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Gina Harper et al. v. Professional Probation Services Inc. et al.

Summary of the cause of action

Defendants in the Gardendale Municipal Court are placed on probation when they are unable to pay court fines and fees in full. Professional Probation Services, Inc. (PPS) is the sole probation provider through a contract with the City and the Municipal Court judge. PPS charges a $40 monthly fee which is paid before the court’s fines and fees. To prolong the probation period, PPS often misrepresents that probationers are non-compliant. Both plaintiffs were jailed because of these false or inadequate representations by PPS. Indigency is never assessed.

Under the contract, probationers are allowed to reschedule their in-person appointments. However, in practice, PPS treats the rescheduling as non-compliance. The primary purpose for these appointments is fee payment. No rehabilitation fees are provided to probations. Further, probationers are almost never allowed to perform community service instead of paying the fees.

Status

On November 1, 2017, the Municipal Court Judge ordered each defendant sentenced to a term of probation supervised by PPS to cease reporting and making payments to PPS. Those unable to pay their balance in full by January 1, 2018 were to appear before the Municipal Court and request a payment plan which must take into account the defendant’s ability to pay. On March 6, 2018, the plaintiffs and Judge Gomany who was also a party to the case, entered into a settlement agreement and filed a joint motion to dismiss plaintiffs’ due process claim and two other claims.

On Nov. 2018, the District Court dismissed the plaintiff’s due process claim because there was an adequate post-deprivation remedy, but the case is still pending on the abuse of process claim.

Professional Probation Services had moved to dismiss Plaintiffs’ Second Amended Complaint, and the Court had granted that motion with respect to Count One, Plaintiffs’ due process claim, and denied the motion with respect to Count Two, Plaintiffs’ state law abuse of process claim. On December 10, 2018, the Court granted Plaintiffs’ motion for reconsideration and vacated its prior order. It did so because its previous order granting Defendant’s motion to dismiss was based, in part, on grounds not raised by Defendant. The Court, however, allowed for further briefing and again took the motion to dismiss under submission.

After considering that supplemental briefing, the Court dismissed the due process claim with prejudice and declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the abuse of process claim, dismissing it without prejudice. The Court found that because there was no law supporting Plaintiffs’ argument that probation officers owe a duty of neutrality to probationers, Plaintiffs could not state a due process claim against PPS.

On August 30, 2019, Plaintiffs appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.

You can read all relevant court documents via the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Southern Poverty Law Center
42 USC § 1983 (alleging due process and equal protection violations)
2:17-cv-01791
October 2017, amended December 2017
August 5, 2019
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