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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 Leave to File Fifth Amended Complaint. (Doc. # 670). The parties have fully briefed the Motion (see Docs. # 670, 673-76), and the court held oral argument on the Motion on June 14, 2018. At oral argument, the court reminded the parties (and emphasizes here) that this case has been ongoing for nearly six years, it is now about to have its sixth complaint (one original and five amendments), and it is time to focus on the major issues presented by this very complex case. The just, speedy, and inexpensive determination of this case is not well served by the parties' continual reiteration of legal arguments already decided by the court. After careful review, and for the reasons explained below, the court concludes that Plaintiffs' motion is due to be granted in part and denied in part.

         I. Standard of Review

         The parties dispute the appropriate standard of review to apply to Plaintiffs' requests to amend the complaint. On the one hand, Plaintiffs argue that the court should analyze the proposed amendments under Rule 15. (Doc. # 670 at 8-10). Under Rule 15(a)(2), “a party may amend its pleading only with the opposing party's written consent or the court's leave. The court should freely give leave when justice so requires.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2). In this case, the court granted Plaintiffs leave to submit a new complaint with distinct conspiracy allegations. (See Doc. # 627 at 2).

         On the other hand, Defendant JCS argues that all of the proposed amendments, except for the amendments adding conspiracy allegations, should be analyzed under the good cause standard provided in Rule 16. A plaintiff is required to show good cause to amend a complaint if he or she files the motion to amend after the deadline provided in a scheduling order entered under Rule 16. Mann v. Taser Int'l, Inc., 588 F.3d 1291, 1312 (11th Cir. 2009). In this case, the court's initial Scheduling Order established a deadline of June 15, 2014 for Plaintiffs to amend the pleadings. (Doc. # 89 at 2). In May 2014, the court extended the amendment deadline to July 30, 2014, and no other extensions have been granted. (Doc. # 103). Therefore, Plaintiffs have filed the present Motion for Leave to File Fifth Amended Complaint after the deadline set in the court's scheduling orders, and they are obligated to show good cause for allowing the amendments, except for the amendments previously ordered by the court.

         Among other grounds, the court may deny leave to amend a pleading when a party has unduly delayed in seeking leave for the amendment. Burger King Corp. v. Weaver, 169 F.3d 1310, 1319 (11th Cir. 1999) (quoting Forman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962)). In Weaver, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed a denial of leave to amend on undue delay grounds where forty months had passed since the filing of the original counterclaim, the new counterclaims would require proof of different facts, and the only apparent reason for the delay in asserting the counterclaims was the retention of a new attorney. Id. The Eleventh Circuit also has affirmed the denial of leave to amend a complaint where the plaintiff proposed the amendment more than a year after it was placed on notice of a legal deficiency, the proposed amendment raised a new theory not proposed in a first amended complaint, and the plaintiff failed to offer an adequate explanation for its delay. Andrx Pharms., Inc. v. Elan Corp., PLC, 421 F.3d 1227, 1236-37 (11th Cir. 2005).

         The court also may deny leave to amend a pleading when the proposed amendment is futile. Weaver, 169 F.3d at 1319. An amendment is futile if the complaint is still subject to dismissal with the amendment. Id. at 1320.

         II. Analysis

         The court addresses Plaintiffs' proposed amendments in the order they are discussed in the Motion for Leave to File Fifth Amended Complaint.

         A. Plaintiffs' Conspiracy Claims May Not Present Conspiracies Involving Municipal Courts Other than the City's Municipal Court

         Plaintiffs seek leave to add factual allegations in support of their § 1983 conspiracy claims to the factual section of their proposed Fifth Amended Complaint and the relevant § 1983 claims. (Doc. # 670 at 10-11). Defendant JCS responds that the conspiracy allegations included in the proposed Fifth Amended Complaint extend beyond the conspiracy addressed in the court's summary judgment opinion because the alleged conspiracy in the proposed complaint includes other Alabama courts. (Doc. # 675 at 3-4). Plaintiffs reply that they have sought to represent a state-wide class throughout this case. (Doc. # 676 at 3-4). And, there is substantial evidence that JCS conspired with court officials outside of the City of Childersburg (the “City”) to violate municipal-court defendants' constitutional rights. (Id. at 4). For example, JCS approached each municipality with a substantially identical contract, it designed a software package utilized in all Alabama jurisdictions that used JCS's services, and it used uniform policies and forms throughout the state. (Id. at 4-5). Notably, JCS's corporative representative testified that she was not aware of any features about JCS's operations in the City that were different from JCS's operations in other cities. (Id. at 5) (citing Doc. # 392-11 at 267).

         Plaintiffs' proposed complaint describes the agreement entered into between JCS and officials of the City's municipal court. (See Doc. # 670-1 at ¶ 97). It alleges that the City's municipal-court judge recommended JCS, worked with other courts that used JCS's services, and consistently placed defendants appearing before him on probation when they could not immediately pay the fines and fees imposed by the court. (Id. at ¶¶ 99, 102-03). It also alleges that the conspiratorial agreement is evidenced by the judge's failures to make indigency determinations, his failures to appoint counsel, and his routine issuances of arrest warrants on failure to appear or failure to pay court order charges. (Id. at ¶¶ 106-08). In conclusion, the proposed complaint alleges that “concerted efforts between the city court and [JCS], including the city judge and the other employees of the court, show an agreement and understanding that warrants would be issued if money was not paid by the person sent to [JCS] for collection[.]” (Id. at ¶ 113).

         Here, after careful review of the proposed complaint, the court agrees with Defendant JCS that the § 1983 conspiracy claims are futile insofar as they allege a conspiracy between JCS and court officials outside the City. None of the facts alleged in the proposed complaint support the existence of a conspiracy between JCS and officials working for any other municipal court. (See Doc. # 670-1 at ¶¶ 97-113). Section 1983 conspiracy claims rest on parties reaching an understanding to deny a plaintiff his or her constitutional rights. Grider v. City of Auburn, Ala., 618 F.3d 1240, 1260 (11th Cir. 2010). Unlike § 1983 claims predicated on JCS's customs and policies, which could have been applied state-wide, the court finds it implausible to allege that facts supporting a conspiracy between JCS and officials in one municipal court can be expanded to assert a conspiracy claim concerning JCS and over a hundred municipal courts in Alabama. Therefore, Plaintiffs are due to be denied leave to amend the complaint insofar as they seek to allege a conspiracy claim regarding municipal courts other than the City's municipal court. In all other respects, though, Plaintiffs are due to be granted leave to add the conspiracy claims asserted in the proposed complaint.

         B. Plaintiffs' Proposed Summaries of Their Constitutional ...

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