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Traweek v. Gusman

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

October 23, 2019



         Before the Court are two motions by Louisiana Department of Safety & Corrections Secretary James LeBlanc and employee Ashely Jones: (1) Rule 12(b)(1) and Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss; and (2) motion to stay discovery. For the reasons that follow, the motion to dismiss is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part; and the motion to stay discovery is DENIED as moot.


         This civil rights lawsuit arises from Johnny Traweek's claim that bureaucratic incompetence delayed the processing of his “time-served” judgment, causing him to be unlawfully imprisoned in Orleans Parish Prison almost three weeks beyond his court-ordered release date.

         On October 2, 2017, Johnny Traweek was arrested on suspicion of aggravated battery and detained in Orleans Parish Sherriff's Office custody at Orleans Parish Prison. He could not make bail. Seven months later, on Wednesday, May 2, 2018, Mr. Traweek appeared in state court, pled guilty to aggravated battery, and was sentenced to seven months in the custody of the Orleans Parish Sheriff, with credit for time served.[1] But Mr. Traweek was not immediately released.[2] The next day, Mr. Traweek remained in custody; Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office created a Letter of Credit showing that Mr. Traweek had served his entire seven-month sentence.

         When Mr. Traweek remained in custody a week later, on May 9, 2018, Mr. Traweek's attorney, Stas Moroz, emailed Monique Filmore and Blake Arcuri[3] at the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office asking why Mr. Traweek had not been released. Ms. Filmore responded defiantly: “First of all Johnny Traweek was just sentenced on 5/2/18 so his paperwork has not went up yet.” On Monday, May 14, 2018, Mr. Moroz again wrote to Ms. Filmore and Mr. Arcuri: “Mr. Traweek is still in jail. Could you please ensure that he is released? I understand that the paperwork has to be send (sic) to [the Louisiana Department of Public Safety & Corrections, or DOC], but he has now been detained 12 days past his full term date.” Mr. Arcuri unhelpfully responded that the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office could not release Mr. Traweek since he was a Louisiana Department of Safety & Corrections, or “DOC” inmate.[4] Still defiant, Ms. Filmore replied: “He can't get released until DOC sends him a release. The whole process takes about 2 weeks. He has to wait!!!!”

         On May 16, 2018, the Louisiana Department of Public Safety & Corrections (DPSC or DOC) confirmed that the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office had not even begun the process of transferring Mr. Traweek.[5] It was not until May 17, 2018 that the DOC received Mr. Traweek's release paperwork from the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office.

         Although Mr. Traweek's paperwork “arrived” at the DOC on Thursday, May 17, four days passed before DOC began to process his release. On Monday, May 21, 2018, DOC employee Ashley Jones started working on Mr. Traweek's paperwork. It is alleged that she began computing Mr. Traweek's credit for time-served and she performed other searches relevant to his release. But she did not finish Mr. Traweek's paperwork that day. The next day, on May 22, Mr. Moroz filed a writ of habeas corpus and motion for immediate release on behalf of Mr. Traweek.[6] Later that same day, Ms. Jones created Mr. Traweek's certificate of release and, at about 3:30 p.m., Mr. Traweek was released from custody. Twenty days after he was sentenced to time-served and eligible for release from custody.

         On February 14, 2019, Mr. Traweek filed this civil rights lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, followed by an amended complaint on May 16, 2019, naming as defendants, in their individual and official capacities, Marlin Gusman (as Sheriff) and Monique Filmore (as an employee) of the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office as well as James LeBlanc (as Secretary) and Ashley Jones (as an employee) of the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections.[7] Mr. Traweek seeks to recover for a Fourteenth Amendment Due Process Clause constitutional violation underlying his § 1983 claims; he also asserts Monell/Hinojosa failure to train/supervise liability against Gusman and LeBlanc, as well as various state constitutional and state law claims including false imprisonment (against Gusman, Filmore, Jones, and Does 1-10), negligence and failure to intervene (as to all defendants), and respondeat superior (against Gusman). He seeks declaratory relief, compensatory damages, special damages, attorney's fees, and a permanent injunction, as well as “indemnification” (as to Gusman only).[8]

         Mr. Traweek alleges that, for years, the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office[9] and the Louisiana Department of Safety and Corrections have held prisoners indefinitely beyond their release date, releasing prisoners only after their attorneys file habeas corpus petitions.[10] Mr. Traweek alleges that these widespread over detention practices violate his civil rights and confer municipal liability and supervisory liability. The State Defendants (LDSC Secretary LeBlanc and employee Jones) now move to dismiss the plaintiff's claims against them, invoking Eleventh Amendment immunity, Heck v. Humphrey, and qualified immunity; they also move to stay discovery pending the Court's ruling on their motion to dismiss.



         Motions filed under Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure allow a party to challenge a federal district court's subject matter jurisdiction. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1). The Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections challenges this Court's subject matter jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1), invoking the Eleventh Amendment's doctrine of sovereign immunity with respect to the plaintiff's § 1983 claims seeking monetary damages against LeBlanc and Jones in their official capacities. The burden of proof for a Rule 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss is on the party asserting jurisdiction. Choice Inc. of Texas v. Greenstein, 627 F.3d 710, 714 (5th Cir. 2010)(citations omitted). The Court may find a plausible set of facts to support subject matter jurisdiction by considering any of the following: “(1) the complaint alone; (2) the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts evidenced in the record; or (3) the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts plus the court's resolution of disputed facts.” Barrera-Montenegro v. United States, 74 F.3d 657, 659 (5th Cir. 1996).


         The other ground for dismissal advanced by the defendant is dismissal for failure to state a claim, under Rule 12(b)(6). The standard of review applicable to motions to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1) is similar to that applicable to motions to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6).[1]

         Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure allows a party to move for dismissal of a complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Such a motion is rarely granted because it is viewed with disfavor. See Lowrey v. Tex. A & M Univ. Sys., 117 F.3d 242, 247 (5th Cir. 1997) (quoting Kaiser Aluminum & Chem. Sales, Inc. v. Avondale Shipyards, Inc., 677 F.2d 1045, 1050 (5th Cir. 1982)).

         Under Rule 8(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a pleading must contain a "short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-79 (2009)(citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 8). "[T]he pleading standard Rule 8 announces does not require 'detailed factual allegations,' but it demands more than an unadorned, the- defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation." Id. at 678 (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)).

         Thus, in considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the Court “accepts ‘all well-pleaded facts as true, viewing them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.'” See Martin K. Eby Constr. Co. v. Dall. Area Rapid Transit, 369 F.3d 464 (5th Cir. 2004) (quoting Jones v. Greninger, 188 F.3d 322, 324 (5th Cir. 1999)). But, in deciding whether dismissal is warranted, the Court will not accept conclusory allegations in the complaint as true. Kaiser, 677 F.2d at 1050. Indeed, the Court must first identify allegations that are conclusory and, thus, not entitled to the assumption of truth. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-79 (2009). A corollary: legal conclusions “must be supported by factual allegations.” Id. at 678. Assuming the veracity of the well-pleaded factual allegations, the Court must then determine “whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.” Id. at 679.

         “‘To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Gonzalez v. Kay, 577 F.3d 600, 603 (5th Cir. 2009)(quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678)(internal quotation marks omitted). “Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact).” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (citations and footnote omitted). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (“The plausibility standard is not akin to a ‘probability requirement,' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.”).


         DOC Secretary LeBlanc and DOC employee Jones advance three grounds for the dismissal of Mr. Traweek's § 1983 claims.[11] First, LeBlanc and Jones invoke sovereign immunity insofar as Mr. Traweek asserts claims against them in their official capacities. Second, LeBlanc and Jones submit that Heck v. Humphrey's favorable termination rule procedurally bars Mr. Traweek's § 1983 claims. Finally, LeBlanc and Jones invoke qualified immunity insofar as Mr. Traweek seeks money damages from them in their individual capacities. The Court takes up sovereign immunity first.


         LeBlanc and Jones submit that the plaintiff's claims against them in their official capacities as Secretary and employee of the Louisiana Department of Public Safety & Corrections must be dismissed because the DOC enjoys sovereign immunity from suit. The plaintiff concedes that dismissal of his official capacity claims against LeBlanc and Jones is required. The Court agrees.

         "Sovereign immunity is the privilege of the sovereign not to be sued without its consent." Va. Office for Prot. & Advocacy v. Stewart, 131 S.Ct. 1632, 1637 (2011); Frew ex rel. Frew v. Hawkins, 540 U.S. 431, 437 (2004)(citing Seminole Tribe of Fla. v. Florida, 517 U.S. 44, 54 (1996)).[3] A federal district court lacks subject matter jurisdiction where the named defendant is protected by Eleventh Amendment immunity. See Wagstaff v. U.S. Dep't of Educ., 509 F.3d 661, 664 (5th Cir. 2007)(per curiam). This jurisdictional bar applies regardless of the nature of the relief sought and extends to a state's agencies and departments with identities sufficiently aligned with the state. Pennhurst State School & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 100-01 (1984), superseded by statute on other grounds, 28 U.S.C. § 1367; Regents of the Univ. of California v. Doe, 519 U.S. 425, 429 (1997); Vogt v. Bd. of Comm'rs of Orleans Levee Dist., 294 F.3d 684, 688-89 (5th Cir. 2002)(“Even in cases where the State itself is not named a defendant, the State's Eleventh Amendment immunity will extend to any state agency or other political entity that is deemed the ‘alter ego' or ‘arm' of the State.”).[12] Not only does the Eleventh Amendment preclude individuals from suing a state in federal court for money damages, it also bars injunctive and declaratory suits against the state, unless the state consents to suit, or its immunity is otherwise overcome by application of waiver, abrogation, or Ex parte Young doctrines. See Halderman, 465 U.S. at 100-01; see also Cory v. White, 457 U.S. 85, 91 (1982).

         The Eleventh Amendment bar to suits by private citizens against a state in federal court extends to protect state actors who are acting in their official capacities. K.P. v. LeBlanc, 627 F.3d 115, 124 (5th Cir. 2010)(citing Hutto v. Finney, 437 U.S. 678, 700 (1978)); Will v. Michigan Dept. of State Police, 491 U.S. 21, 25 (1991)(A suit against a state official in an official capacity for monetary damages is treated as a suit against the state and is therefore barred by the Eleventh Amendment.).

         There is a narrow exception to this immunity from suit: the Ex parte Young exception, which “is based on the legal fiction that a sovereign state cannot act unconstitutionally[; t]hus, where a state actor enforces an unconstitutional law, he is stripped of his official clothing and becomes a private person subject to suit.” See K.P. v. LeBlanc, 627 F.3d at 124 (emphasis added)(citing Ex parte Young, 209 U.S. 123 (1908)); see also Will v. Michigan Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 71 n.10 (1989)(noting “[o]f course a state official in his or her official capacity, when sued for injunctive relief, would be a person under § 1983 because ‘official-capacity actions for prospective relief are not treated as actions against the State'”).

         Ex parte Young thus limits the plaintiff to prospective relief and bars money damages. Verizon Md. Inc. v. Pub. Serv. Comm'n of Md., 535 U.S. 635, 645 (2002). To determine whether Ex parte Young's mandate is satisfied, "a court need only conduct a straightforward inquiry into whether [the] complaint alleges an ongoing violation of federal law and seeks relief properly characterized as prospective." See id. (internal quotation marks and citations omitted)(alteration in original); see also Delaughter v. Woodall, 909 F.3d 130, 137 (5th Cir. 2018).

         Here, it is undisputed that the plaintiff seeks only money damages against LeBlanc and Jones in their official capacities as Secretary and employee of the State Department of Public Safety and Corrections; LeBlanc and Jones have thus permissibly invoked sovereign immunity and Ex parte Young is not implicated. Mr. Traweeks's claims against LeBlanc and Jones in their official capacities must be dismissed as barred by the Eleventh Amendment.


         LeBlanc and Jones next contend that plaintiff's individual capacity § 1983 claims are procedurally barred by Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994), and its progeny. In Heck, the United States Supreme Court held that a convicted person cannot collect damages for unconstitutional conviction or imprisonment under § 1983 unless “the conviction or sentence has been reversed on direct appeal, expunged by executive order, declared invalid by a state tribunal . . ., or called into question by a federal court's issuance of a writ of habeas corpus.” 512 U.S. at 486-87. The complaint must be dismissed if a “judgment in favor of the plaintiff would necessarily imply the invalidity of his conviction or sentence.” Id. at 487. By seeking to impose the Heck procedural bar to Mr. Traweek's claims, the defendants emphasize form over substance, begin from a faulty assumption, and ignore a critical component of Heck that is absent here. If Mr. Traweek succeeds on the merits, neither his underlying conviction for aggravated battery nor his seven-month sentence will be impliedly invalidated. See id. at 486 (the favorable termination rule does not bar a § 1983 suit when “the plaintiff's action, even if successful, will not demonstrate the invalidity of any outstanding criminal judgment against the plaintiff.”). Here, Mr. Traweek challenges neither his conviction nor his sentence. He accepts both. Therefore, the reasoning underlying Heck's favorable termination prerequisite is simply not implicated: it would be illogical to require Mr. Traweek to first seek to invalidate his conviction or sentence in order to proceed in this lawsuit. The constitutional violation he advances here is that he was imprisoned 20 days past his release date; he does not take issue with his criminal judgment of conviction or the sentence rendered, but, rather, challenges the constitutionality of the administration of his release after he had served his sentence. Mr. Traweek alleges that his jailers failed to timely release him once the legal basis to incarcerate him had expired by court order. The only conduct the factfinder will probe is that performed by jail officials in administering his release after his release date.

         Another Section of this Court has rejected Secretary LeBlanc's attempt to invoke Heck in a factually-similar overdetention context, Grant v. Gusman, 17-cv-02797, R. Doc. 46 (E.D. La. March 27, 2018)(Brown, C.J.). There, the plaintiff, who had served seven years in state custody, was arrested upon his release based on a warrant issued years earlier for a different crime predating the one for which he served the seven-year prison term. The plaintiff pled guilty and the state court sentenced him to “a one year sentence, with credit for time served for the seven years he had just served.” Id. at 3. Like Mr. Traweek, an administrative logjam between OPSO and DOC caused the plaintiff to be detained an additional 27 days after his sentencing, notwithstanding the state trial court's order (and the judge's email directly to OPSO's attorney directing) that Grant's release be expedited. Id. at 3-5. In moving to dismiss Grant's § 1983 claims, Secretary LeBlanc also invoked Heck. Chief Judge Brown rejected the argument, noting “[p]laintiff does not argue that his conviction or sentence were invalid. . . . [H]e contends that DOC Defendants violated his constitutional rights by failing to release him from prison. Therefore, Heck v. Humphrey is not applicable to this case.” Id. at 32. This reasoning applies equally to Mr. Traweek, who, like Grant, challenges neither his conviction nor the length of his court-ordered sentence; he simply alleges that the overdetention by his jailers' failure to timely process his release following his court-ordered time-served judgment exceeds constitutional bounds.[13]

         Mr. Traweek's lawsuit, if successful, will not demonstrate or imply the invalidity of any criminal judgment or court-imposed sentence. He simply alleges that the procedures and action (or inaction) that caused him to be incarcerated for 20 days longer than his criminal judgment permitted unconstitutionally ...

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