Herigodt v. Town of Golden Meadow

Decision Date22 February 2021
Docket Number2020 CA 0752
Citation321 So.3d 1004
CourtCourt of Appeal of Louisiana — District of US
Parties Sean HERIGODT v. The TOWN OF GOLDEN MEADOW

Sean Herigodt, New Orleans, Louisiana, Appellant Plaintiff—In Proper Person

Bradley C. Myers, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Attorney for Appellee Defendant—The Town of Golden Meadow

Before: Whipple, C.J., Welch, and Chutz, JJ.

WELCH, J.

The plaintiff, Sean Herigodt, devolutively appeals the trial court's judgment sustaining a peremptory exception raising the objection of no cause of action filed by the defendant, the Town of Golden Meadow (the "Town"), and dismissing all of the plaintiff's claims against the Town, with prejudice. For the following reasons, we affirm.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On January 8, 2018, Mr. Herigodt filed a pro se petition for judicial review against the Town in the Seventeenth Judicial District Court ("trial court"), Parish of Lafourche.1 Mr. Herigodt alleged that he appeared in the Town of Golden Meadow Municipal Court ("municipal court") and pled "not guilty" to a traffic citation.2 He alleged that the municipal court set a trial date for his traffic citation for October 24, 2017; however, he filed a motion to continue to December 19, 2017, averring that he was "embroiled in custody proceedings in New Mexico, and that the hearings or orders issuing from New Mexico might present conflicts with proceedings in Golden Meadow." Mr. Herigodt alleged that the municipal court told him "granting a continuance would not be a problem." Mr. Herigodt alleged, however, that the municipal court "failed to notify [him] whether or not it had granted or denied his motion requesting [a] continuance, failed to notify [him] of a hearing on [his] motion, failed to notify [him] in any way whether [he] was indeed expected to appear on December 19th."

Mr. Herigodt alleged that he requested a second continuance of the December 19, 2017 trial date he had initially requested due to the issuance of an order in his New Mexico custody proceedings that required his presence in New Mexico on December 19, 2017. Mr. Herigodt alleged that "a person apparently speaking for Golden Meadow," informed him via telephone on December 18, 2017, "that the [magistrate] had denied [his] continuance, and would issue a warrant if [he] did not pay up or appear in court the next day."

Mr. Herigodt argued that the municipal court's denial of his continuance was arbitrary, since he had a "good-faith ground," and denied him due process of law. He claimed that he suffered substantial anxiety as a result of having an arrest warrant issued against him. Mr. Herigodt contended that the Town's failure to grant him a continuance of his trial date and its issuance of a warrant for his arrest were abuses of process, done willfully with the ulterior purpose of eliciting the payment of fines by him, which he claimed entitled him to damages. Mr. Herigodt further argued that he should be awarded monetary damages against the Town for each day the wrongfully-issued warrant was in effect, and that all charges brought by the Town against him should be dismissed, with prejudice.

Thereafter, the Town filed a motion to dismiss Mr. Herigodt's pro se petition for judicial review as moot. The Town alleged that the municipal court had "re-assigned" Mr. Herigodt's December 19, 2017 trial date to April 24, 2018, which effectively granted his motion to continue. The Town further alleged that the municipal court recalled the warrant for his arrest, thereby mooting Mr. Herigodt's claims. The Town also filed a peremptory exception raising the objection of no cause of action on the basis of judicial immunity.3

The trial court held a hearing on April 2, 2018 on the Town's motion to dismiss for mootness, after which the trial court granted the Town's motion and dismissed Mr. Herigodt's pro se petition for judicial review as moot. The trial court signed a judgment in accordance therewith on June 1, 2018.

Mr. Herigodt filed an amended pro se petition for damages on May 1, 2018,4 reiterating his claim for damages resulting from the municipal court's denial of his motion for continuance and the issuance of a warrant for his arrest. In filing his amended petition, Mr. Herigodt moved to withdraw his originally-filed petition for judicial review, stating that he could not join a "criminal appeal to a civil tort." Mr. Herigodt filed a separate appeal of the municipal court's denial of his motion to continue the trial date on his traffic citation. See State v. Herigodt, Docket No. 579763, Division E, Seventeenth Judicial District Court, Parish of Lafourche, State of Louisiana.5

Mr. Herigodt later filed a second amended pro se petition for injunctive relief, declaratory relief, and damages on July 31, 2019.6 Mr. Herigodt alleged that a Town police officer arrested him and issued him three traffic citations on August 31, 2017. Mr. Herigodt alleged that when a municipal court representative telephoned him on December 18, 2017—informing him that if he did not pay a fine or appear in municipal court on his scheduled court date of December 19, 2017, a warrant for his arrest would issue—the municipal court engaged in extortion. By threatening to report him as "failing to appear" for his court date, he argued that the municipal court would obtain revenue by exploiting him through the imposition of fines that he would be forced to pay in order to avoid arrest.

Mr. Herigodt further contended that the municipal court denied him due process by failing to grant his motion for continuance since he was unavailable for trial on December 19, 2017, due to an unrelated, out-of-state custody order requiring his presence in New Mexico that same date. After refusing to continue his December 19, 2017 trial date, he alleged that the municipal court phoned him again on April 19, 2018, and asked if his rescheduled April 24, 2018 trial date could be continued because the "citing officer" was "ill" and "would likely not appear." Mr. Herigodt argued that the municipal court's "double standard" and poor communication caused him "confusion" and offered "no palpable protection from prosecutorial misconduct."

Due to the Town's actions, Mr. Herigodt claimed that he feared "sudden incarceration" and experienced anxiety that affected his right to travel; that the issuance of the arrest warrant was libelous and jeopardized his reputation and employment; and that he suffered inconvenience, monetary expenses, aggravations, and "mental anguish and moral outrage." Mr. Herigodt also contended that the municipal court denied him a right to a public trial, alleging that the municipal court excluded the "entire public" from the courtroom.

Mr. Herigodt further argued that the Town, the mayor, the clerk, the municipal court, and other officers were players in "a longstanding, unlawful, [and] improper scheme to prop-up Town finances through excessive fine enforcement," who all had strong financial interests in the outcome of municipal court hearings. He claimed that the Town's mayor—who appoints the magistrate—has a significant financial interest in the outcome of municipal court hearings since a third of the Town's revenue comes from fines, thus rendering the magistrate a partisan adjudicator.

Mr. Herigodt sought a preliminary injunction, ordering the Town and/or the municipal court to: "stop all attempts at hearings, all issuance[s] of summons and citations, all collection of fines, all reporting of violations to the [Louisiana State Office of Motor Vehicles ("OMV")]" until a full trial on the merits; increase its commercial liability coverage to protect the public; restore all fines collected through the municipal court; and pay legal interest, attorney's fees, and costs. Mr. Herigodt also sought declaratory judgment decreeing that the Town's process of adjudicating fines through the municipal court is unconstitutional and unlawful, and that all past judgments of the municipal court are null and void ab initio.

In response, on August 19, 2019, the Town filed a second peremptory exception raising the objection of no cause of action on the basis that Mr. Herigodt's lawsuit was a collateral attack on his municipal court convictions and imposed fine that is barred by Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 114 S.Ct. 2364, 129 L.Ed.2d 383 (1994) and its progeny.7 The Town argued that as acknowledged by Mr. Herigodt in his second amended petition, the municipal court convicted him of his traffic citations and imposed a fine. The Town argued that Mr. Herigodt appealed his municipal court convictions and fine, with a hearing set for August 23, 2019. See State v. Herigodt, Docket No. 579763, Division E, Seventeenth Judicial District Court, Parish of Lafourche, State of Louisiana. Because the appeal of his municipal court convictions and imposed fine was pending, the Town argued that Mr. Herigodt was barred from collaterally attacking his convictions pursuant to Heck. Mr. Herigodt opposed the Town's exception.

Prior to a hearing on the exception, the Town filed a supplemental memorandum, attaching a judgment rendered in Mr. Herigodt's appeal of his municipal court convictions and imposed fine. The Town alleged that the trial court in that matter affirmed his convictions and held that the imposed fine was legal; that he received a fair and impartial trial; and that his right to a public trial was not violated. The Town further alleged that Mr. Herigodt did not file a notice of his intention to apply for a supervisory writ, nor did he request a return date as required by Rule 4-3 of the Uniform Rules of the Louisiana Courts of Appeal; thus, his municipal court convictions and imposed fine were final. The Town contended that Heck barred the claims asserted by Mr. Herigodt in his second amended petition because those were the same claims adjudicated and rejected in the appeal of his convictions and imposed fine.

Following a hearing on February 28, 2020, on the Town's...

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