United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER 
NANNETTE A. BAKER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
in this putative class action claim that they were repeatedly
jailed by the City of Florissant (the “City”) due
to their inability to pay fines, fees and other costs arising
from traffic tickets or other minor municipal offenses,
without being offered legal representation or any inquiry
into their ability to pay. The City has moved to dismiss
Plaintiffs' first amended complaint for failure to state
a claim, and has also moved for a more definite statement and
to strike redundant or immaterial matter, or, in the
alternative, that any counts not dismissed or struck be
repleaded to comply with Rules 8(a) and 10(b). (Doc. No. 22).
For the reasons set forth below, the City's motion shall
named Plaintiffs are all purportedly impoverished Missourians
who allege that they have been repeatedly jailed and held
indefinitely by the City solely because they could not afford
to pay for their release, a practice that they liken to a
modern-day debtors' prison. They allege that they were
never offered or afforded legal representation or any inquiry
into their ability to pay, and were held in overcrowded,
unsanitary, uncomfortably cold cells, where they were denied
access to warm blankets, clean drinking water, and basic
hygiene products such as toothbrushes and soap, that they
were forced to wear the same dirty clothes for days without
access to laundry, and were denied proper medical care. They
filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983,
asserting claims under the Fourth, Sixth, Eighth, and
Fourteenth Amendments, and are seeking declaratory,
injunctive, and compensatory relief. They seek to represent
two declaratory and injunctive classes of “[a]ll
persons who currently owe or who will incur debts to the City
. . . from fines, fees . . . costs, or surcharges arising
from cases prosecuted by the City, as well as “all
persons who, either because they owe debts to the City . . .
or for any other reason, will . . . [be] subjected to its
post-arrest wealth-based detention procedures.” (Doc.
No. 16 at 37). They also seek to represent two damages
classes of “[a]ll persons, whether or not such person
has ever been jailed, who have paid any amount to the City .
. . to satisfy fines, fees. . . costs, or surcharges . . .
and who have not been provided an opportunity to prove
indigence, ” as well as “[a]ll persons who have
been jailed by the City . . . for non-payment . . . and who
(1) were not provided an opportunity to prove indigence prior
to jailing; (2) were not considered a danger to the community
by notation in the City's file; and (3) were not
designated as a flight risk at the time of
jailing.” (Doc. No. 16 at 37).
One of the amended complaint alleges that the City violated
the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the
Fourteenth Amendment by jailing Plaintiffs or threatening to
imprison them for their inability to pay debts owed from
minor offenses, without conducting any inquiry into their
ability to pay and without considering alternatives to
imprisonment. Plaintiffs allege that “[a]t any moment,
a wealthier person in the Plaintiffs' position could have
paid a sum of cash and been released from jail, ” yet
Plaintiffs were forced to remain in jail due to the
City's policy and practice of holding them indefinitely
until they could pay an “arbitrarily determined and
constantly-shifting” sum of money. (Doc. No. 16 at 46).
Two alleges that the City violated Plaintiffs' Sixth and
Fourteenth Amendment rights by imprisoning them without
affording them the benefit of counsel or obtaining their
knowing, intelligent, and voluntarily waiver of counsel.
Plaintiffs allege that the City has a policy and practice of
not informing people of their right to counsel and “not
providing . . . 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.” (Doc. No. 16 at 46-47).
Three alleges that the City's use of indefinite and
arbitrary detention violates the Equal Protection and Due
Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. Plaintiffs
allege that the City has a policy and practice of jailing
indigent persons “indefinitely and without any
meaningful legal process through which they can challenge
their detention . . . until they could make arbitrarily
determined cash payments, or until City employees decided to
release them for free.” Id. at 47. Plaintiffs
further allege that the City routinely held persons in jail
for indeterminate amounts of time, without setting any future
court dates or bringing Plaintiffs to court. Id. at
26. Plaintiffs allege that City jail staff have a practice of
engaging in informal negotiations with prisoners, making it
clear that payment would result in immediate release, and
pressuring them to ask friends and family for cash; as it
becomes apparent that the person cannot pay the initial cash
amount requested, the amount required for release is
incrementally reduced, all without resort to any formal court
process. Id. at 26, 31.
Four alleges that the totality of conditions in the
Florissant jail “constitute[s] impermissible punishment
unrelated to serving any criminal judgment, ” in
violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth
Amendment. Id. at 33, 47. Plaintiffs allege that
although they were each held for varying amounts of time
during different time periods, they were all exposed to the
same “deplorable conditions, ” including
overcrowded, filthy cells,  lack of basic hygiene products,
lack of access to clean water,  uncomfortably cold conditions,
denial of medical care, and insufficient food. Id.
at 2, 9- 13, 15-16, 18, 33.
Five alleges 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 48. 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
Six alleges that the City has a “policy and practice of
issuing and serving invalid warrants, including those solely
based on nonpayment of monetary debt, ” in violation of
the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. Id. Plaintiffs
allege that the City routinely issues and serves arrest
warrants against those who have not paid their traffic debt,
and that these warrants are “sought, issued, and served
without any finding of probable cause that the person has
committed the elements of any offense, ” and
“without any inquiry into the person's ability to
pay.” Id. at 48-49.
Seven alleges that the City's “extended detention
of warrantless arrestees without a neutral judicial finding
of probable cause” violates the Fourth and Fourteenth
Amendments. Id. at 49. Plaintiffs allege that the
City “routinely fails as a matter of policy and
practice to make a neutral finding of probable cause . . .
and keeps people in jail for longer than 48 hours without a
neutral finding of probable cause based on sworn
evidence.” Id. at 50. Plaintiffs further
allege that because the City's policy is to hold people
on cash bond and then to eventually release people for free
if they cannot pay, these detentions are “unrelated to
any legitimate government interest and entirely unconnected
from any need to prepare for any . . . hearing because the
City does not hold probable cause or preliminary
hearings.” Id. at 50.
allege that the above described challenged actions often took
place entirely outside of the judicial process and were, in all
cases, “caused by and representative of the City's
policies and practices concerning collecting unpaid fines,
fees, costs, and surcharges arising from traffic tickets and
other minor offenses over at least the past five years.
Id. at 24. Plaintiffs further allege that
“[i]t is the policy and practice of the City of
Florissant to use its municipal court and its jail as
significant sources of revenue generation for the
City.” Id. at 23. Plaintiffs also allege
that they still owe money to the City and live with the fear
that they will again be detained and jailed due to nothing
more than their inability to pay these debts. Id. at
11, 19, 21, 27, and 36.
relief, Plaintiffs request a declaration that the City's
policies and practices violate their Constitutional rights; a
permanent injunction preventing the City from enforcing these
policies and practices; and an award of compensatory damages,
attorneys' fees, and costs.
City moves to dismiss, or alternatively to strike and for a
more definite statement of, Plaintiffs' amended complaint
pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 8(a), 10(b),
12(b)(6), 12(e), and 12(f). (Doc. No. 22).
argues that all Counts of the amended complaint should be
dismissed “on the basis that it fundamentally fails to
comply with the applicable rules of pleading, disadvantaging
the Defendant in its ability to provide a meaningful
answer.” (Doc. No. 23 at 2). Specifically, the City
argues that the amended complaint does not comply with Rule
8(a), as “it is not a short and plain statement of
claims, ” and that it also fails to comply with Rule
10(b) because its numbered allegations are not limited
“as far as practicable to a single set of
circumstances.” Id. at 7. Defendant also
alleges that the amended complaint should be stricken or
repleaded because it “utilizes scandalous verbiage
unrelated to any claim actually stated, serving only to
vilify the Defendant and portray it in a derogatory
light.” Id. at 9.
City also argues that Counts One through Three and Five
through Seven should be dismissed for failure to state a
claim, because the City cannot be liable under 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983 for the actions of “the separate and
distinct municipal court, ” which Defendant argues is
outside of the City's control. (Doc. No. 22 at 2).
Defendant argues that Count Four should be dismissed because
Plaintiffs have failed to state a claim based upon conditions
of confinement, asserting that Plaintiffs have not pleaded
sufficient exposure to conditions that could be found to be
unconstitutionally punitive. (Doc. No. 23 at 27-28). The City
asserts an alternative basis for the dismissal of Count Five,
arguing that Plaintiffs are not similarly situated to private
debtors, and thus there can be no Equal Protection violation.
Id. at 29-30. Finally, Defendant asserts that
Plaintiffs “are not entitled to injunctive relief, as
Plaintiffs lack Article III standing, prudential standing, .
. . ripeness, [and] failure to sufficiently allege all
elements required for injunctive relief.” Id.
12(e) Motion for a More Definite Statement and ...