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Brown v. Lexington County

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

March 29, 2018

Twanda Marshinda Brown; Sasha Monique Darby; Cayeshia Cashel Johnson; Amy Marie Palacios; Nora Ann C; 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.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          MARGARET B. SEYMOUR, SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE.

         Plaintiffs Twanda Marshinda Brown; Sasha Monique Darby; Cayeshia Cashel Johnson; Amy Marie Palacios; Nora Ann Corder; Xavier Larry Goodwin; and Raymond Wright, Jr. (hereinafter collectively “Plaintiffs”), brought the underlying action against Defendant Lexington County of South Carolina (hereinafter “Lexington County”); Defendants Gary Reinhart, [1] Rebecca Adams, [2] and Albert John Dooley, III, [3] as former or current Judges for Administrative Purposes of the Summary Courts in Lexington County and the Irmo Magistrate Court (hereinafter “Judicial Defendants”); Defendant Bryan Koon as the Lexington County Sheriff (hereinafter “Koon”);[4] and Defendant Robert Madsen as the Circuit Public Defender for the Eleventh Judicial Circuit of South Carolina (hereinafter “Madsen”) (hereinafter collectively “Defendants”).[5] Plaintiffs allege violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and of their constitutional rights under the Fourth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments because they were denied the opportunity to have counsel appointed or otherwise informed of their rights. Plaintiffs seek class certification, damages, and declaratory and injunctive relief against Defendants.

         In accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Rule 73.02, D.S.C., this matter was referred to the United States Magistrate Judge Shiva V. Hodges for pretrial handling. This matter is now before the court on the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation filed on February 5, 2018, recommending that the court: (1) deny Plaintiffs' motion to certify class, ECF No. 21; (2) grant Defendants' motion for summary judgment as to declaratory and injunctive relief, ECF No. 29; (3) deny Defendants' motion for summary judgment as to Plaintiffs' damages claims against Lexington County for failure to afford counsel and grant the motion as to all other claims, ECF No. 50.

         I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiffs separately were arrested and incarcerated for a period ranging from seven to sixty-three days because they failed to pay magistrate court fees and fines. ECF No. 48, Second Amended Compl. ¶ 2.[6] Plaintiffs allege eight causes of actions against Defendants in their official and individual capacities. Id. ¶¶ 451-535. The relevant facts concerning each Plaintiff are as follows:

         1. Twanda Marshinda Brown

         On March 15, 2016, Plaintiff Twanda Marshinda Brown (hereinafter “Brown”) was ticketed by a Lexington County Sheriff's Department (hereinafter “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 Defendant Adams in the Irmo Magistrate Court and pleaded guilty to both charges. Id. ¶¶ 142, 144. Defendant Adams sentenced Brown to $237.50 in fines and fees for driving without tag lights and $2, 100 in fines and fees for the DUS, 2nd offense. Id. ¶ 145. Brown claims she advised Defendant Adams that she did not have any money to pay that day and that Defendant Adams created a payment schedule of $100 each month. Id. ¶ 146. Brown informed Defendant Adams that she could afford to pay only $50 a month, but Defendant Adams required Brown to pay $100 each month. Id. ¶¶ 147, 148. Brown alleges that Defendant Adams threatened to jail her for 90 days if she did not make the $100 payment each month. Id. ¶ 150. Brown made payments beginning on May 12, 2016 through October 4, 2016, which satisfied the court fines and fees for the tag light offense and contributed towards her fines and fees for the DUS, 2nd offense. Id. ¶ 159. After October 4, 2016, Brown could no longer afford to make payments and a bench warrant for nonpayment of court fines and fees was issued on January 12, 2017. Id. ¶¶ 160, 163. The bench warrant indicated that Brown had a “sentence imposed/balance due of $1, 907.63 or 90 days” and that Brown would be jailed “until he/she shall be thereof discharged by due course of law.” Id. ¶ 163. Brown was arrested on the bench warrant on February 18, 2017, and was informed that she could pay $1, 907.63 or serve 90 days in jail. Id. ¶ 165, 167. Brown served 57 days in jail and was released on April 15, 2017. Id. ¶ 171.

         Brown alleges that she did not know nor did Defendant Adams 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. ¶ 143.

         2. Sasha Monique Darby

         On August 4, 2016, Sasha Monique Darby (hereinafter “Darby”) was ticketed for assault and battery in the third degree for hitting her roommate. Id. ¶ 184. Darby appeared in Irmo Magistrate Court and was handed a “Trial Information and Plea Sheet” along with instructions to “check a box.” Id. ¶¶ 186, 187. Darby alleges that because the “Trial Information and Plea Sheet” indicated that an application for a court-appointed attorney required a “$40 non-refundable fee, ” she placed a check mark next to the statement, “I waive my right to have an attorney present.” Id. ¶ 188. Darby also placed a check mark next to the option “not guilty.” Id. ¶ 189. Darby appeared before Defendant Adams who found Darby guilty of assault and battery in the third degree and asked her whether she wanted to serve 30 days in jail or pay a fine. Id. ¶¶ 195, 196. Darby indicated that she would pay a fine; however, after discovering that the fine would be $1, 000, she returned to the courtroom to speak with Defendant Adams. Id. ¶¶ 196, 200-01. Defendant Adams refused Darby's proposed payment plan of $100 to $120 a month and ordered Darby to pay $150 a month. Id. ¶¶ 201-02. Darby paid $200 on the date of the court hearing and $150 payment on October 4, 2017. Id. ¶¶ 203, 205. After October 4, 2017, Darby could not afford to make any further payments and a bench warrant was issued for her arrest on December 6, 2016. Id. ¶¶ 206, 208. Darby was arrested on the bench warrant on March 28, 2017, and informed that she could pay $680 or serve 20 days in jail. Id. ¶ 213. Darby served 20 days in jail and was released on April 17, 2017. Id. ¶ 215.

         Darby alleges that Defendant Adams did not inform her that she had the right to request assistance of a court-appointed attorney and the right to seek waiver of any fees related to the application for a public defender due to financial hardship. Id. ¶ 192. Darby alleges that Defendant Adams did not engage in a colloquy with Darby to determine whether any waiver of the right to counsel was knowing, voluntary, and intelligent. Id. at 193. Moreover, Darby alleges that she was not informed that if her financial circumstances changed in the future or if she was unable to pay the $150 required each month, that she could request a court hearing on her ability to pay and alternatives to incarceration. Id. at 204.

         3. Cayeshia Cashel Johnson

         On August 21, 2016, Cayeshia Cashel Johnson (hereinafter “Johnson”) was in a minor car accident while driving her mother's car from Columbia to Myrtle Beach. Id. ¶ 218. Johnson was charged with simple possession of marijuana and the following five traffic offenses: (1) uninsured motor vehicle fee violation, 1st offense; (2) operating a motor vehicle without license in possession; (3) improper start of vehicle; (4) violation of beginner permit; and (5) failure to return license plate and registration upon loss of insurance, 1st offense. Id. ¶ 220. Johnson claims that one week before her court hearing on September 22, 2016, she called the Central Traffic Court and informed the court staff that she could not attend the hearing because she lives in Myrtle Beach and lacked transportation to Lexington County. Id. ¶¶ 221, 223. Johnson was advised that 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 inquired on whether she could arrange for a payment plan for the fines and was told that “the only way to have a payment plan is to talk to the Judge.” Id. ¶ 225. Johnson claims she left her work and cell phone number and was assured that someone would contact her; however, Johnson did not receive a response. Id. ¶¶ 226, 227.

         On September 22, 2016, the Central Traffic Court tried Johnson's case in her absence and found her guilty of all six charges. Id. ¶ 228. On September 26, 2016, the Central Traffic Court issued a bench warrant for Johnson to pay $1, 287.50 or serve 80 days in jail for the following charges: (1) uninsured motor vehicle fee violation, 1st offense; (2) operating a motor vehicle without license in possession; and (3) simple possession of marijuana. Id. ¶ 230. On February 13, 2017, Johnson was arrested in Myrtle Beach and jailed for 55 days. Id. ¶¶ 231, 233, 238.

         Johnson alleges that she did not receive any notice that she had been tried in absentia; and convicted for one misdemeanor and five traffic offenses, in which she was sentenced to serve jail time or pay fines for three of those offenses and sentenced to pay fines and fees on the other three offenses. Id. ¶ 229. Johnson claims she has an outstanding balance on three offenses in the amount of $905 plus $100 in mandatory costs with the Central Traffic Court. Id. ¶¶243-45.

         4. Amy Marie Palacios

         Sometime in June 2015, Amy Marie Palacios (hereinafter “Palacios”) had her driver's license suspended for failure to pay a speeding ticket incurred earlier that year. Id. ¶ 250. On October 28, 2016, Palacios was stopped by state troopers at a roadblock and ticketed for driving on a suspended license (DUS, 1st offense). Id. ¶¶ 252, 254. The day before her court hearing, Palacios contacted the Central Traffic Court to reschedule the hearing due to a conflict with her work schedule and was advised that her employer could fax an affidavit to the court explaining why she could not attend the hearing. Id. ¶¶ 256, 257. On the same day, Palacios' employer faxed an affidavit explaining her work schedule and requesting an extension. Id. ¶ 258. Palacios alleges that no one contacted her in response to her request to reschedule the hearing. Id. ¶ 259. On November 10, 2016, Palacios was tried in her absence in Central Traffic Court and found guilty of DUS, 1st offense. Id. ¶ 260. On November 15, 2016, the court issued a bench warrant requiring payment of $647.50 or serve 30 days in jail. Id. ¶ 262. On February 25, 2017, Palacios was arrested on the bench warrant and served 21 days in jail. Id. ¶¶ 263, 275.

         Palacios alleges that she did not receive any notice that she had been tried in absentia; convicted of a traffic offense; and sentenced to serve jail time or pay fines and fees for the offense. Id. ¶ 261.

         5. Nora Ann Corder

         In July 2016, Nora Ann Corder (hereinafter Corder) was ticketed for neglecting to return her license plate and registration upon the loss of insurance. Id. ¶ 284. Corder was ordered to pay a $230 fine and her driver's license was suspended. Id. ¶ 285. On January 27, 2017, Corder was ticketed by a LCSD Deputy for DUS, 1st offense; violation of temporary license plates for vehicle to be registered in another state; and uninsured motor vehicle fee violation, 1st offense. Id. ¶ 289. Her car was also impounded. Id. ¶ 290. On February 15, 2017, Corder appeared in the Lexington Magistrate Court and was asked by the Deputy who issued the tickets about what she had “gotten done.” Id. ¶ 292, 293. Although Corder did not understand what the Deputy was referring to she explained, she did not have the money to pay the tickets to get her driver's license reinstated; car insurance; or get her car out of impound. Id. ¶ 292, 293. The Deputy sought a continuance on her case so that “she can take care of what she needed to take care of.” Id. ¶ 294.

         On March 22, 2017, Corder appeared in the Lexington Magistrate Court and spoke to the same Deputy about her inability to reinstate her driver's license and to obtain car insurance. Id. ¶ 297. The Deputy advised her that if she could reinstate her driver's license and car insurance, he would drop certain charges or ask the court to reduce the amount she would have to pay in fines and fees. Id. The Deputy continued her case to April 19, 2017. Id. ¶ 298.

         On April 19, 2017, Corder appeared in Lexington County Magistrate Court and paid the $230 fine incurred in July 2016 for neglecting to return her license plate and registration upon the loss of insurance. Id. ¶ 305. Corder informed the Deputy that she had recently secured a new job and still could not afford to reinstate her driver's license or car insurance. Id. ¶ 307. The Deputy informed Corder that he would continue her case for the last time until May 17, 2017. Id.

         On May 17, 2017, Corder failed to appear and was found guilty in her absence on all three charges. Id. ¶¶ 310-311. A bench warrant was issued for her arrest that required Corder to pay $1, 320 or serve 90 days in jail. Id. ¶ 313. Corder was arrested a week later after seeking to file a dispute on an eviction action in Lexington Magistrate Court. Id. ¶ 319. Corder was jailed for 54 days and released on July 19, 2017. Id. ¶ 223.

         Corder claims that she was never instructed on how to prepare for a continued court hearing; was not informed of her right to request the assistance of a court-appointed attorney; nor informed of her rights concerning counsel or her right to jury trial on any of the three occasions in which she appeared in court. Id. ¶ 309. Moreover, Corder claims that she did not receive any notice that she had been tried in absentia; convicted of three traffic offenses; and sentenced to serve jail time or pay fines and fees for the three traffic offenses. Id. ¶ 312.

         6. Xavier Larry Goodwin

         On July 15, 2016, Xavier Larry Goodwin (hereinafter “Goodwin”) received five traffic tickets during a traffic stop: (1) DUS, 2nd offense; (2) uninsured motor vehicle fee violation, 1st offense; (3) seatbelt violation; (4) temporary license place - time limit to replace; and (5) use of license plate other than for vehicle which issued. Id. ¶ 326. On August 9, 2016, Goodwin was tried in his absence and found guilty on all five charges. Id. ¶ 328. On August 10, 2016, the Central Traffic Court issued a bench warrant requiring Goodwin to pay $1, 710 or serve 90 days on the charges of DUS, 2nd offense and uninsured motor vehicle fee violation, 1st offense. Id. ¶ 330.

         On February 2, 2017, Goodwin was ticketed for DUS, 3rd offense and served with the bench warrant issued on August 10, 2016. Id. ¶¶ 331-335. A bond hearing was held on February 3, 2017, for his DUS, 3rd offense charge, in which Goodwin claims that he was not informed of his right to request the assistance of court-appointed counsel or his right to seek waiver of any public defender application fee. Id. ¶ 336. Goodwin also claims that during his transportation to the court, he asked a Lexington County Detention Center (hereinafter “LCDC”) officer whether he could request a public defender. Id. ¶ 338. The LCDC officer responded that the screening process could take a long time and that his incarceration could be extended as a result. Id. Goodwin pleaded guilty to the charge of DUS, 3rd offense and was sentenced by Defendant Adams to 90 days in jail and $2, 100 in fines and fees. Id. ¶¶ 341-42. Goodwin was directed to set up a payment plan within 30 days of his release from jail. Id. ¶ 343. Goodwin was detained at LCDC for 63 days for nonpayment of fines and fees and released on April 7, 2017. Id. ¶ 345-347. Upon being released, Goodwin was transported to the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center in Richland County to serve time on bench warrant issued in Richland County and was released on April 26, 2017. Id.

         On May 5, 2017, Goodwin returned to the Irmo Magistrate Court and established a $100 monthly payment plan on the outstanding balance of $2, 100 in fines and fees. Id. ¶ 351. Goodwin alleges that he faces imminent and substantial risk that the Irmo Magistrate Court will issue a bench warrant for his arrest unless he pays $2, 063 - the outstanding balance owed for the DUS, 3rd offense conviction. Id. ¶ 359.

         Goodwin claims that Defendant Adams did not inform him that he had the right to request the assistance of a court-appointed attorney before pleading guilty and the right to seek a waiver of any fees related to the application for a public defender due to financial hardship. Id.

         7. Raymond Wright, Jr.

         On July 1, 2016, Raymond Wright, Jr. (hereinafter “Wright”) was ticketed for DUS, 1st offense. Id. ¶ 363. Wright pleaded guilty on July 26, 2016, and was required to pay $666.93 in fines and fees. Id. ¶ 336. He established a payment plan of $50 per month and made payments from July 26, 2016 through December 7, 2016. Id. ¶¶ 369-70. After December 7, 2016, Wright could no longer afford to make payments and was summoned for a show cause hearing on April 19, 2017. Id. ¶¶ 373-74. At the hearing, Wright was informed that he would be jailed if he did not pay the full $416.93 balance within 10 days. Id. ΒΆ 378. Wright was unable to pay the full balance and on May 2, 2017, the Central Traffic Court issued a bench ...


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