JOHNSON v. CITY OF OPELOUSAS Civ. A. No. 790317.
488 F.Supp. 433 (1980)
Madeline JOHNSON, on her own behalf and on behalf of her minor son, James Johnson, as his next friend, and on behalf of all other minors similarly situated, Plaintiffs, v. The CITY OF OPELOUSAS, an Incorporated Municipality, Thomas Edwards, individually and in his official capacity as Mayor of the City of Opelousas, Howard Zerangue, Individually and in his official capacity as Chief of Police.
United States District Court, W. D. Louisiana, Lafayette-Opelousas Division, Section S.
April 16, 1980.
Richard B. Millspaugh, Opelousas, La., for defendant.
SHAW, District Judge.
This matter involves an action by a mother and her son to test the constitutionality of the nocturnal juvenile curfew ordinance of the City of Opelousas, Louisiana. The matter was submitted to the Court to be decided on the stipulation of facts in the record. All parties to this cause have the status of natural persons residing within the geographical area encompassed by the Federal Western District of Louisiana.
On January 21, 1978, the plaintiff's minor son, James Johnson, was taken into custody at 4:52 a. m., by an officer employed by the City of Opelousas Police Department for violating the city's juvenile curfew ordinance. Young Johnson was released immediately thereafter without the filing of a formal petition or any adverse adjudication under applicable Louisiana law resulting
Plaintiffs contend that James Johnson is threatened with enforcement of the juvenile curfew ordinance against him in the future.
Plaintiff, Madeline Johnson, is a natural person and a citizen of the United States of America, of the age of majority, residing in the City of Opelousas, Louisiana. Pursuant to Rule 17(c), Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Madeline Johnson seeks to represent the other named plaintiff, James Johnson, a minor, and the putative class of minors of which he is a member.
Plaintiff, James Johnson, a minor, is the son of plaintiff, Madeline Johnson, and he desires to sue by his next friend. Plaintiff, James Johnson, is a natural person and a citizen of the United States of America, and he resides in the City of Opelousas, Louisiana.
Defendant, City of Opelousas, is an incorporated municipality and political subdivision properly created under the laws of the State of Louisiana. Opelousas Code § 18-8.1 was properly adopted and is currently enforced by the City of Opelousas. Defendant, City of Opelousas, is sued in its official capacity, as a person under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
Defendant, Thomas Edwards, is a natural person, and a citizen of the United States, residing in St. Landry Parish, Louisiana. He is sued individually and in his official capacity as Mayor of the City of Opelousas. As mayor, defendant Edwards, is responsible for the enforcement of Opelousas Code § 18-8.1 complained of herein.
Defendant, Howard Zerangue, is a natural person, and a citizen of the United States, residing in St. Landry Parish, Louisiana. Defendant Zerangue is sued individually and in his official capacity as Chief of Police of the City of Opelousas. As Chief of Police, defendant Zerangue is directly responsible for the enforcement of Opelousas Code § 18-8.1 complained of herein.
Plaintiffs seek to maintain this suit as a class action pursuant to Rule 23(b)(2), Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the class being "all persons who have been or in the future will be arrested or detained under § 18-8.1".
The Court finds as a matter of law that plaintiffs' claim satisfies the prerequisites of Rule 23(a) FRCP and that in addition subdivision (b)(2) would be applicable to the instant action
After due consideration of the criteria listed in Rule 23 and the facts of the matter at hand, the Court chooses to exercise its discretion in denying class status in this suit.
No hearing on the maintenance of this suit as a class action will be granted for the obvious reason that no additional evidence could be available or pertinent to the question as to whether or not a class action is necessary or appropriate.
In general, plaintiffs claim that the ordinance violates the First, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution of the United States, in that it is vague and overbroad on its face; that it violates the minor plaintiff's right of freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom of assembly and freedom of religion, guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States; that it violates the minor's right to move freely and to use the public streets in a way that does not interfere with the personal liberties of others guaranteed by the Ninth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States; that it violates the rights of parents to direct the upbringing of their children; and the guarantee of family autonomy implicit in the due process and equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States; that it violates the minor plaintiff's rights of foreign interstate and intrastate travel guaranteed by the commerce clause and the privileges and immunities clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and Article 4, Section 2 of the Constitution of the United States, and that it violates the minor plaintiff's rights guaranteed by the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. Opelousas Code Section 18-8.1 provides as follows:
There may be narrower scope for operation of the presumption of constitutionality when legislation appears on its face to be within a specific prohibition of the Constitution, such as those of the first ten amendments, which are deemed equally specific when held to be embraced within the Fourteenth (than when it involves regulatory legislation affecting ordinary commerce transactions). United States v. Carolene Products Company,
The Court, in Jacobson v. Massachusetts,
The Oregon Compulsory Education Act requiring every child between the ages of eight and sixteen should attend a public school and that parents or guardians, who refused should be guilty of a misdemeanor, was held unconstitutional as an unreasonable interference with the liberty of parents and guardians to direct the upbringing and education of children under their control. Mr. Justice McReynolds delivering the opinion of the Court said:
But the ordinance in question does not involve an absolute prohibition of a minor's right of movement or travel or access to a place for the exchange of ideas consistent with the safe and legitimate use of the streets. These freedoms are not beyond all control.
Prince v. Commonwealth of Massachusetts,
In Cox v. New Hampshire,
There is no absolute freedom to do as one wills. The physical well-being of our children is an object of public interest and care in order to preserve the strength and vigor of our people. Children are in a class of their own. If legislation designed for the protection of women has been sustained by our Courts where like legislation for men could not, the same principles can apply for children. This Court feels that the infringement of the individual rights of parent and child involved herein is warranted by the pressing nature of the social need the ordinance was established to promote. What can be closer to the public interest than the health and protection of children from whatever awaits them during the late hours of night and the wee hours of morning? The Supreme Court has frequently held that the legislative authority acting within its proper field is not bound to extend to regulation to all cases which it
The well-being of its children is of course, a subject within the State's constitutional power to regulate. The custody, care and nurture of children reside first in the parents and they are entitled to the support of laws designated to aid discharge of that responsibility. Ginsberg v. New York,
For the foregoing reasons, the Court finds that the plaintiff's First Amendment rights, protected by the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment from impairment by the states, have not been violated. For the same reasons, the Court holds that the plaintiff's claim that the ordinance violates the minor plaintiff's right to move freely and use the public streets has no merit.
The plaintiffs claim that the curfew ordinance unconstitutionally interferes with the right of parents to direct the upbringing of their children and the guarantee of family autonomy is without merit. The right of the parent to direct the upbringing of his children and the right to family autonomy are not absolute. When actions concerning the child have a relation to the public welfare or the well-being of the child, the state may act to promote these legitimate interests. Bykofsky v. Borough of Middletown, supra, at page 1262.
The plaintiffs assert that the curfew ordinance violates the minor plaintiff's right of foreign, interstate and intrastate travel, guaranteed by the commerce clause and the privileges and immunities clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and Article 4, Section 2 of the Constitution of the United States.
The police power of a state extends beyond health, morals and safety, and comprehends the duty, within constitutional limitations, to protect the well-being and tranquility of a community; Kovacs v. Cooper,
For the reasons set forth previously herein, and for the reasons set forth in Bykofsky v. Borough of Middletown, supra, the Court holds that the ordinance does not constitutionally impinge on the minor's right of foreign, interstate and intrastate travel guaranteed by the commerce clause or the privileges and immunities clause.
The plaintiffs contend that the curfew ordinance violates the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The traditional test requires that the state action must be upheld if there is a reasonable basis for the classification and the basis is rationally related to the achievement of a legitimate state interest. Bykofsky v. Borough of Middletown, supra, at page 1264, and cases cited therein. Unlike a classification based upon race, alienage and natural origin which are inherently suspect, age is not a suspect classification. Oregon v. Mitchell, 1970,
Since the ordinance applies alike to all persons under the age of seventeen (17), there is clearly no equal protection violation within the class subject to the curfew.
Legislation must not be so vague, the language so loose, as to leave to those who have to apply it too wide a discretion. Legislation which is ambiguous, imprecise and vague, ". . . does not provide for government by clearly defined laws, but rather for government by the moment-to-moment opinions of a policeman on his beat". Shuttlesworth v. City of Birmingham, 1965,
Herein, plaintiffs claim that the ordinance is vague since the term "emergency errand" places unfiltered discretion in the hands of the Opelousas police. The requirement of definiteness has been held satisfied by a statute which forbade work by railroad employees in excess of prescribed maximum hours per day "except in case of emergency", the latter phrase being characterized by the Court as "an appropriate description of an exceptional class." Baltimore & Ohio Ry. Co. v. Interstate Commerce Commission,
Within the same reasoning the Court finds that the term "responsible adult" is not impermissibly vague. The term "a sufficient degree of maturity" was held impermissibly vague in Middletown, supra, when used as a standard for relaxing the curfew. However, without the term "responsible" preceding the word "adult", the ordinance herein would lose a great deal of its desired effect. There is no doubt that many irresponsible and undesirable adult companions could be found to roam the streets during the curfew hours.
There is another question regarding the curfew ordinance that was not raised but should be considered by the Court. Paragraph B of Section 18-8.1 provides in part that:
The choice of the term "neglected child" is unfortunate and misleading because a child may be a curfew violator and not, under any stretch of the imagination, be neglected by his parents. Therefore, if Paragraph (b) of Section 18-8.1 is unconstitutional, the Court feels that paragraph (a) can stand alone, undisturbed and valid if the requirements of procedural due process are otherwise satisfied. In such a case, the provisions of the Louisiana Code of Juvenile Procedure (LSA-C.J.P. Articles 1-128) would automatically come into play. With enactment of this new juvenile code effective
is unconstitutionally vague and misleading. With the deletion from the ordinance of the above words and phrases found impermissibly vague, Section 18-8.1(b) remains as follows:
The United States Supreme Court has held that the Fourteenth Amendment guarantee against deprivation of liberty without due process of law is applicable to children in juvenile delinquency proceedings. In Re: Gault,
Therefore, the Court is of the opinion that a violator of the Opelousas curfew ordinance is only subject to the sanctions of the juvenile court when after an evidentiary hearing, the violator is found to be a child in need of supervision or care.
Any other interpretation of the ordinance by this Court would raise a serious question as to its constitutionality and the Court will not invalidate an ordinance if the exact meaning of the phrase can be discovered and a definite standard can be found which would not give rise to arbitrary power. When a word or phrase in a statute or constitution is ambiguous, it is the duty of the Court, in constructing the meaning of that word or phrase, to attempt to determine whether an exact meaning was intended and if so, to ascertain that meaning. Davis v. Schnell, 336 U.S. 933, 69 S.Ct. 749, 93 L.Ed. 1093 (1949), reported at
When the validity of an ordinance is drawn into question, and even if a serious doubt of the constitutionality is raised, it is a cardinal principle that the Court will first ascertain whether a construction of the statute is fairly possible by which the question may be avoided. Crowell v. Benson,
Thus, the Court finds that the Louisiana Code of Juvenile Procedure clearly and adequately provides for procedures and sanction for juveniles who violate the curfew ordinance. With the deletion from the ordinance of the words and phrases found impermissibly vague, the Court finds that the ordinance, in conjunction with the Code, gives fair notice of what constitutes a violation of its terms and the applicable sanctions.
The government has an interest to protect young children from each other and from other persons on the street during nighttime hours, the enforcement of parental control of a responsibility for their children, the protection of the public from nocturnal mischief by minors and reduction in the incidence of juvenile criminal activity.
The ordinance must have a useful or legitimate purpose to protect the general welfare or health, safety or morals. It must hit the evil where it is most felt. Unless this Court can take judicial notice of certain facts which are lacking in the record, the ordinance may be repugnant to the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
The Court feels that it can take judicial notice of the following facts set forth in Middletown that are equally applicable to Opelousas.
Therefore, the Court finds that the curfew ordinance has a real, rational and substantial relationship to the object sought to be achieved, and the ordinance will be upheld as constitutional.
The plaintiffs' request for injunctive relief, costs of court and attorney's fees is denied.
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