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Ray v. Judicial Corrections Services, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division

October 9, 2014

GINA KAY RAY, et al., Plaintiffs,


R. DAVID PROCTOR, District Judge.

This case is before the court on Non-Party Larry Ward's Motion to Quash Subpoena and Motion for Protective Order (Doc. # 97), filed May 21, 2014. The motion presents interesting questions related to the proper application and scope of judicial immunity which should be afforded a former part-time municipal judge. As discussed in more detail below, this court's Order (Doc. # 119), entered August 22, 2014, narrowed the issues now before the court. As a threshold matter, Plaintiffs now argue that judicial immunity does not protect Ward at all where "prospective collateral relief" is sought. (Doc. # 120 at 1). If judicial immunity does protect Ward, however, the court must determine to what extent discovery may be sought from Ward as to acts and omissions taken in his nonjudicial, administrative capacity.

For the reasons outlined below, the court's August 22, 2014 Order (Doc. # 119) is due to be affirmed, and Ward's Motion (Doc. # 97) is due to be granted in part and denied in part.

I. Procedural History

On April 26, 2013, Plaintiffs Gina Kay Ray, Kalus K. Johnson, and Deuante T. Jews (collectively "Plaintiffs") filed their Second Amended and Restated Complaint (Doc. # 50), on behalf of themselves and those similarly situated, against Defendants Judicial Collection Services ("JCS") and the City of Childersburg ("Childersburg"). Plaintiffs allege various constitutional claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 arising out of the contractual relationship between JCS and Childersburg for probation and fee collection services. Plaintiffs seek declaratory and injunctive relief as well as money damages. (Doc. # 50 at 61-63).

On May 14, 2014, Plaintiffs served a subpoena for testimony and production of documents on nonparty Larry Ward ("Ward"). (Doc. # 97, Ex. A-1). Plaintiffs sought various documents from Ward, including (1) any documents relating to JCS whatsoever; (2) procedural manuals or other documents concerning any of the municipal courts at which Ward served; (3) copies of K1 and W-2 forms showing income earned by Ward as a municipal court judge for any municipality in Alabama for the last five years; (4) awards received by Ward for service as a municipal judge; (5) contracts between Ward and any of the municipalities he served; (6) documents showing remuneration from bond activity in any of the municipalities Ward served; (7) documents showing rating adjustments on bonds for any of the municipalities Ward served; and (8) awards received by Ward for participation in bond issues in Alabama for the past five years. ( Id. ). Ward filed a motion opposing the discovery request and asserts that he is protected by judicial immunity. (Doc. # 97).

After the issue was briefed (Docs. # 101 & 105) and the court heard oral argument on the matter, the court entered an Order (Doc. # 119) granting in part and denying in part Ward's Motion (Doc. # 97). The court granted the motion insofar as it sought to limit, but not entirely preclude, Ward's deposition to questions involving his "nonjudicial involvement in negotiating, recommending, and executing the contract for services" between JCS and Childersburg.

To aid the court and the parties in determining the extent of the permissible discovery, the Order (Doc. # 119) also permitted the parties to file supplemental briefs regarding: (1) the distinction between Ward's judicial and administrative responsibilities during his tenure as municipal court judge for Childersburg, and (2) the relevance, if any, of Pulliam v. Allen, 466 U.S. 522 (1984), to the issue. The issues now before the court have been fully briefed. (Docs. # 120 & 121).

II. Facts

Ward is a former part-time municipal court judge for Childersburg and various other municipalities. (Docs. # 101 at 1-2). Otherwise, Ward's full-time employment over the relevant time-period is as a municipal bond salesman with Morgan Keegan & Company, now known as Raymond James Financial. (Docs. # 101 at 1-2).

Under a contract between JCS and Childersburg, JCS provided various probation and fee collecting services to Childersburg. ( See Doc. # 50 at ¶¶ 12, 18-19). Plaintiffs allege that when a probationer was unable to pay a fine, the probationer was assigned to JCS for what Plaintiffs deem "the administrative action of collections." (Doc. # 120 at 8). Plaintiffs offer testimony from Childersburg's mayor that suggests JCS was hired by Childersburg upon the recommendation of Ward and a city council member. ( Id. at 7).

The record is unclear regarding the full extent of Ward's involvement with JCS. Childersburg was responsible for the hiring of Ward as its municipal court judge. (Doc. # 50 at ¶ 19). Plaintiffs allege that

[Ward] signed separate blank JCS probation' order forms which were later filled out by JCS employees. Many of these were filled in to retroactively include fines levied years earlier. These orders are not filed in the court, are not kept by Childersburg and ultimately are shredded after being scanned to the JCS Probation Tracker system.

(Doc. # 120 at 8). Furthermore, JCS may have sent out all notices of hearings and violations of probation establishing hearing dates. ( Id. ). Plaintiffs argue that these facts, taken together, establish Ward is beyond the protection of judicial immunity and should be subjected to discovery.

III. Discussion

Ward attempts to quash Plaintiffs' outstanding subpoena claiming the protection of judicial immunity. (Doc. # 97). Although Ward is a nonparty, "[t]he policy behind immunity does not merely extend to suits, it also extends to protection against discovery." In re Lickman, 304 B.R. 897, 903 (Bankr. M.D. Fla. 2004). Accordingly, "[u]ntil [the] threshold immunity question is ...

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