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Woods v. Judicial Correction Services, Inc.

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

June 5, 2019

HALI WOODS, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
JUDICIAL CORRECTION SERVICES, INC., et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          R. DAVID PROCTOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter is before the court on the City of Columbiana's (“Defendant” or “the City”) Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. # 155). The Motion has been fully briefed. (Docs. # 156, 191, and 204). For the reasons discussed below, the Motion is due to be granted.

         I. The Rule 56 Evidence and the Undisputed Facts[1]

         In 2006, the City of Columbiana entered into a contract with Defendant Judicial Correction Services, Inc. (“JCS”). (Doc. # 157). JCS was to provide probation services to the Columbiana municipal court. (Id.). Municipal court Judge Mike Atchison first learned of JCS from other municipalities that used its services. (Doc. # 160 at 24; Doc. # 58 at 38-40). Joanna Seale, a municipal court magistrate and the court clerk, had also heard about JCS during continuing education programs taken in connection with her magistrate position. (Doc. # 158 at 37). Seale called Susan Fuqua, a magistrate in Hoover, Alabama, to ask about that court's experience with JCS. (Id. at 38-40). The Columbiana municipal court explored this option in an effort to save the court from having to hire another full time employee for the management of probation services. (Id. at 37).

         JCS marketed itself as an offender-paid system which did not charge a municipality any money for its services. (Doc. # 180-31 at 193). It claimed that: (1) it could provide an incentive for probationers to pay their fines at a higher and faster rate, (2) its system increased partial payment rates, and (3) under its system, partial payments averaged eighty to ninety percent of the total fine. (Doc. # 193-2). Offenders placed on probation were generally ordered to pay JCS a one-time $10 set-up fee and $35 for each month of probation. (See, e.g., Doc. # 168 at 16).

         A. The Contract

         The JCS-Columbiana contract recites that it is between the City of Columbiana, the City's municipal court, and JCS. (Doc. # 157). Throughout the contract, the City and the court are referred to separately. (Id. at 3) (“JCS [is] willing to provide these services to the City and Court”; “the City and Court enter into this agreement with JCS.”). The contract did not place any obligations on the municipal court. (See Doc. # 157). Under the contract, JCS agreed to “supervise all probated cases sentenced by the Court” and “supervise indigent cases when determined by the Court.” (Id. at 4). JCS agreed to “comply with the Court's ruling in reference to sentencing or possible revocation of probation” and that “[a]ny modification to the original court sentence will be decided by the Court.” (Id. at 4-5). The contract was signed on behalf of Columbiana by then-Mayor Allan Lowe, and on behalf of JCS by Kevin Egan, President of JCS Alabama. (Doc. # 157).

         On April 15, 2015, Columbiana Mayor Stancil Handley terminated the JCS contract. (Doc. # 157-1 at 58).

         B. Municipal Court Operations

         Columbiana's municipal court generally held two monthly court sessions. (Doc. # 158 at 38, 55). However, a magistrate conducted bond hearings for all arrestees within forty-eight to seventy-two hours. (Id. at 24-25). At the bond hearing, the magistrate discussed the charges, the required bond, the defendant's rights, and the potential need for an attorney to be appointed for the defendant. (Id. at 27-28). The factors Magistrate Seale covered during the bond hearings are listed on a standard form issued by the state. (Id.).

         Magistrate Seale also distributed form affidavits of substantial hardship in the municipal court. (Id. at 96-99). She gave the forms to a defendant either at the bond hearing or when an attorney was appointed. (Id. at 96-97). Judge Atchison was responsible for an investigation into a person's ability to pay, and this indigency review was to occur prior to any involvement by JCS. (Docs. # 158 at 93-96, # 158-1 at 53, 74, 93-94). Generally, most defendants who submitted a substantial hardship application had their fine waived and were not referred to JCS. (Doc. # 158 at 97). Occasionally, Judge Atchison referred a defendant who submitted the form to JCS, but instructed JCS to waive its fees for that individual. (Doc. # 160 at 28-29). These indigency determinations were made by Judge Atchison before any discussion regarding JCS probation. (Doc. # 158 at 96).

         Judge Atchison maintained control in the municipal court. (Doc. # 160 at 19). In regards to JCS's work on probation matters, Judge Atchison testified that “JCS did what I [] ordered them to do.” (Id.). Lisha Kidd, a JCS Probation Officer who worked with Childersburg, Harpersville, and Columbiana, testified that JCS's “number one goal was to always obey the orders of the Court.” (Doc. # 162 at 228). She further testified that JCS followed “a process that [was] established by the Court.” (Doc. # 161 at 103). She noted that JCS “accepted everyone placed on probation through a judge.” (Doc. # 162 at 228).

         Not everyone appearing in the municipal court was placed on probation; if the offender could pay the fine within seven days, JCS was not involved and payments could be made through Magistrate Seale's office. (Doc. # 160 at 31, 59-60). Judge Atchison made that determination. (Id.). If the offender was placed on probation with JCS, payments had to be made through JCS. (Doc. # 158 at 126-27). Once all fines where paid, the probation ended. (Doc. # 180-31 at 262).

         JCS kept the court informed regarding the status of probationers' payments and appointments with their Probation Officers. (Docs. # 66-7, # 66-1, # 66-12). Occasionally, when offenders repeatedly failed to meet with JCS and/or make the required payments, JCS would prepare a petition to revoke the probation informing the court of the missed appointments and/or payments. (Docs. # 158 at 71-72, 88-89, # 168 at 26). Any warrants were executed by either Judge Atchison or Magistrate Seale, but they issued pursuant to an order by Judge Atchison. (Docs. # 158 at 109-10, # 158-1 at 180, # 160 at 31-32, # 183-28 at 15, # 168 at 17). City police officers were involved in serving warrants, but “the warrant comes from the Court.” (Docs. # 160 at 67, # 164 at 52). According to Judge Atchison, “JCS never put people in jail.” (Doc. # 160 at 31-32). Judge Atchison testified that he “had complete control over that.” (Id.).

         Judge Atchison, Magistrate Seale, and other municipal court employees are paid by the City, and their W-2s are issued by the City. (Docs. # 19 at & 3, # 160 at 51-52). The City paid Judge Atchison out of funds collected by the municipal court. (Doc. # 160 at 51-52).

         City officials do not determine the disposition of any case, including guilt or innocence, fines, fees, or community service. (Docs. # 19 at & 3, # 160 at 51-52). The Mayor testified that the Court was a department of the City. (Doc. # 193-3 at 29-30). However, Judge Atchison testified that it was not (Doc. # 160 at 51) and that, as a municipal judge, he operated “under the auspices of the Alabama Code and the Unified Judicial System.” (Doc. # 160 at 51). The Eleventh Circuit recently held that probation procedure, indigency hearings, provision of counsel, sentences, and work programs, are all judicial acts. McCullough v. Finley, 907 F.3d 1324, 1331 (11th Cir. 2018) (citing Owens v. Kelley, 681 F.2d 1362, 1370 (11th Cir. 1982) (probation orders); Eggar v. City of Livingston, 40 F.3d 312, 315 (9th Cir. 1994) (duty to advise indigent defendants of their rights); Davis v. Tarrant Cty., 565 F.3d 214, 223 (5th Cir. 2009) (appointment of counsel); Harris v. Deveaux, 780 F.2d 911, 915 (11th Cir. 1986) (sentencing)).

         C. Plaintiff Hali Woods

         On June 27, 2013, Woods was ticketed for failure to wear a seat belt while driving. (Doc. # 165 at 1). Her fine and court costs totaled $41. (Id.). On August 13, 2013, Woods pleaded guilty. (Id. at 3-4). The Explanation of Rights Plea of Guilty form she signed was Unified Judicial System Form C-44B. (Id. at 3-4). Judge Atchison placed Woods on probation, and ordered her to pay $51 per month until her financial obligations were met. (Id. at 5). Judge Atchison's Order of Probation also required Woods to pay JCS $35 for each month of probation and a $10 registration fee. (Id.). In Judge Atchison's August 13, 2013 Order of Probation, Woods was ordered to return to court on November 12, 2013 to show “completion of compliance.” (Id.).[2]

         Consistent with the August 13, 2013 Order of Probation, on October 24, 2013, Magistrate Seal signed a Summons to Appear requiring Woods to appear in the municipal court on November 12, 2013. (Doc. # 165 at 6). The Summons to Appear form was a State of Alabama Unified Judicial System Form MC-11D. (Id.). As of November 12, 2013, Woods had only paid $20. (Id. at 7). Therefore, Judge Atchison signed another Order of Probation reinstating Woods to probation, and requiring payment in full by January 22, 2014. (Id. at 8).

         On January 8, 2014, Magistrate Seal signed another Summons to Appear requiring Woods to appear in the municipal court on January 28, 2014. (Id. at 9). The Summons to Appear form was again a State of Alabama Unified Judicial System Form MC-11D. (Id.). The January 28, 2014 court date was rescheduled (Doc. # 156 at 14 n.4), so on February 10, 2014, Magistrate Seal signed another Summons to Appear requiring Woods to appear in the municipal court on February 25, 2014. (Doc. # 165 at 9). The Summons to Appear form was again a State of Alabama Unified Judicial System Form MC-11D. (Id.). On February 25, 2014, Woods presented an Affidavit of Substantial Hardship on State of Alabama Unified Judicial System Form C-10. (Id. at 13-14). The Affidavit was marked “not approved.” (Id.).

         On April 22, 2014, less than one year after she was ticketed, Judge Atchison signed a Successful Termination of Probation form for Woods. (Id. at 17). Woods was never arrested related to the June 2013 offense, nor was a warrant for her arrest ever issued. (See Doc. # 165).

         D. Plaintiff Susan Douglas

         On January 14, 2012, Douglas was cited for driving while her license was suspended, a misdemeanor (No. TR 12-18), and for operating a vehicle without insurance, another misdemeanor (No. TR 12-19). (Docs. # 165 at 19-40, # 165-1 at 2). The fine and court costs for these citations were $390 and $340, respectively. (Id.). All fines and costs associated with these cases were paid and satisfied on or before March 15, 2013, more than two years before Plaintiffs filed their initial Complaint. (Docs. # 165 at 19-40, # 165-1 at 21, # 166 at 1; see also Doc. # 1). Judge Atchison signed notices of Successful Termination of Probation in both cases on April 9, 2013. (Doc. # 165-1 at 23).

         On February 28, 2013, Douglas was cited for driving while her license was revoked, a misdemeanor (No. TR 13-95). (Doc. # 167 at 2). The fine and court costs totaled $416. (Id. at 5). On April 9, 2013, Douglas pleaded guilty. (Id. at 3-4). The Explanation of Rights Plea of Guilty form she signed was Unified Judicial System Form C-44B. (Id.). Judge Atchison placed Douglas on probation and ordered her to pay $110 per month until her financial obligations were met. (Id. at 5). Judge Atchison's Order of Probation also required Douglas to pay JCS $35 for each month of probation and a $10 registration fee. (Id.). In Judge Atchison's April 9, 2013 Order of Probation, Douglas was ordered to return to court on July 9, 2013 to show “completion of compliance.” (Id.).

         On April 10, 2013, the day following her initial appearance in No. TR-13-95, Douglas was arrested for attempting to elude a police officer, a misdemeanor (Case. No. WA 13-38). (Doc. # 168). Concurrently with this arrest, Douglas was cited for driving while her license was revoked (No. TR 13-260). (Doc. # 169 at 1-2). The fine and court costs totaled $713. (Doc. # 168 at 2). On May 28, 2013, Douglas pleaded guilty to attempting to elude. (Id. at 14-15). The Explanation of Rights Plea of Guilty form she and Judge Atchison signed was Unified Judicial System Form C-44B. (Id.). On July 9, 2013, Douglas pleaded guilty to driving while her license was suspended, also on Unified Judicial System Form C-44B. (Doc. # 169 at 5-6). Judge Atchison placed Douglas on probation and ordered her to pay $135 per month until her financial obligations were met. (Doc. # 168 at 16). Judge Atchison's Order of Probation also required Douglas to pay JCS $35 for each month of probation and a $10 registration fee. (Id.).

         On February 24, 2014, JCS Probation Officer Lisha Kidd signed a Petition for Revocation of Probation on behalf of the City Prosecutor, Richard Shuleva, due to Douglas's failure to pay her fines and failure to report to her probation officer on sixteen occasions. (Id. at 26). This petition related to No. TR 13-26, TR 13-95, TR 13-262, and MC-13-39. (Id.). On March 10, 2014, Magistrate Seale executed an Alias Warrant for Douglas's arrest using Unified Judicial System Form MC-11A. (Id. at 17). On April 22, 2014, Judge Atchison signed an Order of Modification of Probation changing the status from “Hold” to “Warrant.” (Id. at 18).

         On May 13, 2014, Magistrate Seale issued an Order of Release from Jail on Unified Judicial System Form C-42 for No. MC 13-39, TR 13-260, TR 13-262 and TR 13-95. (Id. at 19).[3] Douglas was released from jail and again placed on probation. (Id.). The day she was released, Judge Atchison signed an Order of Probation stating that if Douglas missed one appointment or payment, a warrant was to be issued for her arrest. (Id. at 20). On September 12, 2014, Judge Atchison signed a Successful Termination of Probation for Douglas on Nos. TR 13-260 and TR-13-95. (Doc. # 169 at 36).

         On February 25, 2015, Magistrate Seale issued a Summons to Appear on Unified Judicial System Form MC-11D for Douglas to appear on March 10, 2015. (Doc. # 168 at 25). On March 10, 2015, Judge Atchison signed a Successful ...


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