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K.W. ex rel. Davis v. Rutherford County

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

July 18, 2019

K.W., ex rel KANISA DAVIS, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
RUTHERFORD COUNTY, TENNESEE Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          WAVERLY D. CRENSHAW, JR. CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Pending before the Court is Plaintiffs' Amended Rule 23 Motion to Certify Class. (Doc. No. 30.) Rutherford County, Tennessee (“Rutherford”) has filed a response in opposition, Plaintiffs have replied, Rutherford has filed a sur-reply, and Plaintiffs have responded to that sur-reply. (Doc. Nos. 44, 50, 67, 75.) For the reasons below, the Court will hold in abeyance any ruling on Plaintiffs' class certification motion.

         A. Background

         Dylan Geerts filed the initial Complaint on July 7, 2017, bringing a civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Doc. No. 1.) Essentially, Plaintiffs alleged that two policies Rutherford followed in relation to arresting and prosecuting juveniles violated those juveniles' civil rights. (See Doc. No. 1 at 1-9.) First, Plaintiffs alleged that Rutherford maintained a de facto policy requiring all children charged with any delinquent or unruly offense be taken into custody and delivered to the Rutherford Juvenile Detention Center (“RJDC”). (Doc.. No. 19 at 1.) This “Always Arrest” policy was in violation of a Tennessee state law, which limited the use of custodial arrests to situations in which: (1) the child was charged with a statutorily enumerated offense; or (2) a court-issued “arrest order” had previously been entered. (Id. at 2.) Plaintiffs alleged that Rutherford's “Always Arrest” policy resulted in mass violation of juveniles' civil rights, including their state law right against false arrest. (Id.)

         Second, Plaintiffs alleged that Rutherford maintained a de facto policy of incarcerating juveniles at the RJDC before trial whenever RJDC staff subjectively determined that incarceration was in the “best intersts” of the child, regardless of state law restrictions making it illegal to incarcerate children outside of certain narrowly prescribed circumstances. (Id.) Accordingly, Rutherford's use of the “Filter System” resulted in rampant, en masse violations of potentially thousands of children's substantive and procedural due process rights. (Id.)

         Plaintiffs, on behalf of themselves and the purported class, sought certification pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 23(a), 23(b)(2), and 23(b)(3). (See Doc. No. 30.) Plaintiffs initially set forth the following class definitions:

1. Illegal Custodial Arrest Classes (Subclass A: The Injunctive Arrest Class)
All juveniles who may, because of Rutherford County's policies or de facto practices, be illegally taken into custody by Rutherford County Sheriff's deputies for a status or misdemeanor delinquent charge where such juveniles have a Tennessee state law right to be released with a summons or citation in lieu of custodial arrest because (a) no law enforcement officer personally witnesses the offense, (b) the alleged offense is not one of the few named misdemeanors for which a warrantless arrest is specifically authorized even if the offense occurs outside the presence of an officer, (c) the offense is not one of the categorical exceptions to T.C.A. § 40-7-118's mandatory “cite and release” requirement, and (d) no court orders has issued an arrest order prior to the custodial arrest being conducted.
2. Subclass B: The Damages Arrest Class
All persons[1] who have been taken into custody as juveniles by Rutherford County Sheriff's deputies for unruly or misdemeanor delinquent charges where such juveniles had a Tennessee state law right to be released with a summons or citation in lieu of a custodial arrest because (a) no law enforcement officer personally witnessed the alleged offense, (b) the alleged offense was not one of a few named misdemeanors for which a warrantless arrest is specifically authorized even if the offense occurred outside the officer's presence, (c) the alleged offense was not one of the categorical exceptions to T.C.A. § 40-7-118's mandatory “cite and release” requirement, and (d) the arrest was not made pursuant to a previously-issued court arrest order.
3. Detention Class (Subclass C: The Injunctive Detention Class)
All juveniles who may, because of Rutherford County's policies or de facto practices, be securely detained pretrial as a juvenile in circumstances that do not meet the perquisites for secure detention under T.C.A. § 37-1-114(c) and the United States Constitution.
4. Detention Class (Subclass D: The Damages Detention Class)
All persons (subject to the statute of limitations) who have, because of Rutherford County's policies or de facto practices, been securely detained pretrial as a juvenile in circumstanes that did not satisfy any of the categorical prerequisites for secure detention listed in T.C.A. § 37-1-114(c)(1)-(6).

(Doc. No. 30.)

         B. Plaintiffs' Class Certification Arguments and Rutherford's Response

         Plaintiffs assert that their proposed class satisfies Rule 23(a)'s prerequisites because: (1) the proposed class includes hundreds of children, satisfying numerosity; (2) there are common questions of law and fact, as the central factual questions are the nature, scope, and application of Rutherford's challenged policies and the relevant law consists of the Tennessee state statutes that Rutherford allegedly violated; (3) the named plaintiffs are typical of the class because they experienced either the “Always Arrest” policy or “Filter System” policy; and (4) the named plaintiffs interests are coextensive with, and not adverse to, the other potential class members. (Doc. No. 21 at 9-22.) With regard to the proposed injunctive classes, Plaintiffs contend that these classes qualify for certification pursuant to Rule 23(b)(2) because Rutherford's “Always Arrest” and “Filter System” policies applied universally to all juveniles charged with delinquent or status offenses, these illegal policies will continue if left unchecked, and the policies are susceptible to injunctive relief. (Id. at 23.) As to the two damages classes, Plaintiffs assert that these classes are appropriate for certification pursuant to Rule 23(b)(3) because questions of law or fact common to the class members predominate-as the lawsuit revolves around Rutherford's allegedly illegal policies and conduct that were uniformly applied to the proposed class. (Id. at 24.) Plaintiffs stress that these common questions predominate even if the measurement of damages will vary. (Id. at 24-27.) Plaintiffs also maintain that a class action is superior to other forms of adjudication because the common questions predominate so strongly. (Id. at 28.) Finally, Plaintiffs argue that the class definitions are sufficiently definite because the class is objectively structed in such a way that it includes only claimants who were categorically ineligible for custodial arrest and/or pretrial incarceration. (Id. at 29.)

         Rutherford responds in opposition, first arguing that Plaintiffs' proposed class is not ascertainable. (Doc. No. 44 at 9.) Rutherford argues that the proposed class is a “fail-safe” class because it is one that includes only those who are entitled to relief, and such classes are prohibited because they allow class members to seek a remedy but not be bound by an adverse judgment. (Id. at 9-11.) Second, Rutherford contends that the class members cannot be identified without extensive and individualized fact-finding, making class certification inappropriate. (Id. at 12.) Rutherford maintains that because membership in the proposed classes is dependent on whether a juvenile's rights were violated, which, in turn, requires an analysis of the totality of circumstances of the arrest, individual issues would overwhelm the class. (Id. at 14.) Third, Rutherford argues that, in certain circumstances, juvenile arrests and detentions are non-violative if probable cause exists, which again requires a totality of the circumstances analysis that destroys commonality. (Id. at 15-18.) Rutherford also asserts that these required “probable cause” analyses prevent Plaintiffs from establishing typicality. (Id. at 18-21.) Further, Rutherford maintains that the speculative nature of the class definition prevents a finding of numerosity and that named plaintiffs have interests that are adverse to the proposed class. (Id. at 21-22.)

         As to Rule 23(b)(3), Rutherford argues that the individual issues and required analyses (i.e., probable cause determinations) defeat predominance. (Id. at 22-23.) Additionally, Rutherford asserts that Plaintiffs' damages formula is too arbitrary and proceeding as a class will not fairly and efficiently resolve the allegations and claims. (Id. at 23-26.) Finally, Rutherford contends that Plaintiffs lack standing to pursue the requested injunctive relief, and, alternatively, the injunctive class definition is not cohesive and would not provide classwide relief. (Id. at 26-32.)

         Thereafter, Plaintiffs replied and Rutherford filed a sur-reply, largely reiterating the arguments detailed above. (See Doc. Nos. 50, 67.) However, in Plaintiffs' Response to Defendant's Sur-Reply (Doc. No. 75), Plaintiffs monumentally shift the goalposts by finding that “their proposed class definitions should be revised.” (Id. at 1.) Plaintiffs acknowledge that their class definitions “could have been clearer, ” argue that the revised class definitions provide this greater clarity, and therefore propose the following new class definitions:

         A. Injunctiv ...


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