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Roneld Logory v. the County of Susquehanna

October 5, 2011

RONELD LOGORY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
THE COUNTY OF SUSQUEHANNA, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Caputo

MEMORANDUM

Presently before the Court is Plaintiff's Motion for Class Certification. (Doc. 30). Roneld Logory ("Plaintiff") seeks class certification on behalf of a class of others similarly situated against the County of Susquehanna. Plaintiff specifically maintains that (1) the Jail's delousing policy is unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment; and (2) the Jail's delousing policy violates the detainees' Fourteenth Amendment rights to refuse unwanted medical treatment. (Doc. 42 at 4). This action is seeking declaratory and injunctive relief against these delousing procedures as well as compensatory damages.

I. Background

Roneld Logory was arrested for a misdemeanor offense on June 19, 2008. He was detained at Susquehanna County Correctional Facility ("SCCF") where he was subjected to a strip search and a delousing agent upon his arrival. As a result of that treatment, Plaintiff filed his Complaint on August 24, 2009, complaining that SCCF had implemented "a blanket policy of delousing, showering and strip-searching all individuals who enter the custody of the [SCCF] regardless of the nature of their charged crime and without the presence of reasonable suspicion to believe that the individual was concealing a weapon or contraband."

(Doc. 1 at ¶ 24). Plaintiff initially sought to certify a class action comprised of "[a]ll persons who have been placed into custody of the SCCF after being charged with misdemeanor offenses, summary offenses, traffic infractions, family court violations and/or civil commitments and were strip-searched upon their entry into the SCCF." (Doc. 1 at ¶ 9).

On September 21, 2010, the Third Circuit held that blanket search policies of arrestees held over in prison populations were inherently reasonable and thus not violative of the Fourth Amendment. Florence v. Bd. of Chosen Freeholders of Burlington, 621 F.3d 296, 311 (3d Cir. 2010). In light of this holding, Plaintiff abandoned his class claim as pertaining to the strip-search policies, but instead proposed two new classes for certification:*fn1

1) The Fourth Amendment Class--All persons who have been placed into custody of the Susquehanna County Jail as pre-trial detainees who were deloused upon their entry into the Susquehanna County Jail. The Class period commences on or about July 24, 2007 and extends to the date on which the Defendant is enjoined from, or otherwise ceases, enforcing its unconstitutional policy, practice and custom of delousing detainees absent reasonable suspicion. Specifically excluded from the Class are Defendant and any and all of its respective affiliates, legal representatives, heirs, successors, employees or assignees.

2) The Fourteenth Amendment Class--All persons who have been placed into custody of the Susquehanna County Jail after being sentenced or as pre-trial detainees who were deloused upon their entry into the Susquehanna County Jail. The Class period commences on or about July 24, 2007 and extends to the date on which the Defendant is enjoined from, or otherwise ceases,enforcing its unconstitutional policy, practice and custom of delousing detainees absent reasonable suspicion. Specifically excluded from the Class are Defendant and any and all of its respective affiliates, legal representatives, heirs, successors, employees or assignees.

(Doc. 42 at 4).

Specifically, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Plaintiff is seeking declaratory relief that the SCCF delousing policies are unconstitutional, injunctive relief against the continuance of these policies, and compensatory damages for himself and other class members, as well as attorney fees and costs.

II. Discussion

A. Legal Standard

Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides for class action certification. Under Rule 23(a), class certification may be appropriate if the following requirements are met:

(1) the class is so numerous that joinder of all members is impracticable [("numerosity")], (2) there are questions of law or fact common to the class [("commonality")], (3) the claims or defenses of the representative parties are typical of the claims or defenses of the class [("typicality")], and (4) the representative parties will fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class [("adequacy of representation")].

Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(a); In re Mercedes-Benz Antitrust Litig., 213 F.R.D. 180, 183 (D.N.J. 2003). Once the requirements of 23(a) are satisfied, the class may be certified if at least one of the three subsections of 23(b) are met. In re Hydrogen Peroxide Antitrust Litig., 552 F.3d 305, 309 n.6 (3d Cir. 2008).

A court may certify a class action only if it "is satisfied, after a rigorous analysis, that the [requirements of Rule 23] have been satisfied." Gen. Tel. Co. of the Sw. v. Falcon, 457 U.S. 147, 161 (1982). In weighing the merits of a class certification, a "district court must make whatever factual and legal inquiries are necessary and must consider all relevant evidence and arguments presented by the parties." Hydrogen Peroxide, 552 F.3d at 307. Specifically, a certifying court must find that each element of Rule 23 is met by a preponderance of evidence, and "must resolve all factual or legal disputes relevant to class certification, even if they overlap with the merits--including disputes touching on elements of the cause of action." Id. at 305.This reflects the notion that Rule 23 is more than a "mere pleading standard," and those "seeking class certification must affirmatively demonstrate his compliance with the Rule." Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes, 131 S. Ct. 2541, 2551 (2011).

B. Certification Under Rule 23(a)

Here, the Plaintiff seeks to certify both classes under Rule 23(b)(3), or (b)(2) in the alternative. Therefore, as the moving party, the Plaintiff bears the burden of first showing that the requirements of Rule 23(a) are satisfied, and then demonstrating that the elements of subsections (b)(2) or (b)(3) are met. See Amchem Prods., Inc. v. Windsor, 521 U.S. 591, 613--14 (1997); Behrend v. Comcast Corp., No. 10-2865, 2011 WL 3678805, at *5 (3d Cir., Aug. 23, 2011).

The "threshold requirements" of Rule 23(a) are referred to as (1) numerosity; (2) commonality; (3) typicality; and (4) adequacy of representation. Amchem, 521 U.S. at 613. Each requirement will be evaluated in turn. For the reasons stated below, the Court will find each element of Rule 23(a) satisfied as to the Fourteenth Amendment Class, but will decline to certify the Fourth Amendment Class.

(1.) Numerosity

Numerosity under Rule 23(a)(1) requires only that the class be "so numerous that joinder of all members is impracticable." Unfortunately, "[n]o single magic number exists satisfying the numerosity requirement." Florence v. Bd. of Chosen Freeholders, No. 05-3619, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 22152 at *18 (D.N.J. Mar. 20, 2008) (citation omitted). However, the Third Circuit has opined that while there is technically no minimum class size, "generally if the named plaintiff demonstrates that the potential number of plaintiffs exceeds 40, the first prong of Rule 23(a) has been met." Stewart v. Abraham, 275 F.3d 220, 226-27 (3d Cir. 2001).

All SCCF detainees who were strip searched were subjected to delousing procedures. Defendant admits that its "delousing procedure is, in fact, part of its strip search process." (Doc. 49 at 14). Therefore, it is necessary to determine how many such detainees were strip searched over the period in question in order to determine whether numerosity is satisfied in the instant case. From the record, it is unclear how many detainees actually entered the SCCF since July 24, 2007, much less how many of those were subjected to a strip search. However, it is clear that between June 2007 to March 25, 2010, at least one hundred and seventy (170) pre-trial detainees charged with summary offenses and misdemeanors were strip searched out of five hundred and seven total pre-trial detainees over that period. (Doc. 38-3 at 2-3).

As the Fourth Amendment Class would be comprised of pre-trial detainees who were deloused upon entry to the jail, the Court concludes by a preponderance of the evidence that this number easily exceeds forty (40) and thus numerosity is satisfied. Moreover, as the Fourteenth Amendment Class would be even broader in including pre-trial detainees as well as sentenced prisoners, it is further apparent that this Class also easily satisfies numerosity.

Plaintiff further avers that traditional joinder would be especially impractical in this action as "Class members are likely dispersed over a large geographic area, with some members residing outside of Susquehanna County and this Judicial District. Furthermore, many members of the Class are low-income persons, may not speak English, may not know of their rights and likely would have great difficulty in pursuing their rights individually." (Doc. 1 at 4). The Court agrees with this assessment and finds that it only bolsters a finding that numerosity is satisfied. Therefore, as the population of these classes well exceed the lower bounds of numerosity, and as regular joinder rules would be impractical, the numerosity requirement of Rule 23(a) has been easily satisfied for both potential classes.

(2.) Commonality

Commonality requires that "there are questions of law or fact common to the class." Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(a)(2); Danvers Motor Co. v. Ford Motor Co., 543 F.3d 141, 148 (3d Cir. 2008). This "does not require an identity of claims or facts among class members; rather, the commonality requirement will be satisfied if the named plaintiffs share at least one question of fact or law with the grievances of the prospective class." In re Ins. Brokerage Antitrust Litigation, 579 F.3d 241, 264 (3d Cir. 2009) (quotations omitted). As "the requirement may be satisfied by a single common issue, it is easily met . . ." Baby Neal v. Casey, 43 F.3d 48, 56 (3d Cir. 1994).

However, the Supreme Court has recently opined that commonality is not the mere existence of a classwide question, but instead the potential for a "classwide resolution." Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes, 131 S. Ct. 2541, 2551 (2011). "What matters to class certification . . . is not the raising of common 'questions' -- even in droves -- but, rather the capacity of a classwide proceeding to generate common answers apt to drive the resolution of the litigation." ...


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