United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division
CATHERINE REGINA HARPER, on behalf of herself and those similarly situated, et al., Plaintiffs,
PROFESSIONAL PROBATION SERVICES, INC., et al., Defendants.
ANNEMARIE CARNEY AXON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
matter comes before the court on Defendant Professional
Probation Services, Inc.'s (“PPS”) motion to
dismiss the second amended complaint. (Doc. 57).
case, PPS contracted with the Municipal Court of the City of
Gardendale, Alabama, to perform probation supervision for the
Municipal Court. Under the contract, neither the Municipal
Court nor Gardendale had to pay PPS for its services because
PPS charged offenders who had been sentenced to probation
monthly service fees. Three of those probationers-Catherine
Harper, Shannon Jones, and Jennifer Essig-brought this
lawsuit, alleging that PPS violated the Due Process Clause of
the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution
because it had a financial conflict of interest in the
probation cases assigned to it, and that PPS violated Alabama
law by abusing the process of probation to extort money from
the probationers it supervised. Ms. Harper and Ms. Jones
bring their claims individually and on behalf of a putative
class, and Ms. Essig brings her claims individually.
moved to dismiss the second amended complaint. (Doc. 57). The
court previously granted in part and denied in part the
motion, finding that although the court had subject matter
jurisdiction over the federal due process claim raised in
Count One, Plaintiffs Catherine Harper, Shannon Jones, and
Jennifer Essig had not stated a claim in that count. (Doc.
92). The court did, however, find that Plaintiffs had stated
a state law abuse of process claim in Count Two.
(Id.). The court later reconsidered and vacated the
dismissal order as to only the merits of Count One; the
reconsideration order did not vacate the determination that
the court has subject matter jurisdiction over that claim or
that Count Two stated a claim. (Doc. 101).
further briefing (docs. 103, 104, 107), the motion to dismiss
the second amended complaint is again under submission. The
court WILL GRANT the motion and WILL
DISMISS Count One WITH PREJUDICE
because, even accepting as true all of Plaintiffs'
factual allegations, as a matter of law they have not stated
a claim that PPS violated their due process rights.
Furthermore, having dismissed the only federal cause of
action, the court DECLINES to exercise
supplemental jurisdiction over the state law claim asserted
in Count Two and WILL DISMISS that claim
stage, the court must accept as true the factual allegations
in the complaint and construe them in the light most
favorable to the plaintiff. Butler v. Sheriff of Palm
Beach Cty., 685 F.3d 1261, 1265 (11th Cir. 2012). The
court may also consider exhibits attached to the complaint.
Hoefling v. City of Miami, 811 F.3d 1271, 1277 (11th
Cir. 2016). Plaintiffs attach to their second amended
complaint PPS's contract with the Municipal Court.
(See Doc. 56-1). As a result, the court's
description of the facts incorporates not only
Plaintiffs' allegations but the content of the contract.
a for-profit corporation that supervises probationers. (Doc.
56 at 8). Gardendale's Municipal Court hears cases
involving city ordinance violations, including traffic
tickets and misdemeanors. (Id. at 7-8). In 1998, a
judge of the Municipal Court and PPS entered a contract under
which PPS agreed to serve as the Municipal Court's sole
probation provider. (Id. at 8-9; Doc. 56-1). Under
the contract, PPS did not charge Gardendale for its services
because probationers paid monthly fees to PPS to cover the
costs of supervision and any additional services, such as
anger management or substance abuse classes. (Doc. 56 at
10-11). The contract permitted PPS to charge probationers $30
per month for basic probation services. (Doc. 56-1 at 9). In
practice, PPS charged offenders a $40 monthly supervision
fee. (Doc. 56 at 15).
typical case, the Municipal Court would order an offender to
pay a fine or court cost and, if the offender could not
immediately pay the entire amount owed, the Court would
automatically issue a probation order assigning the offender
to probation. (Doc. 56 at 11). A standard probation order
would list the length of probation, the type of supervision,
and any special conditions, such as completion of vocational
rehabilitation. (See Id. at 14). The probation order
would not state the amount of any fine or court costs.
the Municipal Court issued the probation order, the offender
would meet with a PPS employee in a different room within the
courthouse. (Doc. 56 at 15). The Municipal Court judge would
have pre-signed a “Sentence of Probation” form,
and the PPS employee would complete the form during the first
meeting with the new probationer. (Id.). The
Sentence of Probation form indicated the total fine and court
costs owed, the monthly service fee of $40, the length of
probation, and any additional conditions. (See Id.
at 15-16). The Municipal Court judge would not review the
Sentence of Probation form after PPS filled it out.
(Id. at 16).
filling out the Sentence of Probation form, the PPS employee
would complete a PPS Enrollment Form, which listed the name
of the probationer's probation officer, the date of her
first appointment at PPS, the amount due at that appointment,
and instructions for the probationer, including how and by
when probationers could reschedule appointments. (Doc. 56 at
contract between PPS and the Municipal Court indicates that
the Municipal Court would make any indigency determinations.
(See Doc. 56-1 at 9) (“Those offenders the
Court shall determine as indigent shall be ordered as such
and supervised at no cost.”). But in practice, the
Municipal Court did not assess indigency and PPS did not
evaluate probationers for indigency or assist them in
obtaining an indigency determination from the Municipal
Court. (Doc. 56 at 11-12, 20).
probation review hearings, the probation officer would appear
at the Municipal Court with the probationer. (Doc. 56 at
28-29). PPS would report offenders' alleged
non-compliance with the probation conditions to the Municipal
Court without filing a contempt citation or revocation
paperwork, and it would not provide probationers with any
information about the alleged violations. (Id. at
29). When offenders had their probation revoked and spent
time in jail, they did not receive any credit toward the fine
or court costs. (Id. at 31). And when offenders
could pay only a part of the amount due monthly, PPS took its
$40 fee out of that amount before applying any of the payment
to the probationer's fine or court costs. (Id.
at 23). Finally, PPS never offered any additional services,
such as substance abuse treatment or anger management
classes, to probationers. (Id. at 24). Instead, PPS
simply required probationers to appear for in-person
appointments to make a payment and receive the next
appointment date. (Id.).
November 1, 2017, a Municipal Court judge ordered all
probationers supervised by PPS to stop reporting to PPS, to
stop making payments to PPS, and to either pay the Municipal
Court all outstanding court debt or appear in court to
request a payment plan. (Doc. 56 at 9-10). After the
Municipal Court entered that order, PPS terminated its
contract with the Court. (Id. at 10). PPS no longer
operates in Gardendale. (Id.).
that background, the court will describe the factual
allegations particular to Ms. Harper, Ms. Jones, and Ms.
Essig, all offenders whom the Municipal Court sentenced to
probation under PPS. (Id. at 32, 45, 53).
February 2017, Ms. Harper pleaded guilty to driving on a
revoked license, and the Municipal Court imposed a $500 fine,
$215 in court costs, a sentence of 48 hours of jail to serve,
and one year's probation. (Doc. 56 at 32-33). A PPS
employee informed Ms. Harper that she would have to pay PPS
$80 per month, of which $40 was the monthly supervision fee.
(Id.). Ms. Harper's Sentence of Probation form
changed her period of probation from twelve months to
twenty-four months. (Id. at 34).
the next eight months, Ms. Harper repeatedly told her
probation officer that she could not afford to pay $80 per
month and asked about performing community service instead.
(Doc. 56 at 34-36, 39-41). Her probation officer told her to
discuss community service with the Municipal Court, but when
she asked the Municipal Court, the judge told her and her
probation officer that PPS, not the Court, had to order
community service. (Id. at 38-39). The same
probation officer later told Ms. Harper that PPS could not
give her community service unless the Municipal Court ordered
it. (Id. at 39). When Ms. Harper continued to ask
about community service, the ...