Justice Network Inc. Plaintiff - Appellant
Craighead County; David Boling, Judge, in his individual and official capacity; Tommy Fowler, Judge, In his individual and official capacity; Bay, City of; Bono, City of; Brookland, City of; Caraway, City of; Cash, City of; Egypt, City of; Jonesboro, City of; Lake City, Arkansas; Monette, City of Defendants - Appellees
Submitted: April 17, 2019
from United States District Court for the Eastern District of
Arkansas - Jonesboro
SMITH, Chief Judge, KELLY and KOBES, Circuit Judges.
Justice Network Inc. (TJN) appeals from the district
court's dismissal of its 42 U.S.C. § 1983
suit against Judge David Boling, in his individual and
official capacity; Judge Tommy Fowler, in his individual and
official capacity; Craighead County, Arkansas; the City of
Jonesboro; and the Cities of Bay, Bono, Brookland, Caraway,
Cash, Egypt, Lake City, and Monette. The suit arises from
Craighead County District Judges Boling and Fowler's
implementation of an Amnesty Program forgiving all fees that
probationers owed to TJN for probation services. We hold that
Judges Boling and Fowler are entitled to judicial immunity on
TJN's claims. Additionally, we hold that Judges Boling
and Fowler are state government officials whose actions are
not attributable to Craighead County or the City Defendants.
Accordingly, we affirm the district court's dismissal of
TJN's § 1983 suit.
a private probation company, and it offers services to
probation clients in Craighead County. Services offered to
the probation clients include program and counseling
coordination, public service work, random drug screening,
curfew monitoring, or any other condition of probation
ordered by the court. TJN also offers a variety of classes to
its probation clients, including life skills, parenting
skills, anger management, alcohol safety school, and drug
1997, TJN has provided probation services to probation
clients under the jurisdiction of the district and circuit
courts of Craighead County. Since that time, it has also
provided probation services to probation clients under the
jurisdiction of the City Defendants' courts ("City
Courts"). TJN's Jonesboro branch employed 12
fulltime employees, all residents of Craighead County.
1997 until February 3, 2017, all misdemeanor offenders who
had been charged in Craighead County District Court
("District Court") or the City Courts, and who
required probation services, were placed under TJN's
supervision. TJN contracted individually with each probation
client. The Probation Fee Agreement set forth a $35 monthly
fee for probation services and included a $15 monthly fee for
the supervision of public service work (a typical condition
of probation). A court order issued in conjunction with the
Probation Fee Agreement directed each probation client to pay
all probation supervision fees to TJN for each month of
probation client failed to abide by the probation order and
failed to complete his or her court-ordered special
conditions, TJN would file an affidavit with the court
indicating what conditions were not completed. The Craighead
County prosecutor and the judge would then countersign the
affidavit. The judge of the District Court would order the
probationer to pay restitution for all outstanding fees owed
to TJN. The same process was followed in the City Courts,
including the court order directing the probationer to pay
fees to TJN. For cases pending in the District Court, the
District Court would collect the fees that the probation
clients owed to TJN and forward those funds to TJN. For cases
pending in the City Courts, the City Courts would collect the
fees that the probation clients owed and forward those funds
to TJN. This system operated for nearly 20 years, from 1997
early 2016, Judges Boling and Fowler were elected Craighead
County District Judges. During the election, Judge Boling
stated that if he were elected, he would end the use of
TJN's probation services in his court. Likewise, Judge
Fowler stated during his campaign that he opposed the
privatization of probation services.
August 11, 2016, Judge Boling was reported in a local
newspaper as stating "that he dismissed the case of one
defendant on probation and 'purged' the remaining
debt that had not paid." Compl. at 13, ¶ 81,
Justice Network, Inc. v. Craighead Cty., No.
3:17-cv-00169-JM (E.D. Ark. June 30, 2017), ECF No. 1. This
"purged" debt included court costs and fees that
the defendant owed to TJN pursuant to a contract between the
defendant and TJN. On August 12, 2016, the local newspaper
reported that Judge Boling said he would "consider
nonpayment cases on a case-by-case basis." Id.
at 14, ¶ 84.
December 7, 2016, the local newspaper reported that Judges
"Fowler and Boling planned to implement an 'Amnesty
Program' in January and February 2017." Id.
at ¶ 86. "As part of that program, [Judges] Fowler
and Boling met with probation offenders who had outstanding
fines that were due, to discuss payment options."
Id. at ¶ 87.
January 26, 2017, the local newspaper reported that Judges
Fowler and Boling had implemented a "temporary amnesty
program," which "allow[ed] offenders who were
delinquent on their payments to reset their payment
plan." Id. at ¶ 88. The fees owed to TJN
were summarily stricken from each new order of probation.
Judges Boling and Fowler forgave the fees owed to TJN as part
of the "Amnesty Program." Id. at ¶
90. Judges Fowler and Boling also instituted a "Jail
Credit" program. Id. at ¶ 91. This program
forgave the costs owed to the court and fees owed to TJN in
lieu of time served in prison. "[M]any of the probation
clients given 'Jail Credit' were never
incarcerated." Id. at 15, ¶ 93.
result of the Amnesty Program, and the consequent loss of
revenue, TJN has ceased all operations in Craighead County
and has been forced to terminate its 12 employees. TJN has
suffered significant economic loss and will continue to
sustain that loss in the future if the Amnesty Program
brought suit against Judges Boling and Fowler; Craighead
County; and the City Defendants pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §
1983 for violations of the Contracts Clause, U.S. Const. art.
I, § 10, and the Takings Clause, U.S. Const. amend. V.
TJN also alleged violations of the Arkansas
Constitution's Takings Clause. See Ark. Const.
art. II, § 22. TJN sought a declaratory judgment that
the defendants effectuated a custom and policy of annulling
fees owed by probation clients to TJN, in violation of
Article1, Section 10 and the Fifth Amendment to the United
States Constitution and Article 2, Section 17 and Article 2,
Section 22 of the Arkansas Constitution. It also sought
injunctive relief enjoining the defendants from executing a
custom and policy of annulling fees owed by probation clients
defendants moved to dismiss the complaint for failure to
state a claim. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6).
district court granted the defendants' motions to
dismiss. First, the court found that Judges Boling and Fowler
are entitled to absolute judicial immunity against all of
TJN's claims because "[u]nless judges act completely
outside all jurisdiction, they are absolutely immune from
suit when acting in their judicial capacity."
Justice Network, Inc. v. Craighead Cty., No.
3:17-cv-00169-JM, 2017 WL 5762397, at *2 (E.D. Ark. Nov. 28,
2017) (citing Martin v. Hendren, 127 F.3d 720, 721
(8th Cir. 1997)). The court also noted, "In Arkansas,
'[a]ll courts of record, district courts, and city courts
. . . shall have the authority to suspend the imposition of
sentences or the imposition of fines, or both, in all
criminal cases pending before the courts unless specifically
prohibited by law.'" Id. (alteration and
ellipsis in original) (quoting Ark. Code Ann. §
16-90-115). According to the district court, Arkansas law
also provides that" [d]uring a period of . . .
probation, upon the petition of a probation officer or a
defendant or upon the court's own motion, a court may:
a condition imposed on the defendant." Id.
(alteration and ellipsis in original) (quoting Ark. Code Ann.
§ 16-93-312). The district court concluded that the
judicial decisions "modifying, suspending or terminating
the terms of probation, previously imposed by the Court, are
judicial acts." Id. (citing John Chism Bail
Bonds, Inc. v. Pennington, 656 F.Supp.2d 929 (E.D. Ark.
Aug. 31, 2009) (finding the judge defendants were acting in a
judicial capacity, and were entitled to absolute immunity,
when they signed and enforced a court order disallowing
the district court granted Craighead County and the City
Defendants' motions to dismiss because "[s]tate
district court judges are state government officials and are
not employees of the cities. Further, even if the judges were
employees of the cities, Judge Boling and Judge Fowler's
judicial decisions were 'not a final policy decision of a
type creating municipal liability under §
1983.'" Id. (internal citations omitted).
the court concluded that TJN's remaining claims for
unjust enrichment, ratification, and supervisory liability
also failed because
[n]o supervisor or employee relationship exists between the
judges and the City and County defendants. Plaintiff failed
to state any facts which would support a finding that the
City or County defendants had any authority or control over
the judges. And, the probation services at issue were
provided to the probation clients. Plaintiff has failed to
state facts which demonstrate that the City or County
defendants received something of value ...