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Mitchell v. County of Clinton

July 5, 2007

PHYLLIS A. MITCHELL, BOTH INDIVIDUALLY AND ON BEHALF OF A CLASS OF OTHERS SIMILARLY SITUATED, PLAINTIFF,
v.
THE COUNTY OF CLINTON; DAVID FAVRO, BOTH INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS SHERIFF OF THE COUNTY OF CLINTON; JERRY MAGGY, BOTH INDIVIDUALLY AND AS UNDERSHERIFF OF THE COUNTY OF CLINTON; MICHAEL SMITH, BOTH INDIVIDUALLY AND AS MAJOR IN THE CLINTON COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Norman A. Mordue, Chief U.S. District Judge

MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff moves (Dkt. No. 35) for class certification in this action alleging federal civil rights violations stemming from defendant Clinton County's practice and policy of strip searching all pretrial detainees admitted to the Clinton County Jail on charges of misdemeanors or lesser crimes, regardless of whether there was reasonable suspicion that such detainees possessed contraband or weapons. Plaintiff relies on Second Circuit precedent holding that "persons charged with a misdemeanor and remanded to a local correctional facility... have a right to be free of a strip search absent reasonable suspicion that they are carrying contraband or weapons[.]" Shain v. Ellison, 273 F.3d 56, 66 (2d Cir. 2001). The complaint seeks declaratory and injunctive relief, class certification, monetary damages, and counsel fees.

Plaintiff alleges that defendants had a blanket strip search policy and practice prior to October 24, 2003; that on that date defendant Major Michael Smith, administrator of Clinton County Jail, wrote a memo revising the policy; that the memo was read to the corrections officers but not distributed to them; and that thereafter the corrections officers continued to carry out the practice of blanket strip searches.

Plaintiff moves for certification of the following two subclasses:

Class A

All persons who were placed into the custody of the Clinton County Jail after being charged with misdemeanors, violations, violations of probation or parole, traffic infractions, civil commitments or other minor crimes and were strip searched upon their entry into the Clinton County Jail pursuant to the policy, custom and practice of the Clinton County Sheriff's Department and the County of Clinton, from February 28, 2003 until October 24, 2003. Specifically excluded from the class are Defendants and any and all of their respective affiliates, legal representatives, heirs, successors, employees or assignees.

Class B

All persons who were placed into the custody of the Clinton County Jail after being charged with misdemeanors, violations, violations of probation or parole, traffic infractions, civil commitments or other minor crimes and were strip searched upon their entry into the Clinton County Jail pursuant to the policy, custom and practice of the Clinton County Sheriff's Department and the County of Clinton, from October 24, 2003 through the date on which the Clinton County Sheriff's Department and/or the County of Clinton cease or ceased, or are enjoined from, enforcing their unconstitutional policy, practice and custom of conducting strip searches absent reasonable suspicion. Specifically excluded from the class are Defendants and any and all of their respective affiliates, legal representatives, heirs, successors, employees or assignees.

Plaintiff requests that the Court certify this action as a money damages class action under Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(b)(3) and/or an injunctive relief class action under Rule 23(b)(2). In the alternative, plaintiff requests partial certification. The Court grants class certification as set forth below.

APPLICABLE LAW

A plaintiff seeking class certification has the burden of showing that the class satisfies all the requirements of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(a), i.e., numerosity, commonality, typicality, and adequacy,*fn1 as well as one of the subsections of Rule 23(b). See In re Visa Check/MasterMoney Antitrust Litig., 280 F.3d 124, 132-33 (2d Cir. 2001). Courts have also required a showing that the class meets the implicit threshold requirement of ascertainability. See Dunnigan v. Metro. Life Ins. Co., 214 F.R.D. 125, 135 (S.D.N.Y. 2003). A district court addressing such a motion must conduct a "rigorous analysis" of the Rule 23 requirements; it should not, however, inquire into the merits of the case. See Heerwagen v. Clear Channel Communications, 435 F.3d 219, 225 (2d Cir. 2006).

DISCUSSION

Numerosity

The numerosity requirement of Rule 23(a)(1) is satisfied by a showing that, due to the number of potential class members, joinder of individual members as named defendants would be impracticable. See Consolidated Rail Corp. v. Town of Hyde Park, 47 F.3d 473, 483 (2d Cir. 1995). In the case at bar, the numerosity of plaintiff's proposed class is supported by the deposition testimony of Major Smith, administrator of the jail since 1996, that the average capacity of the facility is about 230 detainees, that in 2004 approximately 1400 detainees entered the facility, and that roughly half of them, or perhaps 900, were booked on misdemeanor or other minor charges. Defendants -- who presumably are in possession of the precise figures -- submit no evidence on the question, but argue that plaintiff's evidence is insufficient to establish numerosity.

The proposed Class A covers the eight-month period from February 28, 2003 until October 24, 2003. Assuming that the number of misdemeanor detainees in each month of 2003 was roughly the same as in 2004, the Court calculates that Class A comprises more than 500 people. Class B, which, as alleged, covers a longer period of time,*fn2 would exceed this number. It is true that plaintiff's evidence is imprecise; nevertheless, the undisputed evidence before the Court suffices to establish that the members of the entire class number well into the hundreds, very likely over a thousand. Clearly, due to the number of potential class members, joinder of individual members as named defendants is impracticable. The numerosity requirement has been met.

Commonality

Under Rule 23(a)(2), plaintiff must also show commonality, that is, that the action raises an issue of law or fact common to the class. See Robinson v. Metro-North Commuter R.R., 267 F.3d 147, 155 (2d Cir. 2001). Plaintiff has shown the existence of legal and factual issues common to all proposed members of the proposed class, i.e., what strip search policy and practice existed, whether the policy and/or practice were ...


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