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Case Name Luse v. Sentinel Offender Services CJ-GA-0013
Docket / Court 2:16-cv-00030-RWS ( N.D. Ga. )
State/Territory Georgia
Case Type(s) Criminal Justice (Other)
Special Collection Fines/Fees/Bail Reform (Criminalization of poverty)
Attorney Organization Southern Center for Human Rights
Case Summary
On February 17, 2016, two women on probation in White County, represented by the Southern Center for Human Rights, sued the private probation company Sentinel Offender Services (Sentinel) in a class action in the U.S. Northern District of Georgia pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and Georgia law. The ... read more >
On February 17, 2016, two women on probation in White County, represented by the Southern Center for Human Rights, sued the private probation company Sentinel Offender Services (Sentinel) in a class action in the U.S. Northern District of Georgia pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and Georgia law. The plaintiffs claimed that they were forced by Sentinel to submit to, and pay for, unauthorized urine sample drug tests in violation of their due process and privacy rights, and right against unreasonable seizure. The plaintiffs also challenged Sentinel’s practice of coercing payments with false threats of immediate incarceration, charging that this practice constituted conversion [O.C.G.A. § 51-10-1], fraud, and tortious coercion. They requested monetary, injunctive, and declarative relief.

Both of the plaintiffs had pled guilty to traffic violations in White County Probate Court and were placed on probation. In neither case did the judge order drug testing. When the county’s probation contractor, Sentinel, drug tested the plaintiffs, it did not go back to the judge and obtain an order for any of the nine tests conducted. To complete the tests, the women were required to urinate in plain view of a Sentinel officer.

Plaintiff Luse claimed that she did not have the available funds ($60 in total) to pay for the drug tests, but was forced to borrow money from relatives after Sentinel officer Stacey McDowell-Black threatened that she would report Luse to the County to have her incarcerated. Plaintiff Ligocki similarly refused to submit to the tests initially, but eventually submitted to five tests ($95) after a similar threat from McDowell-Black. At no point were the plaintiffs able to challenge the legality of paying for and submitting to the tests.

The complaint sought to certify the following class: "as all persons with criminal charges requiring them to appear in the White County Probate Court who are, were, or in the future will be subject to the Defendants’ practice of requiring probationers to submit to and to pay for drug tests, in the absence of any court order authorizing such drug tests."

On February 26, 2016, the plaintiffs moved for preliminary injunction, seeking to enjoin the defendants from requiring the probationers to take unauthorized drug tests while the case was pending. That same day, they also moved to certify the class defined above.

The case was assigned to Judge Richard W. Story on February 29, 2016. The plaintiffs filed an amended complaint on April 1, 2016.

On June 8, 2016, the court stayed further proceedings pending mediation. The court also denied the motion for certification as moot on July 15, but allowed the parties to refile it pending the outcome of mediation.

On August 14, 2017, the court issued a consent order resolving the plaintiffs' injunctive relief claims. The consent order created the following requirements: (1) the defendants could not require probationers to submit to a drug screening that was not specifically authorized by a written order of the court; (2) the defendants could not "threaten probationers with jail solely for failure to pay fines, supervision fees, or other monetary obligations;" (3) the defendants were forbidden from directing probationers to borrow money to pay monetary obligations and from impeding probation modifications in general; and (4) the defendants were to verbally and in writing inform probationers that their probation may be modified to accommodate hardships. The consent order also provided for probation officer training and protocol in the event of the possibility of probation modification. The court retained jurisdiction over the enforcement of the consent order, though no end date was provided.

On August 21, 2017, the court granted final approval of the class settlement after conducting a fairness hearing as to the plaintiffs' damages claims. The settlement applies to the following class of individuals who meet the following requirements: "(1) the person was sentenced to probation by the Probate Court of White County, Georgia; (2) the person's sentencing order did not specifically authorize drug testing; (3) the person was subjected to drug testing by Defendants on or after February 17, 2012; and (4) the person was not under a written order by another court specifically requiring the person to submit to drug testing by Defendants." This class, consisting of 276 individuals, was the group of people eligible to receive damages. The Settlement required the defendants to make available an $80,000 fund to reimburse these class members both restitution in the form of interest and damages of up to $90 per unauthorized drug test.

The Settlement also defined a class for the purposes of the consent order consisting of "persons who are or will be placed on probation by the Probate Court of
White County, Georgia."

The Settlement also provided that defendants were to pay attorneys' fees of $25,000.

The case is now closed.

Dan Hofman - 03/30/2016
Virginia Weeks - 01/27/2018


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Constitutional Clause
Due Process
Unreasonable search and seizure
Content of Injunction
Retaliation Prohibition
Training
General
Forfeiture
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. § 1983
State law
Defendant(s) Sentinel Offender Services, LLC
Stacy McDowell-Black
Plaintiff Description Women on probation in White County, Georgia who were required to submit urine sample drug tests not ordered by a court.
Indexed Lawyer Organizations Southern Center for Human Rights
Class action status sought Yes
Class action status granted Pending
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief Preliminary injunction / Temp. restraining order
Attorneys fees
Damages
Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement
Source of Relief Litigation
Settlement
Form of Settlement Court Approved Settlement or Consent Decree
Order Duration 2017 - n/a
Case Closing Year 2017
Case Ongoing Yes
Docket(s)
2:16-cv-30 (N.D. Ga.)
CJ-GA-0013-9000.pdf | Detail
Date: 08/22/2017
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Complaint [ECF# 1]
CJ-GA-0013-0001.pdf | Detail
Date: 02/17/2016
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Verified Amended Complaint [ECF# 17]
CJ-GA-0013-0002.pdf | Detail
Date: 04/01/2016
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Consent Order [ECF# 40] (N.D. Ga.)
CJ-GA-0013-0003.pdf | Detail
Date: 08/14/2017
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order Granting Final Approval of Class Settlement [ECF# 42] (N.D. Ga.)
CJ-GA-0013-0004.pdf | Detail
Date: 08/21/2017
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Judges Story, Richard W. (N.D. Ga.)
CJ-GA-0013-0003 | CJ-GA-0013-0004 | CJ-GA-0013-9000
Plaintiff's Lawyers Geraghty, Sarah E. (Georgia)
CJ-GA-0013-0001 | CJ-GA-0013-0002 | CJ-GA-0013-0003 | CJ-GA-0013-9000
Primerano, Ryan (Georgia)
CJ-GA-0013-0001 | CJ-GA-0013-0002 | CJ-GA-0013-0003 | CJ-GA-0013-9000
Weber, Gerald R. (Georgia)
CJ-GA-0013-0001 | CJ-GA-0013-0002 | CJ-GA-0013-0003 | CJ-GA-0013-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Gray, Harvey Scott (Georgia)
CJ-GA-0013-0003 | CJ-GA-0013-9000
St. Amand, Michael D. (Georgia)
CJ-GA-0013-0003 | CJ-GA-0013-9000

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