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Brown v. Lexington County

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Columbia Division

February 5, 2018

Twanda Marshinda Brown; Sasha Monique Darby; Cayeshia Cashel Johnson; Amy Marie Palacios; Nora Ann C; and Xavier Larry Goodwin and Raymond Wright, Jr., on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs,
v.
Lexington County, South Carolina; Gary Reinhart, in his individual capacity; Rebecca Adams, in her official and individual capacities as the Chief Judge for Administrative Purposes of the Summary Courts in Lexington County and in her official capacity as the Judge of the Irmo Magistrate Court; Albert John Dooley, III, in his official capacity as the Associate Chief Judge for Administrative Purposes of the Summary Courts in Lexington County; Bryan Koon, in his official capacity as the Lexington County Sheriff; and Robert Madsen, in his official capacity as the Circuit Public Defender for the Eleventh Judicial Circuit of South Carolina, Defendants.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          Shiva V. Hodges United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiffs have been convicted of magistrate-level offenses in Lexington, South Carolina, and received assessments of fines and fees. Plaintiffs' cases include convictions for misdemeanor offenses such as simple possession of marijuana, assault and battery in the third degree, and traffic-level offenses such as driving on a suspended license and uninsured status. Plaintiffs are represented by the American Civil Liberties Union (“ACLU”) and name as defendants Lexington County, the current and former judges for administrative purposes of the Lexington County summary courts, the county sheriff, and the county public defender (collectively “Defendants”). Plaintiffs request damages and declaratory and injunctive relief against Defendants for alleged constitutional violations, including lack of due process, denial of equal protection of the law, failure to provide assistance of counsel, and unreasonable seizure. Plaintiffs also seek certification pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(a) and (b)(2) of a proposed class of “all indigent people who currently owe, or in the future will owe, fines, fees, court costs, assessments, or restitution in cases handled by Lexington County magistrate courts.”

         This matter comes before the court on the following motions: (1) Plaintiff's motion to certify class [ECF No. 21]; (2) Defendants' motion for summary judgment on Plaintiff's claims for declaratory and injunctive relief [ECF No. 29]; and (3) Defendants' motion for summary judgment on damages claims [ECF No. 50]. These matters having been fully briefed [ECF Nos. 30, 35, 36, 39, 66, 70], they are ripe for disposition.

         All pretrial proceedings in this case were referred to the undersigned pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Local Civ. Rule 73.02(B)(2)(f) (D.S.C.). Because the motion for summary judgment is dispositive, this report and recommendation is entered for the district judge's consideration. For the following reasons, the undersigned recommends Plaintiff's motion to certify class be denied, Defendants' motion for summary judgment as to injunctive and declaratory relief be granted, and Defendants' motions for summary judgment for damages be granted in part and denied in part.

         I. Factual Background

         The second amended complaint is the now operative complaint (“Complaint”). [ECF No. 48], which consists of 122 pages with 535 paragraphs of factual allegations and asserts eight counts.

         A. Defendants

         Lexington County is a municipal governmental entity whose policies, practices, and customs Plaintiffs allege deprived them of their constitutional rights. [Compl. ¶ 26].

         Gary Reinhart, Rebecca Adams, and Albert John Dooley III (collectively “Judicial Defendants”) are South Carolina magistrates for Lexington County summary courts. Reinhart served as Chief Judge for Administrative Purposes of the Summary Courts in Lexington County until June 27, 2017. Id. at ¶¶ 27-30. Adams succeeded Reinhart as Chief Judge and was formerly the Associate Chief Judge. Dooley was appointed as Associate Chief Judge upon Adams's promotion to Chief Judge. Id.

         Bryan Koon is the elected Lexington County Sheriff, chief law enforcement officer for the Lexington County Sheriff's Department (“LCSD”), and the chief administrator for the Lexington County Detention Center (“LCDC”). Id. at ¶ 30.

         Robert Madsen is the Public Defender for the Eleventh Judicial Circuit of South Carolina that includes Lexington County. Id. at ¶ 32.

         B. Plaintiffs

         1. Twanda Marshinda Brown

         On March 15, 2016, Twanda Marshinda Brown (“Brown”) was ticketed by an LCSD officer for driving on a suspended license (DUS, 2nd offense) and for driving with no tag light. Id. at ¶ 141. On April 12, 2016, Brown appeared before Judge Adams in the Irmo Magistrate Court and pled guilty to both charges, id at ¶¶ 141, 142, 144, and was assessed $237.50 for the tag light conviction and $2, 100 for the DUS, 2nd conviction. Id. at ¶ 145. Brown alleges she told Judge Adams she had no money to pay that day and that Judge Adams established a $100/month payment schedule. Id. at ¶ 146. Brown alleges she stated she could not afford a monthly $100 payment and that Judge Adams threatened to jail her for 90 days. Id. at ¶ 150. Brown made five payments of $100 through October 4, 2016, which satisfied the fines and fees for the tag light conviction and contributed toward her fines and fees for the DUS, 2nd conviction. Id. at ¶ 159. After Brown failed to make any payments after October 4, 2016, id. at ¶ 160, Judge Adams issued a bench warrant on January 12, 2017, for her nonpayment on the DUS, 2nd conviction, id. at ¶ 163. The warrant stated that Brown had a “sentence imposed/balance due of $1, 907.63 or 90 days” and that she would be jailed “until he/she shall be thereof discharged by due course of law.” Id. Brown was arrested on the bench warrant on February 18, 2017, id. at ¶¶ 165-67, and was advised that she could pay $1, 907.63 or serve 90 days in jail. Id. Brown served 57 days in jail. Id. at ¶¶ 168, 171.

         Brown claims she did not know, and that Judge Adams did not inform her, that she had the right to request the assistance of a court-appointed attorney before pleading guilty and the right to seek a waiver of any public defender application fees due to financial hardship. Id. at ¶ 143.

         2. Sasha Monique Darby

         On August 4, 2016, Sasha Monique Darby (“Darby”) was ticketed for assault and battery in the third degree after she hit her roommate. Id. at ¶¶ 184-85. She appeared in Irmo Magistrate Court on August 23, 2016, was given a “Trial Information and Plea Sheet, ” and instructed to “check a box.” Id. at ¶¶ 186-87. Darby checked the statement, “I waive my right to have an attorney present, ” id. at ¶ 188, and “Not guilty, ” id. at ¶ 189.

         Judge Adams found Darby guilty of assault and battery in the third degree, id. at ¶¶ 193-95, and asked her whether she wanted to serve 30 days in jail or pay a fine, id. 196. Darby stated that she would pay the fine, id. at ¶ 196, but after learning the fine was $1, 000, id. at ¶ 200, she returned to the courtroom and told Judge Adams she could only pay $100 to $120 a month. Id. at ¶¶ 201-02. Judge Adams ordered her to pay $150 a month. Id. at 202. Darby paid $200 on the date of the hearing and $150 on October 4, 2016. Id. at 205. After Darby failed to make any further payments, id. at ¶¶ 205-06, a bench warrant issued for Darby on December 8, 2016. Id. at ¶ 208. Darby was arrested on the bench warrant on March 28, 2017. Id. at ¶¶ 209-12. Darby was advised that she could pay $680 or serve 20 days in jail. Id. at ¶ 213. Darby served 20 days in jail. Id. at ¶ 215.

         Darby alleges Judge Adams did not engage in a colloquy with her to determine whether her waiver of the right to counsel was knowing, voluntary, and intelligent. Id. at ¶ 193.

         3. Cayeshia Cashel Johnson

         After having an accident on August 21, 2016, while driving her mother's car, Cayeshia Cashel Johnson (“Johnson”) was charged with simple possession of marijuana and the following traffic offenses: (1) operating a motor vehicle without license in possession; (2) improper start of vehicle; (3) violation of beginner permit; (4) failure to return license plate and registration upon loss of insurance, 1st offense; and (5) uninsured motor vehicle fee violation, 1st offense. Id. at ¶¶ 218-20.

         Johnson alleges that the week before her court hearing on September 22, 2016, she called the Central Traffic Court and informed someone that she could not attend the hearing because she lived in Myrtle Beach and lacked transportation. Id. at ¶ 223. Johnson says she was told lack of transportation was not a valid reason for missing a court hearing and that her case would be tried in her absence. Id. at ¶ 224. Johnson states she inquired about arranging a payment plan for the fines, but was told she needed to talk to a judge about arranging a payment plan. Id. at ¶ 225. Johnson states she left her work and cell numbers and was allegedly assured that the court would contact her, but that no one did. Id. at ¶ 226-27.

         On September 22, 2016, the Central Traffic Court tried Johnson in her absence and found her guilty of all six charges. Id. at ¶ 228. On September 26, 2016, a bench warrant issued for Johnson to pay $1, 287.50 or serve 80 days in jail. Id. at ¶ 230. On February 13, 2017, Johnson was arrested in Myrtle Beach, id. at ¶¶ 231-33, and jailed for 55 days, id. at ¶ 238.

         4. Amy Marie Palacios

         Around June 2015, Amy Marie Palacios (“Palacios”) had her driver's license suspended for failure to pay an earlier speeding ticket. Id. at ¶¶ 250-51. On October 28, 2016, she was stopped by state troopers at a roadblock and ticketed for driving on a suspended license (DUS, 1st offense). Id. at ¶¶ 253-54. The day before her November 10, 2016 court hearing, Palacios called the Central Traffic Court to request a different court date because of her work schedule. Id. at ¶ 256. Palacios was tried in her absence on November 10, 2016, and found guilty of DUS, 1st offense. Id. at ΒΆ 260. On November 15, 2016, a bench warrant issued, requiring payment of ...


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