On August 28, 2012, plaintiffs filed a federal class action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the city of Childersburg, Alabama and the private, for-profit law enforcement company the city uses to collect law-enforcement related fines, costs, and fees. The plaintiffs sued in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama, seeking a declaratory judgment and an injunction, and asserting claims under both federal and state law.
The for-profit defendant, Judicial Corrections Services (JCS) offers an "offender paid system" free of charge to the city government. At times it has acted under the color of state law in collecting fines, costs, and fees, and has acted at times as a quasi-judicial agency of the city. The company officers have the appearance of state authority and are referred to as "probation officers," although they have no such authority under Alabama statutes. The employees of the private company construct documents that appear to be court orders, and they hold them out as having the force of court orders. The city knows of this, but allows the company employees to collect fines, threaten members of the plaintiff class with incarceration, and incarcerate persons who have not paid. Members of the plaintiff class have been placed on "probation" by the private company's employees, leading to payment of fines, costs, and fees. Further, the defendants have increased the amount of these fines from the amounts printed on the "probation" papers. Defendants have not had due process protections or procedures in place.
The lawsuit alleges denial of due process, under the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Eighth, Thirteenth, and Fourteenth Amendments, as well as under the Alabama Constitution in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiffs allege that defendants imposed incarceration for failure to pay fines and costs without a hearing to determine indigency. They also allege that defendants imposed terms of incarceration and other costs and fines beyond the statutory maximum allowed under Alabama law. The suit also alleges denial of equal protection. The plaintiffs say that defendants, acting under color of state law, automatically imposed incarceration upon those unable to pay fines and costs without a hearing to determine indigency.
Further, the suit alleges that defendants unlawfully arrested, prosecuted, and detained people when they had no jurisdiction or authority under Alabama law. Defendants also allege malicious prosecution and abuse of process. Finally, defendants allege that the enterprise itself was unconstitutional and illegal, because the city allowed a private company to operate a quasi-judicial system for private profit.
On April 26, 2013, Plaintiffs filed a second amended complaint preserving and expounding upon their allegations against JCS and Childersberg. The complaint sought the certification of two classes: 1) past and future individuals who received fines from JCS that were or could be converted to probation, and 2) all individuals who were incarcerated, or may be subject to incarceration for failure to pay charges and fees without consideration of their indigency.
JCS and Childersberg moved separately to dismiss the second amended complaint. On September 26, 2013, Judge R. David Proctor issued opinions granting in part and denying in part Defendants' motions to dismiss. Judge Proctor sustained all of the Plaintiffs' allegations and claims for relief, except for the Plaintiffs' request that any currently incarcerated indigent persons jailed for nonpayment of fines be released. He found that federal habeas corpus law was the only avenue for this form of relief.
Following this opinion, the parties began discovery. Plaintiffs subpoenaed a municipal court judge they alleged had helped JCS get its contract with Childersberg, and then signed blank probation order forms, which JCS then filled out retrospectively. On October 9, 2014, Judge Proctor granted the municipal court judge's motion to quash the subpoena, prohibiting discovery into actions taken by the judge in his official capacity because of judicial immunity. The Court did however allow discovery into the municipal court judge's role in the contract negotiations between Childersberg and JCS.
As of February 18, 2016, discovery in the case remains ongoing.Emily Goldman - 10/12/2012
Benjamin St. Pierre - 04/07/2015