Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Class Action
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The First Circuit affirmed the rulings of the district court denying the Commission of the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services' motion to dismiss Plaintiffs' complaints against her, holding that Plaintiffs' allegations of error were without merit.Plaintiffs were (1) a class of individuals who claimed to have been held against their will without due process on the basis of a certification of their need for emergency mental health treatment, and (2) a group of hospitals who claimed to have been forced to retain persons certified to be in need of such treatment. The Commissioner moved to dismiss the claims based on Eleventh Amendment immunity and Plaintiffs' asserted lack of standing. The district court denied the motion to dismiss. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that there was no merit to the Commissioner's challenges to the district court's standing and Eleventh Amendment immunity rulings. View "Doe v. Shibinette" on Justia Law

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This case arose out of several days of street protests during the September 2017 riots that occurred following the acquittal of a former St. Louis police officer for the on-duty shooting of a black man. Plaintiffs are a protester who allegedly was maced, a person whose cell phone was seized and searched as he filmed arrests, and an observer who was allegedly exposed to chemical agents and arrested on September 17.The Amended Complaint alleged that the City (i) violated the First Amendment by retaliating against plaintiffs for engaging in protected expressive activity; (ii) violated the Fourth Amendment because its custom, practice, and failure to train and supervise caused unlawful seizures and the use of excessive force by police officers; and (iii) violated the Fourteenth Amendment when officers failed to warn before deploying chemical agents, failed to provide opportunities to disperse, and arbitrarily enforced two ordinances of the St. Louis Code. The City subsequently appealed the district court's order denying its motion to dissolve the preliminary injunction that included affirmative mandates pending a prompt trial on the merits of plaintiffs' claims for a permanent injunction, and the district court's order granting class certification.The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of the City's motion to dissolve the temporary injunction and remanded with directions to vacate and dissolve the injunction no later than October 31, 2021, if it has not been replaced with a final order either granting a permanent injunction or denying injunctive relief. The court explained that, given the rigorous 42 U.S.C. 1983 burdens of proof, the evidence at the preliminary injunction hearing relating to the events of September 2017, while relevant and sufficient to persuade the court to grant a preliminary injunction pendente lite, will not be sufficient to warrant permanent injunctive relief imposing the same levels of indefinite federal court control over the City's law enforcement responsibilities.The court vacated the class certification order without prejudice to plaintiffs renewing their request after a final order has been entered on their claim for permanent injunctive relief, at which point the district court can better assess whether a Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(b)(2) class is appropriate and necessary to afford proper equitable relief. The court explained that, given the individualized inquiries plaintiffs' disparate claims require, the massive class action certified neither promotes the efficiency and economy underlying class actions nor pays sufficient heed to the federalism and separation of powers principles in Supreme Court and Eighth Circuit precedent. View "Ahmad v. City of St. Louis" on Justia Law

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Women who work at the Cook County Jail or the adjoining courthouse filed a class-action suit against their employers for failing to prevent male inmates from sexually harassing them. The district court certified a class comprising all non‐supervisory female employees who work with male inmates at the jail or courthouse, of whom there are about 2,000.On interlocutory appeal, the Seventh Circuit held that the district court abused its discretion in certifying the class under Rule 23. The court’s primary error was using the peripheral and overbroad concept of “ambient harassment” (i.e., indirect or secondhand harassment) to certify a class of employees who have endured a wide range of direct and indirect harassment. Even without this error, the class cannot stand because it comprises class members with materially different working environments whose claims require separate, individualized analyses. Hostile work environment claims are fact-intensive. They turn on the frequency, severity, character, and effect of the harassment. Here, these are “worker‐specific” inquiries because they depend on a class member’s unique experience—which correlates to where she works. Some class members will have had comparable experiences but the plaintiffs have not proven that for the entire class. View "Howard v. Cook County Sheriff's Office" on Justia Law

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A facility caring for an unaccompanied child fails to provide a constitutionally adequate level of mental health care if it substantially departs from accepted professional standards. Appellants, a class of unaccompanied immigrant children detained at Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center (SVJC), filed a class action alleging that the Commission fails to provide a constitutionally adequate level of mental health care due to its punitive practices and failure to implement trauma-informed care. The district court found that the Commission provides adequate care by offering access to counseling and medication.The Fourth Circuit held that neither the Flores Settlement nor SVJC's cooperative agreement prevent appellants from addressing their alleged injuries through the relief they seek from SVJC. On the merits, the court applied the Youngberg standard for professional judgment and reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the Commission. The court explained that the district court incorrectly applied a standard of deliberate indifference when it should have determined whether the Commission substantially departed from accepted standards of professional judgment. Therefore, in light of the Youngberg standard, the district court must consider evidence relevant to the professional standards of care necessary to treat appellants' serious mental health needs. The court left it to the district court to determine in the first instance to what extent, if any, the trauma-informed approach should be incorporated into the professional judgment standard in this particular case. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "Doe v. Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center Commission" on Justia Law

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The Cook County Jail houses primarily people who have not yet been convicted. Under the jail’s “paper triage” policy, a detainee who has dental pain and wants treatment must submit a health service request form (HSRF). Staff review the HSRF and categorize it as “routine,” “priority,” or “urgent.” The detainee is referred to a dentist for treatment in three to 30 days, depending on the categorization. Most detainees do not receive a face-to-face assessment from a nurse or higher-level practitioner before they see a dentist. An assessment could identify bona fide complaints of dental pain or reveal serious medical issues and would allow a nurse to dispense over-the-counter pain medication.McFields, a former detainee, filed a putative class action, alleging that detainees suffered gratuitous pain as a result of the paper triage policy. They alleged that the standard of care for processing a health service request requires a face-to-face assessment within 48 hours and that the jail’s policy is objectively unreasonable. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of class certification, noting that each detainee presents a different situation that involved a different type of pain, took place at a different time, and involved different medical professionals and prison staff. McFields failed to satisfy the commonality and typicality requirements of Rule 23. Individual issues predominate over common questions. View "McFields v. Dart" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-appellant Terri Baker appealed the dismissal of this putative class action for lack of standing. She sued on behalf of herself and her son, S.F.B., to challenge Kansas laws and school district policies that: (1) required children to be vaccinated to attend school and participate in child care programs; and (2) provided a religious exemption from these requirements. She claimed these immunization laws and policies violated various federal and state constitutional provisions and statutes. Baker argued she and S.F.B. had standing because the immunization requirements and religious exemptions injured them in two ways: (1) the District misapplied Kansas law when it granted a religious exemption for S.F.B. to attend preschool despite being unvaccinated - her fear that the District would revoke S.F.B.'s religious exemption was an injury in fact that established standing; and (2) Baker "would like the option" of placing S.F.B. in a non-accredited private school (i.e., home school), school programs, or licensed child care - she contended Kansas law inhibited her from exercising these options and caused an injury in fact because she would be unable to secure a religious exemption for S.F.B. if she tried. Finding no reversible error in the district court's dismissal, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Baker v. USD 229 Blue Valley" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit challenging the quarantine decisions of certain Connecticut state officials in response to an Ebola epidemic in West Africa. On appeal, plaintiffs challenged the district court's denial of their motion for class certification and dismissing their suit for lack of standing and based on qualified immunity. Plaintiffs primarily argue that they suffered actual or imminent injuries that create standing to seek prospective relief to avert allegedly unconstitutional future quarantines; clearly established law required that any quarantine imposed be medically necessary and comport with certain procedural safeguards; and their class is sufficiently numerous to merit certification.The Second Circuit affirmed and held that the district court properly deemed plaintiffs' injuries too speculative to support standing. In this case, plaintiffs failed to plead a sufficient likelihood that, under the revised policy, any of them faces a substantial risk of suffering a future injury. The court also held that the law surrounding quarantines was not clearly established such that a state official may be held liable for the actions taken here. The court did not reach the class certification issue because it is mooted by the court's conclusion as to standing. Accordingly, the court remanded with instructions to amend the judgment to clarify that the state law claims were dismissed without prejudice. View "Liberian Community Ass'n v. Lamont" on Justia Law

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The plaintiffs, current and former inmates of the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC), have been diagnosed with hepatitis C. They filed suit against IDOC, Wexford (which provides inmate health services) and doctors more than 10 years ago after fruitless efforts to receive treatment for their disease while incarcerated. Their 42 U.S.C. 1983 complaint alleges that the diagnostic and treatment protocols for IDOC inmates with hepatitis C violate the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments.The Seventh Circuit reversed the grant of class certification and vacated a preliminary injunction. After discussing numerosity and commonality of facts and issues, the court noted that the district court failed to name a class representative or explain its omission, leaving no way to assess the adequacy of representation. On the assumption that the court would have accepted the proposed representatives, the record does not reveal whether they would be adequate. The lack of a named representative also makes it impossible to find typicality--that the “claims or defenses of the representative parties are typical of the claims or defenses of the class.” The individual plaintiffs have not shown that they are likely to suffer irreparable harm absent the preliminary injunction, so it was error to grant injunctive relief. View "Orr v. Shicker" on Justia Law

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Bennett was assigned to Cook County Jail Division 10, which houses detainees who need canes, crutches, or walkers. He filed suit under the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. 12131–34, and the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C.794, alleging that Division 10 lacks grab bars and other necessary fixtures. Bennett claims that he fell and was injured. He unsuccessfully sought to represent a class. The court reasoned that the appropriate accommodation of any detainee’s situation depends on personal characteristics, so common questions do not predominate under FRCP 23(b)(3). Bennett proposed an alternative class to avoid person-specific questions, contending that Division 10, which was constructed in 1992, violates 28 C.F.R. 42.522(b)'s requirement that as of “1988 … construction[] or alteration of buildings” must comply with the Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards. The Standards require accessible toilets to have grab bars nearby and accessible showers to have mounted seats. The district court rejected this proposal, reasoning that to determine whether the Structural Standards control, thereby mooting the reasonable accommodation inquiry, would require a ruling on the merits, which would “run[] afoul of the rule against one-way intervention.”The Seventh Circuit vacated. The "view that a class cannot be certified unless the plaintiff has already prevailed on the central legal issue is a formula for one-way intervention rather than a means to avoid it." Bennett proposes a class that will win if the Standards apply and were violated, to detainees’ detriment and otherwise will lose. View "Bennett v. Dart" on Justia Law

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These consolidated appeals arose from a class action brought by prisoners in the custody of the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) against senior ADC officials, challenging ADC's provision of healthcare. At issue on appeal are eleven district court orders imposing contempt sanctions, awarding attorneys' fees to plaintiffs, appointing expert witnesses, and otherwise enforcing the settlement agreement between the parties.The Ninth Circuit affirmed the Contempt Order, the Termination Order, and the HNR-Box Order. The panel vacated the Attorneys' Fees Order and Judgment, remanding with instructions to (a) recalculate the fee award by determining the correct hourly rates for each year, (b) exclude from any fee award the 11 hours erroneously included; (c) modify the costs award down by $1,285.79 in light of the district court's failure to reflect the downward adjustments in its prior order; and (d) reweigh whether a fee enhancement was appropriate without double-counting the Kerr factors. The panel dismissed the remainder of the Medical Needs Appeal for lack of jurisdiction. View "Parsons v. Ryan" on Justia Law