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Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse
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Case Name West v. City of Hitchcock CJ-TX-0011
Docket / Court 3:16-cv-00309 ( S.D. Tex. )
State/Territory Texas
Case Type(s) Criminal Justice (Other)
Special Collection Fines/Fees/Bail Reform (Criminalization of poverty)
Attorney Organization ACLU Affiliates (any)
Case Summary
This case was originally named West v. City of Santa Fe. It was recaptioned when one of the court severed one of the plaintiffs from the original case to pursue claims against the City of Santa Fe alone; the original case pursued claims against the city of Hitchcock, Texas. The new case was titled ... read more >
This case was originally named West v. City of Santa Fe. It was recaptioned when one of the court severed one of the plaintiffs from the original case to pursue claims against the City of Santa Fe alone; the original case pursued claims against the city of Hitchcock, Texas. The new case was titled Fuller v. Santa Fe, 3:18-cv-00283 (S.D. Tex.).

On November 3, 2016, three individuals under threat of being jailed for failure to pay fines to the City of Santa Fe filed this lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas. The plaintiffs sued the City of Santa Fe, the Municipal Judge, and the Chief of Police under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that the defendants run a modern-day debtors' prison to raise revenue for the City. They claimed that city officials have colluded on an unconstitutional two-tiered system of justice by which the City and Municipal Judge agreed to raise the costs of the traffic and other misdemeanor fines to boost revenue and the City extracts payments from local residents. Police officers regularly jail people who fail to pay their fines without giving them access to a lawyer or the chance to mount a legal defense, nor are they given the opportunity to see a judge for the constitutionally mandated hearing on their ability to pay. Moreover, the police chief makes jail intolerable, giving detainees too little food to eat and depriving them of medical care. Represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, the plaintiffs asked the court for injunctive and declaratory relief, damages, and attorneys fees. They also sought class certification.

The plaintiffs alleged that the revenue-generating scheme begins with Municipal Court proceedings, which its jurisdiction is limited to tickets for class C misdemeanors. These offenses are defined by Texas law as "nonjailable," "fine only" offenses, punishable by a fine up to $500. For an individual unable to make timely payments in full, the Municipal Court issues a "capias pro fine" warrant for failure to pay a fine. Individuals who have a capias pro fine have two options: pay in full or turn themselves in to the police. Police also search for people subject to capias pro fine warrants, sometimes arresting people at their homes in front of family, friends, and neighbors. Though police have the option of taking such individuals before a court, they do not. Instead, they transfer them to the police chief and book them into jail where they will be held until they pay their debt in full or satisfy the fines with "jail credit."

The allegations continued, claiming that once in jail, individuals are subjected to unsafe conditions without proper food. The complaint terms this the "Hungry Man policy," and alleges that jailed individuals are fed one Pop Tart for breakfast, one Pop Tart for lunch, and a frozen meal, such as a Hungry Man meal, for dinner. This amounts to only about 750 calories a day, which is less than half of the calories the average sedentary adult requires, and less than a third of the calories sedentary young men require.

Judge George C Hanks, Jr. denied class certification without prejudice on September 18, 2017, without providing a detailed reason in the order. On October 11, 2017, one of the named plaintiffs voluntarily dismissed his claims; the other two plaintiffs proceeded on this single case without him.

The plaintiffs filed an amended complaint on October 23, 2017, adding a magistrate judge, in his individual capacity, and the Chief of Police, in his official capacity, as defendants.

The case was temporarily assigned to Magistrate Judge Andrew Edison on June 1, 2018.

On June 4, 2019, the defendants filed a sealed motion calling the plaintiff's capacity to prosecute the lawsuit into question. This appeared to be due to some health issue, since the District Court granted a 60-day stay of the case on June 18, 2019 to allow the plaintiff to access medical care in hopes of continuing the suit after.

Magistrate Judge Edison provided a recommendation against granting the defendant's various motions to dismiss on August 16, 2018, saying that all plaintiffs in the case had standing and that the injuries alleged in the case amounted to civil rights violations. 2018 WL 4047115. Though he did not explicitly recommend severing the claims against Hitchcock and Santa Fe at this point, the Magistrate Judge discussed each plaintiff's claims against their respective cities separately. This likely influenced Judge Hanks's decision to sever the two cases when he adopted the Magistrate Judge's recommendation on September 19. 2018 WL 5276264.

The case was reassigned to Judge Jeffrey V. Brown. Judge Brown conditionally dismissed the case on October 23, 2019 because the parties had come to a settlement agreement in Fuller v. City of Santa Fe that covered the class of plaintiffs named here. The Clearinghouse has been unable to find text of a settlement agreement. The case was officially dismissed on December 6, 2019 because neither party filed a motion to dispose of the case on a final judgment by that deadline set in in the October 23 order.

Saeeda Joseph-Charles - 12/02/2016
Virginia Weeks - 03/23/2018
Ellen Aldin - 06/08/2020

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Issues and Causes of Action
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Constitutional Clause
Assistance of counsel (6th Amendment)
Cruel and Unusual Punishment
Due Process
Equal Protection
Access to lawyers or judicial system
Conditions of confinement
Over/Unlawful Detention
Pattern or Practice
Placement in detention facilities
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. § 1983
Defendant(s) City of Hitchcock
Plaintiff Description Individuals who have been, or fear they will be, jailed for failure to pay their outstanding fines to the City of Santa Fe
Indexed Lawyer Organizations ACLU Affiliates (any)
Class action status sought Yes
Class action status outcome Denied
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party None Yet / None
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief private settlement agreement
Source of Relief Settlement
Form of Settlement Private Settlement Agreement
Filed 11/03/2016
Case Closing Year 2019
Case Ongoing No
Case Listing CJ-TX-0018 : Fuller v. City of Santa Fe (S.D. Tex.)
Additional Resources
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  See this case at (May provide additional documents and, for active cases, real-time alerts)
  Unconstitutional Debtors' Prison Lawsuit: Santa Fe and Hitchcock
ACLU of Texas
Date: Nov. 3, 2016
By: American Civil Liberties Union
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

Court Docket(s)
S.D. Tex.
CJ-TX-0011-9000.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
S.D. Tex.
Class Action Complaint [ECF# 1]
CJ-TX-0011-0001.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
S.D. Tex.
First Amended Complaint [ECF# 43]
CJ-TX-0011-0002.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
S.D. Tex.
Memorandum and Recommendation [ECF# 68] (2018 WL 4047115)
CJ-TX-0011-0003.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
S.D. Tex.
Order Adopting Magistrate Judge's Memorandum and Recommendation & Severing Cases [ECF# 78] (2018 WL 5276264)
CJ-TX-0011-0004.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
S.D. Tex.
Conditional Dismissal Order [ECF# 117]
CJ-TX-0011-0005.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
show all people docs
Judges Brown, Jeffrey Vincent (S.D. Tex.) show/hide docs
CJ-TX-0011-0005 | CJ-TX-0011-9000
Edison, Andrew M Court not on record show/hide docs
Hanks, George Carol Jr. (S.D. Tex.) show/hide docs
Plaintiff's Lawyers Robertson, Rebecca Lynn (Texas) show/hide docs
CJ-TX-0011-0001 | CJ-TX-0011-9000
Salvador, Anjali (Texas) show/hide docs
Segura, Andre (Texas) show/hide docs
Trigilio, Trisha (Texas) show/hide docs
CJ-TX-0011-0001 | CJ-TX-0011-0002 | CJ-TX-0011-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Giles, Norman Ray (Texas) show/hide docs
Helfand, William Scott (Texas) show/hide docs

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