From the Tangipahoa Sheriff's Office
COURT ISSUES PRELIMINARY RULING IN PARISH JAIL DISPUTE
HAMMOND, LA – ( December 27, 2016) - Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff Daniel Edwards has released a copy of an opinion recently signed by Judge Jeffrey S. Johnson in a lawsuit filed against Tangipahoa Parish Government seeking reimbursement for hundreds of thousands of dollars in expenses incurred by the Sheriff in taking care of prisoners in the parish jail.
While the case has not yet gone to trial on the merits, the Sheriff presented a preliminary motion seeking a court ruling on a small portion of the claim, with the hope that the court’s ruling on the legal issues within that small portion could set the stage for the parties to begin serious settlement negotiations on the overall dispute.
Judge Johnson’s Opinion, handed down on December 16, 2016, ruled in favor of Sheriff Edwards on the legal issues presented in the case, and specifically granted the Sheriff’s Motion for a Summary Judgment on reimbursing the Sheriff’s costs for Evidence Room shelving and security. On the question of reimbursement for jail expenses, the Court decided that since some facts were in dispute between the parties, a trial would be required to establish those facts.
However, the Court did provide a definitive ruling on the legal issues that would decide the case when it comes to trial on the merits. Judge Johnson held that “the Court however, finds that the Louisiana Legislature has directly spoken as to what expenses shall be paid to Sheriffs for Jail costs. The statutes, supra, all contain ‘shall’ language. Such language by ordinary rules of interpretation makes clear the discretion by the Parish Government has been usurped by the inherent authority of the State of Louisiana’s Legislative Branch. Those expenses and costs are directly addressed, and the payment of those expenses and costs is not discretionary. It is not a stretch to presume such special attention was provided for and paid to the law enforcement branch of each Parish -i.e., the Sheriff, given they have the task of maintaining the safety of its citizens and housing its prisoners. In support of this view, the Court finds persuasive the language of Louisiana Attorney General Opinion No. 16-0151, which provides ‘the law does not provide a Parish Government any means by which to limit the Parish’s expenses in Jail operations.’ Accordingly, no Parish may limit the maximum expenditure per prisoner or the number of prisoners in custody. Each Parish must bear the full cost of prisoner care for the total number of prisoners in its Sheriff’s custody.”
Judge Johnson also quoted the case of Jones v. St. Tammany Parish Jail, which held that “the Parish exercises no power or discretion in the functioning of the Sheriff’s Office or the Jail. The Parish’s responsibility to the Jail is limited to funding of the Jail. The Parish’s fiscal responsibility for the Jail does not constitute authority to control how the Sheriff fulfills his duties. Under this scheme, the Sheriff’s policy-making decisions, as well as his day-to-day decisions regarding the management of the Jail, cannot be imputed to the Parish.”
Judge Johnson further went on to hold that “based on the above jurisprudential and statutory law, the Court finds that the Parish is responsible for all fixed and reasonable costs of the Jail. The Court further finds that the right to make decisions on what costs are necessary for safe-keeping of prisoners is reserved to the Sheriff of the Parish and not to Parish Government. However, the Parish is only responsible for those costs which are in fact fixed and are determined as reasonable.”
Sheriff Daniel Edwards, responding to the Court’s Opinion, said the following:
“We believe Judge Johnson’s Opinion on the legal issues is entirely correct. That is the basis on which we have billed Parish Government for jail expenses. But my office has been underpaid by more than $1 million by Parish Government in the last two years, and that shortfall has caused significant financial hardship to the Sheriff’s Office. We would hope that the Parish Council and Parish President Robby Miller would take note of the Court’s ruling and begin a serious dialogue with us in efforts to amicably resolve this dispute, as so many other Parish Governments around the State have done with their Sheriffs, including Livingston Parish to our West and St. Tammany to our East.”
For those wishing to follow the litigation, the suit is captioned Daniel H. Edwards, Sheriff of Tangipahoa Parish v. Tangipahoa Parish Government, et al”, Docket #2016-0000065, Division “A”, 21st Judicial District Court.