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Case Name Singleton v. Cannizzaro CJ-LA-0010
Docket / Court 2:17-cv-10721 ( E.D. La. )
State/Territory Louisiana
Case Type(s) Criminal Justice (Other)
Attorney Organization ACLU Affiliates (any)
ACLU National (all projects)
Civil Rights Corps
Case Summary
On October, 17, 2017, eight residents of Louisiana who were victims of or witnesses to crimes filed this lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, alleging that they had been jailed or threatened with jail by prosecutors in hopes of ensuring their testimony in court ... read more >
On October, 17, 2017, eight residents of Louisiana who were victims of or witnesses to crimes filed this lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, alleging that they had been jailed or threatened with jail by prosecutors in hopes of ensuring their testimony in court. They sued the District Attorney of Orleans Parish along with several assistant district attorneys under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and state law. The plaintiffs, represented by the ACLU and Civil Rights Corps, sought injunctive and monetary relief as well as attorneys’ fees and costs. The case was assigned to Judge Jane Triche Milazzo.

The plaintiffs claimed that, pursuant to official policies, practices, and customs of the defendant Orleans Parish District Attorney, prosecutors routinely issued their own fabricated subpoenas, without any judicial approval or oversight, in order to coerce victims and witnesses into submitting to interrogations by prosecutors outside of court. According to the plaintiffs, if this unlawful coercion did not succeed, the defendants unlawfully arrested victims and witnesses and ensured that they would languish in jail by obtaining high secured money bonds. The plaintiffs alleged that the defendants’ use of extrajudicial and unlawful means to coerce, arrest, and imprison crime victims and witnesses violated the plaintiffs’ First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights and were tortious offenses for fraud and abuse of process under Lousianna state law.

The plaintiffs filed their first amended complaint on December 21, 2017, and they filed their second amended complain on January 25, 2018. In the second amended complaint, the plaintiffs added one plaintiff and two defendants to the case.

On March 1, 2018, the defendants together filed a joint motion to dismiss all claims against them, arguing that prosecutors were protected by absolute immunity with respect to actions taken as advocates of the state and by qualified immunity with respect to their official actions. The court granted in part and denied in part the defendants’ motion on February 28, 2019. 372 F. Supp. 3d 389. The court first addressed the defendants’ absolute immunity arguments. The court determined that the defendants did not have absolute immunity for creating or distributing fake subpoenas to the plaintiffs because the subpoenas were not created in the prosecutors’ role of acting as advocate of the state. Similarly, the claims that the defendants failed to supervise or intervene in the creation of subpoenas would not be dismissed because the employees were not immune from using the fake subpoenas. However, the court found that absolute immunity protected prosecutors from claims of threats of imprisonment against the plaintiffs because the defendants acted within the bounds of their roles as advocates for the state.

Next, the court evaluated the defendants’ qualified immunity claims with respect to the various constitutional claims raised by the plaintiffs. First, the court granted the defendants qualified immunity against the plaintiffs’ First Amendment compelled speech and retaliation claims. The court found the plaintiffs failed to establish that witnesses possess a clearly established First Amendment right to refuse to speak to prosecutors about active criminal cases. The court also granted the defendants qualified immunity as to the Fourth Amendment unlawful seizure claims because the plaintiffs failed to establish that they had been unlawfully seized. The court emphasized that the plaintiffs needed to show they submitted to the assertion of authority. Two of the plaintiffs had not met with the prosecutors at all, so the court found they had acted in defiance, not in submission, of the defendants’ authority. The plaintiff who ultimately did meet with the defendants did so after receiving both the fake subpoena and a lawful court order, but still did not specify that the plaintiff had unlawfully submitted. Finally, the court granted the defendants qualified immunity as to the plaintiffs’ Fourteenth Amendment due process claims because the plaintiffs did not provide any cases that suggest the defendants violated a clearly established constitutional right.

On March 12, 2019, the defendants appealed the court’s order partially dismissing the motion to dismiss. Two days later, on March 14, the defendants filed a motion to stay the proceedings in the district court until the Fifth Circuit ruled on the defendants' appeal.

The plaintiffs jointly filed their opposition to defendants' motion to stay on April 2, 2019. Plaintiffs argued that, since the defendants' appeal did not contain a central issue or the bulk of plaintiffs' complaint, the court should allow the suit to proceed on all unappealable claims. The court ordered the defendants to file a brief specifying which elements of the court's February 28 order were being appealed to the Fifth Circuit. Defendants submitted this brief on May 2, 2019. In this brief, the defendants argued that, because of the complexities of the case and the intertwined nature of the issues, most of the claims in the case were encompassed within the appeal. Defendants clarified that they were appealing the partial denials of absolute immunity as well as the court's decision to allow multiple claims to move forward.

On July 2, 2019, the court denied the defendants' stay motion. 397 F. Supp. 3d 840. While Judge Milazzo recognized that the defendants were entitled to an appeal of the order denying absolute immunity in part, she ruled that the appealable issue was not sufficient to divest the court of jurisdiction to proceed on plaintiffs' remaining claims.

Defendants jointly filed their answer on July 16, 2019. In addition to responding to plaintiff's claims, defendants advanced eleven affirmative defenses. Five of these defenses were based on various immunity claims.

On September 6, 2019, plaintiffs jointly filed a motion for leave to file a third amended complaint. Plaintiffs sought to amend their complaint by withdrawing the individual damages claims against defendants Cannizzaro, Martin, and Pipes based on failure to supervise and failure to intervene.

Defendants, in their individual capacities, filed a motion for partial summary judgment on November 14, 2019 to dismiss all requests for injunctive relief filed against them on the grounds that all of the criminal cases in which the plaintiffs were victims or witnesses had been resolved.

The following month, the District Attorney and two Supervising Prosecutors filed a motion to dismiss the constitutional damages claims against them on the grounds of qualified immunity. Plaintiffs agreed that, based on the court's fact-finding until this point, it would be appropriate to grant qualified immunity. The court dismissed these claims on December 31, 2019.

On April 21, 2020, the Fifth Circuit (Judges Catharina Haynes, Jennifer W. Elrod, and Leslie H. Southwick) ruled on defendants' appeal from March 2019 denying their motion to dismiss. 956 F.3d 773. The Fifth Circuit rejected defendants' claim that they were entitled to absolute immunity for plaintiffs' subpoena-related state-law claims. The court also rejected defendants' claim that plaintiffs' remaining claims should be dismissed on the merits.

Back in the district court, Judge Milazzo granted the defendants' motion for partial summary judgment on plaintiffs' claims for injunctive relief on June 8, 2020. 2020 WL 3047453. Plaintiffs partially opposed defendants' motion and sought to preserve the injunctive relief claims against the District Attorney for retaliation prohibited by the First Amendment and against the Supervising Prosecutors for failure to supervise prosecutors and for substantive due process violations arising out of the creation of fake subpoenas. The court found insufficient evidence to support those claims and granted the defendants' motion in its entirety.

Following this order, the only remaining claims against the defendants were state law tort claims for fraud and abuse of process. A few weeks later, the Court also dismissed claims against the District Attorney and four of the prosecutors.

The defendants filed a motion for separate trials on June 16, 2020. After oral argument, the court denied this motion. 2020 WL 4038979.

Plaintiffs and Defendants held a formal settlement conference on August 20, 2020. The parties agreed on a schedule and began series of settlement discussions. Over the course of these discussions, various individual defendants filed motions for summary judgment.

As of February 5, 2021, five plaintiffs had privately settled their claims for monetary damages and voluntarily dismissed their claims. Three plaintiffs remained. Following a settlement, on March 3, 2021, plaintiff Lazonia Baham withdrew her claims against the individual defendants but maintained the claims against the District Attorney in his official capacity.

On March 11, 2021, plaintiff Tiffany LaCroix filed for summary judgment against one of the individual defendants and that defendant and two other individual defendants filed a cross-motion for summary judgment against LaCroix’s claims. While discovery was originally set to be completed in June 2021, the remaining plaintiffs filed a motion on June 15, 2021, to compel the defendants to produce documents from the Orleans Parish District Attorney criminal case files. Aside from LaCroix and Baham’s claims, only Renata Singleton’s claims against the District Attorney in his official capacity and two individual defendants are pending as of June 15, 2021.

Jake Parker - 07/16/2018
Amanda Stephens - 03/25/2019
Hannah Shilling - 02/26/2021
Esteban Woo Kee - 06/23/2021


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Constitutional Clause
Due Process
Due Process: Substantive Due Process
Equal Protection
Freedom of speech/association
Unreasonable search and seizure
Defendant-type
Jurisdiction-wide
Law-enforcement
General
Failure to discipline
Failure to supervise
Failure to train
False arrest
Fines/Fees/Bail/Bond
Over/Unlawful Detention
Pattern or Practice
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. § 1983
Ex parte Young (federal or state officials)
State law
Defendant(s) Orleans Parish District Attorney's Office
Plaintiff Description Eight crime victims and witnesses who were threatened, arrested, and imprisoned by state prosecutors who allegedly sought to coerce them into submitting to interrogations.
Indexed Lawyer Organizations ACLU Affiliates (any)
ACLU National (all projects)
Civil Rights Corps
Class action status sought No
Class action status outcome Not sought
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief Damages
Source of Relief Settlement
Form of Settlement Private Settlement Agreement
Voluntary Dismissal
Filed 10/17/2017
Case Ongoing Yes
Additional Resources
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  See this case at CourtListener.com (May provide additional documents and, for active cases, real-time alerts)
  New Orleans, LA: Misconduct
http://www.civilrightscorps.org/
Date: Apr. 21, 2020
By: Civil Rights Corps
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

  SINGLETON ET. AL. V. CANNIZZARO ET. AL
http://www.civilrightscorps.org
Date: March 2018
By: Civil Rights Corps
Citation: http://www.civilrightscorps.org/prosecutor-project/
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

Court Docket(s)
E.D. La.
06/15/2021
2:17−cv−10721−JTM−JVM
CJ-LA-0010-9000.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
E.D. La.
10/17/2017
Complaint [ECF# 1]
CJ-LA-0010-0001.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
E.D. La.
01/25/2018
Second Amended Complaint [ECF# 52]
CJ-LA-0010-0002.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
E.D. La.
02/28/2019
Order Granting in Part Motion to Dismiss with Reasoning [ECF# 116] (2019 WL 969788)
CJ-LA-0010-0003.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
E.D. La.
07/02/2019
Order and Reasons [ECF# 147] (397 F.Supp.3d 840)
CJ-LA-0010-0004.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
U.S. Court of Appeals
04/21/2020
Opinion [Ct. of App. ECF# 00515390634] (956 F.3d 773)
CJ-LA-0010-0006.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
E.D. La.
07/17/2020
Order and Reasons [ECF# 224] (2020 WL 4038979)
CJ-LA-0010-0005.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
show all people docs
Judges Elrod, Jennifer Walker (Fifth Circuit) show/hide docs
CJ-LA-0010-0006
Haynes, Catharina (Fifth Circuit) show/hide docs
CJ-LA-0010-0006
Meerveld, Janis Van Court not on record [Magistrate] show/hide docs
CJ-LA-0010-9000
Milazzo, Jane Margaret Triche (E.D. La.) show/hide docs
CJ-LA-0010-0003 | CJ-LA-0010-0004 | CJ-LA-0010-0005 | CJ-LA-0010-9000
Southwick, Leslie (Fifth Circuit) show/hide docs
CJ-LA-0010-0006
Plaintiff's Lawyers Ahmed, Nora Sam (Louisiana) show/hide docs
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Arceneaux, Anna Marie (North Carolina) show/hide docs
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Blume, Michael S. (Pennsylvania) show/hide docs
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Boykin, Olevia (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
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Brooks, Sarah S (California) show/hide docs
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Chamblee-Ryan, Katherine Ashworth (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
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Downer, Ryan Chasce (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
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Gaztambide−Arandes, Laura (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
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Gotfried, Allison B (New York) show/hide docs
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Hamilton, Bruce Warfield (Louisiana) show/hide docs
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Karakatsanis, Alec (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
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Kovel, Mariana Louise (New York) show/hide docs
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Mikkilineni, Tara (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
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Sachs, Gerald Stuart (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
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Sharon, Alicia (California) show/hide docs
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Stein, Jeffrey (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
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Trivedi, Somil Bharat (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
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Welling, Thomas J (New York) show/hide docs
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Willis, Stephanie Legros (Louisiana) show/hide docs
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Defendant's Lawyers Alford, W. Raley (Louisiana) show/hide docs
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Alford, John Salm (Louisiana) show/hide docs
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Andrieu, Donna R (Louisiana) show/hide docs
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Barbera, Thomas Jeffrey (Louisiana) show/hide docs
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Bollman, Patrick M (Louisiana) show/hide docs
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Freeman, Robert L. Jr. (Louisiana) show/hide docs
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Paul, Matthew J. (Louisiana) show/hide docs
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Stanley, Richard C (Louisiana) show/hide docs
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Other Lawyers Adcock, John Nelson (Louisiana) show/hide docs
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Bloom, Jonathan (New York) show/hide docs
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Giang, Albert (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
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Lasky, Catherine Elena (Louisiana) show/hide docs
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Leung, Victor (California) show/hide docs
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Murphy, Kerry Ann (Louisiana) show/hide docs
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Perigoe, Kelly L. (California) show/hide docs
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Rich, R. Bruce (New York) show/hide docs
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Stutz, Trevor Porter (California) show/hide docs
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