeal.”[7] Plaintiffs disagree. It is their position that the appealable issues are much narrower than Defendants suggest, and that the Fifth Circuit actually lacks jurisdiction to hear some of the issues Defendants are trying to appeal.

         The briefing on Defendants' Motion to Confirm a Stay eventually led Plaintiffs to file a Rule 62.1 Motion for an Indicative Ruling. In that Motion, Plaintiffs ultimately seek a ruling from this Court that it would allow Plaintiffs to voluntarily dismiss their § 1983 failure to supervise and failure to intervene claims.[8] Defendants oppose the Motion as procedurally improper even though they do not oppose the ultimate dismissal of the claims Plaintiffs seek to voluntarily dismiss.[9]

         The Court will address Defendants' Motion to Confirm a Stay of these proceedings before turning to Plaintiffs' Rule 62.1 Motion for an Indicative Ruling.

         LAW AND ANALYSIS

         I. Motion to Confirm a Stay of Proceedings

         “Although appeals transfer jurisdiction from the district court to the appellate court concerning ‘those aspects of the case involved in the appeal,' the district court is nonetheless free to adjudicate matters that are not involved in that appeal.”[10] This is true even when a party appeals a district court's finding that absolute immunity does not apply to certain conduct or that qualified immunity does not apply to certain claims.[11]

         At this point, several aspects of this Court's February 28, 2019 Order and Reasons bear repeating. First, the Court held that the Defendants enjoyed absolute immunity from some-but not all-of Plaintiffs' claims.[12] Specifically, the Court held that “[t]he Individual Defendants are not absolutely immune for claims seeking damages based on allegations of: (1) creating or issuing ‘subpoenas' to Plaintiffs and (2) failures to supervise or intervene in the aforementioned conduct.”[13] This holding embodies the core of Defendants' pending appeal.

         This Court recognizes that Defendants are entitled to an interlocutory appeal of an order denying them absolute immunity in some respects.[14] What this Court fails to recognize, however, is how such an appeal divests the Court of jurisdiction to proceed regarding Plaintiffs' remaining claims.

         In contending that “most” of Plaintiffs' claims in this case are encompassed within their appeal, Defendants rely heavily on this Court's alleged “denial of qualified immunity in part.”[15] More specifically, Defendants argue that this Court denied Defendants Cannizzaro, Martin, and Pipes qualified immunity from claims based on their alleged failure to supervise and failure to intervene in the alleged creation and use of “subpoenas.” This Court did no such thing. In a 45-page memorandum in support of their Joint Motion to Dismiss, which appeared to challenge all of Plaintiffs' numerous claims on one ground or another, Defendants devoted two paragraphs to Plaintiffs' § 1983 failure to supervise and failure to intervene claims.[16] The section reads, in its entirety:

         The Plaintiffs allege that Mr. Cannizzaro, Mr. Martin, and Mr. Pipes are liable for the specific alleged violations of the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments described above because they failed to adequately train, supervise, and discipline the attorneys and agents under his supervision. Complaint at ¶ 434. The Plaintiffs further allege that Mr. Martin “directly instructed” the other Individual Defendants to engage in the conduct that allegedly violated the Plaintiffs' rights. However, because the Plaintiffs have not adequately alleged any actionable violation of their rights, these supervisory-liability claims necessarily fail.

         The Plaintiffs further allege that each of the Individual Defendants is liable for the wrongdoing of each of the others because they “knew or should have known that they and others within the District Attorney's Office were violating Plaintiffs' constitutional rights” yet acted with deliberate indifference in failing to intervene. Id. at ¶¶ 437-438. Again, in the absence of any underlying actionable constitutional violations, such secondary claims necessarily fail. Further, such conclusory allegations lack the factual specificity necessary to plausibly allege that any of the Individual Defendants acted with deliberate indifference with respect to alleged wrongdoing by others within the DA's office.[17]

         To the extent Defendants raised a qualified immunity defense in these two paragraphs, this Court failed to recognize it as such. Defendants' Memorandum in support of their Motion to Dismiss specifically outlined qualified immunity challenges to the vast majority of Plaintiffs' claims.[18] No such challenge appeared in the paragraphs challenging Plaintiffs' failure to supervise and failure to intervene claims.[19]

         In its February 28, 2019 Order and Reasons, this Court granted Defendants qualified immunity from every claim seeking monetary damages from an individual to the extent that such an argument was raised.[20]

         Defendants cannot appeal rulings that this Court did not issue.[21] Accordingly, this Court does not believe that any issue involving qualified immunity is currently pending before the Fifth Circuit.

         Under 28 U.S.C. § 1291, federal appellate courts possess jurisdiction over “all final decision of the district courts of the United States.” An order denying a motion to dismiss is not ordinarily a “final decision” that falls within the appellate court's jurisdiction.[22] As stated by the Supreme Court and recently noted by the Fifth Circuit, “interlocutory appeals-appeals before the end of district court proceedings-are the exception, not the rule.”[23]

         Here, Defendants are attempting to turn the collateral order doctrine into the rule rather than the exception. This Court is unpersuaded that Defendants' appeal is as far-reaching as they suggest. Although Defendants could have sought certification from this Court that its February 28, 2019 Order and Reasons was a final appealable order pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1292(b), they did not do so.

         This Court believes that even if Defendants receive a favorable ruling from the Fifth Circuit, most of Plaintiffs' claims will remain. That is, even if the Fifth Circuit finds that Defendants are entitled to absolute immunity for the creation and use of “subpoenas, ” Plaintiffs numerous claims seeking injunctive relief and seeking damages from Cannizzaro in his official capacity will remain. This Court sees no reason to stay litigation that will proceed similarly ...


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