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Hoffman v. Knoebel

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, New Albany Division

July 27, 2017

DESTINY HOFFMAN On behalf of themselves and on behalf of others similarly situated, Plaintiffs,
v.
SUSAN KNOEBEL, Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          SARAH EVANS BARKER, JUDGE

         This cause is before the Court on motions for summary judgment filed by four Defendants: Susan Knoebel [Docket No. 225], Jeremy Snelling [Docket No. 225], Josh Seybold [Docket No. 230], and Clark County Sheriff Danny Rodden [Docket No. 224]. For the reasons detailed below, we GRANT these motions, ruling in all respects in Defendants' favor.

         Background

         This case calls into question the legality of various practices of the Clark County Drug Treatment Court (“DTC”) vis-à-vis various participants in the DTC's Program from 2011 to 2013.

         Establishment and Certification of the DTC

         The DTC was established by the Clark Superior Court in 2002 when it was certified as a “problem solving court” by the Indiana Judicial Center. As a drug-related problem-solving court, the DTC was designed to “focus[] on addressing the substance abuse issues of defendants or juveniles in the criminal justice system by: (1) bringing together substance abuse rehabilitation professionals, local social programs, and intensive judicial monitoring; and (2) linking eligible defendants or juveniles to individually tailored programs or services.” Ind. Code at § 33-23-16-5.

         Once certified, the DTC operated out of Clark Superior Court 2 from 2002 until 2012, at which time the Clark County courts were unified resulting in Superior Court 2 becoming Circuit Court 2. Judge Jerome Jacobi, who had been elected to Superior Court 2 in 2008, became the presiding judge of Clark Circuit Court 2 and also became “Supervising Judge” for the DTC, which vested in him “ultimate responsibility” for the problem-solving court. See Ind. Prob. Solving Ct. Rule 3, found at https://www.in.gov/judiciary/pscourts/files/pscourts-psc-rules.pdf (last visited July 12, 2017).

         As Supervising Judge, Judge Jacobi was authorized by statute to “take steps necessary to carry out the functions of the problem solving court, including the following: (1) Hiring employees as needed to perform the required functions of the problem solving court. (2) Establishing policies and procedures for the problem solving court. (3) Adopting local court rules as necessary for the problem solving court.” Id. at § 33-23-16-21.

         Judge Jacobi hired Defendant Susan Knoebel to serve as his chief probation officer in Circuit Court 2 and Director of the DTC Program. He also hired Defendant Jeremy Snelling to serve as his bailiff for Clark Circuit Court 2 and a “field officer” for the DTC. Neither “director” nor “field officer” is a defined position under the Indiana Problem Solving Court Rules as promulgated by the Indiana Judicial Center. But, according to Knoebel, as director of the DTC, she was charged with administrative oversight of the program, which entailed supervising the DTC case managers. Knoebel Decl. ¶ 3.[1] She did not, however, have hiring or firing authority nor could she unilaterally promulgate policies or procedures for the DTC, as those powers remained with Judge Jacobi as the supervising judge of the court. Id. Jeremy Snelling reports that when Judge Jacobi hired him as his bailiff, he was told that he had the authority to make arrests within the courthouse and that, in addition to his typical bailiff duties, he would be a member of the DTC Treatment Team as a field officer, which role entailed, among other things, conducting home inspections and curfew compliance checks and “escorting” DTC participants who were subject to arrest warrants to the Clark County Jail. Snelling Decl. ¶¶ 4, 5, 8.

         Defendant Josh Seybold and Jessie McDowell, who was later replaced by Iris Rubadue (neither McDowell nor Rubadue has been named as a Defendant in this action), were hired as case managers for the DTC participants. The Indiana Problem-Solving Court Rules define a case manager as “a problem-solving court team member responsible for the case management of problem-solving court participants and case management files, which may include administering a risk and needs assessment, substance abuse and mental health screening, referral to treatment and ancillary services; monitoring participant compliance with the participation agreement, case management plan and other applicable agreements; and providing participant progress and compliance information to the problem-solving court team.” Ind. Prob. Solv. Ct. Rule 3. The remainder of the DTC Staffing Committee included Magistrate William Dawkins, a representative of the prosecutor's office, a representative of the public defender's office, mental health and substance abuse service providers, halfway house directors, and law enforcement representatives.

         Operations of the DTC

         The DTC was structured to provide certain criminal defendants in Clark Circuit Court 2 who had pled guilty to drug-related felonies the opportunity to opt into the DTC Program as an alternative to incarceration. In such circumstances, the defendant would execute a Drug Court Agreement approved by Judge Jacobi and the Indiana Judicial Center, which explained that in exchange for agreeing to enter the DTC Program the Clark Circuit Court would defer entering a judgment of conviction against him/her and instead would impose on the participant certain conditions and limitations established for the DTC Program. Knoebel Decl. ¶ 7, Ex. A. If a participant successfully completed the DTC Program, the State would dismiss with prejudice the criminal charges to which he/she had pled guilty. Id. If, however, the court determined that the person had violated the conditions of the DTC, as prescribed in the Drug Court Agreement and the DTC Participant Handbook, participation in the DTC Program would be terminated (following a “due process hearing on Petition to Terminate”), a judgment of conviction would be entered, and a sentenced would be imposed pursuant to the plea agreement based on the offenses of conviction. Id. Typically, following the execution of these plea and drug court agreements, the defendants' attorneys would withdraw their representation from the cases.

         Upon entry into the DTC Program, each participant was assigned to one of the two DTC case managers, who prepared an individualized treatment plan designed to aid in his or her substance abuse recovery. These plans typically required, inter alia, that a participant obtain treatment from a DTC-approved provider, attend self-help meetings, and maintain employment. The DTC also approved the participant's living arrangement, which, depending on the particular participant's circumstances, would be a private residence, a treatment facility, or a group home such as a halfway house. While participating in the DTC Program, participants also were subject to various conditions and restrictions comparable to those imposed on probationers, such as unannounced home visits and random drug screens, in addition to heightened levels of judicial oversight.

         As part of such judicial oversight, the DTC Staffing Committee, usually consisting of the presiding judge (either Judge Jacobi or Magistrate Judge Dawkins or both), DTC Director Knoebel, the DTC case managers, an administrative assistant, a deputy prosecutor, and a defense attorney, held weekly meetings each Thursday at noon to discuss the participants' progress and behavior.[2] During these weekly meetings, case managers presented for discussion reports on the progress of each participant who was scheduled to appear at a status hearing that same afternoon. Discussions often covered issues related to possible sanctions for noncompliant behavior such as testing positive or diluting a urine screen, failing to report or attend a group meeting, failing to gain or keep employment, being arrested, or failing to comply with other conditions imposed by the participant's individualized treatment plan. Knoebel Decl. ¶ 10. Tentative decisions regarding the appropriate sanctions or behavior modifications for particular rules infractions were generally reached by consensus; however, certain committee members, including Case Managers Josh Seybold and Iris Rubadue and Director Susan Knoebel, sometimes recommended sanctions, leaving the final decision to the judge presiding at the status hearing later that day. Id. ¶ 11.[3] Sanctions typically included demoting a participant to a lower phase in the Program, requiring community service, assigning the writing of a reflective essay, increasing the frequency of status hearings, imposing “short-term jail stays, ” or terminations from the Program. Id. ¶ 9.

         Following the Staffing Committee meetings, the DTC conducted the status hearings with the participants. The presiding judge, Director Susan Knoebel, Bailiff Jeremy Snelling, the DTC participants, and various Clark County Jail officers also attended these hearings; however, neither the Staffing Committee attorneys nor any other attorneys were present during the DTC proceedings. During the hearings, the presiding judge heard from the participants, discussed their progress and alleged infractions, and, when necessary, issued sanctions, which could include ordering the remand of certain participants to the custody of the Clark County Sheriff to be detained in the Clark County Jail. See Dkt. 231 at 13.

         In certain instances, if a participant failed a drug test, the presiding judge imposed a sanction on the participant that involved a “short-term jail stay, ” in which, as the judge explained to the participant, the detention was for a specific, limited period of time, typically 48 or 72 hours. In other instances, typically involving second or third infractions, the judge ordered a longer period of detention-i.e., up to 30 days in jail. On other occasions, the judge imposed a 48-hour or 72-hour sanction, which generated a Bond Notice to Sheriff ordering detention of the participant “pending placement, ” “pending staffing, ” “pending evaluation, ” or simply “until further order of the court.” See e.g., Rodden Exs. 37-41 (in re: Plaintiff Santiago).

         If a participant were jailed “pending staffing” or “pending evaluation, ” the Sheriff and DTC Staff understood that detention would occur in the Clark County Jail until such time as the case could be discussed by the Staffing Committee the following week. Thereafter the participant was returned to court for another status hearing. More common was the practice of jailing a participant “pending placement, ” which resulted in the participant being taken into custody and held until the case manager could arrange placement at a DTC-approved residential treatment facility or halfway house.

         Plaintiffs maintain that at no time during these DTC status hearings in which they received “short-term jail stay” sanctions were they ever given written notice of the specific allegations against them or appointed counsel or provided any advisement of their rights, including the right to counsel.

         Moreover, due to a variety of circumstances, including increases in caseloads without corresponding increases in resources as well as restrictions imposed by certain treatment providers and halfway houses, participants who had been subject to short-term detentions often remained incarcerated at the Clark County Jail for extended periods of time while the case managers searched for alternative facilities and available halfway houses in which to place them. Notwithstanding their prolonged incarceration, Judge Jacobi viewed some participants as “better off” in the Clark County Jail than they would have been on the streets, justifying their continued custody for indefinite periods of time to allow the case managers time to locate potential placements. Jacobi Dep. at 112-14. On other occasions, participants were held at the jail pending staffing evaluation without scheduling either a status conference or a court appearance when the presiding judge determined at the staffing committee meeting that no new developments warranted discussion regarding that participant's progress in the Program.

         As a result, many participants in the DTC Program, including those who were told they would be serving brief, 48-hour periods of detention languished in the Clark County Jail for extended and indefinite periods of time without knowing when they might be released or brought before the court, or, in some cases, the reason they were being held much longer than they had been told by the DTC presiding judge.

         Because these detainees were unrepresented by counsel at the DTC status hearings when they received their sanctions, they were often left to writing letters to the judges, to DTC Director Knoebel, and to their DTC case managers inquiring as to when they would be released. Many also conferred with the Clark County Jail guards and in particular with Officer Lindon Dodd, who was the Sheriff's Department Court Liaison, regarding the length of their incarceration. They reportedly received varied responses, usually being told by the guards that the jail was waiting for instructions from the DTC or that DTC was still searching for placement for them at an approved treatment facility. The duration of their incarceration was at best unpredictable, and almost always unknown. Some participants remained in custody for a matter of weeks before being brought before the DTC, only to be remanded to custody pending further evaluation. Others were detained for months before finally receiving placement at a DTC-approved facility or halfway house. Still others remained in the Clark County Jail for many months, only to be released on their own recognizance upon their promise that they would report to the DTC for their next scheduled status hearing. The determinations of the duration of detention of Program participants were random, inconsistent, happenstance, arbitrary, capricious, negligent and unjust. It was a wholly indefensible system.

         During the period from 2012 to 2013, increasing numbers of DTC participants began to abscond from the Program, failing to report to their meetings, treatment, and status hearings. In response, the DTC judges issued increased numbers of arrest warrants based on the participants' failures to appear. Director Susan Knoebel and Bailiff Jeremy Snelling have testified that Judge Jacobi directed them to attempt to locate those participants who had absconded from the program for whom arrest warrants had been issued and to either voluntarily escort them back to the Clark County Jail or to call local law enforcement officers to execute the arrest warrants and take them into custody. Knoebel Decl. ¶ 17; Snelling Decl. ¶ 9. Pursuant to Judge Jacobi's order, Knoebel and Snelling located and transported at least five absconders to the Clark County Jail during this twelve-month period of time.

         Termination of DTC Operations

         In August 2013, two defense attorneys serving as members of the Staffing Committee raised various due process concerns with Judge Jacobi regarding the DTC's sanctions procedures. Judge Jacobi responded, commenting that “the due process ‘dog' can never wag the ‘tail'” of the DTC's primary functions. See Dkt. 232-6. Magistrate Dawkins reportedly approached Clark Circuit Court Chief Judge Vicki Carmichael to express the same concerns. Chief Judge Carmichael discussed these issues with Judge Jacobi, who repeated his belief that the DTC procedures allowing the imposition of immediate sanctions including incarceration were not constitutionally infirmed. In November 2013, DTC Case Managers Josh Seybold and Iris Rubadue independently approached Chief Judge Carmichael to express their concerns regarding the operations of the DTC, with specific reference to participants being jailed without due process protections.

         Chief Judge Carmichael contacted the Indiana Judicial Center regarding DTC practices, and, in early 2014, the IJC suspended operations of the DTC. Chief Judge Carmichael was placed in charge of the DTC to allow the current participants to complete the program, and, in June 2015, the DTC officially ceased all operations.

         In conjunction with the IJC's investigation into the DTC, the Indiana Commission on Judicial Qualifications undertook an investigation of Judge Jacobi's alleged violations of the Indiana Code of Judicial Conduct in supervising the DTC. In March 2015, the Commission concluded its investigation following Jacobi's removal from office and his agreement not to seek or accept any judicial office or position in the future. See Dkt. 233-4.[4]

         The Instant Litigation

         On February 18, 2014, eight Plaintiffs commenced this litigation against the following Defendants: Judge Jerome Jacobi, DTC Director Susan Knoebel, Bailiff Jeremy Snelling, Chief Probation Officer Henry Ford, Clark County Work Release Director Danielle Grissett, Executive Director of Clark County Community Corrections Stephen Mason, the Clark County Board of Commissioners, and certain unknown Circuit Court employees (later represented by Circuit Court 3 Clerk Whitney Newton), alleging various violations of the Fourth, Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution. Dkt. 1 ¶¶ 18-26. Plaintiffs' Complaint has twice been amended: once on April 8, 2014 to add eight new plaintiffs and one new defendant, see dkt. 17 ¶ 34, and again on March 3, 2016 to add five more plaintiffs, see dkt. 171, bringing the total number of Plaintiffs in this action to twenty-one and the total number of Defendants to nine.

         During the course of this litigation, we have ruled on and issued the dismissal of the official-capacity claims for declaratory and injunctive relief against Judge Jacobi on grounds of mootness, given his resignation from office and stipulation not to accept any judicial office in the future. See Dkt. 158. We have also ruled in favor of Defendants Henry Ford, Susan Knoebel, Jeremy Snelling, Josh Seybold, and the Clark County Board of Commissioners with regard to Plaintiffs' claims against them in their official capacities, finding that these Defendants either lacked final policymaking authority over the DTC or were state-actors subject to suit in their official capacities only for prospective injunctive relief, which became moot when the DTC officially ended operations in June 2015. See Dkt. 284. Separately, we have ruled in favor of Defendants Whitney Newton, Danielle Grissett, and Stephen Mason, on the claims made by Plaintiffs Lee Spaulding, James Bennett, and Jesse Hash. See Dkts. 164, 266, 267, 283.

         This entry addresses seventeen of the twenty-one Plaintiffs' remaining claims against Defendants Susan Knoebel, Jeremy Snelling, Josh Seybold, and Clark County Sheriff Danny Rodden based on alleged violations of their Fourteenth Amendment right to due process as well as five of the twenty-one Plaintiffs' remaining claims against Defendants Snelling and Knoebel based on alleged violations of their Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable seizures. See Dkts. 224, 225, 230.

         Legal Analysis

         Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment Due Process Claims

         Plaintiffs Amanda Campbell, Michael Campbell, Nathan Clifford, Joshua Foley Destiny Hoffman, Julia Joseph, Justin Lanham, Jason O'Connor, Jarvis Peele, Trentney Rhodes, Ashleigh Santiago (formerly known as “Ashleigh Hendricks”), Brandelyn Taylor, Katherine Tudor, Amy Tuttle, Bobby Upton, and Joanie Watson have all sued Defendants Susan Knoebel, Jeremy Snelling, and Josh Seybold in their individual capacities as well as Sheriff Danny Rodden in both his individual and official capacities, alleging that during their participation in the DTC each of them was, at one time or another, unlawfully incarcerated in the Clark County Jail for periods longer than 72 hours without being afforded a hearing, notice, counsel, judicial consideration of bond, or the opportunity to hear the evidence against them, all in violation of their rights to due process under the Fourteenth Amendment. Dkt. 171 ¶¶ 168-175.[5]

         Plaintiff Shane Bratcher (f/k/a Courtney Cowherd) has sued only Defendants Knoebel, Snelling, and Seybold in their individual capacities, alleging that his participation in the DTC was unduly prolonged, exceeding the sentence originally imposed on him for his offenses as well as the maximum possible length of time outlined in his Drug Court Agreement, in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. Dkt. 171 ¶¶ 115-117.

         Fourth Amendment Claims of Unlawful Arrest

         Plaintiffs Michael Campbell, Amy Bennett, Brandelyn Taylor, Robert Upton, and Ashleigh Santiago have sued Defendants Susan Knoebel and Jeremy Snelling in their individual capacities, alleging that Knoebel and Snelling unlawfully placed them under arrest without authority to do so, in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Dkt. 171 ¶¶ 192-194.

         Three of these Plaintiffs-Michael Campbell, Amy Bennett, and Brandelyn Taylor-allege that after absconding from the DTC Program and being located at their respective homes by Snelling and Knoebel, who had arrived in an unmarked, county-owned cruiser wearing badges and carrying firearms, they were handcuffed by Snelling, placed in the back of the county vehicle, and transported to the Clark County Jail. See Dkt. 270, Exs. 58, 66, 70. They also maintain that, contrary to Knoebel's and Snelling's contention, they were not given the option to decline being “voluntarily escorted” to jail by them and waiting for local enforcement officers to arrive and place them under arrest. Id.

         Plaintiff Robert Upton alleges that following his release from jail on July 25, 2012, he violated a no-contact order when he picked up his girlfriend from her job and drove her home. As he pulled into her driveway, a police car pulled in behind them and DTC Director Susan Knoebel exited the car accompanied by a Jeffersonville Police Officer, whom she instructed to place Upton under arrest and transport to the Clark County Jail. Upton Dep. at 40-45.

         Plaintiff Ashleigh Santiago alleges that after attending a DTC Status hearing on May 16, 2013, she was sanctioned by Judge Jacobi to a short-term stay in jail for testing positive for an illicit drug known as “Kratom” and that Bailiff Jeremy Snelling placed ...


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