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Colburn v. Odom

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

September 23, 2019

TIMOTHY JARROD COLBURN, et al., Plaintiffs,
SUSAN ODOM, Defendant.



         Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), the parties have consented to the jurisdiction of a United States Magistrate Judge. Pending before the court is Defendant Susan Odom’s Motion to Dismiss. Doc. 66. Plaintiffs Timothy Jarrod Colburn, Gary Lynn Blackwell, Howard Derrick Butler, Daniel Rudolph Cassels, Landa L. Clark, Joseph Anthony Elliott, Todd Michael Harrison, and David Edward Rhodes have filed a response in opposition to the motion. Doc. 72. Odom has filed a reply brief in support of her motion. Doc. 74. After careful consideration of the parties’ submissions and the applicable law, and for the reasons that follow, the court concludes that the motion to dismiss is due to be granted.


         The court has jurisdiction over the claims in this lawsuit pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332. The parties do not contest personal jurisdiction, nor do they contest that venue is proper in the Northern District of Alabama. The court finds adequate allegations to support the propriety of both.


         A. Factual Allegations

         The plaintiffs are seven individuals who allege that they were arrested without a warrant in Walker County, Alabama, and then detained in the county jail. They claim that these actions denied them a proper determination of whether probable cause supported their arrests in violation of Alabama law and the Fourth Amendment. Doc. 60. The plaintiffs filed a complaint in this court on October 13, 2015 against Susan Odom, the Circuit Clerk of Walker County, along with Lela Yahn, Carol Haggard, and Debra Courington, all of whom were employed by the Walker County Circuit Clerk’s Office as magistrates. Five of the plaintiffs–– Colburn, Rhodes, Elliott, Cassels, and Harrison––previously brought suit against the Sheriff of Walker County and deputy sheriff John Blair Huddleston based on the same underlying facts. See Colburn v. Huddleston, 2015 WL 1494554 (N.D. Ala. Mar. 30, 2015). That case has been dismissed. Id. at *10.

         The plaintiffs specifically allege that they were arrested by Huddleston in a series of warrantless arrests in Walker County between October 2013 and June 2014. Doc. 60 at 8–10. In each case, Huddleston transported one of the plaintiffs to the Walker County Jail in Jasper, Alabama, without first obtaining a determination of probable cause from a judge or magistrate. Doc. 60 at 8–10. The plaintiffs claim that Odom had the “administrative responsibility for and supervision of the records and clerical services” at the Walker County Circuit Court and that she served as the immediate supervisor for Yahn, Haggard, and Courington. Doc. 60 at 11–12. In addition to her administrative duties, Odom was “responsible for insuring that the magistrates she assigned were properly trained and that [they] conducted themselves in accordance with the United States Constitution, the Alabama Constitution of 1901 and the Alabama Rules of Criminal Procedure.” Doc. 60 at 12 (citing Ala. R. Crim. P. 2.4, 3.1, 4.3, 4.4 & 7.2).

         B. Procedural History

         In the instant suit, the plaintiffs seek damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Circuit Clerk Susan Odom and magistrates Yahn, Haggard, and Courington. On February 27, 2017, the court dismissed the plaintiffs’ claims against the three magistrates under the doctrine of judicial immunity. Doc. 36 at 10. The court also dismissed certain claims against Odom in her official capacity. Doc. 36 at 16–17. The court denied Odom’s motion to dismiss, however, with respect to the remaining claims against her, finding that she was not entitled to judicial immunity or qualified immunity. Doc. 36 at 9 & 16. The court also concluded that the plaintiffs could “seek relief against Odom in her official capacity . . . in the form of prospective injunctive relief.” Doc. 36 at 17.

         Odom appealed the denial of immunity, but the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals held that it could not meaningfully review the appeal because it was unable to “identify from the allegations of the complaint, answer, or motion to dismiss, which of the magistrates purportedly denied the Plaintiffs’ Fourth Amendment rights.” Colburn v. Odom, 911 F.3d 1110, 1113 (11th Cir. 2018). Accordingly, the Eleventh Circuit vacated this court’s judgment and remanded for further proceedings pursuant to a series of specific instructions.[1]

         In its decision, the Eleventh Circuit noted that the original complaint in this case failed to identify the crimes for which the plaintiffs were arrested and “refused to indicate whether [the plaintiffs] had been taken before a magistrate for an initial appearance.” Id. at 1120. Instead, the plaintiffs merely alleged that, as to each of them, “one of the magistrates (unidentified) at some point in time (undisclosed) failed to determine that the client’s arrest was supported by probable cause.” Id. In the face of these pleading deficiencies, the Eleventh Circuit held that this court should have dismissed the complaint sua sponte “because it failed to state a cognizable claim for relief.” Id. Remanding for further proceedings, the Eleventh Circuit directed this court to dismiss the plaintiffs’ claims against Odom with prejudice if they chose not to amend their complaint. Id. If they did choose to amend, the court held that the amended complaint must include the following allegations with respect to each plaintiff:

• The date of the Plaintiff’s arrest, the crimes for which the arrest was made, and the identity of the arresting officer (presumably Deputy Huddleston).
• The date and time the Plaintiff was booked into the Walker County Jail.
• The date and time of the Plaintiff’s initial appearance, if the ...

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