419 F.3d 348 (5th Cir. 2005), 04-30714, Woodard v. Andrus

Docket Nº:04-30714.
Citation:419 F.3d 348
Party Name:Karen Robinson WOODARD, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. James ANDRUS, in his capacity as Clerk of Court in and for the 14th Judicial District Court, Parish of Calcasieu, State of Louisiana, Defendant-Appellee.
Case Date:July 28, 2005
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

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419 F.3d 348 (5th Cir. 2005)

Karen Robinson WOODARD, Plaintiff-Appellant,

v.

James ANDRUS, in his capacity as Clerk of Court in and for the 14th Judicial District Court, Parish of Calcasieu, State of Louisiana, Defendant-Appellee.

No. 04-30714.

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit.

July 28, 2005

Page 349

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 350

Merrick J. Norman, Jr., Norman Business Law Center, Kathleen P. Kay, Lake Charles, LA, for Woodard.

Michael H. Rubin, Juston M. O'Brien, McGlinchey Stafford, Baton Rouge, LA, David F. Dwight, Stephen Christopher Dwight, Dwight Law Firm, Lake Charles, LA, for Andrus.

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

Before DAVIS, STEWART and DENNIS, Circuit Judges.

CARL E. STEWART, Circuit Judge:

Karen Woodard filed suit against James Andrus, in his capacity as Clerk of Court in and for the 14th Judicial District Court in Calcasieu Parish, for violations of 42 U.S.C. §1983. Woodward asserts that Andrus charged her, and others similarly situated, fees in excess of, or not authorized by state statute. As a result, she urges that her constitutional rights to due process, equal protection, and access to courts were violated. Andrus filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. The district court granted Andrus' motion and dismissed Woodard's claims without prejudice. We affirm in part and reverse in part.

I

Woodard was a civil litigant in a child custody proceeding in the 14th Judicial District Court. During the course of that litigation, Andrus charged Woodard fees that were paid from funds she deposited in the state court in advance. Andrus' authority as Clerk of Court to impose such fees is derived from La. Rev. Stat. 13:841. Section 841 (A) provides that: "[t]he clerks of the several district courts shall be entitled to demand and receive the following fees of office and no more in civil matters: . . ." The statute then goes on to delineate 77 services and the fee for each one. The statute also avers that: "[i]n addition to the fees provided in Subsection A of this Section, the clerks of the several district courts may demand and receive additional fees in an amount not to exceed ten percent of the fees specified in Subsection A of this Section." La. Rev. Stat. 13:841(D).

Woodard alleges that Andrus deprived her of her constitutional rights by charging her fees not authorized by La. Rev. Stat. 13:841 and charging her fees in excess of those authorized by La. Rev. Stat. 13:841. For example, Woodard contends that Andrus charged litigants $10.00 to file a subpoena duces tecum when § 841 enumerates a fee of $3.30. She also cites a $5.00 "Women's Shelter" fee Andrus charged litigants even though she argues such fees were declared unlawful by the Louisiana Supreme Court in Safety Net for Abused Persons v. Segura, 692 So.2d 1038 (La. 1997).

Woodard filed a motion to certify a class action, arguing that Andrus was continuing to impose fees on litigants in derogation of the statutorily mandated fee schedule contained in § 841. Woodard's motion was stayed by the district court. Andrus then filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

The district court granted Andrus' motion to dismiss. As to Woodard's due process claim, the district court agreed that Andrus exceeded his authority by charging fees not authorized by § 841. However, the district court, relying on Hudson v. Palmer, 1 held that "an unauthorized, intentional

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deprivation of property by a governmental official does not constitute a violation of the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment if a meaningful post-deprivation remedy for the loss is available." The district court stated that Woodard failed to utilize an available post-deprivation remedy to force Andrus' compliance with § 841 by filing a writ of mandamus. Therefore, the district court held that Woodard did not show the requisite state action necessary to state a claim for a due process violation. As to Woodard's access to courts claim, the district court held that she failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted because she did not contend that her ability to sue had been either blocked or delayed by Andrus. Finally, the district court dismissed Woodard's equal protection claim because she did not allege that Andrus selectively enforced § 841 based upon any impermissible ground. Woodard filed a timely notice of appeal.

II

Dismissals under Rule 12(b)(6) are reviewed de novo. Hamilton v. United Healthcare of Louisiana, Inc., 310 F.3d 385, 388 (5th Cir. 2002). In doing so, well-pleaded factual allegations in the complaint are accepted as true. Herrmann Holdings Ltd. v. Lucent Technologies Inc., 302 F.3d 552, 557 (5th Cir. 2002) (quotations and citations omitted). The complaint must be liberally construed, with all reasonable inferences drawn in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Sloan v. Sharp, 157 F.3d 980, 982 (5th Cir. 1998). The dismissal will be upheld only if "it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief." Lowrey v. Texas A & M Univ. S y s., 117 F.3d 242, 247 (5th Cir. 1997) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957)).

III

The district court dismissed Woodard's due process claim based upon the doctrine articulated in Hudson v. Palmer, supra. The Parratt/Hudson doctrine, as it is known, dictates that a state actor's random and unauthorized deprivation of a plaintiff's property does not result in a violation of procedural due process rights if the state provides an adequate post-deprivation remedy. Caine v. Hardy, 943 F.2d 1406, 1412 (5th Cir. 1991) (en banc) (discussing Parratt v. Taylor, 451 U.S. 527, 542-44 (1981) and Hudson v. Palmer, 468 U.S. 517, 530-33 (1984)). "The doctrine is meant to protect the state from liability for failing to provide pre-deprivation process in situations where it cannot anticipate the need for such process because the actions complained about are random and unauthorized." Brooks v. George County, Miss., 84 F.3d 157, 165 (5th Cir. 1996).

Woodard contends that the district court erred in applying the Parratt/Hudson doctrine because she does not allege that Andrus' actions are random and unauthorized. She also argues that even assuming arguendo that Andrus' actions were random and unauthorized, the district court erred in holding that she had post-deprivation relief available in the form of a writ of mandamus. Woodard asserts that mandamus is not available under the Louisiana Code of Civil Procedure where, as here, injunctive and declaratory relief is sought. Furthermore, she contends that mandamus is an extraordinary remedy that is generally only available to enforce a duty that is strictly personal to the one seeking enforcement. Because the duty Woodard seeks to enforce is one owed to the general public,

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she argues she can not show that she has a special interest in having the law enforced, and thus, a mandamus would not be...

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