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Doe v. Hommrich

United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division

February 17, 2017

JOHN DOE, a minor, by and through his Mother and next friend, SHARIEKA FRAZIER
v.
BONNIE HOMMRICH, et al.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          ALETAA. TRAUGER, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Pending before the court is Plaintiff's Motion for Class Certification (Docket No. 54). For the reasons stated herein, Plaintiff's Motion will be GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

         INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff Frazier filed this action on behalf of her minor son pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging violations of her son's constitutional rights. The primary issue in this case is whether facilities licensed and/or supervised by the Tennessee Department of Children's Services, including the Rutherford County Juvenile Detention Center (“RCJDC”), may use solitary confinement for juvenile offenders for punitive or disciplinary reasons.

         Plaintiff John Doe is a minor who was charged with, and later adjudicated guilty of, offenses that rendered him delinquent under the laws of the State of Tennessee. The Amended Complaint (Docket No. 34) alleges that the Juvenile Court for Rutherford County, Tennessee, ordered Plaintiff detained in the RCJDC while he awaited adjudication. Plaintiff avers that, immediately upon his admission into RCJDC and for a period of several days, he was placed into solitary confinement by the Rutherford County Defendants (Rutherford County, Duke and Istvanditsch) for punitive and/or disciplinary reasons. The Amended Complaint alleges that, once Plaintiff was adjudicated delinquent, he was put into the custody of the Defendant Tennessee Department of Children's Services (“DCS”) and placed at the Middle Tennessee Juvenile Detention Facility in Columbia, Tennessee, where he alleges he could be subjected to lengthy solitary confinement for disciplinary reasons. Plaintiff alleges that placing him in solitary confinement for disciplinary or punitive reasons violates his constitutional rights under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. He seeks injunctive and declaratory relief only.

         Plaintiff seeks to bring this action as a class action on behalf of “all current and future juveniles detained in any facility licensed and/or supervised by the Tennessee Department of Children's Services, including Juvenile Detention Centers operated by county governments or private entities” and a sub-class of “all current and future juveniles detained in the Rutherford County Juvenile Detention Center and subject to Rutherford County Juvenile Detention Center's Standard Operating Procedures Behavior Management Policy, Chapter 6, § 19.” Plaintiff alleges that DCS and RCJDC policies and practices permit their licensed facilities to place members of the proposed classes in punitive and/or disciplinary solitary confinement.

         CLASS CERTIFICATION

         A class action will be certified only if, after rigorous analysis, the court is satisfied that the prerequisites of Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(a) have been met and that the action falls within one of the categories under Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(b). Bridging Communities Inc. v. Top Flite Financial Inc., 843 F.3d 1119, 1124 (6th Cir. 2016). The decision whether to certify a class, committed to the sound discretion of the district judge, turns on the particular facts and circumstances of each individual case. Ballan v. Upjohn Co., 159 F.R.D. 473, 479 (W.D. Mich. 1994). The parties seeking class certification bear the burden of showing that the requirements for class certification are met. Bridging Communities, 843 F.3d at 1124.

         A party seeking to maintain a class action must be prepared to show that Rule 23(a)'s numerosity, commonality, typicality and adequacy of representation requirements have been met. Comcast v. Behrend, 133 S.Ct. 1426, 1428 (2013). In addition, the party must satisfy, through evidentiary proof, at least one of Rule 23(b)'s provisions. Id. at 1428-29. Class Definition Before a court may certify a class pursuant to Rule 23, the class definition must be sufficiently definite so that it is administratively feasible for the court to determine whether a particular individual is a member of the proposed class. Young v. Nationwide Ins. Co., 693 F.3d 532, 537-38 (6th Cir. 2012). If the class members are impossible to identify without extensive and individualized fact-finding or “mini-trials”, then a class action is inappropriate. In re Skelaxin Antitrust Litigation, 299 F.R.D. 555, 557 (E.D. Tenn. 2014).

         As Defendants point out, Plaintiff does not allege that all solitary confinement of juveniles is constitutionally impermissible - only solitary confinement for punitive reasons.[1] To show the same alleged injury in this case, the class members must be those who were actually placed in solitary confinement for disciplinary or punitive purposes - not all juveniles who could be, but have not been, placed in solitary confinement for disciplinary or punitive purposes.

         Defendants argue that determining which juveniles were placed in solitary confinement or isolation would involve extensive individualized analysis, and yet, the Rutherford County Defendants have produced a list of 128 juveniles who experienced “isolation” pursuant to RCJDC's Behavioral Management policy (requiring “confinement”) from March 17, 2016, through October 7, 2016. Docket No. 94-2, Interrogatory No. 10; Docket Nos. 95 and 96. Thus, there is evidence that RCJDC has this information, and Plaintiff has provided evidence probative of the numbers and identities of juveniles who suffered the alleged unconstitutional harm in RCJDC.

         Because it is possible to identify the juveniles in RCJDC who were placed in solitary confinement or isolation for punitive reasons, Plaintiff's class definition shall be revised to be “all juveniles detained in the Rutherford County Juvenile Detention Center who are or were placed in solitary confinement or isolation for punitive reasons, from April 25, 2015[2] to the present.” The Rutherford County Defendants shall produce this information, for the relevant time period, by March 10, 2017.

         With regard to the State Defendants, Plaintiff's supporting documents refer only to the total number of juveniles in DCS secure facilities in Tennessee. Because that number is not limited to those who actually experienced the alleged unconstitutional harm, this proposed class is merely speculative. The proposed class members did not all share the same injury.[3] If the DCS class is defined as broadly as Plaintiff asks, Defendants would have individual defenses to each class member's situation - that is, whether he or she was placed in solitary confinement for disciplinary and/or punitive purposes. Such individualized analysis defeats the purposes of class actions.

         There is no evidence before the court that the State Defendants maintain information concerning punitive solitary confinement, although there is also no indication that Plaintiff asked for that information. See Docket Nos. 84-1 and 94-8. Because this proposed class definition is too broad, and there is no information before the court to indicate that determining the members of the class would not involve individualized analysis, Plaintiff's proposed DCS class cannot be certified at this time. Numerosity The first requirement of Rule 23(a) is that the class be so numerous that joinder of all members is impracticable. Although there is no strict numerical test, substantial numbers usually satisfy the numerosity requirement. Gilbert v. Abercrombie & Fitch Co., 2016 WL 4159682 at * 4 (S.D. Ohio Aug. 5, 2016) (citing Daffin v. Ford Motor Co., 458 F.3d 549, 552 (6th Cir. 2006)). “There is no magic minimum number that will breathe life into a class.” Russo v. CVS Pharmacy, Inc., ...


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