Robertson
v.
Bowles

United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Dallas DivisionMar 8, 2002
Civil Action No. 3:99-CV-0288-L (N.D. Tex. Mar. 8, 2002)

Civil Action No. 3:99-CV-0288-L

March 8, 2002


MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER


Thomas S. Robertson ("Plaintiff" or "Robertson"), proceeding pro se, filed this action on February 10, 1999, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, contending that Defendant Jim Bowles ("Defendant" or "Bowles") unlawfully detained him and therefore violated his right not to be deprived of liberty without due process of law as guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. He asserted both procedural and substantive due process claims. A bench trial was held on February 8, 2002. By this Memorandum Opinion and Order, the court makes its findings of fact and conclusions of law as required by Fed.R.Civ.P. 52(a). II. Issues Presented and Contentions of the Parties

By order dated September 14, 2000, the court granted in part and denied in part Defendant Bowles's Motion for Summary Judgment. Specifically, the court granted summary judgment on behalf of Bowles with respect to Robertson's section 1983 procedural due process claim, and denied the summary judgment motion with respect to Robertson's claim for violation of his substantive due process rights. Accordingly, the sole claim remaining for disposition is Robertson's substantive due process claim.

By order dated February 12, 2002, the court directed the parties to submit proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law. Defendant's Proposed Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law were filed on February 19, 2002. Plaintiff Robertson did not file any proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law.

A. Plaintiff Thomas S. Robertson's Contentions

Robertson contends that he was arrested on June 5, 1998, for an outstanding warrant from the State of Missouri. A Governor's Warrant, according to Robertson, was not issued until August 20, 1998, which was more than 30 days after his arrest on June 5, 1998. Robertson contends that the delay in the issuance of the warrant violated the Uniform Criminal Extradition Act, which is incorporated into Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Ann. art. 51.13 (Vernon 1979). Accordingly, Robertson contends that his confinement from July 5, 1998 to August 20, 1998 was illegal and that Bowles therefore deprived him of his liberty without due process of law in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. He seeks monetary damages for the alleged constitutional violation.

B. Defendant Jim Bowles's Contentions

Bowles contends that Robertson was not illegally confined or detained. Bowles contends that Robertson was held pursuant to valid legal process. Bowles also contends that he cannot be held liable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 because he had no personal involvement in the matter concerning Robertson and his actions did not cause a violation of Robertson's constitutional rights. Bowles further contends that he adopted and maintained reasonable internal procedures for the operation of the Dallas County Jail to ensure that he only incarcerated those persons for whom he had a good faith belief based on objective circumstances, that he had valid authority to imprison. Finally, Bowles contends that Robertson's claim is barred by the doctrine of qualified immunity because he (Bowles) did not violate clearly established law of which a reasonable person would have known.

III. Findings of Fact

1. Robertson is currently confined as an inmate of the Clay County Jail in Liberty, Missouri.
2. Bowles is, and was at all times material herein, the duly elected sheriff of Dallas County, Texas. As sheriff of Dallas County, Bowles is the keeper of the Dallas County Jail and must safely keep all prisoners committed to the jail by a lawful authority, subject to an order of the proper court.
3. On June 5, 1998, Robertson was booked into the Dallas County Jail on a misdemeanor charge of theft in Texas and a felony charge of stealing a motor vehicle in Missouri.
4. On June 5, 1998, Robertson was brought before a magistrate of Dallas County, Texas and advised of the charges against him.
5. On June 8, 1998, Robertson was brought back before the magistrate, and a bond of $250,000 was set for his release. The magistrate also issued a warrant of arrest for Robertson on June 8, 1998.
6. The Dallas County Sheriff's Department had in place at the time of Robertson's arrest in June 1998 written internal procedures and guidelines pertaining to persons arrested or wanted on out-of-state warrants. The procedures address the process for those persons who waive extradition and those who refuse to waive extradition. Since Robertson did not waive extradition initially, a fugitive complaint was to be filed against him, and after its filing, Robertson was either to be placed back in jail to await his next hearing date or bond out. Robertson did not bond out, and, under the sheriff's procedures, Robertson was to be brought back to a magistrate for a hearing. The magistrate judge was to determine at this juncture whether the arrested person desired to waive extradition. If the arrested person refused to waive extradition, the magistrate judge was to commit him to the Dallas County Jail for an additional sixty days pursuant to Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Ann. art. 51.13, § 17 (Vernon 1979), unless the person was arrested before the expiration of this time period on a warrant from the Governor of the State of Texas, or made bond. Robertson never made bond. Under the established procedure of the Dallas County Jail, Robertson should have been returned to a magistrate judge within thirty days of his arrest for a hearing. Dallas County Jail detention authorities did not follow this procedure and bring Robertson back before a magistrate to determine whether he wanted to waive extradition.
7. On August 12, 1998, the Governor of Missouri issued a formal request to extradite Robertson, and on August 20, 1998, the Governor of Texas issued a warrant ("the Governor's Warrant") to extradite Robertson to Missouri.
8. On May 5, 1999, Robertson was transferred from the Dallas County Jail to law enforcement authorities of Limestone County, Texas, in connection with the felony charges pending against him there. Nothing in the record establishes or indicates that Bowles or his subordinates knew of the existence, or alleged existence, of a felony warrant in Limestone County against Robertson when he was held in the Dallas County Jail from July 5 to August 20, 1998. Also on May 5, 1999, the misdemeanor theft charge and Governor's Warrant were withdrawn, pending disposition of the felony charges against Robertson in Limestone County, Texas.
IV. Conclusions of Law

"If the accused is not arrested under warrant of the Governor by the expiration of the time specified in the warrant or bond, a judge or magistrate may discharge him or may recommit him for a further period not to exceed sixty days, or a judge or magistrate may again take bail for his appearance and surrender, as provided in Section 16, but within a period not to exceed sixty days after the date of such new bond." Id.

The court need not discuss the details of Robertson's criminal odyssey, which include his (a) sojourn at the Limestone County Jail; (b) guilty plea to the charge of unauthorized use of a motor vehicle; (c) subsequent stint at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice ("TDCJ"); and (d) subsequent transfer (after release from TDCY) to Clay County, Missouri to stand trial for murder. These events are of no benefit or aid to the court in resolving whether Bowles is liable to Robertson for the period of incarceration from July 5 to August 20, 1998. They are irrelevant, quite beside the point, and will not be considered by the court.

In urging the court to conclude that he has no liability to Robertson, Bowles advances four arguments. First, he contends that no legal liability exists because Bowles was detained in the Dallas County Jail pursuant to valid legal process. Second, he contends that no substantive due process claim exists if the extended incarceration of a prisoner is based on negligent conduct. Third, Bowles contends that he established and had in place internal procedures to ensure that he only incarcerated those persons whom he reasonably believed he had valid authority to detain and imprison. Finally, Bowles contends that the doctrine of qualified immunity shields him from any liability to Robertson.

A. Valid Legal Process

Regarding Bowles's first argument, he relies on Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S. 137, 143-45 (1979), for the proposition that detention of a person pursuant to valid warrant does not state an actionable claim for deprivation of liberty without due process of law. The trial court explained in detail in its order of September 14, 2000 why Baker was not applicable to this case. Baker simply does not stand for the proposition that one arrested pursuant to a valid warrant can be held indefinitely, as Bowles seems to contend. The Fifth Circuit agreed with the district court and affirmed its decision on March 26, 2001. Why Bowles continues to assert a position that has already been rejected by the district court and the Fifth Circuit is beyond this court's understanding. The court, for the reasons previously explained in its earlier decision, concludes that Baker is factually distinguishable from this case and has no applicability to it. Moreover, the record does not establish the legal basis to hold Robertson after the initial thirty days from the date of arrest until the Governor's warrant was issued on August 20, 1998. Bowles apparently believes the Limestone County warrant was a valid basis to hold Robertson. This position from all indications appears to be an afterthought because there is absolutely no evidence in the record that Bowles or officials of the Dallas County Jail even knew that a warrant from Limestone County existed for Robertson while he was being held in the Dallas County Jail from July 5 to August 20, 1998.

B. Due Process Clause and Negligence

With respect to his second argument, Bowles contends that the extended incarceration of a prisoner caused by negligent, rather than intentional, conduct does not constitute a substantive due process violation as a matter of law, and cites Martin v. Dallas County, 822 F.2d 553, 555 (5th Cir. 1987), in support of this contention. The court agrees.

Negligent conduct cannot be the basis for a claim under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution because the "Due Process Clause is simply not implicated by a negligent act of an official causing unintended loss of or injury to life, liberty or property." Daniels v. Williams, 474 U.S. 327, 328 (1986). Upon review of the exhibits and the trial testimony, the court concludes that the failure to bring Robertson before a magistrate within 30 days of his arrest was a mere oversight or failure on some person's part to follow established written jail procedures that Bowles had in place at the time of Robertson's arrest in June 1998. Nothing in the record even intimates or implies that such failure was intentional or the result of deliberate indifference. Simply put, because of someone's inadvertence, Robertson was not returned to the magistrate on the matter of extradition. Since the failure was the result of negligence or lack of due care, on the part of some official or employee, Robertson's substantive due process claim fails as a matter of law, and Bowles is entitled to judgment on this claim.

C. Internal Procedures

Alternatively, Robertson's substantive due process claim fails for another reason. At the time of Robertson's incarceration in 1998, Bowles had adopted procedures designed to ensure that he only imprisoned those persons whom he had authority to do so.

Texas law requires a judicial officer to issue a Texas warrant authorizing the prisoner's commitment to the county jail, at least initially, for a maximum of thirty days while he awaits extradition. See Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Ann art. 51.13 § 15 (Vernon 1979). This initial thirty-day period can be extended for an additional sixty days, see Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Ann. art. 51.13, § 17 (Vernon 1979), if the accused has not been arrested pursuant to a Governor's Warrant.

"If from the examination before the judge or magistrate it appears that the person held is the person charged with having committed the crime alleged and except in cases arising under Section 6, that he has fled from justice, the judge or magistrate must, by warrant reciting the accusation, commit him to the county jail for such time not exceeding thirty days and specified in the warrant, as will enable the arrest of the accused to be made under a warrant of the Governor on a requisition of the Executive Authority of the State having jurisdiction of the offense, unless the accused give bail as provided in the next section, or until he shall be legally discharged." Id.

In Douthit v. Jones, 641 F.2d 345 (5th Cir. 1981), the Fifth Circuit stated that Texas Local Government Code Annotated § 351.041 (formerly Texas Civil Code Annotated art. 5116) "imposes a duty upon county sheriffs in Texas to incarcerate only those persons whom he has lawful authority to imprison." Id. at 346. The Fifth Circuit, however, placed an important gloss on this statement when it said:

A sheriff may satisfy this duty by adopting reasonable internal procedures to ensure that only those persons are incarcerated for whom the sheriff, or the deputy to whom he delegates such responsibilities, has a good faith belief based upon objective circumstances that he possesses valid legal authority to imprison.
Id. at 346-47; see also Brown v. Byer, 870 F.2d 975, 980-81 (5th Cir. 1989). The question for the court is whether Bowles's internal procedures satisfy this standard. The court is convinced that the procedures that Bowles had in place satisfy this standard. The procedures in place required Robertson to be returned to a magistrate so that he could make the appropriate determination concerning Robertson under Art. 51.13, § 17. At most, the record raises an inference that Bowles or his employees failed to implement the existing policy on one particular occasion, and Robertson by chance was the hapless individual victimized by this failure. This failure, however, does not negate that Bowles had internal procedures in place to ensure that he only incarcerated those individuals for whom he had legal authority to do so. Had the established procedures been followed, no mistake would have occurred regarding Robertson's detention. Since Bowles had reasonable internal procedures in place in June 1998 designed to ensure that only those persons were incarcerated for whom he had authority to do so, the court concludes that Robertson's substantive due process claim necessarily fails.

D. Qualified Immunity

Relating to and overlapping the argument of adequate internal procedures is Bowles's qualified immunity defense. Government officials who perform discretionary functions are entitled to the defense of qualified immunity, which shields them from suit as well as liability for civil damages, if their conduct does not violate "clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known." Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982). A defendant official must affirmatively plead the defense of qualified immunity. Gomez v. Toledo, 446 U.S. 635, 640 (1980). Bowles has pleaded this defense.

In resolving the defense of qualified immunity, the court must first decide "whether the plaintiff has alleged the deprivation of an actual constitutional right at all, and if so, proceed to determine whether that right was clearly established at the time of the alleged violation." Conn v. Gabbert, 526 U.S. 286, 290 (1999), citing Siegert v. Gilley, 500 U.S. 226, 232-33 (1991); see also Kerr v. Lyford, 171 F.3d 330, 339 (5th Cir. 1999). The second prong of the test requires the court to make two separate inquiries: whether the right allegedly violated was clearly established at the time of the event giving rise to the plaintiffs claim, and if so, whether the conduct of the defendant was objectively unreasonable. Evans v. Ball, 168 F.3d 856, 860 (5th Cir. 1999). Although many cases continue to state that the determination of the qualified immunity issue requires the application of a bifurcated test, the analytical framework for resolving issues of qualified immunity necessarily requires, or may require, a three-step analysis. See Kerr v. Lyford, 171 F.3d at 339; Evans v. Ball, 168 F.3d at 860; Hare v. City of Corinth, 135 F.3d 320, 326 (5th Cir. 1998); Eugene v. Alief Indep. Sch. Dist., 65 F.3d 1299, 1305 (5th Cir. 1995), cert. denied, 517 U.S. 1191 (1996).

Whether a defendant acted within the scope of his authority performing a discretionary function and whether a reasonable official in his position would have deemed his conduct unconstitutional are not to be considered by the court unless each part of the three-step inquiry has been answered affirmatively on behalf of the plaintiff. Kerr v. Lyford, 171 F.3d at 339. In other words, only after a plaintiff demonstrates the existence and violation of a clearly established constitutional or statutory right is the defendant required to show that he was performing a discretionary function and that a reasonable official would not have considered his actions to be unconstitutional at the time of the incident in question. Id. at 338.

A right is "clearly established" only when its contours are sufficiently clear that a reasonable public official would have realized or understood that his conduct violated the right in issue, not merely that the conduct was otherwise improper. See Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 640 (1987); Foster v. City of Lake Jackson, 28 F.3d 425, 429 (5th Cir. 1994). Thus, the right must not only be clearly established in an abstract sense but in a more particularized sense so that it is apparent to the official that his actions [what he is doing] are unlawful in light of pre-existing law. Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. at 640; Stefanoff v. Hays County, 154 F.3d 523, 525 (5th Cir. 1998); and Pierce v. Smith, 117 F.3d 866, 871 (5th Cir. 1997).

In Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. at 641, the Supreme Court refined the qualified immunity standard and held that the relevant question is whether a reasonable officer or public official could have believed that his conduct was lawful in light of clearly established law and the information possessed by him. If public officials or officers of "reasonable competence could disagree [on whether an action is legal], immunity should be recognized." Malley v. Briggs, 475 U.S. 335, 341 (1986); Gibson v. Rich, 44 F.3d 274, 277 (5th Cir. 1995) ( citing Babb v. Dorman, 33 F.3d 472, 477 (5th Cir. 1994)). Qualified immunity is designed to protect from civil liability "all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law." Malley v. Briggs, 475 U.S. at 341. Conversely, an official's conduct is not protected by qualified immunity if in light of clearly established pre-existing law, it was apparent the conduct, when undertaken, would be a violation of the right at issue. Foster v. City of Lake Jackson, 28 F.3d at 429. To preclude qualified immunity, it is not necessary for a plaintiff to establish that "the [specific] action in question has previously been held unlawful." Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. at 640. For an official, however, to surrender qualified immunity, "pre-existing law must dictate, that is, truly compel (not just suggest or allow or raise a question about), the conclusion for every like-situated, reasonable government agent that what the defendant is doing violates federal law in the circumstances." Pierce v. Smith, 117 F.3d at 882; Stefanoff v. Hays County, 154 F.3d at 525.

Undertaking the required three-step analysis, the court first determines that Robertson has alleged a constitutional violation for false imprisonment that can be made under section 1983. See Sanchez v. Swyden, 139 F.3d 464, 469 (5th Cir. 1997); Sanders v. English, 950 F.2d 1152, 1159 (5th Cir. 1992). Second, this right was clearly established at the time of Robertson's alleged illegal confinement in 1998. Id.; see also Douthit v. Jones, 619 F.2d 527, 532 (5th Cir. 1980). Third, the court concludes that Robertson failed to show that Bowles's conduct was objectively unreasonable concerning his incarceration. Bowles had in place internal procedures designed to ensure that only persons he had lawful authority to incarcerate were imprisoned. Even if the procedures were ultimately held to be inadequate, the court determines that a reasonable official in Bowles's shoes, in light of existing law, could have believed them constitutionally adequate to accomplish the stated goal. Accordingly, Bowles is entitled to qualified immunity, and the court concludes that qualified immunity is an additional alternative basis to dismiss Robertson's claim against Bowles.

V. Conclusion

For the reasons stated herein, Robertson fails to establish a substantive due process violation against Bowles. Bowles is therefore entitled to dismissal of this claim. In light of the court's findings and conclusions herein and its order of September 14, 2000, this entire action is dismissed with prejudice against Bowles, and he is entitled to a judgment in his favor. Judgment will issue by separate document as required by Fed.R.Civ.P. 58.

With respect to costs, Fed.R.Civ.P. 54(d)(1) provides that "costs other than attorneys' fees shall be allowed as of course to the prevailing party unless the court otherwise directs." Rule 54(d) creates a strong presumption that the prevailing party will be awarded costs. Schwarz v. Folloder, r 767 F.2d 125, 131 (5th Cir. 1985). In this case, however, Robertson, the losing party, is pro se and proceeding in forma pauperis. Robertson does not have the means to pay costs. Under these circumstances, the court does not believe imposition of costs against Robertson is warranted. Accordingly, each party shall bear his own costs.