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Graham v. Parker

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

May 4, 2017

TONY C. PARKER, et al., Defendants



         Pending before the Court is Plaintiffs' Motion for Class Certification (Doc. No. 14). They challenge whether the State of Tennessee's policies and procedures for inmates with Hepatitis C satisfies constitutional standards. For the reasons stated herein, Plaintiffs' Motion is GRANTED.


         Plaintiffs Charles Graham and Russell Davis are inmates in facilities operated by the Tennessee Department of Corrections (“TDOC”). Both Graham and Davis have been diagnosed with the Hepatitis C virus. The Class Action Complaint (Doc. No. 1) alleges that Hepatitis C is a viral infection that causes liver inflammation that may lead to a host of medical complications and sometimes death.

         Graham and Davis brought this action, on behalf of themselves and others similarly situated, against Tony Parker, TDOC Commissioner, Dr. Marina Cadreche, TDOC Assistant Commissioner of Rehabilitative Services, and Dr. Kenneth Williams, TDOC Medical Director. They allege ongoing violations of their Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights by Defendants' deliberate indifference to their medical needs and to the medical needs of all inmates infected with the Hepatitis C virus.Plaintiffs take issue with Defendants' practices and procedures for addressing inmates with the Hepatitis C virus.

         Plaintiffs seek to enjoin Defendants' current practices and procedures related to the diagnosis and treatment of inmates with Hepatitis C and to have the Court order Defendants to develop and implement a plan to eliminate the substantial risk of serious harm to inmates with Hepatitis C in accordance with the community standards of care and the advice of medical experts. Plaintiffs contend that Defendants' current written policies for Hepatitis C diagnosis, assessment and treatment “utilize outdated standards of care and normalize the practice of refusing treatment for unjust and medically unsound reasons.” (Doc. No. 1 at 4.) In addition, Plaintiffs allege that Defendants' unwritten policies, customs and actual practices in diagnosing and treating Hepatitis C “fall short even of the outdated and unreasonable written protocols.” (Id.)

         For example, Plaintiffs argue that the HCV (Hepatitis C Virus) Guidance Panel[1] has definitively established a 12-week treatment regimen with the use of direct-acting anti-viral drugs (“DAAs”) as the medically accepted standard of care for Hepatitis C and that Defendants fail to follow the HCV Guidance Panel's recommendations and have intentionally omitted DAA treatment from their Protocol and other policies.

         Defendants argue that their policies concerning Hepatitis C are constitutional. They claim that TDOC has set forth a detailed procedure for the screening and treatment of Hepatitis C[2] and follows the Federal Bureau of Prisons' protocol for Hepatitis C treatment. Defendants maintain that not everyone with Hepatitis C requires treatment with medication and that the cost of DAAs is approximately $55, 000 to $75, 000 per patient. (Doc. No. 20 at 5.)


         Plaintiffs ask that the Court certify a class of inmates who have been diagnosed with Hepatitis C, defined as follows:

All persons currently incarcerated in any facility under the supervision or control of the Tennessee Department of Corrections or persons incarcerated in a public or privately owned facility for whom the Tennessee Department of Corrections has ultimate responsibility for their medical care and who have at least 12 weeks or more remaining to serve on their sentences and are either currently diagnosed with Hepatitis C infection or are determined to have Hepatitis C after an appropriate screening test has been administered by the Department of Corrections.[3]

         In order to certify a class, the Court must be satisfied that Plaintiffs have met the requirements of both Rule 23(a) and Rule 23(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Rule 23(a) establishes four requirements for class certification: (1) the class is so numerous that joinder of all members is impracticable; (2) there are questions of law or fact common to the class; (3) the claims or defenses of the representative parties are typical of those of the class; and (4) the representative parties will fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class. Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(a).

         A class action will be certified only if, after rigorous analysis, the Court is satisfied that the prerequisites of Rule 23(a) have been met and that the action falls within one of the categories under Rule 23(b). Castillo v. Envoy Corp., 206 F.R.D. 464, 467-68 (M.D. Tenn. 2002). 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 Inc. v. Top Flite Financial Inc., 843 F.3d 1119, 1124 (6th Cir. 2016).

         Class Definition

         In Young v. Nationwide Ins. Co., 693 F.3d 532 (6th Cir. 2012), the Sixth Circuit held that 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. Id. at 537-38. The court stated that although the text of Rule 23(a) is silent on the matter, a class must not only exist, but also the class must be susceptible of precise definition. There can be no class action if the proposed class is “amorphous” or “imprecise.” Id.

         Defendants argue that Plaintiffs' proposed class definition is not sufficiently definite. Defendants state that because the “fluidity” of the class (all current inmates), determination of who belongs in the class would require individualized, continuous calculation. Defendants overlook that Plaintiffs are seeking injunctive relief only. That injunctive relief, if obtained, would ...

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