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Case Name Fuller v. City of Santa Fe CJ-TX-0018
Docket / Court 3:18-cv-00283 ( S.D. Tex. )
State/Territory Texas
Case Type(s) Criminal Justice (Other)
Attorney Organization ACLU Affiliates (any)
Case Summary
This case was severed from West v. City of Hitchcock, 3:16-cv-00309 (S.D. Tex.). The case originally pursued claims against the Cities of Hitchcock and Santa Fe at the same time, but the court severed the two on September 19, 2018 ... read more >
This case was severed from West v. City of Hitchcock, 3:16-cv-00309 (S.D. Tex.). The case originally pursued claims against the Cities of Hitchcock and Santa Fe at the same time, but the court severed the two on September 19, 2018.

The original complaint, filed on November 3, 2016 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, involved three individuals under threat of being jailed for failure to pay fines to the City of Santa Fe. The plaintiffs sued the City of Santa Fe, the Municipal Judge, and the Chief of Police under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that the defendants run a modern-day debtors' prison to raise revenue for the City. They claimed that city officials have colluded on an unconstitutional two-tiered system of justice by which the City and Municipal Judge agreed to raise the costs of the traffic and other misdemeanor fines to boost revenue and the City extracts payments from local residents. Police officers regularly jail people who fail to pay their fines without giving them access to a lawyer or the chance to mount a legal defense, nor are they given the opportunity to see a judge for the constitutionally mandated hearing on their ability to pay. Moreover, the police chief makes jail intolerable, giving detainees too little food to eat and depriving them of medical care. Represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, the plaintiffs asked the court for injunctive and declaratory relief, damages, and attorneys fees. They also sought class certification.

The plaintiffs alleged that the revenue-generating scheme begins with Municipal Court proceedings, which its jurisdiction is limited to tickets for class C misdemeanors. These offenses are defined by Texas law as "nonjailable," "fine only" offenses, punishable by a fine up to $500. For an individual unable to make timely payments in full, the Municipal Court issues a "capias pro fine" warrant for failure to pay a fine. Individuals who have a capias pro fine have two options: pay in full or turn themselves in to the police. Police also search for people subject to capias pro fine warrants, sometimes arresting people at their homes in front of family, friends, and neighbors. Though police have the option of taking such individuals before a court, they do not. Instead, they transfer them to the police chief and book them into jail where they will be held until they pay their debt in full or satisfy the fines with "jail credit."

Once in jail, the allegations continued, individuals are subjected to unsafe conditions without proper food. The complaint terms this the "Hungry Man policy," and alleges that jailed individuals are fed one Pop Tart for breakfast, one Pop Tart for lunch, and a frozen meal, such as a Hungry Man meal, for dinner. This amounts to only about 750 calories a day, which is less than half of the calories the average sedentary adult requires, and less than a third of the calories sedentary young men require.

Judge George C Hanks, Jr. denied class certification without prejudice on September 18, 2017, without providing a detailed reason in the order. On October 11, 2017, one of the named plaintiffs voluntarily dismissed his claims. The other two plaintiffs continued with the same case at this point in time.

The plaintiffs filed an amended complaint on October 23, 2017, adding a magistrate judge, in his individual capacity, and the Chief of Police, in his official capacity, as defendants.

The case was temporarily assigned to Magistrate Judge Andrew Edison on June 1, 2018. The Magistrate Judge provided a recommendation against granting the defendant's various motions to dismiss, saying that all plaintiffs in the case had standing and that the injuries alleged in the case amounted to civil rights violations. Though he did not explicitly recommend severing the claims against Hitchcock and Santa Fe at this point, the Magistrate Judge discussed each plaintiff's claims against their respective cities separately. This likely influenced Judge Hanks's decision to sever the two cases when he adopted the Magistrate Judge's recommendation on September 19.

Discovery continued on the case in 2018 and 2019. In May and June of 2019, the defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, and the plaintiff filed a motion opposing it. Judge Hanks scheduled a jury trial for August 26, 2019, and the parties submitted witness and exhibit lists in anticipation of the hearing. However, on August 2, the plaintiff moved for court-ordered mediation, which the Judge granted on August 5.

Magistrate Judge Andrew Edison oversaw the mediation, which occurred on August 13, 2019. The following day, the parties entered into a settlement agreement; the terms of the agreement were not publicly disclosed. The order dismissing the case from August 14 noted that if either party filed a motion before September 13, 2019 saying that the agreement could not be implemented, the case would close. No motions were filed, and the case closed on that date.

Ellen Aldin - 06/11/2020

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Issues and Causes of Action
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Constitutional Clause
Assistance of counsel (6th Amendment)
Cruel and Unusual Punishment
Due Process
Equal Protection
Access to lawyers or judicial system
Conditions of confinement
Over/Unlawful Detention
Pattern or Practice
Placement in detention facilities
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. § 1983
Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201
Ex parte Young (federal or state officials)
Defendant(s) City of Santa Fe
Plaintiff Description Individual jailed in the city of Santa Fe due to an inability to pay municipal fines
Indexed Lawyer Organizations ACLU Affiliates (any)
Class action status sought Yes
Class action status outcome Denied
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party None Yet / None
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief Unknown
Source of Relief Settlement
Form of Settlement Private Settlement Agreement
Filed 11/03/2016
Case Closing Year 2019
Case Ongoing No
Case Listing CJ-TX-0011 : West v. City of Hitchcock (S.D. Tex.)
Additional Resources
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  See this case at (May provide additional documents and, for active cases, real-time alerts)
  Unconstitutional Debtors' Prison Lawsuit: Santa Fe and Hitchcock
ACLU of Texas
Date: Nov. 3, 2016
By: American Civil Liberties Union
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

Court Docket(s)
S.D. Tex.
CJ-TX-0018-9000.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
S.D. Tex.
Class Action Complaint [ECF# 1]
CJ-TX-0018-0001.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
S.D. Tex.
First Amended Complaint [ECF# 43]
CJ-TX-0018-0005.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
S.D. Tex.
Memorandum and Recommendation [ECF# 68] (2018 WL 4047115)
CJ-TX-0018-0002.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
S.D. Tex.
Order Adopting Magistrate Judge's Memorandum and Recommendation & Serving Cases [ECF# 78] (2018 WL 5276264)
CJ-TX-0018-0003.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
S.D. Tex.
Conditional Dismissal Order [ECF# 120]
CJ-TX-0018-0004.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
show all people docs
Judges Edison, Andrew M Court not on record [Magistrate] show/hide docs
CJ-TX-0018-0002 | CJ-TX-0018-9000
Hanks, George Carol Jr. (S.D. Tex.) show/hide docs
CJ-TX-0018-0003 | CJ-TX-0018-0004 | CJ-TX-0018-9000
Plaintiff's Lawyers Robertson, Rebecca Lynn (Texas) show/hide docs
CJ-TX-0018-0001 | CJ-TX-0018-9000
Salvador, Anjali (Texas) show/hide docs
Segura, Andre (Texas) show/hide docs
Trigilio, Trisha (Texas) show/hide docs
CJ-TX-0018-0001 | CJ-TX-0018-0005 | CJ-TX-0018-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Giles, Norman Ray (Texas) show/hide docs
Helfand, William Scott (Texas) show/hide docs

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