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Case Name Foster v. City of Alexander City CJ-AL-0014
Docket / Court 3:15-cv-647-WKW ( M.D. Ala. )
State/Territory Alabama
Case Type(s) Criminal Justice (Other)
Special Collection Fines/Fees/Bail Reform (Criminalization of poverty)
Attorney Organization Southern Poverty Law Center
Case Summary
On September 8, 2015, two Alexander City residents who had been jailed for their inability to pay traffic or misdemeanor fines and costs filed this class action lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Alabama. Represented by counsel from the Southern Poverty Law ... read more >
On September 8, 2015, two Alexander City residents who had been jailed for their inability to pay traffic or misdemeanor fines and costs filed this class action lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Alabama. Represented by counsel from the Southern Poverty Law Center, the plaintiffs sued the City of Alexander and the Police Chief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging violations of the U.S. Constitution. The plaintiffs asked the court to grant declaratory, injunctive, and monetary relief.

Specifically, the plaintiffs alleged that Alexander City had a practice of arresting individuals who could not pay traffic or misdemeanor fines and costs in full on the date assessed, and jailing them until they paid or sat out the amount owed at a base rate of $20 per day. The defendants removed the plaintiffs from their jobs, families, and homes, destabilizing their lives. The plaintiffs alleged this practice violated the Fourth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, as well as constituted false imprisonment under Alabama state law. The plaintiffs further alleged this practice was implemented pursuant to the authorization of the Police Chief. The plaintiffs sought class certification for declaratory and injunctive relief.

On September 8, 2015, the plaintiffs also filed a motion for a temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction directing the defendants to stop jailing persons who were not able to pay their fines and costs in full on the date of their adjudication.

The case was assigned to Judge Gray Michael Borden on October 30, 2015.

On November 25, 2015, the plaintiffs filed a motion to withdraw their motions to certify class, for temporary restraining order, and for preliminary injunction. The same day the court granted the motion to withdraw, denied the motion for preliminary injunction as moot, and denied the motion for class certification as moot.

The plaintiffs filed an amended complaint on December 1, 2015. In the new complaint, the plaintiffs only sought to define a damages class, abandoning the attempt to certify a class for injunctive or declaratory relief. The defendants moved to dismiss the case on December 15, 2015. Discovery proceeded, with disputes arising along the way.

The case was reassigned to Judge Royce C. Lamberth on June 15, 2016.

The parties filed a joint motion for preliminary approval of a class settlement on January 17, 2017. On March 13, 2017, the court granted preliminary approval of the settlement and conditionally approved the following settlement class: "All individuals who, on or between September 8, 2013, and September 8, 2015, were arrested and jailed for their failure to pay fines and court costs by the Alexander City Police Department."

Per the agreement, the defendants were to pay class members a total of $680,000. The allocation of that fund was divided as follows: (1) $30,000 equally divided and paid to the two named plaintiffs, (2) $500 per day spent in jail for each class member who submitted a claim, (3) distribution of unclaimed payments to class members who had submitted claims in proportion to the number of days each one spent in jail, and (4) distribution of any residual money to the nonprofit Volunteer Connections of Central Alabama. The settlement also provided $202,000 in attorney's fees to class counsel. No injunctive relief was included in the settlement. The defendants did not admit any responsibility or liability with respect to the allegations. Following a fairness hearing, the court granted final approval of the settlement on August 4, 2017. The court retained jurisdiction for the purposes of the distribution of the class settlements.

In addition to the relief described in the settlement, following the filing of the lawsuit, the city changed their policies to allow low-income citizens of Alexander City to pay off fines either in installments or through community work.

As of November 21, 2019, there was no additional activity on the docket. Presumably, the defendants completed their required payments per the settlement agreement and the case is closed.

Sarah Precup - 09/28/2015
Virginia Weeks - 02/14/2018
Emma Himes - 11/16/2019


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Constitutional Clause
Assistance of counsel (6th Amendment)
Cruel and Unusual Punishment
Due Process
Equal Protection
Establishment Clause
Unreasonable search and seizure
Defendant-type
Jurisdiction-wide
Law-enforcement
General
False arrest
Fines/Fees/Bail/Bond
Over/Unlawful Detention
Placement in detention facilities
Poverty/homelessness
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. § 1983
Defendant(s) City of Alexander City
Plaintiff Description "Declaratory and Injunctive Relief Class": All individuals who in the future will be adjudicated by the Alexander City Municipal Court to owe fines and/or court costs, and who will be jailed on that date of adjudication by the Alexander City Police Department for their failure to pay fines or court costs. "Damages Class": All individuals who, on or after September 8, 2013, were arrested and jailed for their failure to pay fines and court costs by the Alexander City Police Department.
Indexed Lawyer Organizations Southern Poverty Law Center
Class action status sought Yes
Class action status granted Yes
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief Attorneys fees
Damages
Source of Relief Settlement
Form of Settlement Court Approved Settlement or Consent Decree
Filed 09/08/2015
Case Closing Year 2017
Case Ongoing No
Additional Resources
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Docket(s)
3:15-cv-647 (M.D. Ala.)
CJ-AL-0014-9000.pdf | Detail
Date: 08/04/2017
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Complaint [ECF# 1]
CJ-AL-0014-0001.pdf | Detail
Date: 09/08/2015
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Plaintiff Underwood's Motion for Temporary Restraining Order or Preliminary Injunction [ECF# 4]
CJ-AL-0014-0002.pdf | Detail
Date: 09/08/2015
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
First Amended Complaint [ECF# 36]
CJ-AL-0014-0003.pdf | Detail
Date: 12/01/2015
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Joint Motion for Preliminary Approval of Class Action Settlement Agreement and Notice to Class Members [ECF# 93]
CJ-AL-0014-0004.pdf | Detail
Date: 01/17/2017
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Class Action Settlement Agreement [ECF# 93-2]
CJ-AL-0014-0007.pdf | Detail
Date: 01/17/2017
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
show all people docs
Judges Capel, Wallace Jr. (M.D. Ala.) [Magistrate] show/hide docs
CJ-AL-0014-9000
Lamberth, Royce C. (FISC, D.D.C.) show/hide docs
CJ-AL-0014-9000
Plaintiff's Lawyers Brooke, Samuel (Alabama) show/hide docs
CJ-AL-0014-0001 | CJ-AL-0014-0002 | CJ-AL-0014-0003 | CJ-AL-0014-0004 | CJ-AL-0014-9000
Cavanaugh, William Francis Jr (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
CJ-AL-0014-0003 | CJ-AL-0014-0004 | CJ-AL-0014-0007 | CJ-AL-0014-9000
Millenky, Susan (New York) show/hide docs
CJ-AL-0014-0003 | CJ-AL-0014-0004 | CJ-AL-0014-9000
Restrepo, Valentina (Alabama) show/hide docs
CJ-AL-0014-0001 | CJ-AL-0014-0002 | CJ-AL-0014-0003 | CJ-AL-0014-9000
Vegari, Amy Neda (New York) show/hide docs
CJ-AL-0014-9000
Wang, Ivy (Alabama) show/hide docs
CJ-AL-0014-0004 | CJ-AL-0014-9000
Zampierin, Sara (Alabama) show/hide docs
CJ-AL-0014-0001 | CJ-AL-0014-0002 | CJ-AL-0014-0003 | CJ-AL-0014-0004 | CJ-AL-0014-0007 | CJ-AL-0014-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Canupp, David Jonathon (Alabama) show/hide docs
CJ-AL-0014-0004 | CJ-AL-0014-0007 | CJ-AL-0014-9000
Chynoweth, Brad A. (Alabama) show/hide docs
CJ-AL-0014-0004 | CJ-AL-0014-9000
Radney, William Larkin III (Alabama) show/hide docs
CJ-AL-0014-0004 | CJ-AL-0014-0007 | CJ-AL-0014-9000
Other Lawyers Kinney, Richard Warren (Alabama) show/hide docs
CJ-AL-0014-9000
Pike, James Hillary (Alabama) show/hide docs
CJ-AL-0014-9000
Porter, James Wallace II (Alabama) show/hide docs
CJ-AL-0014-9000

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