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Case Name Church v. State of Missouri PD-MO-0003
Docket / Court 2:17-cv-04057-NKL ( W.D. Mo. )
Additional Docket(s) 17AC-CC00130  [ 17-130 ]  Trial Court (MO)
State/Territory Missouri
Case Type(s) Indigent Defense
Attorney Organization ACLU Affiliates (any)
ACLU National (all projects)
MacArthur Justice Center
Case Summary
On March 9, 2017, the plaintiffs filed this class action suit challenging the adequacy of the Missouri State Public Defender (MSPD) on behalf of all indigent adults and juveniles who were charged with any offense that carries the potential for incarceration as a penalty and who are eligible to be ... read more >
On March 9, 2017, the plaintiffs filed this class action suit challenging the adequacy of the Missouri State Public Defender (MSPD) on behalf of all indigent adults and juveniles who were charged with any offense that carries the potential for incarceration as a penalty and who are eligible to be represented by MSPD. The complaint was originally filed in Circuit Court of Cole County but defendants removed it to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri on April 7, 2017. The plaintiffs, represented by the ACLU and the MacArthur Justice Center sued the State of Missouri along with its governor under 42 §U.S.C §1983, alleging a violation of the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendment right to counsel also guaranteed by the Missouri Constitution Art. I, § 18(a) and the Missouri Criminal and Juvenile Codes. The plaintiffs also alleged a violation of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments right to due process, also guaranteed by the Missouri Constitution Art. I, § 10. The lawsuit asked the court to declare Missouri’s public defense system unconstitutional and to order the defendants to take the steps “necessary to bring the system into compliance with federal and state law.”

The complaint alleged that the State of Missouri had failed "to provide the resources required to adequately represent poor people accused of crime in Missouri, leading to the actual and constructive denial of counsel for, and ineffective representation of, indigent defendant across the State.” Moreover, it stated that the budget for indigent defense was “shockingly inadequate" and alleged that attorneys had little time to spend on each case, causing poor defendants to needlessly sit in jail for prolonged periods until their public defender has time to work on their case. The complaint stated that there was a lack of attorneys at arraignments and bond hearings, and that many appointed attorneys were unprepared to effectively advocate for a client.

The case was assigned to Judge Nanette Laughrey and was also included in Missouri's Mediation and Assessment Program with Magistrate Judge Matt J. Whitworth assigned to be the mediator. On April 21, 2017, the defendants moved to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. On June 6, 2017, the case was reassigned to an outside mediator.

The plaintiffs requested the court to certify their class on June 8, 2017. The proposed class consisted of "all indigent persons who are now or who will be during the pendency of this litigation, under formal charge before a state court in Missouri of having committed any offense the penalty for which includes the possibility of
confinement, incarceration, imprisonment, or detention (regardless of whether
actually imposed), and who are eligible to be represented by MSPD."

On July 5, 2017 the court held oral argument on the defendants' motions to dismiss, and on July 24, 2017 Judge Laughrey granted the defendant's motion to dismiss in part as to one of the plaintiffs who lacked standing to sue. 268 F.Supp.3d 992. The court denied the motion as to the other plaintiffs. Regarding the state of Missouri, the court found that the state had waived sovereign immunity by removing the case to federal court. The court also denied the motion to dismiss as it related to the governor of Missouri, finding that the plaintiffs had alleged that the governor had a sufficient connection to the challenged conduct to place him squarely within the Ex Parte Young exception to sovereign immunity.

On August 18, 2017, two Defendants, the state of Missouri and its Governor, appealed to the Eighth Circuit their denied motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction. (Docket No. 17-2857). Arguments were held on April 10, 2018,

Meanwhile, in the district court, the parties began discovery until, on January 18, 2018, the defendants filed a motion to stay the case pending resolution of the appeal to the Eighth Circuit. The same day, the defendants filed a motion to realign the MSPD defendants as plaintiffs. The plaintiffs submitted an opposition to the realignment on January 31, contending that there was no legal basis to realign the MSPD defendants as plaintiffs and that there were actual and substantial conflicts between the two groups. On February 9, both parties filed their respective motions for summary judgment. The plaintiffs sought summary judgment on all of their declaratory and injunctive claims and an order requiring the defendants to propose a plan to provide adequate representation to all indigent criminal defendants in Missouri within 30 days. The defendants contended that the Eleventh Amendment immunity barred all claims to the state, that the plaintiffs lacked Article III standing, and that the plaintiffs failed to state plausible constitutional claims. On the same day, the defendants filed a motion to strike the designation of plaintiffs’ experts and exclude the testimony of the experts at trial. The plaintiffs submitted an opposition to the motion to strike on March 2. The motions to realign the MSPD defendants, the parties’ motions for summary judgment, and the motion to strike the plaintiffs’ experts were all denied on April 17, 2018.

In an opinion written by Judge Benton, the Eighth Circuit reversed the judgment of the district court in favor of the defendants on January 10, 2019. 913 F.3d 736. Regarding the state of Missouri, the Eighth Circuit held that sovereign immunity is broader than Eleventh Amendment immunity and in the absence of an express statutory exception or a recognized common law exception, sovereign immunity is the rule and applies to all suits against public entities. The Eighth Circuit also reversed the district court's holding regarding the governor, rebutting point by point how the Ex Parte Young exception did not apply in this case.

The case was remanded to the district court for further proceedings. The plaintiffs’ claims against the state of Missouri and the governer were denied on February 26, 2019, and Judge Laughrey also denied the plaintiffs' class certification. 2019 WL 954982. The defendants’ motion to stay was also denied as moot.

District Judge Laughrey, in light of the Eighth Circuit decision, ordered parties to proceed with mediation on March 1, 2019. The parties submitted a joint motion to enter a consent judgment, proposing a variety of obligations to MSPD on May 13. Specifically, the consent judgment proposed that the MSPD must ensure public defenders argue for release at every client’s initial appearance, implement a caseload standard on individual public defenders, and provide for a monitor to ensure compliance.

The following day, the Attorney General filed a motion to intervene as a defendant and sought a temporary stay on the litigation. The Attorney General contended that despite their right to participate in litigation concerning the state’s interest, the proposed consent judgment did not adequately consult the Attorney General in the mediation process. The plaintiffs filed an opposition to the two motions on May 28.

On July 12, 2019, the motion to intervene was denied but the court permitted the Attorney General to submit an amicus brief addressing whether the proposed consent judgment comported with Missouri law, as well as other concerns on public safety and welfare. 2019 WL 3069856. On July 26, the Attorney General submitted the amicus brief and appealed the intervention decision to the Eighth Circuit with a motion to stay pending appeal. (Docket No. 19-2584). The district court partially granted the motion to stay and decided to stay the consent order pending resolution of the ruling.

On January 27, 2020, the parties’ joint motion for consent judgment was denied by the district court. Judge Laughrey determined that the rigid caseload capacity ceiling would impose an impossible constraint upon the public defenders in trying to comply with the consent decree and court orders to defend indigent clients. 2020 WL 420833.

The parties engaged in a teleconference before the court on May 8, 2020. There, Judge Laughrey told the plaintiffs that they must either dismiss the case without prejudice or proceed to a bench trial. The plaintiffs opted for a bench trial, and Judge Laughrey noted that discovery was closed but permitted the parties to participate in consensual discovery. In another teleconference hearing held on May 19, the Defendants argued that only one plaintiff still had standing and therefore any remedy must be tailored to her specific case.

On June 10, 2020, the parties notified the court that they had reached a resolution. The case was dismissed without prejudice on June 15, 2020. On June 16, the plaintiffs filed a motion to dismiss the pending appeal before the Eighth Circuit as moot given that the district court case concluded. The Eighth Circuit granted the motion on July 8, 2020. This case is now closed.

Abigail DeHart - 07/30/2017
Virginia Weeks - 03/12/2018
Averyn Lee - 08/01/2020

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Issues and Causes of Action
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Constitutional Clause
Assistance of counsel (6th Amendment)
Due Process
Due Process: Procedural Due Process
Due Process: Substantive Due Process
Crowding / caseload
Access to lawyers or judicial system
Quality of representation
Staff (number, training, qualifications, wages)
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. § 1983
Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201
Ex parte Young (federal or state officials)
State law
Defendant(s) Governor of Missouri
State of Missouri
Plaintiff Description All indigent adults and juveniles who are charged with any offense that carries the potential for incarceration as a penalty and who are eligible to be represented by the Missouri State Public Defender.
Indexed Lawyer Organizations ACLU Affiliates (any)
ACLU National (all projects)
MacArthur Justice Center
Class action status sought Yes
Class action status outcome Denied
Filed Pro Se Yes
Prevailing Party Mixed
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief Unknown
Source of Relief Settlement
Form of Settlement Private Settlement Agreement
Voluntary Dismissal
Filed 04/07/2017
Case Closing Year 2020
Case Ongoing No
Additional Resources
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  See this case at (May provide additional documents and, for active cases, real-time alerts)
  ACLU Sues Missouri Over Disastrous Public Defender System
Date: Mar. 9, 2017
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

  Securing Reasonable Caseloads: Ethics and Law in Public Defense
Date: 2011
By: Norman Lefstein (Indiana University--Indianapolis Faculty)
Citation: (ABA 2011)
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

  Justice Denied: America's Continuing Neglect of Our Constitutional Right to Counsel.
Date: Apr. 14, 2009
By: National Right to Counsel Committee (The Constitution Project)
Citation: National Right to Counsel Committee, Justice Denied: America's Continuing Neglect of Our Constitutional Right to Counsel (2009)
[ Detail ] [ PDF ] [ External Link ]

  The Third Generation of Indigent Defense Litigation
New York University Review of Law and Social Change
Date: 2009
By: Cara Drinan (Columbus School of Law, Catholic University Faculty)
Citation: 33 N.Y.U. Rev. L. & Soc. Change 427 (2009)
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

  Indigent Defense Reform: The Role of Systemic Litigation in Operationalizing the Gideon Right to Counsel
Date: May 7, 2007
By: Vidhya K. Reddy (Washington University in St. Louis Law Student)
[ Detail ] [ PDF ]

Court Docket(s)
W.D. Mo.
PD-MO-0003-9000.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
State Trial Court
Class Action Petition for Injunctive and Declaratory Relief
PD-MO-0003-0001.pdf | Detail
Source: ACLU
W.D. Mo.
Order [ECF# 69] (268 F.Supp.3d 992)
PD-MO-0003-0002.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
U.S. Court of Appeals
Order (913 F.3d 736)
PD-MO-0003-0007.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Source: Google Scholar
W.D. Mo.
Order [ECF# 212] (2019 WL 954982)
PD-MO-0003-0003.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
W.D. Mo.
Order [ECF# 238] (2019 WL 3069856)
PD-MO-0003-0004.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
W.D. Mo.
Amicus Brief of the Missouri Attorney General as to the Proposed Consent Judgment [ECF# 247]
PD-MO-0003-0006.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
W.D. Mo.
Order [ECF# 261] (2020 WL 420833)
PD-MO-0003-0005.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
show all people docs
Judges Benton, William Duane (Eighth Circuit) show/hide docs
Laughrey, Nanette Kay (E.D. Mo., W.D. Mo.) show/hide docs
PD-MO-0003-0002 | PD-MO-0003-0003 | PD-MO-0003-0004 | PD-MO-0003-0005 | PD-MO-0003-9000
Plaintiff's Lawyers Anand, Easha (California) show/hide docs
PD-MO-0003-0001 | PD-MO-0003-9000
Breihan, Amy Elizabeth (Missouri) show/hide docs
Crane, Megan G (Missouri) show/hide docs
DeLoach, Kayla (Missouri) show/hide docs
Maune, James J. (California) show/hide docs
Melehani, Will (California) show/hide docs
Prasad, Anjali (California) show/hide docs
Quinn, Mae C. (Missouri) show/hide docs
PD-MO-0003-0001 | PD-MO-0003-9000
Rosca, Camille Joanne (New York) show/hide docs
Rose, Evan (California) show/hide docs
PD-MO-0003-0001 | PD-MO-0003-9000
Rothert, Anthony [Tony] E. (Missouri) show/hide docs
PD-MO-0003-0001 | PD-MO-0003-9000
Scherzer, Aaron W. (New York) show/hide docs
PD-MO-0003-0001 | PD-MO-0003-9000
Shahabian, Matthew R (New York) show/hide docs
Shahabian, Matthew R. (California) show/hide docs
Sills, Robert L. (New York) show/hide docs
PD-MO-0003-0001 | PD-MO-0003-9000
Steffan, Jessie (Missouri) show/hide docs
Tartaglio, Anthony (California) show/hide docs
Wilcox, Gillian R. (Missouri) show/hide docs
PD-MO-0003-0001 | PD-MO-0003-9000
Williamson, Jason D. (New York) show/hide docs
PD-MO-0003-0001 | PD-MO-0003-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Berrigan, Patrick J (Missouri) show/hide docs
Blake, Julie Marie (Missouri) show/hide docs
Elsbury, Laura E. (Missouri) show/hide docs
Gianaris, Ted (Illinois) show/hide docs
Kroeger, Richard (Illinois) show/hide docs
Mermelstein, John Gregory (Missouri) show/hide docs
Moore, Justin (Missouri) show/hide docs
Morgan, Jeremiah J. (Missouri) show/hide docs
PD-MO-0003-0006 | PD-MO-0003-9000
Quinlan, Michael D. (Missouri) show/hide docs
Ramsey, Steven Alan (Missouri) show/hide docs
Sauer, Dean John (Missouri) show/hide docs
Shipma, Jacqueline (Missouri) show/hide docs
Shull, Doug (Missouri) show/hide docs
Stevens, Christian M (Missouri) show/hide docs
PD-MO-0003-0006 | PD-MO-0003-9000
Stewart, George Michael (Illinois) show/hide docs

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