Jameson v. Montgomery

Decision Date05 May 2023
Docket Number2022-CC-01784
PartiesGABRIELLE C. JAMESON AND KIM L. JAMESON WIFE OF/AND BOBBY A. JAMESON v. HONORABLE WARREN L. MONTGOMERY, IN HIS INDIVIDUAL AND OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS THE DISTRICT ATTORNEY OF ST. TAMMANY PARISH, IAIN DOVER, IN HIS INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY AND UNDERWRITERS AT LLOYD'S LONDON A/K/A LLOYD'S ILLINOIS, INC.
CourtLouisiana Supreme Court

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GABRIELLE C. JAMESON AND KIM L. JAMESON WIFE OF/AND BOBBY A. JAMESON
v.
HONORABLE WARREN L. MONTGOMERY, IN HIS INDIVIDUAL AND OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS THE DISTRICT ATTORNEY OF ST. TAMMANY PARISH, IAIN DOVER, IN HIS INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY AND UNDERWRITERS AT LLOYD'S LONDON A/K/A LLOYD'S ILLINOIS, INC.

No. 2022-CC-01784

Supreme Court of Louisiana

May 5, 2023


On Supervisory Writ to the 22nd Judicial District Court, Parish of St. Tammany

McCALLUM, J.

We granted certiorari to consider the continuing validity of the doctrine of absolute prosecutorial immunity, adopted by this Court in Knapper v. Connick, 1996-0434 (La. 10/15/96), 681 So.2d 944. This case presents the issue of whether Louisiana law recognizes a cause of action for claims asserted against an assistant district attorney ("ADA"), who, during the plea and sentencing phase of a prosecution, misrepresents, either directly or by omission, a victim's preference as to the sentence to be imposed upon a defendant, and thereafter, attempts to conceal this alleged misconduct. A secondary question concerns whether a cause of action can be maintained against the district attorney ("DA") who employed the ADA, under a theory of vicarious liability or for employment-related claims (e.g., negligence in hiring, training, retaining, guiding, supervising and establishing certain policies and procedures). Necessarily, if no cause of action exists against the ADA in this case, there can be no cause of action against the DA under either theory.

Having reviewed the relevant case law and considered the purposes and policies for which prosecutors are accorded immunity, we reaffirm our holding in Knapper and further find that, under the circumstances of this case, both the ADA

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and the DA are entitled to immunity. We thus find that the lower courts erred in overruling the defendants' peremptory exception of no cause of action. For the reasons that follow, we reverse those rulings and sustain the exception of no cause of action.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

In 2019, Jeremy Ryan Schake ("Mr. Shacke") was charged with one count of felony carnal knowledge of a juvenile, stemming from the allegation that Mr. Schake coerced his then 16-year-old co-worker, Gabrielle Jameson ("Ms. Jameson"), into engaging in oral sex. Mr. Schake originally pled not guilty to the charge, but subsequently withdrew that plea and entered a plea of guilty in June, 2021. The trial court sentenced Mr. Schake to ten years in prison;[1] it suspended the sentence, placed Mr. Schake on probation, and ordered that he register as a sex offender for fifteen years.

On March 9, 2022, plaintiffs, Ms. Jameson and her parents, Kim L. Jameson and Bobby A. Jameson, filed the instant lawsuit against Warren L. Montgomery, individually and in his capacity as the District Attorney of St. Tammany Parish ("DA Montgomery"), and Iain Dover, the assistant district attorney who handled Mr. Schake's prosecution ("ADA Dover") (collectively, "defendants").[2] The petition alleges misconduct on ADA Dover's part in connection with Mr. Schake's sentencing.

According to the petition, prior to Mr. Schake's plea, several pre-trial conferences and plea discussions were held between ADA Dover, Mr. Schake's attorney and the trial judge, Judge William H. Burris. During these conferences, Mr. Schake's attorney advised that Mr. Schake would plead guilty only in the event that

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he received probation and served no time in jail. In March, 2021, Judge Burris instructed ADA Dover to determine plaintiffs' viewpoint of a proposed plea agreement allowing Mr. Schake to plead guilty in exchange for a suspended sentence of ten years. Several discussions ensued between ADA Dover and plaintiffs, who made clear their desire that Mr. Schake serve one year of his sentence in jail. According to plaintiffs, rather than relaying their wish to Judge Burris, ADA Dover:

. . . fraudulently communicated to and led Judge Burris to believe that [plaintiffs] had consented to a sentence of probation and a suspension of [the] entire ten year sentence for Schake when, in fact, [plaintiffs and plaintiffs'] undersigned counsel had clearly, repeatedly, and consistently advised Dover that [plaintiffs] had requested a sentence of one year of jail time to be imposed upon Schake without suspension of one year of a ten year sentence
***
Notwithstanding Dover's clear understanding of the demand by [plaintiffs] for jail time for Schake, Dover, by affirmative acts and/or silence tantamount to fraud and prosecutorial misconduct, led Judge Burris to believe that [plaintiffs] had no objection to Schake pleading guilty. . . and to [be] placed on probation with no jail time.

The petition further alleges that, on the day of sentencing, plaintiffs' attorney met with ADA Dover and "received assurance that Judge Burris would be sentencing Schake to an agreed plea. . . of one year in jail without suspension of sentence." After Ms. Jameson gave a victim impact statement and Judge Burris again met with ADA Dover and Mr. Schake's attorney, Judge Burris sentenced Mr. Schake to ten years, with full suspension of that sentence.

According to plaintiffs, ADA Dover advised them that Judge Burris had agreed that Mr. Schake serve one year in jail, "but at the time of sentencing had apparently 'changed his mind' without warning to him and instead decided to. . . [suspend] his entire ten year sentence." Plaintiffs requested that ADA Dover question Judge Burris about his reasons for the suspended sentence. When ADA Dover failed to report back to them, plaintiffs and their attorney met with him and

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DA Montgomery and asked that the State file a motion to reconsider the sentence. Although ADA Dover attempted to dissuade its filing, the State ultimately filed the motion, which Judge Burris thereafter denied. In his written reasons, Judge Burris noted that the plea had been acceptable "to the Court only if the Victim was agreeable to the plea." (Emphasis supplied). He further commented that "[a]t no time did the State inform the Court that the Victim was not satisfied with the plea agreement" and that he "would not have accepted the plea agreement" had he known. The State sought supervisory review of the denial of this motion, and both the court of appeal and this Court denied its writ applications.[3]

In this lawsuit, plaintiffs contend that "representations by Dover were intentional misrepresentations and fraudulent to [plaintiffs]" as Judge Burris had never agreed to give Mr. Schake any jail time. ADA Dover's inactions throughout the sentencing process amount to "intentional tort, fraud, ill practices, misrepresentations, and a total disregard for the Louisiana Constitution of 1974 and legal rights under Louisiana law of [Ms. Jameson] as a minor victim of a sex crime."

Plaintiffs further maintain that DA Montgomery failed in his responsibility for the "hiring, training and supervision of Dover and for enacting and enforcing policies, practices, and customs" of his office "to best ensure that no such fraudulent conduct could or would occur." DA Montgomery is thus liable both in his individual capacity and vicariously under the doctrine of respondeat superior. Plaintiffs contend that Ms. Jameson, "as a crime victim, has the right to due process and equal protection of the laws. . . and a district attorney is responsible to adopt and enforce policies and procedures to ensure that a crime victim is not deprived of those Constitutional rights."

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The petition seeks reasonable compensatory damages, past and future, including: emotional trauma and depression, loss of enjoyment of life, and medical and prescription expenses," "all other special and general damages as allowed under Louisiana law," punitive damages, attorney's fees and legal interest.[4]

Defendants responded to the petition by filing a peremptory exception of no right of action and no cause of action. The trial court denied the exception of no cause of action and, by a two-to-one decision, the court of appeal denied defendants' writ application.[5] Jameson v. Montgomery, 2022-0857 (La.App. 1 Cir. 11/7/22), ___ So.3d ___, 2022 WL 16753550 (unpub.). Judge Lanier dissented and wrote:

A District Attorney and his assistants are absolutely immune from civil liability for actions taken within the scope of their duties in initiating and pursuing a criminal prosecution. Sinclair v. State ex rel. Dep't of Pub. Safety &Corr., 99-2290 (La.App. 1st Cir. 11/3/00), 769 So.2d 1270, writ denied, 2000-3331 (La. 1/25/02), 806 So.2d 665, cert. denied, 536 U.S. 910, 122 S.Ct. 2369, 153 L.Ed.2d 189 (2002). Plaintiffs, Gabrielle C. Jameson and Kim L. Jameson wife of/and Bobby A. Jameson, assert claims of prosecutorial misconduct and negligent hiring and supervision against defendants, District Attorney Warren Montgomery and Assistant District Attorney Iain Dover. The allegations contained in the pleadings involve actions that were performed within the course and scope of their prosecutorial functions in connection with a judicial proceeding, as opposed to administrative or investigative functions. As such, I find the conduct complained of falls within the ambit of absolute immunity protection. See Knapper v. Connick, [19]96-0434 (La. 10/15/96), 681 So.2d 944. Accordingly, I would reverse the trial court's July 22, 2022 judgment, grant the exception of no cause of action, and dismiss with prejudice plaintiffs' claims against defendants.

Id., 2022-0857, 2022 WL 16753550 at *1.

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We granted defendants' writ application to examine the correctness of the lower courts' determination that plaintiffs' petition states a cause of action. Jameson v. Montgomery, 2022-01784 (La. 1/18/23), 352 So.3d 964.

DISCUSSION

A peremptory exception of no cause of action "questions whether the law extends a remedy against the defendant to anyone under the factual allegations of the...

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