279 F.3d 273 (5th Cir. 2002), 00-30104, Cozzo v Tangipahoa Parish Council

Docket Nº:00-30104
Citation:279 F.3d 273
Party Name:MARY DIMM COZZO, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. TANGIPAHOA PARISH COUNCIL- PRESIDENT GOVERNMENT; ET AL, Defendants, and J. E. LAYRISSON, Sheriff, Tangipahoa Parish; RONALD JOINER, Deputy Sheriff of Tangipahoa Parish, Defendants-Appellants.
Case Date:January 10, 2002
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

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279 F.3d 273 (5th Cir. 2002)

MARY DIMM COZZO, Plaintiff-Appellee,




J. E. LAYRISSON, Sheriff, Tangipahoa Parish; RONALD JOINER, Deputy Sheriff of Tangipahoa Parish, Defendants-Appellants.

No. 00-30104

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

January 10, 2002

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana

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Before STEWART and PARKER, Circuit Judges, and GOLDBERG, Judge.1

CARL E. STEWART, Circuit Judge:

The panel's opinion filed September 5, 2001, published at 262 F.3d 501 (5th Cir. 2001), is withdrawn and the following opinion is substituted therefor.

Defendants-Appellants, Sheriff J. E. Layrisson ("Sheriff Layrisson" or "Layrisson") and Deputy Ronald Joiner ("Deputy Joiner" or "Joiner"), claim that the district court erred by denying their motion for a judgment as a matter of law or, in the alternative, for a new trial regarding the jury verdict in favor of Plaintiff-Appellee Mary Dimm Cozzo ("Ms. Cozzo"), finding that Joiner deprived Ms. Cozzo of her constitutional rights and that Layrisson was deliberately indifferent to that deprivation. For the reasons assigned herein, we affirm the district court in part and reverse in part.


Ms. Cozzo and Joseph Cozzo ("Mr. Cozzo") lived in Folsom, Louisiana, on property that belonged separately to Ms. Cozzo. The premises contained an apartment dwelling and a barn that stored tools and equipment. After experiencing marital discord, Mr. Cozzo, an electrician who traveled to customers' homes to repair appliances and electrical systems, moved out, filed for divorce, and sought a temporary restraining order ("TRO") to prevent Ms. Cozzo from coming to his residence and place of business.

After Mr. Cozzo successfully secured the TRO on September 22, 1997, the Civil Department of the Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff's Department served the order. Captain James Peoples ("Captain Peoples"), a department supervisor, visited the marital premises. Ms. Cozzo was at work, but Mr. Cozzo was present and informed Captain Peoples that he worked on the property. Upon receiving this information and without attempting to contact the judge who signed the TRO to determine its intended scope and application, Captain Peoples decided that the TRO required Ms. Cozzo to be evicted from the property. After leaving Mr. Cozzo and returning to the Sheriff's Office, Captain Peoples informed Deputy Joiner that the TRO required Ms. Cozzo's removal from the property and instructed him to go await her return from work and serve the TRO accordingly.

Deputy Joiner returned to the premises that evening and served the TRO on Ms. Cozzo upon observing her arrive from work around 10:00 p.m. He told her that, under the terms of the TRO, she would have to leave. Ms. Cozzo protested, telling him that the matrimonial premises were her separate property. Deputy Joiner called Captain Peoples and informed him of Ms. Cozzo's assertion. Still convinced, however, that the TRO required her eviction, Captain Peoples spoke with Ms. Cozzo on the telephone and reiterated Deputy Joiner's previous order that she leave the property. Ms. Cozzo then called her nephew, a St. Tammany Parish Sheriff's Deputy, and her lawyer seeking counsel on how to handle the situation. They both advised her to cooperate with Deputy Joiner, so she gathered her belongings and left.

The following day, Ms. Cozzo contacted her attorney again and asked him to handle the legal proceedings regarding her eviction. A hearing was set for December 1, 1997, to determine whether Mr. or Ms. Cozzo was the legal occupant of the house. Because of a scheduling conflict, the hearing was delayed until February 2, 1998, but was not ultimately held until March 2, 1998.2 At that hearing, Ms. Cozzo was awarded custody of the residence, and Mr. Cozzo was directed to evacuate the premises. Moreover, the judge who signed the TRO was amazed that it had been interpreted to require Ms. Cozzo's eviction and stated that she should sue the Sheriff.

Ms. Cozzo sued Tangipahoa Parish ("the Parish"), Sheriff Layrisson, and Deputy Joiner under the Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that her home was purposefully and intentionally seized, that inadequate training Page 279

caused the violations of her constitutional rights, and that Sheriff Layrisson and Deputy Joiner's conduct was in reckless disregard for her property and constitutional rights.3 The Parish, Sheriff Layrisson, and Deputy Joiner filed motions to dismiss pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), raising arguments that they were entitled to qualified immunity and that the suit was barred by the Parratt/Hudson4 doctrine, which the district court denied.

After the parties filed a joint motion to dismiss the Parish, Ms. Cozzo's case proceeded to trial. The jury found that Sheriff Layrisson and Deputy Joiner had infringed her constitutional rights and awarded her $15,000 for pain and suffering, $10,000 for economic loss, and $35,000 in punitive damages. The district court entered judgment in accordance therewith. Sheriff Layrisson and Deputy Joiner filed a motion for judgment as a matter of law or, in the alternative, a motion for new trial that the district court denied. See Cozzo v. Parish of Tangipahoa, No. CIV.A. 98-2728, 2000 WL 6280, at *11 (E.D. La. Jan. 3, 2000). They now appeal.


"We review de novo the district court's ruling on a motion for judgment as a matter of law" but note that, in an action tried by a jury, such a motion is a challenge to the legal sufficiency of the evidence supporting the jury's verdict. Brown v. Bryan County, Okla., 219 F.3d 450, 456 (5th Cir. 2000). As such, while we consider the evidence "drawing all reasonable inferences and resolving all credibility determinations in the light most favorable to the non-moving party[,]" we nonetheless observe "that our standard of review with respect to a jury verdict is especially deferential." Id. Thus, we will reverse "'only if no reasonable jury would have arrived at its verdict.'" Id. (quoting Snyder v. Trepagnier, 142 F.3d 791, 795 (5th Cir. 1998)).

I. Immunity

A. Sovereign Immunity

Layrisson and Joiner argue for the first time on appeal that sheriffs and their deputies are "arms of the state" entitled to sovereign immunity. In the alternative, they claim that, even if they are not properly considered arms of the state, they are still entitled to sovereign immunity because they were acting pursuant to state law when they executed the TRO against Ms. Cozzo.

Sovereign immunity is jurisdictional. Koehler v. United States, 153 F.3d 263, 267 (5th Cir. 1998). Moreover, "[a] lack of subject matter jurisdiction may be raised at any time, which means we can examine the district court's jurisdiction for the first time on appeal." Giles v. Nylcare Health Plans, Inc., 172 F.3d 332, 336 (5th Cir. 1999). As with other questions of subject matter jurisdiction, we review Eleventh Amendment immunity determinations de novo. United States v. Tex. Tech. Univ., 171 F.3d 279, 288 (5th Cir. 1999).

The Eleventh Amendment bars a state's citizens from filing suit against the state or its agencies in federal courts. Williams v. Dallas Area Rapid Transit, 242 F.3d 315, 318 (5th Cir. 2001). When a state agency is the named defendant, the Eleventh Amendment bars suits for both money damages and injunctive relief unless Page 280

the state has waived its immunity. See Puerto Rico Aqueduct & Sewer Auth., 506 U.S. 139, 144 (1993). By statute, Louisiana has refused any such waiver of its Eleventh Amendment sovereign immunity regarding suits in federal courts. See La. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 13:5106(A).

Furthermore, Congress may only abrogate a state's Eleventh Amendment immunity by "unequivocally" expressing its intent to do so and by acting "pursuant to a valid exercise of power." Fla. Prepaid Postsecondary Educ. Expenses Bd. v. Coll. Sav. Bank, 527 U.S. 627, 634 (1999). We note that in enacting § 1983, Congress did "not explicitly and by clear language indicate on its face an intent to sweep away the immunity of the States." Quern v. Jordan, 440 U.S. 332, 345 (1979). As such, if Layrisson and Joiner are the alter egos of Louisiana, they are entitled to immunity from Ms. Cozzo's suit. See Voisin's Oyster House, Inc. v. Guidry, 799 F.2d 183, 186 (5th Cir. 1986).

This court uses a six factor test to determine whether "the state is the real, substantial party in interest." Hudson v. City of New Orleans, 174 F.3d 677, 681 (5th Cir. 1999). The six factors are as follows:

1. Whether the state statutes and case law view the agency as an arm of the state;

2. The source of the entity's funding;

3. The entity's degree of local autonomy;

4. Whether the entity is concerned primarily with local as opposed to statewide problems;

5. Whether the entity has the authority to sue and be sued in its own name; and

6. Whether the entity has the right to hold and use property.

Id. All of these factors need not be present for a defendant to be entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity. Id. at 682. Indeed, the second factor is most important because a fundamental goal of the Eleventh Amendment is to protect state treasuries. Id. (citing Delahoussaye v. City of New Iberia, 937 F.2d 144, 147-48 (5th Cir. 1991)). In contrast, the last two factors weigh significantly less in the six factor balance of equities used to determine "whether the suit is in reality a suit against the state itself." Id. (internal quotations and citation omitted).

The first Hudson factor does not support Layrisson's and Joiner's contentions that they are entitled to...

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