Lawsuit against Orleans Parish Prison compliance director can move forward

By Charmaine Little | Oct 18, 2018

The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana ruled on Oct. 5 that the compliance director of the Orleans Parish Prison isn’t protected under quasi-judicial immunity amid a lawsuit concerning the alleged illegal use of a temporary prison facility.

The plaintiffs -- Mid-City Neighborhood Organization, Orleans Parish Prison Reform Coalition, Voice of the Experienced, Women with a Vision, Yvette Thierry and Don Everard -- sued Sheriff Marlin Gusman in his capacity as Sheriff of the Parish of Orleans; Darnley Hodge, in his capacity as the compliance director of the Orleans Parish Prison; and Jared Munster, in his capacity as director of the City of New Orleans Department of Safety and Permit. They also named the City of New Orleans as a defendant.

In the latest update of the case, the plaintiffs wanted a court order to transfer the lawsuit to the Orleans Parish Civil District Court. They said the defendants’ original removal to the current court was improper under a federal officer removal statute. They said it was due to Hodge, who is considered an officer of the U.S. courts.

The district court agreed. 

“Because quasi-judicial immunity is not a colorable defense when a federal court officer is sued only in his official capacity, the court finds that the federal officer removal statute is inapplicable in this action and grants plaintiffs’ motion,” the court stated in the opinion.

While the defendants said removal was appropriate since Hodge could be protected under quasi-judicial immunity, the plaintiffs challenged this and said Hodge doesn’t have quasi-judicial immunity because their lawsuit only requests injunctive and declaratory relief. In making its decision, the court pointed out the plaintiffs state they are suing Hodge because of his capacity as the compliance director. The plaintiffs simply want a court order that would block Hodge and the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office (OPSO) from allegedly breaking the city’s rule concerning the temporary jail’s operation. 

“Plaintiffs’ action is thus plainly an attempt to stop the Orleans Parish Prison and OPSO from taking certain actions, which indicates the suit is against Hodge in his official, rather than personal capacity,” the court pointed out.

Considering this, the court determined removal was not the right move to make since Hodge was sued in his official capacity and is therefore not under quasi-judicial immunity. It added that it was subject to the ruling from the Fifth Circuit Court that specifically states quasi-judicial immunity is not for those being sued in their official capacities. The court ultimately granted the plaintiffs’ motion to remand.

The lawsuit comes amid accusations that the OPSO continued to use a temporary detention center after the New Orleans City Council allegedly handed down a mandate that it was to be demolished with 18 months of a new jail’s opening. The temporary center was built to house inmates during the construction of the new jail. 

While the New Orleans Department of Safety and Permits provided a Temporary Occupancy Certificate that permitted the OPSO to keep the inmates in the temporary jail -- after the OPSO allegedly continued using the facility passed the deadline -- the plaintiffs said the city’s department didn’t have the authority to issue the extension and filed the lawsuit.

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