Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Fant v. City of Ferguson

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

November 15, 2016

KEILEE FANT, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
THE CITY OF FERGUSON, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          AUDREY G. FLEISSIG UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         The named Plaintiffs in this putative civil rights class action are 11 individuals who allege that they have been jailed by the City of Ferguson (the “City”) on numerous occasions because they were unable to pay cash bonds or other debts owed to the City resulting from their traffic and other minor offenses. Plaintiffs allege that, in violation of the United States Constitution and as a matter of the City's policy and practice, they were not afforded counsel, any inquiry into their ability to pay, or a neutral finding of probable cause in a prompt manner; and they were held in jail indefinitely, in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions, until they or their friends or family members could make a monetary payment sufficient to satisfy the City.

         The City has moved to dismiss all claims in Plaintiffs' first amended complaint except one, relating to the conditions of confinement, and to dismiss Plaintiffs' request for injunctive relief. (Doc. No. 57.) For the reasons set forth below, the Court will deny the City's motion.

         BACKGROUND

         As an initial matter, the Court notes that it denied an earlier motion by the City to dismiss Plaintiffs' original complaint.[1] In its current motion to dismiss Plaintiffs' amended complaint, the City incorporates by reference the arguments raised in that earlier motion in order to “preserve their arguments, preserve the record, and to allow the Court to reconsider such arguments should this Court deem appropriate.” (Doc. No. 58 at 1 n.1.) After careful consideration, the Court concludes that reconsideration is not warranted and will therefore only address the new arguments asserted by the City.

         Plaintiffs' amended complaint asserts seven claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, arising out of the City's policies and practices of jailing individuals for failure to pay money owed from traffic and other minor offenses. Plaintiffs seek to represent three classes: (1) a declaratory and injunctive relief class of “[a]ll persons who currently owe or who will incur debts to the City of Ferguson from fines, fees, costs, or surcharges arising from cases prosecuted by the City”; (2) a declaratory and injunctive relief class of “all persons who, either because they owe debts to the City of Ferguson, through warrantless arrest, or for any other reason, will become in the custody of the City of Ferguson and thereby subjected to its post-arrest wealth-based detention procedures”; and (3) a damages class of “[a]ll persons who, from February 8, 2010 until the present, were held in jail by the City because of their non-payment of a monetary sum required by the City.” (Doc. No. 53 at 46.)

         In Count One of the amended complaint, Plaintiffs claim that the City violated Plaintiffs' rights under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment by jailing and threatening to jail Plaintiffs indefinitely for their inability to pay debts owed from traffic and other minor offenses, without conducting any inquiry into Plaintiffs' ability to pay and without considering alternatives to imprisonment. Plaintiffs allege that, as a matter of policy and practice, when arrestees are booked at the City's jail, they are told by jail staff that they can be released immediately but only if they pay an “arbitrarily determined and constantly-shifting” sum of money to the City. Id. at 54.

         In Count Two, Plaintiffs claim that the City violated Plaintiffs' rights under the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments “by jailing Plaintiffs during proceedings initiated by City prosecutors at which Plaintiffs did not have the benefit of counsel and did not knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily waive counsel.” Id. Plaintiffs allege that the City has a policy and practice “of not providing adequate counsel in proceedings in which indigent people are ordered to be imprisoned in the City jail for non-payment, which are, in turn, based on payment plans arising from traffic and other violations at which the person was also unrepresented.” Id.

         In Count Three, Plaintiffs claim that the City's use of indefinite and arbitrary detention violates the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Plaintiffs allege that the City has a policy and practice of jailing indigent persons owing debts to the City “indefinitely and without any meaningful legal process through which they can challenge their detention by keeping them confined . . . unless or until they could make arbitrarily determined cash payments.” Id. at 55. Plaintiffs further allege that “inmates routinely do not even have future court dates set and are held indefinitely without being brought to court, ” that “[i]f a person . . . misses any future payment, the City, without any legal process confiscates any previous amounts paid by the person to secure their release from jail and resets the person's debts, ” and that the “City also adds a ‘warrant' fee for the person's missed payment without any legal process, ” which increases the total debt owed by Plaintiffs. Id. at 38. Plaintiffs allege specific instances of City jail staff and supervisors holding Plaintiffs in jail for days or weeks, without setting future court dates or bringing Plaintiffs to court, and then gradually and incrementally reducing the amount of money required to buy a Plaintiff's release, not through any formal court process, but by negotiating or bargaining with Plaintiffs or their family regarding the amount of money they are able to pay. Plaintiffs further allege that “[i]n many cases, after significant jail time, the City will release the person for free if it is clear that the City cannot extract any money from the person during that jail stay.” Id. at 36.

         In Count Four, Plaintiffs claim that the totality of the conditions of the City's jail amount to punishment of the pre-trial detainee and post-judgment debtor Plaintiffs, in violation of the Due Process Clause.

         In Count Five, Plaintiffs claim that the City's use of jail and threats of jail to collect debts owed to the City violates the Equal Protection Clause because it imposes “unduly harsh and punitive restrictions on debtors whose creditor is the government compared to those who owe money to private creditors.” Id. at 55. Plaintiffs allege that the “City takes advantage of its control over the machinery of the City jail and police systems to deny debtors the procedural and substantive statutory protections that every other Missouri debtor may invoke against a private creditor.” Id. at 56.

         In Count Six, Plaintiffs claim that the City has a “policy and practice of issuing and serving invalid warrants, ” in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. Id. at 56. Plaintiffs allege that, pursuant to the City's policies and practices, warrants are regularly issued for “failure to appear, ” even when there was no court appearance scheduled[2] or when the City has not provided adequate notice of a court date, for example, because City officials moved a person's hearing date without informing that person. Plaintiffs further allege that “[t]he City informs people that they can immediately remove outstanding warrants simply by paying a sum of money” or by retaining a lawyer, but that the City does not offer a way for unrepresented indigent persons to remove arrest warrants. Id. at 44.

         In Count Seven, Plaintiffs claim that the City's “extended detention of warrantless arrestees without a neutral judicial finding of probable cause based on sworn evidence” violates Plaintiffs' rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. Plaintiffs allege that, as a matter of policy and practice, the City routinely holds people in jail for longer than 48 hours without a neutral determination of probable cause. Plaintiffs allege that, moreover, “[b]ecause City policy is to negotiate cash bond and then to release people for free eventually if they cannot pay, it does not detain new arrestees for the purpose of any legal proceeding.” Id. at 57.

         Notably, Plaintiffs allege that the challenged actions often took place outside of the judicial process completely and were, in all cases, caused by and representative of “the City's policies and practices concerning collecting unpaid fines, fees, costs, and surcharges relating to traffic tickets and other minor offenses for at least the past five years.” Id. at 33. Plaintiffs further allege that “[i]t is the policy and practice of the City . . . to use its municipal court and its jail as significant sources of revenue generation for the City.” Id. Plaintiffs allege that they still owe significant debts to the City and fear that they will again be jailed because of their inability to make monetary payments, subject to the City's policies and practices outlined above.

         As relief, Plaintiffs seek a declaration that the City's' policies and practices, as outlined above, violate Plaintiffs' constitutional rights; a permanent injunction preventing the City from enforcing these policies and practices; and an award of compensatory damages, attorneys' fees, and costs.

         The City has moved to dismiss Plaintiffs' request for injunctive relief and all of Plaintiffs' claims except ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.