Reconsiderations denied December 11, 2014.
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Equity. Columbia and Richmond Superior Courts. Before Judge Craig.
Judgments affirmed in part, reversed in part, and cases remanded in case nos. S14A1033, S14X1034, S14A1035, S14X1036, S14A1037, S14X1038, S14A1039, S14X1040, S14A1041, S14X1042. Judgments affirmed in part, reversed in part, and cases remanded in case nos. S14A1251, S14X1252, S14A1253, S14A1254, S14X1255, S14A1256, S14A1257, S14X1258, S14A1259, S14A1260, S14X1261, S14A1262, S14A1263, S14X1264, S14A1265, S14A1266, S14X1267, S14A1268, S14A1269, S14X1270, S14A1271, S14X1272.
Hull Barrett, James B. Ellington, Thomas L. Cathey, McKenna Long & Aldridge, Nathan L. Garroway, Jeffery A. Zachman, for Sentinel Offender Services, LLC.
Frails & Wilson, Randolph Frails, Aimee L. Sanders, for Roundtree.
John R. B. Long, Bell & Brigham, John C. Bell, Jr., Tucker, Everitt, Long, Brewton & Lanier, Thomas W. Tucker, John B. Long, for appellees.
Schiff Hardin, Leah Ward Sears, Samuel D. Almon, Crystal L. Conway, amici curiae.
THOMPSON, Chief Justice. All the Justices concur.
Thompson, Chief Justice.
These cases present constitutional and statutory questions arising from the use of private probation companies by Georgia courts to provide misdemeanor probation supervision services. Thirteen plaintiffs filed individual civil actions against Sentinel Offender Services, LLC, a private for-profit probation servicing entity, and other defendants seeking declaratory and injunctive relief and damages based on claims that Sentinel unlawfully collected probation supervision [296 Ga. 316] fees from plaintiffs and violated their due process rights. Among other things, the plaintiffs: (1) challenged the constitutionality of OCGA § 42-8-100 (g) (1), Georgia's private probation statute; (2) alleged that OCGA § 42-8-30.1 precludes tolling of misdemeanor probation sentences and restricts the conditions that may be imposed on probationers in misdemeanor cases including that electronic monitoring is not allowed; (3) challenged Sentinel's authority to provide misdemeanor probation services to the Superior Court of Columbia County; and (4) sought to recover from Sentinel probation supervision fees plaintiffs contend Sentinel unlawfully collected from them and other damages. All thirteen actions were assigned as companion cases to Superior Court Judge Daniel J. Craig of the Augusta Judicial Circuit, who conducted joint hearings on various motions filed by the individual plaintiffs and by Sentinel.
On appeal are two consolidated orders entered contemporaneously by the trial court in the pending cases. The trial court issued one order in the five Columbia County cases and another in the eight Richmond County cases. While the two orders differ somewhat with respect to the trial court's findings of fact specific to the cases filed in each county, the trial court determined certain issues of law and fact were common to all the cases before it and entered identical rulings in both orders on these issues. See OCGA § 9-11-42 (a). " It is well settled that a court may take judicial notice of its own records in the immediate case or proceedings before it." Baker v. City of Atlanta, 211 Ga. 34 (83 S.E.2d 682) (1954) (quoting from Branch v. Branch, 194 Ga. 575, 577 (22 S.E.2d 124) (1942)). As it appears from the record that the parties acquiesced in the trial court's consolidation of these issues, [296 Ga. 317] the trial court was entitled to consider the evidence presented in all thirteen companion cases when ruling on the motions before it. See OCGA § 9-11-42 (a). The trial court's consolidation of these issues has not been specifically challenged by the parties on appeal. See Ford v. Uniroyal Goodrich Tire Co., 267 Ga. 226, 229, n.12 (476 S.E.2d 565) (1996).
Among other things, the trial court held that OCGA § 42-8-100 (g) (1) was not unconstitutional on its face and did not offend due process or equal protection nor condone imprisonment for debt; ruled that the statutory framework prohibited private probation services from having the sentences of misdemeanor probationers tolled or from collecting fees for electronic monitoring; found the plaintiffs had a right to recover from Sentinel any statutorily unauthorized probation supervision fees Sentinel had collected from them; and, with respect to the Columbia County plaintiffs, determined that although Sentinel's contract with the superior court of that county had not been properly approved by the county governing authority as statutorily required, mutual mistake and principles of equity prevented Sentinel from having to disgorge any probation supervision fees which would have been lawful for Sentinel to collect under a valid contract. Procedurally, the trial court denied Sentinel's motions to dismiss and motion for judgment on the pleadings, granted in part and denied in part Glover's motion for partial summary judgment, conditionally certified class actions in each county, and granted injunctive relief to the plaintiffs.
All in all, 32 appeals and cross-appeals have been filed in this Court seeking review of these orders. Appellants Sentinel Offender Services, LLC, Christina Kapral,
Gina A. Childs, Martin M. Murray, [296 Ga. 318] Cheryl Bryant and Kayla White (hereinafter collectively referred to as " Sentinel" ) appeal from the trial court's grant of summary judgment and injunctive relief in each of the thirteen cases as well as from the court's conditional certification of class actions in both Columbia and Richmond counties. Appellant Richard Roundtree, Sheriff of Richmond County, Georgia (hereinafter " Roundtree" ), named as a defendant in five of the Richmond County cases and permitted by the trial court to intervene in a sixth, filed separate appeals from the injunctive relief granted in those six cases. Finally, all thirteen plaintiffs, Jacob Martin Glover, Willie James Gilyard, Pamela Lynn Tennille, Brandon Tyler Osborn, Lawrence Ruben Martin, Jr., Virginia Cash, Kelvin Ashley, Clifford Hayes, Amanda Stephens, Thomas John Barrett, William Stephen Carter, Kathleen Myrtle Hucks and Nathan Ryan Mantooth, filed individual cross-appeals from the orders entered in their respective cases.
Each of the cases on appeal involves a plaintiff who was convicted of at least one misdemeanor in either Columbia County Superior Court or Richmond County State Court and received a probated sentence which resulted in his or her paying probation supervision fees to Sentinel. The plaintiffs, none of whom directly appealed their misdemeanor convictions or, where probation was revoked, sought discretionary review of their probation revocations, instead filed civil actions in the superior court seeking injunctive relief and damages against Sentinel.
All five of the Columbia County plaintiffs, Glover, Gilyard, Tennille, Osborn and Martin, alleged Sentinel's contract to provide probation services to the Columbia County Superior Court was invalid due to Sentinel's failure to secure approval from the Columbia County Commission as required by OCGA § 42-8-100 (g) (1), and Glover filed his complaint as a class action additionally challenging the constitutionality of OCGA § 42-8-100 (g) (1). Two plaintiffs also alleged that Sentinel illegally modified the terms and conditions of their sentences by adding conditions such as drug screens and treatment programs not included in their original court-ordered sentences and swore out warrants for their arrest based, in part, on [296 Ga. 319] their failure to comply with these added conditions, while three claimed Sentinel illegally collected or sought to collect excessive supervision fees from them by seeking probation revocation warrants against them after their original probation terms had expired.
The eight Richmond County plaintiffs, Cash, Ashley, Hayes, Stephens, Barrett, Carter, Hucks and Mantooth, made similar claims against Sentinel. Along with challenging the constitutionality of OCGA § 42-8-100 (g) (1), several plaintiffs claimed Sentinel illegally collected excessive supervision fees from them through the unlawful tolling of their misdemeanor sentences and for electronic monitoring and drug and alcohol testing not authorized by the private probation statutory framework. Three of the plaintiffs alleged that the contract between Sentinel and the State Court of Richmond County, Georgia, was illegal and void under OCGA § 13-8-2 (a) (1) as one tending to corrupt the judiciary and two plaintiffs additionally sought to challenge the provisions of OCGA § 15-21A-6 (c) as violating Georgia's constitutional guarantee of the right to counsel. See Alford v. State, 287 Ga. 105 (695 S.E.2d 1) (2010). Further, four plaintiffs who were in custody at the time, and one about to be incarcerated, filed their actions as petitions for habeas corpus claiming that the revocations of their probation had been unconstitutional and in violation of the mandates of the United States Supreme Court in Bearden v. Georgia, 461 U.S. 660 (103 S.Ct. 2064, 76 L.Ed.2d 221) (1983) and the Court of [296 Ga. 320] Appeals of Georgia in Johnson v. State, 307 Ga.App. 570 (707 S.E.2d 373) (2011) in that no inquiry had been made as to whether they had wilfully violated the terms of their probation or if they were being held in custody for fines they could not pay. Subsequently, the trial court granted habeas relief to these plaintiffs based on the court's determination that they had entered guilty pleas without being afforded the colloquy required by Boykin v. Alabama, 395 U.S. 238 (89 S.Ct. 1709, 23 L.Ed.2d 274) (1969), but refused to dismiss their civil claims against Sentinel. Finally, one of the plaintiffs, Mantooth, filed a class action complaint seeking declaratory and injunctive relief pursuant to OCGA § 9-11-23 (b) (1)
and (b) (3).
[296 Ga. 321] Although the facts in the individual cases have not been fully developed given the procedural posture of the appeals before us, we find the legal issues on appeal and cross-appeal were properly raised in some, if not all, of the cases below. We further note that all of the trial court's substantive rulings have been challenged on appeal by either the appellants or cross-appellants. Specific facts relied on by this Court will be identified as necessary. For the reasons that follow, we affirm in part and reverse in part the judgments of the trial court, and we remand the cases with direction.
1. As a preliminary matter, we note that little focus has been placed on the justiciability of the various claims raised by the individual plaintiffs in these cases. After careful review of the records and briefs, we have determined that at least one plaintiff presents in a properly justiciable form each of the substantive legal issues that the trial court decided in its consolidated orders and that we decide below. On remand, however, the trial court is directed to consider the ...