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Brown v. Lexington County

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

July 9, 2018

Twanda Marshinda Brown; Sasha Monique Darby; Cayeshia Catel 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 JUDGE.

         This matter is now before the court on Defendants' motion for reconsideration pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 54 and Fed.R.Civ.P. 59 filed on April 24, 2018, ECF No. 87, and Defendant Lexington County's supplemental motion for reconsideration filed on April 21, 2018, ECF No. 88. Plaintiffs filed an opposition to Defendants' motion and supplemental motion for reconsideration on May 3, 2018, ECF No. 93, to which Defendants filed a reply on May 10, 2018. ECF No. 97.

         I. STATEMENT OF THE CASE

         A detailed recitation of this matter's relevant factual and procedural background can be found in the order entered on March 29, 2018 (the “March order”), and incorporated herein by reference. ECF No. 84. Briefly, this case involves claims by 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”), 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] According to Plaintiffs, magistrate courts in Lexington County routinely incarcerate indigent defendants who are unable to afford magistrate court fines and fees without pre-deprivation ability-to-pay hearings or representation by counsel. Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Plaintiffs allege violation of their constitutional rights under the Fourth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments. Plaintiffs seek class certification, damages, and declaratory and injunctive relief against Defendants.

         In the March order, the court declined to adopt the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation (ECF No. 74). The court also denied Plaintiffs' motion to certify class without prejudice (ECF No. 21); denied Defendants' motion for partial summary judgment as to declaratory and injunctive relief (ECF No. 29); and denied Defendants' motion for summary judgment on damages claim without prejudice (ECF No. 50). See March order, ECF No. 84. The court found that there were genuine issues of material fact as to the application of Chief Justice Beatty's Memorandum in magistrate courts and whether the alleged conduct could not reasonably be expected to recur. Id. at 27-28. The court further found that there were genuine issues of material fact as to whether Defendants are entitled to judicial and quasi-judicial immunity. Id. at 28-29. The court then recommitted the matter to the Magistrate Judge for further pretrial handling. Id. at 29.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Fed. R. Civ. P. 54(b) provides the following:

When an action presents more than one claim for relief - whether as a claim, counterclaim, crossclaim, or third-party claim - or when multiple parties are involved, the court may direct entry of a final judgment as to one or more, but fewer than all, claims or parties only if the court expressly determines that there is no just reason for delay. Otherwise, any order or other decision, however designated, that adjudicates fewer than all the claims or the rights and liabilities of fewer than all the parties does not end the action as to any of the claims or parties and may be revised at any time before the entry of a judgment adjudicating all the claims and all the parties' rights and liabilities.

         “Under Rule 54(b), the district court retains the power to reconsider and modify its interlocutory judgments . . . at any time prior to final judgment when such is warranted.” Am. Canoe Ass'n v. Murphy Farms, Inc., 326 F.3d 505, 514-15 (4th Cir. 2003); see also Moses H. Cone Mem. Hosp. v. Mercury Constr. Corp., 460 U.S. 1, 12 (1983) (noting that “every order short of a final decree is subject to reopening at the discretion of the district judge”). “The Fourth Circuit has offered little guidance on the standard for evaluating a Rule 54(b) motion, but has held motions under Rule 54(b) are ‘not subject to the strict standards applicable to motions for reconsideration of a final judgment.'” Sanders v. Lowe's Home Ctr., C/A No. 0:15-cv-02313-JMC, 2016 WL 5920840, at *2 (D.S.C. Oct. 11, 2016) (citing Am. Canoe Ass'n, 326 F.3d at 514)); see also Fayetteville Inv'r v. Commercial Builders, Inc., 936 F.2d 1462, 1472 (4th Cir. 1991) (noting that the court found it unnecessary to thoroughly express its views on the interplay of Rules 54, 59, and 60). “In this regard, district courts in the Fourth Circuit, in analyzing the merits of a Rule 54 motion, look to the standards of motions under Rule 59 for guidance.” Sanders, 2016 WL 59202840, at *2. “Therefore, reconsideration under Rule 54(b) is appropriate on the following grounds: (1) to follow an intervening change in controlling law; (2) on account of new evidence; or (3) to correct a clear error of law or prevent manifest injustice.” Id. (citing Beyond Sys., Inc. v. Kraft Foods, Inc., 2010 WL 3059344, at *2 (D. Md. Aug. 4, 2010) (“This three-part test shares the same three elements as the Fourth Circuit's test for amending an earlier judgment under Rule 59(e), but the elements are not applied with the same force when analyzing an [ ] interlocutory order.”) (citing Am. Canoe Ass'n, 326 F.3d at 514)).

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. Defendants' motion for reconsideration

         Defendants seek reconsideration on two grounds. ECF No. 87-1. First, Defendants assert that the court overlooked Defendants' motion for partial summary judgment on Plaintiffs' claims for declaratory and injunctive relief (ECF No. 29). Id. at 5-8. Defendants note that “the basis for the motion was that the claims of all but one Plaintiff were moot and no longer involved live cases or controversies, and the claims of that one remaining Plaintiff [Goodwin], who still had (and has) a criminal action pending against him are barred by the principles of Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971).” ECF No. 87-1 at 1. Defendants argue that “there can be no question that if a bench warrant is issued for his arrest, Mr. Goodwin either previously has had, or would eventually have an adequate opportunity to raise some, if not all, of his current challenges in the context of the state proceedings, and he would have an army of lawyers to help him if his current counsel were to appear in any such proceedings.” ECF No. 29-1 at 7.

         Second, Defendants argue that the court did not address or consider the additional evidence submitted by Defendants in their reply to Plaintiffs' objections to the Report and Recommendation. ECF No. 87-1 at 8. Defendants assert that they attached to their reply detailed revisions to forms and procedures by the South Carolina Court Administration, which were formalized by orders signed by Chief Justice Beatty. ECF No. 87-1 at 8. The additional evidence submitted by Defendants included a Memorandum by the South Carolina Court Administration outlining the procedures discussed at the Mandatory Program meeting on November 1, 2017, regarding the sentencing of unrepresented defendants to imprisonment. ECF No. 82-1 at 2. It also included a “Checklist for Magistrates and Municipal Judges” signed by Chief Justice Beatty, along with changes to forms for use by Magistrates and Municipal Judges. ECF No. 82-1 at 10-22. Defendants further assert that “at the annual mandatory program for summary court judges on November 1, 2017, the office of court administration set forth the practical requirements of the Chief Justice's Memorandum in considerable detail.” ECF No. 87-1 (citing ECF No. 82-1, Court Administration Memorandum, dated Mar. 14, 2018)). Defendants note that Chief Justice Beatty on February 23, 2018, also “signed two administrative orders further implementing those procedures, and promulgating a total of seven new or revised forms intended to ensure that imprisonment does not occur unless the [defendants are] ‘informed of their right to counsel, and if indigent, their right to court-appointed counsel prior to proceeding with trial.”' ECF No. 87-1 at 9. Defendants argue that together these changes “are all directed toward insuring that no one is incarcerated for summary-court-level offenses in the absence of being informed of the right to counsel in a meaningful manner.” ECF No. 87-1 at 9-10.

         Defendants argue that even “if such noncompliance still persists, which seems unlikely in view of the extensiveness of the state judicial system's efforts, Plaintiffs' counsel would be able to identify it without the need for discovery from Defendants.” Id. As such, Defendants argue that “if Plaintiff's counsel, in opposition to the present motion, cannot point to any cases in Lexington County in which the problem persists, then Plaintiffs' claims for prospective relief should be dismissed based on mootness resulting from the remedial action of the Chief Justice and the South Carolina Court Administration.” Id. at 11.

         B. Defendants' Supplemental Motion for Reconsideration

         Defendants Lexington County and Madsen separately request that this court reconsider the March order on several grounds. ECF No. 88-1. First, Defendant Lexington County requests that the court clarify that Defendant Madsen should be dismissed from the case. Id. at 1. In support thereof, Defendant Lexington County contends that “the Magistrate Judge noted that ‘the parties do not dispute that [public defender] Madsen is an agent of Lexington County.'” Id. “Because Plaintiffs have asserted the same causes of action against Lexington County and Madsen, the claims against Madsen are duplicative, and the undersigned recommends Madsen be dismissed from the case.” Id. at 1 (citing ECF No. 74 at 20). Second, Defendant Lexington County argues that “the damages claims against Lexington County were barred for the following reasons other than the immunity grounds: (1) all of Plaintiffs' damages claims are barred by the principles set forth in Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994) and the Rooker-Feldman doctrine; (2) as a matter of law Lexington County could not have created the policies alleged by Plaintiffs to exist with regard to matters occurring in the adjudicated cases of individuals; and (3) Plaintiffs' damages claims against Lexington County based on underfunding of the public defender system are ...


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