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Edwards v. Cofield

United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Eastern Division

March 21, 2018

KANDACE KAY EDWARDS, Plaintiff.
v.
DAVID COFIELD, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          W. KEITH WATKINS CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This case is just one of many constitutional challenges to a bond system that may require indigent arrestees to post secured money bond in an amount set in a bond schedule to avoid pretrial detention. See, e.g., ODonnell v. Harris County (ODonnell I), 251 F.Supp.3d 1052 (S.D. Tex. 2017), affirmed as modified, 882 F.3d 528 (5th Cir. 2018); Walker v. City of Calhoun, No. 4:15-cv-0170-HLM, 2017 WL 2794064 (N.D.Ga. June 16, 2017), appeal docketed, No. 17-13139 (11th Cir. July 13, 2017); Jones v. City of Clanton, No. 2:15cv34-MHT, 2015 WL 5387219 (M.D. Ala. Sept. 14, 2015). The Eleventh Circuit does not appear to have addressed such a challenge in recent years. That may soon change, as a challenge to a Georgia city's bond system, Walker v. City of Calhoun, No. 17-13139 (11th Cir. docketed July 13, 2017), is currently pending before the Eleventh Circuit. The court will not stay this action pending the Eleventh Circuit's resolution of Walker, as contemplated in the December 5th, 2017 show cause order (Doc. # 82), although the court will continue to monitor Walker.

         At issue here is the bond system in effect in Randolph County, Alabama. Plaintiff Kandace Kay Edwards, on her own behalf and on behalf of a putative class of similarly situated individuals (see Doc. # 5), brought this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action against the district court judge (Judge Clay Tinney), the magistrate (Jill Puckett), the circuit court clerk (Christopher May), and the sheriff (David Cofield) responsible for promulgating and carrying out that bond system. (Doc. # 1.)

         As a result of some legal maneuvering after this action was filed, Defendants revised Randolph County's bond procedures. (Doc. # 67-1.) The gist of the revisions is that every person arrested in Randolph County who cannot afford to pay the secured bond amount in the bond schedule established by the Alabama Supreme Court is entitled to a bond hearing within seventy-two hours of arrest. Defendants argue that those revisions moot this case and thus deprive the court of subject-matter jurisdiction. But Plaintiff contends that the new system is still constitutionally infirm - both because the procedural protections at that hearing are insufficient and because seventy-two hours is still too long to detain arrestees unable to post secured money bond before a bond hearing (Doc. # 75).

         Before the court is Plaintiff's Motion for Preliminary Injunction (Doc. # 3) and Defendants' motion to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction (Doc. # 67). Because the mid-litigation revision of Randolph County's bond procedures has not mooted this case, Defendants' motion to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction (Doc. # 67) is due to be denied. But because the new procedures arguably provide the same result as the injunction Plaintiff seeks, Plaintiff's Motion for Preliminary Injunction (Doc. # 3) is also due to be denied.

         I. JURISDICTION

         This court has subject-matter jurisdiction over this action under 28 U.S.C. § 1331, although the question whether this action is moot will be addressed below. The parties do not contest personal jurisdiction or venue.

         II. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff, who is indigent, brought this action after she was subjected to pretrial detention without a hearing due to her inability to post a secured money bond. This court granted her motion for a temporary restraining order (Doc. # 9), and Plaintiff was released. Plaintiff's release did not moot this case (Doc. # 49) because she brought it on behalf of a putative class “consisting of all arrestees who are or who will be jailed in Randolph County who are unable to pay the secured money bail amount required for their release” (Doc. # 5, at 1).

         Apparently after the court denied Defendants' motions to dismiss (Doc. # 49), Judge Tinney, Mr. May, and Ms. Puckett began “working to develop bail procedures that, if adopted for Randolph County, would obviate the need for a preliminary injunction.” (Doc. # 53, at 1.) That work involved negotiations with Plaintiff's counsel. (Doc. # 59, at 2.) Those negotiations eventually broke down (see Doc. # 65, at 1-2), but they were not entirely without fruit.

         The same day Judge Tinney, Mr. May, and Ms. Puckett filed their response to Plaintiff's motion for a preliminary injunction (Doc. # 67), Judge Tinney issued a new standing bond order (Doc. # 67-1, at 10-16). Under the new standing bond order, arrestees who are unable to post bond in the amount set according to a bond schedule (Doc. # 67-1, at 18-21) “shall be entitled to a judicial determination of the conditions of their release promptly after arrest, but in any event no later than 72 hours after arrest.” (Doc. # 67-1, at 12.) Before that hearing, arrestees “shall complete an affidavit of substantial hardship” (Doc. # 67-1, at 12), the same form used to obtain appointed counsel (Doc. # 67-1, at 23-24).

         At the hearing, the court “may take into account” the factors listed in Rule 7.2(a) of the Alabama Rules of Criminal Procedure. (Doc. # 67-1, at 12-14.) The court is required to “consider a defendant's ability to post a bond in determining the defendant's conditions of release” and “the defendant's affidavit of substantial hardship.” (Doc. # 67-1, at 14.) The court may also “elicit testimony about the defendant's financial condition.” (Doc. # 67-1, at 14.)

After considering the defendant's ability to post a bond, as well as the other factors set out in Rule 7.2(a), the Court may release a defendant on his or her own recognize [sic], require the defendant to post an unsecured appearance bond, or require the posting of a secured appearance bond if that is the least onerous condition that will reasonably assure the defendant's appearance or that will eliminate or minimize the risk of harm to others or to the public at large. The Court will not require a defendant to post a secure appearance bond that the defendant cannot afford to post, or a secure appearance bond in an amount less than that contained in the bond schedule that the defendant can afford to post, if there is a less onerous condition that would assure the defendant's appearance or minimize risk to the public. However, if the Court determines that there is no less onerous condition for securing the defendant's appearance or protecting the public, the Court may require a secure appearance bond in an amount less than, equal to, or greater than that contained in the bond schedule. The Court will make written finding [sic] as to why the posting of a bond is reasonably necessary to assure the defendant's presence at trial in such a case.

(Doc. # 67-1, at 14 (citations omitted).) If the hearing does not take place within seventy-two hours of arrest, the arrestee “will be released on an unsecured appearance bond . . . at the expiration of the 72-hour period.” (Doc. # 67-1, at 14- 15.) Those procedures apply both to individuals arrested pursuant to a warrant (Doc. # 67-1, at 16-17) and to those arrested without a warrant (Doc. # 67-1, at 12-16).

         Defendants argue that the new standing bond order moots this case (Doc. # 67), but Plaintiff argues that it does not provide sufficient procedural safeguards. Plaintiff thus continues to seek a preliminary injunction.

         III. DISCUSSION

         Plaintiff's requested preliminary injunction includes four components. The injunction would (1) require Defendants to hold “an individualized hearing with adequate procedural safeguards” for arrestees unable to pay secured money bail. (Doc. # 3, at 1.) Such a hearing would include: (2) “an inquiry into and findings concerning [the arrestee's] ability to pay” (Doc. # 3, at 1); (3) “an inquiry into and findings concerning . . . the suitability of alternative non-financial conditions of release” (Doc. # 3, at 1); and (4) “a finding on the record that any conditions of release are the least restrictive conditions necessary to achieve public safety and court appearance.” (Doc. # 3, at 1-2.)

         The new standing bond order appears to cover each of the four components of Plaintiff's proposed injunction to at least some degree. Under the new standing bond order, (1) every arrestee unable to pay secured money bail is entitled to an individualized bond hearing within seventy-two hours of arrest. (Doc. # 67-1, at 12, 15-16.) At that hearing, the court will consider (2) the arrestee's financial condition and ability to post a bond, as well as (3) the possibility of alternative conditions of release (including personal recognizance bond and an unsecured appearance bond) and each of the factors listed in Rule 7.2(a) of the Alabama Rules of Criminal Procedure. (Doc. # 67-1, at 12-15, 15-16.) And in the event the court imposes a secured bond that the arrestee cannot pay, (4) the court will make written findings explaining why a secured bond is the least onerous condition required to achieve public safety and assure the arrestee will appear for later court proceedings. (Doc. # 67-1, at 14, 15-16.)

         Because the new standing bond order arguably gives Plaintiff the relief she seeks, Defendants argue that this case is moot. (Doc. # 67, at 30-34.) Unsurprisingly, Plaintiff disagrees. She argues both that the new standing bond order's procedures are still constitutionally infirm (Doc. # 75, at 8-20) and that the new standing bond order does not moot this case even if the new procedures pass constitutional muster (Doc. # 75, at 28-31).

         Because mootness is a jurisdictional issue, the court will address Defendants' motion to dismiss on that basis before addressing Plaintiff's motion for a preliminary injunction. Both motions are due to be denied.

         A. The new standing bond order does not moot this case.

         If Plaintiff is correct that Randolph County's bond procedures under the new standing bond order run afoul of the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment, then the new standing bond order clearly does not moot the case. While there is not enough to find a likelihood that Plaintiff will succeed on those arguments, infra at pp. 13-26, neither is there enough to dismiss them out of hand. Most importantly, Plaintiff strongly disputes that seventy-two hours is the appropriate window for resolution of financial and criminological issues in the bond determination. She instead argues for a window of no longer than a few hours. Defendants have settled on seventy-two hours, but their reasoning has not been tested factually or legally. Plaintiff also argues for additional procedural safeguards, including court-appointed counsel; an opportunity to testify, present evidence, and cross examine witnesses; notice of the purpose of the bond hearing; and a clear-and- convincing evidentiary standard. In short, there is more to be done on remedial issues, so this case is not moot.

         But the new standing bond order does not moot this case even if the new procedures are constitutionally sufficient. Ordinarily, “voluntary cessation of allegedly illegal conduct . . . does not make [a] case moot.” Flanigan's Enters., Inc., of Ga. v. City of Sandy Springs, 868 F.3d 1248, 1255 (11th Cir. 2017) (en banc) (quoting United States v. W. T. Grant Co., 345 U.S. 629, 632 (1953)), petition for cert. docketed sub nom. Davenport v. City of Sandy Springs, No. 17-869 (Dec. 15, 2017). But a voluntary cessation can render a case moot if “subsequent events made it absolutely clear that the allegedly wrongful behavior could not reasonably be expected to recur.'” Id. (quoting Friends of the Earth, Inc. v. Laidlaw Envtl. Servs. (TOC), Inc., 528 U.S. 167, 189 (2000)). “The key inquiry in this mootness analysis . . . is whether the evidence leads . . . to a reasonable expectation that [Defendants] will reverse course” and reinstitute their challenged practices “should this Court grant [their] motion to dismiss.” Id. at 1256. Plaintiff bears the burden of proof here, see Id. (citing Coral Springs St. Sys, Inc. v. City of Sunrise, 371 F.3d 1320, 1328-29 (11th Cir. 2004)), and she “must present more than ‘[m]ere speculation that [Defendants] may return to [their] previous ways.'” Id. (first alteration in original) (quoting Nat'l Advert. Co. v. City of Miami, 402 F.3d 1329, 1334 (11th Cir. 2005)).

         In its en banc decision in Flanigan's Enterprises, Inc., of Georgia v. City of Sandy Springs, 868 F.3d 1248, the Eleventh Circuit provided “three broad factors to which courts should look for guidance in conducting” the mootness inquiry in this context. Id. at 1257. The first two factors weigh against a mootness finding, and the third factor does little to change the balance.

         1. The First Flanigan's Enterprises Factor

         The first factor is “whether the change in conduct resulted from substantial deliberation or is merely an attempt to manipulate [a federal court's] jurisdiction.” Id. (citing Nat'l Ass'n of Bds. of Pharmacy v. Bd. of Regents of the Univ. Sys. of Ga., 633 F.3d 1297, 1310 (11th Cir. 2011)). The Eleventh Circuit has also phrased this inquiry as asking whether a mid-litigation change was “an attempt to avoid the issuance of an injunction.” Nat'l Ass'n of Bds. of Pharmacy, 633 F.3d at 1312. Under this factor, the court “will examine the timing” of the new standing bond order, ...


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