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Miller v. The Glen Mills Schools

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

December 17, 2019

MOTHER MILLER, et al.
v.
THE GLEN MILLS SCHOOLS, et al.

          MEMORANDUM

          BARTLE, J.

         Plaintiffs Mother Miller, on behalf of Billy Miller as his parent and natural guardian, and Charlie Jones bring this action individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated against defendants The Glen Mills Schools (“Glen Mills”) and John Does 1-100 under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of the Fourth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States. They also assert supplemental state law claims of negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and negligent supervision. Plaintiffs seek damages as well as declaratory and injunctive relief.

         Before the court is the motion of Glen Mills to strike and dismiss plaintiffs' class action allegations under Rules 12(f) and 23(d)(1)(D) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and to dismiss portions of plaintiffs' complaint for failure to state a claim for relief under Rule 12(b)(6).

         I

         The following facts are alleged in the complaint and are taken as true for present purposes. Glen Mills is a registered non-profit Pennsylvania corporation located in Glen Mills, Pennsylvania. It served as a custodial facility and school for the placement of juvenile court-adjudicated boys, aged twelve to eighteen, and other at-risk boys. It was funded in large part by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and other governmental jurisdictions to provide services mandated by state law for children who have been adjudicated as delinquent in juvenile court. Defendants “John Does 1-100” are former managers, administrators, supervisors, teaching staff, medical staff, and others who have been employed or were under the control of Glen Mills.

         Plaintiff Billy Miller (“Miller”), through his mother, alleges that in 2016, at the age of sixteen, he was sent to Glen Mills as a result of a court adjudication. During the several months that Miller was at Glen Mills, Miller experienced “frequent beatings, slamming against the walls, and punching by staff and fellow residents.” He was pulled out of bed, thrown on the floor, and spat upon. Miller's mother requested and obtained a transfer of Miller from Glen Mills to a different program. When she picked him up at the school, he had a broken nose after being punched by a staff member.

         Charlie Jones (“Jones”) alleges that in 2018, at the age of seventeen, he was sent to Glen Mills as a result of a probation violation. While at Glen Mills, he “experienced or saw beatings, slamming against the walls, and punching by staff and fellow residents.” Jones suffered three broken ribs from an assault by three staff members. Staff members also encouraged Jones to engage in a physical altercation with another resident which resulted in Jones sustaining “large bruises and welts.” Jones was denied medical treatment and was told to lie about the source of his injuries.

         Plaintiffs bring this action on behalf of themselves as well as “[h]undreds, and possibly thousands of boys [who] have attended [Glen Mills] and been subjected to widespread abuse occurring at the School.” Plaintiffs aver that Glen Mills and its staff created a culture of violence and intimidation through the systemic use of excessive force, threats of longer sentences for those who report abuse, and detention beyond commitment dates for those students with injuries that would be noticed upon release from the school. Plaintiffs point to instances of physical abuse documented by the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (“PA-DHS”) and a 2001 report from the Utah Division of Youth Corrections evaluating placements at Glen Mills and documenting physical abuse at the school. In 2018, the Department of Human Services of the City of Philadelphia accepted a “corrective action plan” from Glen Mills after counselors attacked a Philadelphia child. The complaint also states that in 2018, two Glen Mills counselors were arrested and charged by the Pennsylvania State Police with aggravated assault, simple assault, and reckless endangerment. Plaintiffs assert that all class members were subject to a pattern or practice of similar abuse.

         II

         We begin with defendants' motion to strike and dismiss plaintiffs' class allegations under Rule 23(c)(1)(A) and (d)(1)(D) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.[1] See Bell v. Cheswick Generating Station, No. 12-929, 2015 WL 401443, at *1 (W.D. Pa. Jan. 28, 2015); Semenko v. Wendy's Int'l, No. 12-0836, 2013 WL 1568407, at *1 (W.D. Pa. Apr. 12, 2013). Rule 23(c)(1)(A) provides that “[a]t an early practicable time after a person sues or is sued as a class representative, the court must determine by order whether to certify the action as a class action.” Under subsection (d)(1)(D) of that rule, a court may issue orders to “require that the pleadings be amended to eliminate allegations about representation of absent persons and that the action proceed accordingly.”

         Plaintiffs bring this lawsuit as a putative class action under Rules 23(a), (b)(2), and (b)(3) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. They seek to certify a class of “[a]ll persons who have attended The Glen Mills Schools and who suffered physical abuse or are at risk of suffering physical abuse.”[2] Plaintiffs have reserved the right to amend this class definition or to create subclasses after discovery. Although the complaint identifies one proposed class, plaintiffs explain that they will seek to certify a class for injunctive and declaratory relief under Rule 23(b)(2) as well as a class seeking damages pursuant to Rule 23(b)(3).

         A court may grant a motion to dismiss or strike class allegations before discovery only where “the complaint itself demonstrates that the requirements for maintaining a class action cannot be met.” Landsman & Funk PC v. Skinder-Strauss Assocs., 640 F.3d 72, 93 n.30 (3d Cir. 2011) (citing Rios v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co., 469 F.Supp.2d 727, 740 (S.D. Iowa 2007)). However, such cases are the “rare few.” See id. To determine if the requirements of Rule 23 have been satisfied, a district court must conduct a “rigorous analysis.” Id. at 93 (quoting In re Hydrogen Peroxide Antitrust Litig., 552 F.3d 305, 309 (3d Cir. 2008)). “In most cases, some level of discovery is essential to such an evaluation.” Id. Thus, generally class action allegations are properly evaluated after the parties have had an opportunity to conduct class discovery and a motion for class certification has been filed.[3] See, e.g., Goode v. LexisNexis Risk & Info. Analytics Grp., 284 F.R.D. 238, 244 (E.D. Pa. 2012); P.V. ex rel. Valentin v. Sch. Dist. of Phila., No. 11-04027, 2011 WL 5127850, at *3 (E.D. Pa. Oct. 31, 2011); Korman v. Walking Co., 503 F.Supp.2d 755, 762-63 (E.D. Pa. 2007).

         With that standard in mind, we turn to the merits of defendants' motion. Class certification may only be granted if the four requirements of Rule 23(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure are satisfied:

(a) Prerequisites. One or more members of a class may sue . . . as representative parties on behalf of all members only if
(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 the claims or ...

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