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Ray v. Judicial Corrections Services Inc.

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

June 15, 2018

GINA KAY RAY, et al., Plaintiffs,



         This case is before the court on Plaintiffs' Motion for Reconsideration. (Doc. # 663). In this motion, Plaintiffs request that the court reconsider three claims on which it granted summary judgment to Defendant Judicial Correction Services, Inc. (“JCS”). The parties have fully briefed the motion (Docs. # 663, 668, 671), and it is ripe for decision. The court concludes that the Motion for Reconsideration is due to be granted in part and denied in part.

         I. Standard of Review

         Although the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure do not specifically authorize motions for reconsideration, they are common enough in practice. However, reconsideration is “an extraordinary remedy which must be used sparingly.” Jackson v. Wesley, No. 6:11-cv-686-Orl-28GJK, 2011 WL 2144696, at *1 (M.D. Fla. May 31, 2011). Rule 59 allows a party to move to alter or amend a judgment in a civil case. Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(e). Serrano v. United States, 411 Fed.Appx. 253, 255 (11th Cir. 2011) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(e)). Therefore, the court will construe Plaintiffs' motion as one filed pursuant to Rule 59(e).

         “Reconsidering the merits of a judgment, absent a manifest error of law or fact, is not the purpose of Rule 59.” Jacobs v. Tempur-Pedic Int'l, Inc., 626 F.3d 1327, 1344 (11th Cir. 2010). The moving party must do more than merely ask the court for a reevaluation of an unfavorable ruling. “A Rule 59(e) motion cannot be used to relitigate old matters, raise argument or present evidence that could have been raised prior to the entry of judgment.” Arthur v. King, 500 F.3d 1335, 1343 (11th Cir. 2007) (internal citations and quotations omitted).

         II. Analysis

         Plaintiffs ask the court to reconsider its rulings on their Fourth Amendment, Eighth Amendment, and Equal Protection Clause claims. The court has thoroughly reviewed their arguments and the earlier summary judgment order, but finds no basis for altering its prior opinion.

         A. Reconsideration of Plaintiffs' Fourth Amendment Claim

         Plaintiffs seek reconsideration of the summary judgment granted to JCS on their Fourth Amendment false-arrest claims because they contend JCS employees lacked probable cause to believe the named Plaintiffs committed a crime when they applied for arrest warrants. (Doc. # 663 at 6-14). First, Plaintiffs argue that the JCS employees lacked probable cause to believe that they willfully had failed to pay fines and fees because JCS knew that only defendants unable to pay fines levied by the City of Childersburg's Municipal Court (“Municipal Court”) were placed on JCS probation, and JCS failed to provide relevant information to the Municipal Court. (Id. at 8-9). Second, Plaintiffs contend that the Municipal Court lacked probable cause to issue arrest warrants for failure to obey a court order because the court order violated was not issued until the date of the warrant. (Id. at 10-14). Plaintiffs' arguments do not justify reconsidering the summary judgment granted to Defendant JCS on their Fourth Amendment claim.

         The revocation petitions in the Rule 56 record reflect that JCS employees knew of Plaintiffs' failures to appear at scheduled probation appointments and their failures to pay fines and probation fees at the time of filing. (E.g., Docs. # 537-1 at 2; 537-2 at 2). When the Municipal Court's judge sentenced defendants to JCS-supervised probation, he ordered defendants to report to JCS as instructed, pay JCS's supervision fees, and pay fines and costs imposed by the Municipal Court. (E.g., Doc. # 471-12 at 2). As such, JCS employees could have justified their requests to revoke probation on either basis. Plaintiffs argue that the failure-to-report charges are red herrings because JCS did not consistently require probationers to report to a physical office if they made the required payments in a timely manner. (Doc. # 663 at 7 n. 7). That argument does not demonstrate, though, that JCS employees lacked a basis to believe that Plaintiffs failed to report for probation appointments, in violation of their probation orders, when those employees submitted revocation petitions to the Municipal Court including such charges. Cf. Carter v. Gore, 557 Fed.Appx. 904, 908-09 (11th Cir. 2014). Because the Rule 56 record reveals a reasonable basis for JCS employees to believe Plaintiffs violated their probation orders by failing to appear at scheduled probation appointments, the court concludes again that Plaintiffs' Fourth Amendment claims against JCS, based on the revocation petitions, fail to present a triable claim.

         Plaintiffs' contention that Defendant JCS violated their Fourth Amendment rights when the FTOCO warrants were issued misses the mark for the reasons explained in the court's initial Memorandum Opinion. That is, the Rule 56 record lacks evidence to support Plaintiffs' position that JCS employees requested the issuance of arrest warrants on FTOCO convictions. The timeline of revocation proceedings in the Childersburg Municipal Court helps illustrate this. Generally, JCS employees drafted probation revocation petitions when probationers had failed to comply with the terms of probation. (Doc. # 471-1 at 123-24). A JCS employee would determine whether the Municipal Court should hold a compliance hearing or a revocation hearing, depending on whether the probationer had met his or her obligations. (Id. at 129-30). The revocation petitions generated by JCS did not ask the Municipal Court to issue arrest warrants on FTOCO charges, although they requested the issuance of an arrest warrant, if necessary. (E.g., Docs. # 537-1 at 2; 537-2 at 2). Then, JCS would select a date for a hearing and inform the probationer of the hearing by mail. (Doc. # 471-1 at 127). JCS did not file the revocation petitions with the Municipal Court before the scheduled revocation hearings, even though the revocation orders indicated that they had been approved by the Municipal Court prior to the revocation hearing. (Id. at 194).

         During revocation hearings, JCS employees informed the judge about the probationer's payment history and the number of appointments missed. (Id. at 123-24). One JCS employee testified that JCS employees presented the revocation petitions to the Municipal Court on the date of the hearings described in them (id. at 581), but she did not testify that JCS employees applied for or sought arrest warrants on FTOCO charges.[1] If a petitioner failed to appear at a revocation hearing, the Municipal Court often would issue a capias warrant signed by a magistrate. (Doc. # 471-26 at 2). Nothing in the Rule 56 record indicates that JCS drafted those capias warrants for the Municipal Court. As the court explained in its earlier Memorandum Opinion, the Rule 56 record also does not reveal (1) how FTOCO charges were initiated, (2) whether the Municipal Court formally convicted defendants of FTOCO violations, (3) the sentences defendants received for FTOCO convictions, and (4) whether those sentences included imprisonment terms.

         Thus, in light of the Rule 56 evidence described above, the court concludes that the summary judgment record is silent as to who initiated the FTOCO arrest warrants: JCS employees, Municipal Court employees, or both. This silence is significant given the fact that this case has been in litigation for nearly six years now.

         The fact that the court has found triable issues on Plaintiffs' Bearden and equal protection claims is of no help here. The distinction comes down to this: JCS certainly could conspire with the Municipal Court and agree to aid that court in violating the rights of probationers. And, the court recognizes that while the Municipal Court and the judge of that court cannot be sued for that conspiracy, JCS can because (unlike the judicial actors) it may not assert judicial immunity. Nevertheless, Plaintiffs cannot pursue a conspiracy claim where the Rule 56 record provides no substantial evidence that shows the issuance of arrest warrants (as opposed to seeking revocation)[2] was within the scope of any conspiratorial agreement ...

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