United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division
C. LAMBERTH, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
McCullough v. Finley, the Eleventh Circuit reversed
this Court's denial of judicial immunity to the presiding
judge of the municipal court for the City of Montgomery (the
"City") and of qualified and state-agent immunity
for the City's mayor and two police chiefs. 907 F.3d
1324, 1335 (11th Cir. 2018). In doing so, the Circuit held
that all of the judge's alleged actions . were judicial
acts for which he was entitled to absolute immunity.
Id. at 1332. And for the mayor and police chiefs,
the Circuit found that the plaintiffs failed to plausibly
state a claim sufficient to overcome qualified and
state-agent immunities. Id. at 1335. Although the
City was not a party to that interlocutory appeal in
Finley, it now argues that the Circuit's
holdings necessitate dismissal of all claims against it. For
the reasons stated herein, this Court agrees with some of the
City's arguments while disagreeing with others. The
City's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings [ECF No. 180]
will be GRANTED IN PART and DENIED
Court need not go in depth on the background of this case, as
the facts have been summarized in both this Court's prior
opinion, McCullough v. City of Montgomery, No.
2:15-cv- 463, 2017 WL 956362, at * 1-2 (M.D. Ala. March 10,
2017), and in the Circuit's opinion in Finley.
907 F.3d at 1328-30. Briefly, plaintiffs in this case filed
their complaint on behalf of a proposed class of indigent
jailees, alleging the City subjected them to an extortionate
scheme designed to increase municipal revenues. According to
the complaint, the City instituted aggressive policies to
collect fines and court costs owed by individuals for various
offenses, often minor traffic tickets.
these policies was the placement of plaintiffs onto
"probation" with Judicial Corrections Services,
Inc. ("JCS"). The City contracted with JCS to run
its probation program. Individuals placed on JCS probation
were required to pay JCS monthly installments on their debts
to the City, along with a $10 set-up fee and $40 monthly
probation fees to JCS. Probationers unable to pay their
monthly installment in full were threatened with or subjected
to probation revocation and incarceration for their debts.
key part of the alleged scheme was the City's operation
of a modern day debtors' prison. Indigent offenders or
probationers were forced to "sit out" their fines
at a rate of $50 per day. Additionally, the plaintiffs claim
the City coerced them to participate in a work program, which
allowed them to reduce their time in jail by working for an
additional credit of $25 a day.
amended complaint included fourteen claims related to the
policies described above against the City, JCS, the presiding
judge of the City's municipal court in his official
capacity, as well as against the presiding judge, the
City's mayor, and two of its police chiefs in their
individual capacities. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 178-281, ECF
No. 32. The plaintiffs allege various constitutional torts
and state law torts, as well as violations of federal
statutes by either some or all of the defendants, depending
on the claim. Id.
plaintiffs' causes of action made it past the motion to
dismiss stage, including claims against certain defendants in
their individual capacities. See Order, ECF No. 132.
Specifically, the Court held that neither the presiding judge
nor the former presiding judge could rely on judicial
immunity, McCullough, 2017 WL 956362, at *9, and
that the chief of police, the former chief of police, and the
mayor could not rely on qualified immunity. Id. at
interlocutory appeal, the Eleventh Circuit reversed that
holding. Finley, 907 F.3d at 1135. For the judge,
the Circuit found he was entitled to judicial immunity
because all the alleged acts were judicial in nature and his
motivation was irrelevant to the immunity analysis.
Id. at 1330-33. For the mayor and chiefs, the
Circuit found there were no non-conclusory allegations
connecting them to the alleged constitutional violations.
Id. at 1332-35. Accordingly, the panel concluded the
mayor and police chiefs were entitled to qualified and
state-agent immunity. Id. at 1335.
City attempted to participate in the appeal in
Finley, but its appeal was dismissed. See
Finley, Order (Aug. 17, 2017) at 3, No. 17-11554. The
City claimed a right to appeal because the claims against it
were "both inextricably intertwined with and solely
dependent upon the actions" of the municipal court
judge. Finley, Appellants' Joint Suppl. Mem.
Jurisdiction, No. 17-11554. The Circuit rejected this
argument, stating that it was this Court's denial of
immunity that entitled the appellants to interlocutory appeal
and that the City could not "piggyback" on the
other defendants' proper appeal. See Finley,
Order (Aug. 17, 2017) at 2, No. 17-11554. Specifically, the
Circuit held: (1) that this Court "left open the
possibility the judge and the City were independently
responsible for creating the policies at issue;" (2)
that "the City's liability does not necessarily
match the judge's;" and (3) that "the
City's appeal is not inextricably intertwined with the
judge's entitlement to immunity." Id. at 3.
the City was unable to participate in the appeal, it argues
that the Court is bound by the Circuit's findings in
Finely-findings that necessitate its dismissal from
the case entirely. Accordingly, it has moved for judgment on
the pleadings. City's Mot. J. Pleadings, ECF No. 180.
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c), a party may move for
judgment on the pleadings "[a]fter the pleadings are
closed-but early enough not to delay trial." "A
motion for judgment on the pleadings is governed by the same
standard as a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6)."
Carbone v. Cable News Network, Inc., 910 F.3d 1345,
1350 (11th Cir. 2018): Accordingly, to survive a motion for
judgment on the pleadings, "a complaint must contain
sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a
claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'"
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting
BellAtl Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544,
570'(2007)). A complaint states a plausible claim for
relief "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. "While legal
conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they
must be supported by factual allegations." Id.
at 679. And the "[f]actual allegations must be enough to
raise a right to relief above the speculative level."
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556.
this Court's opinion on the motion to dismiss, seven
counts from plaintiffs' amended complaint remain against
the City. Order, ECF No. 132. These are largely Section 1983
claims alleging constitutional violations. Count III claims
the City violated the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments
through its alleged policy and practice of issuing warrants
on those individuals who have not paid traffic debts or
monthly payments to JCS. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 191-96, ECF
No. 32. Count IV alleges various constitutional violations
for the City's use of a fixed-sum bail schedule, which
requires payment of pre-fixed amounts to gain pre-trial
release without regard to indigency or ability to pay.
Id. ¶¶ 197-03. Count V claims the City
violated the Constitution by imprisoning people for failure
to pay fines without conducting meaningful inquiries into
their indigency or ability to pay. M ¶¶ 204-14.
Count VI faults the City for failing to provide adequate
counsel. Id. ¶¶ 215-21. Count VII alleges
that the jail work program violated the Thirteenth Amendment,
as well as federal statutes outlawing peonage and forced
labor. Id. ¶¶ 222-34. Count VIII claims
constitutional violations through the use of probation and
threats of probation revocation to collect fines and fees.
Id. ¶¶ 235-242. And Count IX alleges the
City violated the Constitution through requiring appeal bonds
without inquiry into indigency or ability to pay.
Id. ¶¶ 243-50. The City argues that each
of these causes of action are due to be dismissed on the
The Eleventh Circuit's opinion in Finley
requires the Court to reevaluate whether plaintiffs state a
plausible claim against the City.
determine what effect, if any, the Circuit's opinion in
Finley has on the plaintiffs' claims against the
City, the Court must examine what the Circuit actually did
Circuit did not have jurisdiction to hear an appeal over this
Court's entire opinion, but rather only the Court's
denial of immunity to the defendants sued in their individual
capacities. Finley, 907 F.3d at 1330. This included
the denial of judicial immunity to Judge Hayes, presiding
judge of the City's municipal court, and denials of
qualified and state-agent immunities to Mayor Todd Strange
and police chiefs Ernest Finley and Kevin Murphy.
Id. Because plaintiffs voluntarily dismissed most
individual capacity claims and because this Court granted the
City's motion to dismiss on some others, the only
individual capacity claims before the Circuit were: (1) Count
VII's statutory anti-peonage and forced labor claims
against all four individual defendants, and (2) Count
XII's false imprisonment claims against the Mayor and
Judge Hayes. Id. at 1329-30.
The Circuit held that Judge Hayes was entitled to
opinion in Finley first addressed whether Judge
Hayes was entitled to judicial immunity. Id. at
1330-32. "A judge enjoys absolute immunity from suit for
judicial acts performed within the jurisdiction of his
court." Id. at 1330 (citing Stump v.
Sparkman, 435 U.S. 349, 356-57 (1978)). So, in deciding
whether judicial immunity applies, courts must "look at
the nature and function of his act, not the propriety of the
act itself, and consider whether the nature and function of
the particular act is judicial." Id. at
prior motion to dismiss opinion, this Court found that the
allegations in the complaint were for non-judicial actions
"[g]iven that municipal revenue generation is not a
function normally performed by a judge."
McCullough, 2017 WL 956362, at *9. But the Circuit
disagreed. Finley, 907 F.3d at 1331. The Circuit
held that the judge's alleged desire to generate revenue
went to his motivation, rather than the character of his
action. Id. "A judge's motivation is
irrelevant to determining whether his act was judicial."
Id. And even if Judge Hayes was motivated to
generate municipal revenue, his act "does not become
less judicial by virtue of an allegation of malice or
corruption of motive." Forrester v. White, 484
U.S. 219, 227 (1988).
Circuit instructed that the Court should have instead
evaluated whether the acts alleged in the amended complaint
were judicial based on four factors:
(1) the precise act complained of is a normal judicial
function; (2) the events involved occurred in the judge's
chambers; (3) the controversy centered around a case then
pending before the judge; and (4) the confrontation arose
directly and ...