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Ellis v. Montgomery County

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

January 30, 2017

ANTOINE ELLIS and DANIEL SPEAKMAN, Plaintiffs,
v.
MONTGOMERY COUNTY and MONTGOMERY COUNTY CORRECTIONAL FACILTY, Defendants.

          OPINION

          WENDY BEETLESTONE, J.

         Plaintiffs Antoine Ellis and Daniel Speakman have brought this putative state-law class action asserting federal court jurisdiction under the Class Action Fairness Act (“CAFA”), 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d), on behalf of themselves and all others whose arrest records and personal information were made widely available on the Internet through the Inmate Locator maintained by Defendants Montgomery County and the Montgomery County Correctional Facility, allegedly in violation of the Pennsylvania Criminal History Records Information Act (“CHRIA”), 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 9101 et seq. Defendants have filed a motion to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, arguing both that Plaintiffs do not have standing to bring this suit and that two mandatory exceptions to CAFA-based jurisdiction - the “home state” exception and the “local controversy” exception - require the Court to decline jurisdiction over this matter. Defendants' motion shall be granted.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Defendant Montgomery County Correctional Facility (“MCCF”) is a correctional facility in Eagleville, Pennsylvania that houses pretrial detainees and inmates serving short-term sentences imposed by the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas. Defendant Montgomery County (the “County”) is the Pennsylvania political subdivision responsible for operating MCCF. On its publicly available website, MCCF maintains an “Inmate Locator” that presents various information about inmates who have been housed at MCCF.

         Plaintiff Antoine Ellis is a Pennsylvania citizen who was recently released from MCCF. His sex, height, date of birth, weight, eye color, FBI identification number, Pennsylvania identification number, date of arrest, and notes regarding that arrest were posted on the Inmate Locator. Plaintiff Daniel Speakman is a New Jersey citizen who has never been arrested and was never an inmate at MCCF. An unidentified MCCF inmate used Speakman's personal information during his own booking and, as a result, Speakman's sex, height, date of birth, weight, eye color, and hair color were posted on the Inmate Locator associated with records for the arrest of the other individual. The Inmate Locator profiles for both Plaintiffs were obtained by Mugshots.com, which then re-published the information. Speakman alleges that his friends and family viewed the information on either the Inmate Locator or Mugshots.com. Both Plaintiffs claim that they experienced emotional damage, humiliation, and a loss of reputation as a result of the publication of their personal information in association with a criminal record via the Inmate Locator.

         After the initial briefs were filed in support of this motion, the parties were granted leave to conduct discovery to ascertain the citizenship of each of the class members. They have submitted to the Court the addresses that inmates provided to MCCF when they were booked into the facility. As of May 4, 2016, the date on which this case was first filed, 92.5% of the 1, 985 current inmates at MCCF had provided a home address in Pennsylvania, 4.6% had provided a non-Pennsylvania address, and 2.8% had not provided any address. When this analysis is expanded to the 12, 241 inmates booked in the two years prior to the filing of this case, 91.2% had Pennsylvania addresses, compared to 5.0% with non-Pennsylvania addresses and 3.8% with no address. Over the past six years, of the 22, 777 inmates booked at MCCF, 91.9% reported a Pennsylvania home address upon their booking, 5.4% provided an address outside of Pennsylvania, and 2.8% did not provide an address. Finally, expanding the analysis to twenty years and an inmate population of 191, 754 yields similar results: 92.6% provided Pennsylvania addresses, 5.0% provided non-Pennsylvania addresses, and 2.4% did not provide an address.

         Recognizing that the booking addresses represent the proposed class members' residency prior to their arrest, and not at the time this case was filed, Defendants conducted public records searches for each inmate with a last name beginning with “E” or “S” (i.e., the letters of the named Plaintiffs' names) who had been booked at MCCF in the year prior to May 4, 2016. This method yielded a sample of 1, 156 inmates. Defendants found addresses for 876 of the sampled inmates. Of the addresses that were located, 838 or 95.6% were in Pennsylvania, constituting 72.5% of the total sample. Only 38 inmates were found to have addresses outside of Pennsylvania, constituting 4.3% of the located addresses and 3.2% of the total sample. Neither party has presented specific evidence regarding the proposed class members' intent to remain at their booking address or current address.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         In evaluating a Rule 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, “a court must first determine whether the movant presents a facial or factual attack.” In re Schering Plough Corp. Intron/Temodar Consumer Class Action Litig., 678 F.3d 235, 243 (3d Cir. 2012). A facial attack “contests the sufficiency of the pleadings, ” and the court is limited to considering only “the allegations of the complaint and documents referenced therein and attached thereto, in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Id. (internal quotation marks omitted). A factual attack, on the other hand, “concerns the actual failure of a plaintiff's claims to comport factually with the jurisdictional prerequisites.” Constitution Party of Pa. v. Aichele, 757 F.3d 347, 358 (3d Cir. 2014) (internal quotation marks and modifications omitted). When considering a factual attack, “a court may weigh and consider evidence outside the pleadings.” Id. (internal quotation marks omitted).[1]

         When federal jurisdiction is based on CAFA, the party asserting jurisdiction bears the burden of showing that the case meets the initial jurisdictional requirements under the Act - an amount in controversy over $5, 000, 000; at least 100 members in the proposed class; and at least one class member who is a citizen of a different state than at least one defendant. See 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d)(2) & (5). Once CAFA jurisdiction is established, a party seeking to invoke an exception requiring a court to decline that jurisdiction “bears the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that the exception applies.” Vodenichar v. Halcón Energy Props., Inc., 733 F.3d 497, 504 (3d Cir. 2013).[2]

         III. DISCUSSION

         Defendants do not dispute that this case meets the initial requirements for subject-matter jurisdiction under CAFA: a proposed class of more than 100 persons, an amount in controversy exceeding $5, 000, 000, and at least one Plaintiff who is a citizen of a state other than Pennsylvania (where both Defendants are citizens). Instead, they argue that the case must be dismissed for two other reasons: First, they contend that Plaintiffs have not identified an injury-in-fact and thus do not have standing to sue under Article III of the Constitution. Second, they argue that both the home state and local controversy exceptions to CAFA require the Court to decline to exercise its jurisdiction. Their standing argument represents an attack on the sufficiency of the factual averments in the pleadings, and thus presents a facial attack to jurisdiction. Their CAFA exception argument, on the other hand, points to evidence outside pleadings which was gathered during jurisdictional discovery, and thus will be considered as a factual argument that the Court must decline to exercise jurisdiction.

         The parties disagree about the order in which Defendants' arguments must be considered. Plaintiffs argue that the Court must address standing first, since standing is jurisdictional and, they contend, the CAFA exceptions cannot be addressed until jurisdiction is established in the first instance. Defendants respond that if either standing or the CAFA exceptions mandate dismissal, the Court need not analyze the other issue. There is no Third Circuit precedent to resolve the order of analysis, but this question was recently addressed by the Fifth Circuit in Watson v. City of Allen, Texas, 821 F.3d 634, 638 (5th Cir. 2016). In that case, the Fifth Circuit acknowledged that CAFA exceptions are not jurisdictional, but nevertheless should be examined first because they present “a fundamental antecedent question - whether this case even belongs in federal court.” Id. This approach is prudent, since an analysis of standing is unnecessary if CAFA jurisdiction must be declined because of the citizenship of the plaintiff class members, so the Court shall follow the Fifth Circuit's example.

         A. Mandatory ...


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