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Case Name McKee v. City of Amarillo CJ-TX-0015
Docket / Court 2:16-cv-00009 ( N.D. Tex. )
State/Territory Texas
Case Type(s) Criminal Justice (Other)
Special Collection Fines/Fees/Bail Reform (Criminalization of poverty)
Case Summary
On January 14, 2016, two indigent women that previously served imprisonment terms at the Randall County Jail filed this complaint in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas. The plaintiff sued the city of Amarillo under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The plaintiffs, represented by ... read more >
On January 14, 2016, two indigent women that previously served imprisonment terms at the Randall County Jail filed this complaint in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas. The plaintiff sued the city of Amarillo under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The plaintiffs, represented by private counsel, sought compensatory damages, claiming the City of Amarillo violated their Fourteenth Amendment Due Process and Equal Protection Rights. The plaintiffs claimed that the City of Amarillo installed its own debtor’s prison through its municipal code that required residents that owed fees and fines to “Pay or lay.” Although the city provided an installment plan in order to make payments, once an individual missed a payment, a warrant for his or her arrest would be immediately issued. Hearings to determine a person’s indigency or alternate methods of enforcement are not required by the municipal code. The plaintiffs were both single mothers with part-time jobs as their only source of income. Both struggled to secure consistent employment. One plaintiff had an income of $40.00 a month and the court ordered a payment plan that required her to pay $232.00 in biweekly payments until her debt was paid. When the plaintiff informed the court she would be unable to meet this plan and request modification, she was immediately denied modification and sent to jail for eighteen days. The other plaintiff was unaware that she could assert indigency or request a payment plan, she believed her only option was to “pay or lay.” The plaintiff did not have the money to pay all of her fines and served eighteen days in jail. The plaintiffs sought class certification on behalf of all indigent persons adjudicated by the City of Amarillo Municipal Court that owed fines or court costs and ordered to serve imprisonment terms for failure to pay the adjudicated fines and costs.

The defendant responded to the complaint with a motion to dismiss on February 11, 2016. The defense argued that a city could not be liable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for an alleged policy of wrongfully jailing persons because the decisions are solely made by the municipal judges who are acting in their judicial capacity and the city of Amarillo have no control or influence. The defendant further argued that the complaint failed to allege an official policy promoted by a municipal policymaker that was the moving force behind the constitutional violation claims. The Court did not immediately address the defendant’s motion, instead, it permitted the plaintiffs to amend their complaint. The plaintiffs filed their first amended complaint on March 2, 2016. In the amended complaint the plaintiffs addressed the concerns provided by the defendant in its earlier motion to dismiss and expanded its Fourteenth Amendment violation claim to include court administrators and the police department. The plaintiffs alleged that the police department had a policy and practice of jailing indigent people without inquiring as to their reasons for nonpayment, determining whether they were indigent, or considering adequate alternatives to incarceration.

On March 16, 2016, the City of Amarillo filed another motion to dismiss on similar grounds of its previous motion to dismiss and that the plaintiffs’ new claims were conclusive and not supported by any factual underpinnings. Once again, the Court did not immediately address the defendant’s motion to dismiss and permitted the plaintiffs to amend their complaint.

The discovery period began and plaintiffs filed their second amended complaint on April 4, 2016. The new complaint addressed the defendant’s previous issues and added four new plaintiffs that also served imprisonment terms as punishment for their inability to pay ticket fines and court fees. On April 13, 2016, the plaintiffs filed a motion to certify class on behalf of all indigent persons adjudicated by the City of Amarillo Municipal Court that owed fines or court costs and ordered to serve imprisonment terms for failure to pay the adjudicated fines and costs. The defendant filed several briefs in response to the plaintiffs motion and discovery continued.

On August 8, 2016, Senior Judge Mary Lou Robinson entered an opinion and order granting the defendant’s motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim as to all of the plaintiffs’ 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claims. The Court also denied the plaintiffs’ motion to certify class as moot due to the previous order to dismiss the case. Judge Robinson entered her final judgment in favor of the defendant and declared that the defendant was entitled to reasonable and necessary costs as a result of the action.

The plaintiffs objected to the defendant’s bill of costs on August 30, 2016. On October 12, 2016, Judge Robinson partially sustained the plaintiffs’ objections and ordered for the plaintiffs’ to pay $3,660.00 to the defendant in costs.

There are no further entries on this docket, inferring that this case is closed.

Kimberly Goshey - 06/04/2019


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Constitutional Clause
Due Process
Equal Protection
Defendant-type
Jurisdiction-wide
General
Fines/Fees/Bail/Bond
Poverty/homelessness
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. § 1983
Defendant(s) City of Amarillo
Plaintiff Description Indigent individuals who previously served imprisonment terms at Randall County Jail for inability to pay their traffic fines and fees.
Class action status sought Yes
Class action status granted Moot
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party Defendant
Public Int. Lawyer No
Nature of Relief None
Source of Relief None
Filing Year 2016
Case Closing Year 2016
Case Ongoing No
Docket(s)
2:16-cv-00009 (N.D. Tex.)
CJ-TX-0015-9000.pdf | Detail
Date: 10/12/2016
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Complaint [ECF# 1]
CJ-TX-0015-0001.pdf | Detail
Date: 01/14/2016
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Second Amended Complaint [ECF# 19]
CJ-TX-0015-0003.pdf | Detail
Date: 04/04/2016
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Memorandum Opinion and Order [ECF# 49] (N.D. Tex.)
CJ-TX-0015-0002.pdf | Detail
Date: 08/08/2016
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
show all people docs
Judges Robinson, Mary Lou (N.D. Tex.) show/hide docs
CJ-TX-0015-0002 | CJ-TX-0015-9000
Plaintiff's Lawyers Blackburn, Jeff (Texas) show/hide docs
CJ-TX-0015-0001 | CJ-TX-0015-0003 | CJ-TX-0015-9000
Hoffman, Chris G (Texas) show/hide docs
CJ-TX-0015-0001 | CJ-TX-0015-0003 | CJ-TX-0015-9000
Defendant's Lawyers McKamie, William M (Texas) show/hide docs
CJ-TX-0015-9000
McWilliams, Bryan Scott (Texas) show/hide docs
CJ-TX-0015-9000

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