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Cain v. White

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

August 23, 2019

ALANA CAIN; ASHTON BROWN; REYNAUD VARISTE; REYNAJIA VARISTE; THADDEUS LONG; VANESSA MAXWELL, Plaintiffs - Appellees
v.
LAURIE A. WHITE, Judge Section A of the Orleans Parish Criminal District Court; TRACEY FLEMINGS-DAVILLIER, Judge Section B of the Orleans Parish Criminal District Court; BENEDICT WILLARD, Judge Section C of the Orleans Parish Criminal District Court; KEVA LANDRUM-JOHNSON, Judge Section E of the Orleans Parish Criminal District Court; ROBIN PITTMAN, Judge Section F of the Orleans Parish Criminal District Court; BYRON C. WILLIAMS, Judge Section G of the Orleans Parish Criminal District Court; CAMILLE BURAS, Judge Section H of the Orleans Parish Criminal District Court; KAREN K. HERMAN, Judge Section I of the Orleans Parish Criminal District Court; DARRYL DERBIGNY, Judge Section J of the Orleans Parish Criminal District Court; ARTHUR HUNTER, Judge Section K of the Orleans Parish Criminal District Court; FRANZ ZIBILICH, Judge Section L of the Orleans Parish Criminal District Court; HARRY E. CANTRELL, Magistrate Judge of the Orleans Parish Criminal District Court, Defendants - Appellants

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana

          Before HAYNES, GRAVES, and HO, Circuit Judges.

          JAMES E. GRAVES, JR., CIRCUIT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff-Appellees are former criminal defendants in Orleans Parish, Louisiana who sued Defendant-Appellants, Judges of the Orleans Parish Criminal District Court ("OPCDC"), under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiffs alleged the Judges' practices in collecting criminal fines and fees violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The district court granted summary judgment in Plaintiffs' favor. We affirm, although we emphasize at the outset that the resolution of this case is dictated by the particular facts before us.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. The Parties

         Plaintiff-Appellees are Alana Cain, Ashton Brown, Reynaud Variste, Reynajia Variste, Thaddeus Long, and Vanessa Maxwell, former criminal defendants in OPCDC who pleaded guilty to various criminal offenses between 2011 and 2014. All but Reynaud Variste qualified for and were appointed public defenders. At sentencing, Plaintiffs were assessed fines and fees ranging from $148 to $901.50. All were arrested for failure to pay their assessed fines and fees, given a $20, 000 bond, and spent anywhere from six days to two weeks in jail.

         Defendant-Appellants are twelve OPCDC judges, Judges Laurie A. White, Tracey Flemings-Davilier, Benedict Willard, Keva Landrum-Johnson, Robin Pittman, Byron C. Williams, Camille Buras, Karen K. Herman, Darryl Derbigny, Arthur Hunter, Franz Zibilich, and Magistrate Judge Harry Cantrell (the "Judges").[1]

         B. The Judicial Expense Fund ("JEF")

         The JEF is established pursuant to La. Rev. Stat. § 13:1381.4 and consists of OPCDC revenue that is not designated or restricted for a specific purpose. Accordingly, it is also known as the General Fund. The JEF receives funding from a variety of sources, including the City of New Orleans and bail bond fees, but approximately one quarter of the monies it receives comes from the court's collection of fines and fees.

         The Judges have exclusive control over how the JEF is spent, and generally use it for the following:

salaries and related-employment benefits (excluding the judges), CLE travel, legislative expenses, conferences and legal education, ceremonies, office supplies, cleaning supplies, law books, bottled water, jury expenses, telephone, postage, pest control, dues and subscriptions, paper supplies, advertising, building maintenance and repairs, cleaning services, capital outlay, equipment maintenance and repairs, lease payments, equipment rentals, professional and contractual expenses, the drug testing supplies, coffee, transcripts, insurance, and miscellaneous.

         Money from the fund may not be used to supplement the Judges' own salaries, although, as noted above, it can be used to pay the salaries of court personnel. La. Rev. Stat. § 13:1381.4(D). Each judge is allocated $250, 000 per annum for personnel salaries and $1, 000 for court costs from the JEF. The fund also covers the cost of professional liability insurance coverage as authorized by the Louisiana Supreme Court. "For some time prior to 2011, some judges received supplemental benefits" from the JEF in the form of supplemental health insurance policies and reimbursement for out-of-pocket medical expenses; however, this practice fully ended by 2012 following an investigation by the Louisiana Legislative Auditor.

         When collection of the fines and fees is reduced, the OPCDC can have a difficult time meeting its operational needs, leading to cuts in services, reduction of staff salaries, and leaving some positions unfilled. During these times, the Judges have attempted to increase their collection efforts and have also requested assistance from other sources of funding, including the City of New Orleans.

         C. The Fines and Fees

         Several Louisiana statutes and codes permit the Judges to assess fines and fees to criminal defendants at sentencing. Some fines and fees have specific purposes and are collected to be distributed for specific statutory purposes, [2]while others are collected and then split between the court and other agencies.[3]However, some fines and fees go directly into the JEF.[4] The statutory requirements of yet other fines and fees is ambiguous.[5]

         D. OPCDC's Debt Collection Practices

         Prior to this lawsuit, the Judges delegated collection authority to the Collections Department, established by the OPCDC judges[6] in the late 1980s "to (1) facilitate the collection of costs and fines [and] (2) to minimize the administrative and logistical burden on" the OPCDC's dockets. The Collections Department, supervised by both Mr. Kazik and the Judges, worked with criminal defendants in creating payment plans, accepting payments, and granting extensions. The Collections Department had "no standard list of factors or questions . . . to ask a criminal defendant except those at intake when collections obtained address, telephone and employment information and used it for purposes of contacting the criminal defendant when they did not pay."

         Before issuing a warrant for a defendant's arrest for failure to pay a court debt, the Collections Department would send two form letters to the defendant warning them of their overdue fines and fees and the possibility of arrest for failure to pay. If checking the court dockets or probation and jail records did not reveal a reason for nonpayment, the Collections Department issued an alias capias warrant for contempt of court and generally set surety bail at $20, 000. A person imprisoned on one of these warrants would ...


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