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Case Name O'Donnell v. Harris County CJ-TX-0010
Docket / Court 4:16-cv-01414 ( S.D. Tex. )
State/Territory Texas
Case Type(s) Criminal Justice (Other)
Special Collection Criminalization of poverty
Attorney Organization Civil Rights Corps
Equal Justice Under Law
Case Summary
On May 19, 2016, a 22-year-old detainee filed this class action suit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas under 42 U.S.C. §1983 against Harris County, Texas and the Harris County Sheriff's Department. The plaintiffs, represented by Equal Justice Under Law, claimed that the ... read more >
On May 19, 2016, a 22-year-old detainee filed this class action suit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas under 42 U.S.C. §1983 against Harris County, Texas and the Harris County Sheriff's Department. The plaintiffs, represented by Equal Justice Under Law, claimed that the bail system violated the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Constitution. Specifically, the plaintiff claimed that after being arrested on May 18, 2016, for driving with an invalid license, she was detained in the Harris County Jail because she couldn't afford the $2,500 bail. This amount was set according to a pre-determined bail schedule that did not consider the plaintiff's individualized circumstances. Moreover, the plaintiff alleged that she was told by Harris County Sheriff's deputies to not speak at her 60-second hearing, and pursuant to Harris County’s policies and practices, no inquiry was made into her ability to pay when the hearing officer found probable cause for her arrest. The plaintiff claimed that such wealth-based pretrial detention system was unconstitutional.

The plaintiff sought declaratory and monetary relief, as well as an injunction preventing the defendants from using money bail to detain any person without procedures, including inquiry into the person's ability to pay the amount set. The plaintiff also sought a temporary injunction order to immediately release the plaintiff and give her a proper bail hearing. The plaintiff asked the same similarly situated people subjected to the defendant's alleged wealth-based post-arrest detention scheme. The case was assigned to U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal.

On May 23, 2016, the plaintiff was released from Harris County custody, so she withdrew the motion for the temporary restraining order.

Following the conference before Judge Lee H. Rosenthal on August 26, 2016, in which scheduling order was amended, the plaintiff filed an amended complaint on September 1, 2016. On September 7, 2016, the defendants responded with a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. In it, the defendants argued that the plaintiff sued Sheriff Hickman, one of the defendants, without any legitimate basis. On September 8, 2016, the defendants' motion to dismiss against Sheriff Hickman was denied. Judge Lee Rosenthal informed the parties that she would consider all of the defendants' motions to dismiss claims together.

On December 16, Judge Rosenthal denied in part and granted in part the defendants' motions to dismiss, and then denied rehearing on March 1, 2017. She granted the motion to dismiss the personal-capacity claims against the Sheriff and the County Judges. She also granted the motion to dismiss the official-claims against the Hearing Officers. She denied the motions to dismiss the official-capacity claims against the Sheriff and the County Judges and the motion to dismiss claims against Harris County. The Judges and Sheriff could be sued in their official capacity for the policies they promulgated in their positions. Moreover, in acting administratively, the judges lacked immunity from injunctive and declaratory relief.

She set a preliminary injunction and class certification hearing for March 2017; the hearing lasted 8 days, spread out between March 6 and March 23. On April 28, Judge Rosenthal entered a preliminary injunction, accompanying the court order with 193 pages long opinion. She explained:
The question addressed in this Memorandum and Opinion is narrow: whether the plaintiffs have met their burden of showing a likelihood of success on the merits of their claims and the other factors necessary for a preliminary injunction against Harris County’s policies and practices of imposing secured money bail on indigent misdemeanor defendants. . . . [A]t the heart of this case are two straightforward questions: Can a jurisdiction impose secured money bail on misdemeanor arrestees who cannot pay it, who would otherwise be released, effectively ordering their pretrial detention? If so, what do due process and equal protection require for that to be lawful?
Based on the extensive record and briefing, the fact and expert witness testimony, the arguments of able counsel, and the applicable legal standards, the answers are that, under federal and state law, secured money bail may serve to detain indigent misdemeanor arrestees only in the narrowest of cases, and only when, in those cases, due process safeguards the rights of the indigent accused. Because Harris County does not currently supply those safeguards or protect those rights, the court will grant the plaintiffs’ motion for preliminary injunctive relief."
The Court continued, "More specifically, the court finds that:"
  • Harris County has a consistent and systematic policyand practice of imposing secured money bail as de facto orders of pretrial detention in misdemeanor cases.
  • These de facto detention orders effectively operate only against the indigent, who would be released if they could pay at least a bondsman’s premium, but who cannot. Those who can pay are released, even if they present similar risks of nonappearance or of new arrests.
  • These de facto detention orders are not accompanied by the protections federal due process
    requires for pretrial detention orders.
  • Harris County has an inadequate basis to conclude that releasing misdemeanor defendants on secured financial conditions is more effective to assure a defendant’s appearance or lawabiding behavior before trial than release on unsecured or nonfinancial conditions, or that secured financial conditions of release are reasonably necessary to assure a defendant’s appearance or to deter new criminal activity before trial.
  • Harris County’s policy and practice violates the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the United States Constitution.

The court accordingly ordered:
  • Harris County and its policymakers—the County Judges in their legislative and rulemaking capacity and the Harris County Sheriff in his law-enforcement capacity—are enjoined from detaining misdemeanor defendants who are otherwise eligible for release but cannot pay a secured financial condition of release.
  • Harris County Pretrial Services must verify a misdemeanor arrestee’s inability to pay bail on a secured basis by affidavit.
  • The Harris County Sheriff must release on unsecured bail those misdemeanor defendants whose inability to pay is shown by affidavit, who would be released on secured bail if they could pay, and who have not been released after a probable cause hearing held within 24 hours after arrest.
  • .
The district court denied a stay pending appeal without prejudice that same day.

Harris County appealed to the Fifth Circuit on June 12; that appeal was accepted on June 28 and the docket number 17-20392 assigned. The litigation is ongoing.

MJ Koo - 01/28/2017
- 06/28/2017


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Constitutional Clause
Due Process
Equal Protection
Content of Injunction
Preliminary relief granted
Defendant-type
Jurisdiction-wide
General
Commitment procedure
Over/Unlawful Detention
Placement in detention facilities
Plaintiff Type
Non-profit NON-religious organization
Private Plaintiff
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. § 1983
Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201
Defendant(s) Harris County Judges
Harris County Sheriff
Plaintiff Description Group of individuals who allege they were kept in jail in Harris County due to a strict bail schedule
Indexed Lawyer Organizations Civil Rights Corps
Equal Justice Under Law
Class action status sought Yes
Class action status granted Yes
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief Preliminary injunction / Temp. restraining order
Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement
Source of Relief None yet
Order Duration 2017 - n/a
Case Ongoing Yes
Additional Resources
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  Philadelphia Forfeiture
http://ij.org/case/philadelphia-forfeiture/
Date: Aug. 11, 2014
By: Institute for Justice (Institute for Justice)
[ Detail ]

Docket(s)
4:16-cv-1414 (S.D. Tex.)
CJ-TX-0010-9000.pdf | Detail
Date: 04/28/2017
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Motion for Temporary Restraining Order and Preliminary Injunction [ECF# 1]
CJ-TX-0010-0001.pdf | Detail
Date: 05/19/2016
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Class Action Complaint [ECF# 3]
CJ-TX-0010-0002.pdf | Detail
Date: 05/19/2016
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
First Amended Class Action Complaint [ECF# 54]
CJ-TX-0010-0003.pdf | Detail
Date: 09/01/2016
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Memorandum and Opinion [ECF# 125] (227 F.Supp.3d 706) (S.D. Tex.)
CJ-TX-0010-0005.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 12/16/2016
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Memorandum and Opinion [ECF# 201] (2017 WL 784899) (S.D. Tex.)
CJ-TX-0010-0007.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Date: 03/01/2017
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Memorandum and Opinion Setting Out Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law [ECF# 302] (2017 WL 1735456) (S.D. Tex.)
CJ-TX-0010-0006.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Date: 04/28/2017
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Memorandum and Order Certifying a Rule 23(b)(2) Class [ECF# 303] (2017 WL 1542457) (S.D. Tex.)
CJ-TX-0010-0008.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Date: 04/28/2017
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order of Preliminary Injunction [ECF# 304] (2017 WL 1735453) (S.D. Tex.)
CJ-TX-0010-0009.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Date: 04/28/2017
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order on Contigent Motion to Stay [ECF# 305] (S.D. Tex.)
CJ-TX-0010-0010.pdf | Detail
Date: 04/28/2017
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Brief of Amici Curiae Current and Former District and State's Attorneys, State Attorneys General, United States Attorneys, Assistant United States Attorneys, and Department of Justice Officials, In Support of Plaintiffs-Appellees [Ct. of App. ECF# 00514107922]
CJ-TX-0010-0013.pdf | Detail
Date: 08/08/2017
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Brief of the Cato Institute As Amicus Curiae in Support of Plaintiff-Appellee [Ct. of App. ECF# 00514108112]
CJ-TX-0010-0015.pdf | Detail
Date: 08/09/2017
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Brief Amicus Curiae Of the Constitutional Accountability Center In Support of the Plaintiffs-Appellees and Affirmance [Ct. of App. ECF# 00514108295]
CJ-TX-0010-0021.pdf | Detail
Date: 08/09/2017
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Amicus Curiae Brief of Hon. Darrell W. Jordan, Harris County Criminal Court At Law No. 16, In Support of Appellees and Affirmance [Ct. of App. ECF# 00514108750]
CJ-TX-0010-0018.pdf | Detail
Date: 08/09/2017
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Brief of Law-Enforcement and Corrections Officials As Amici Curiae In Support of Appellees [Ct. of App. ECF# 00514109264]
CJ-TX-0010-0011.pdf | Detail
Date: 08/09/2017
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Brief Of Amici Curiae Texas Public Policy Foundation and R Street Institute [Ct. of App. ECF# 00514109492]
CJ-TX-0010-0020.pdf | Detail
Date: 08/09/2017
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Brief of Conference of Chief Justices As Amici Curiae In Support of Neither Party [Ct. of App. ECF# 00514109764]
CJ-TX-0010-0012.pdf | Detail
Date: 08/09/2017
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Brief of Amici Curiae National Association of Pretrial Services Agencies, et al. In Support of Plaintiffs-Appellees [Ct. of App. ECF# 00514109896]
CJ-TX-0010-0017.pdf | Detail
Date: 08/09/2017
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Brief For American Bar Association As Amicus Curiae In Support of Plaintiffs-Appellees and Affirmance [Ct. of App. ECF# 00514109926]
CJ-TX-0010-0014.pdf | Detail
Date: 08/09/2017
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Brief For Texas Baptists Christian Life Commission, Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops, and Clergy and Religious Leaders As Amici Curiae In Support of Plaintiffs-Appellees [Ct. of App. ECF# 00514109963]
CJ-TX-0010-0016.pdf | Detail
Date: 08/09/2017
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Motion For Leave to File Amicus Curiae Brief In Support of Plaintiffs-Appellees and Affirmation [Ct. of App. ECF# 00514109995]
CJ-TX-0010-0019.pdf | Detail
Date: 08/09/2017
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Brief For the ACLU Foundation, ACLU of Texas, Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and the Southern Poverty Law Center as Amici Curiae in Support of Appellees [Ct. of App. ECF# 00514110671]
CJ-TX-0010-0022.pdf | Detail
Date: 08/10/2017
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Judges Rosenthal, Lee Hyman (S.D. Tex.)
CJ-TX-0010-0005 | CJ-TX-0010-0006 | CJ-TX-0010-0007 | CJ-TX-0010-0008 | CJ-TX-0010-0009 | CJ-TX-0010-0010 | CJ-TX-0010-9000
Plaintiff's Lawyers Bernhardt, Rebecca (Texas)
CJ-TX-0010-0003 | CJ-TX-0010-9000
Gervais, Michael (New York)
CJ-TX-0010-9000
Karakatsanis, Alec (District of Columbia)
CJ-TX-0010-0001 | CJ-TX-0010-0002 | CJ-TX-0010-0003 | CJ-TX-0010-9000
Manne, Neal S. (Texas)
CJ-TX-0010-0001 | CJ-TX-0010-0002 | CJ-TX-0010-0003 | CJ-TX-0010-9000
Pringle, Susanne Ashley (Texas)
CJ-TX-0010-0003 | CJ-TX-0010-9000
Rossi, Elizabeth Anne (District of Columbia)
CJ-TX-0010-0001 | CJ-TX-0010-0002 | CJ-TX-0010-0003 | CJ-TX-0010-9000
Salinas, Alejandra C. (Texas)
CJ-TX-0010-9000
White, Lexie Giselle (Texas)
CJ-TX-0010-0001 | CJ-TX-0010-0002 | CJ-TX-0010-0003 | CJ-TX-0010-9000
Zuniga, Krisina Janaye (Texas)
CJ-TX-0010-9000
Defendant's Lawyers David, Katharine Davenport (Texas)
CJ-TX-0010-9000
Falk, Sheryl Anne (Texas)
CJ-TX-0010-9000
Fleming, Michael P (Texas)
CJ-TX-0010-9000
Green, Robert Lawrence III (Texas)
CJ-TX-0010-9000
Keville, John R. (Texas)
CJ-TX-0010-9000
Munisteri, James G. (Texas)
CJ-TX-0010-9000
O'Neill, John Ellis (Texas)
CJ-TX-0010-9000
Spinks, Melissa Lynn (Texas)
CJ-TX-0010-9000
Stafford, Michael A. (Texas)
CJ-TX-0010-9000
Other Lawyers Braden, Myesha (District of Columbia)
CJ-TX-0010-0022
Brooke, Samuel (Alabama)
CJ-TX-0010-0022
Buskey, Brandon (New York)
CJ-TX-0010-0022
Caplan, Jared B. (Texas)
CJ-TX-0010-0017
DeBorde, Nicole (Texas)
CJ-TX-0010-0019
Fogler, Murray (Texas)
CJ-TX-0010-0011
Foster, Lisa A. (District of Columbia)
CJ-TX-0010-0011
Friedman, Robert (District of Columbia)
CJ-TX-0010-0013
Gans, David H. (District of Columbia)
CJ-TX-0010-0021
Geltzer, Joshua A. (District of Columbia)
CJ-TX-0010-0013
Goldschmidt, Peter A. (California)
CJ-TX-0010-0014
Goldstein, Katherine R. (New York)
CJ-TX-0010-0019
Gorod, Brianne J. (District of Columbia)
CJ-TX-0010-0021
Green, Jeffrey T. (District of Columbia)
CJ-TX-0010-0020
Greenbaum, Jon M. (District of Columbia)
CJ-TX-0010-0022
Harrison, Lindsay C (District of Columbia)
CJ-TX-0010-0014
Henneke, Robert (Texas)
CJ-TX-0010-0020
Himmel, Janet M. (Texas)
CJ-TX-0010-0012
Jernigan-Johnson, Jessica (Tennessee)
CJ-TX-0010-0017
Kammerman, Joseph J. (New York)
CJ-TX-0010-0019
Kaufmann, Michael E. (New York)
CJ-TX-0010-0019
Kerlin, Paul M. (District of Columbia)
CJ-TX-0010-0016
Klein, Linda A. (Illinois)
CJ-TX-0010-0014
Loss-Eaton, Tobias S. (District of Columbia)
CJ-TX-0010-0020
Marcus, Jonathan L. (District of Columbia)
CJ-TX-0010-0016
McAloon, David W. (District of Columbia)
CJ-TX-0010-0020
McCord, Mary B. (District of Columbia)
CJ-TX-0010-0013
Menchaca, Morgan M. (Texas)
CJ-TX-0010-0012
Phillips, Thomas R. (Texas)
CJ-TX-0010-0012
Phillips, Carter G (District of Columbia)
CJ-TX-0010-0020
Phillips, Bradley S. (California)
CJ-TX-0010-0011
Pomeranz, Michael Leo (District of Columbia)
CJ-TX-0010-0016
Roark, Mary Margaret (Texas)
CJ-TX-0010-0012
Robertson, Brad (Alabama)
CJ-TX-0010-0017
Saldivar, Edgar (Texas)
CJ-TX-0010-0022
Segura, Andre (Texas)
CJ-TX-0010-0022
Shapiro, Ilya (District of Columbia)
CJ-TX-0010-0015
Sheehan, Jeffrey W. (Tennessee)
CJ-TX-0010-0017
Signorelli-Cassady, Grace C. (Illinois)
CJ-TX-0010-0014
Travers, Ryan (District of Columbia)
CJ-TX-0010-0016
Trigilio, Trisha (Texas)
CJ-TX-0010-0022
Trujillo-Jamison, Kenneth M. (California)
CJ-TX-0010-0011
Tuegel, Michelle (Texas)
CJ-TX-0010-0019
Van Fleet, G. Allan (Texas)
CJ-TX-0010-0018
Watkins, Devin (District of Columbia)
CJ-TX-0010-0015
West, Micah (Alabama)
CJ-TX-0010-0022
Woods, Andrea (New York)
CJ-TX-0010-0022
Wydra, Elizabeth B. (District of Columbia)
CJ-TX-0010-0021
Young, Evan A. (Texas)
CJ-TX-0010-0012

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