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In re Nassau County Strip Search Cases

March 27, 2008

IN RE NASSAU COUNTY STRIP SEARCH CASES


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hurley, Senior District Judge

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Following remand by the Second Circuit, see In re Nassau County Strip Search Cases, 461 F.3d 219 (2d Cir. 2006), this Court, by Order dated January 16, 2007, (1) certified for liability purposes a class consisting of "all persons arrested for misdemeanors or non-criminal offenses in Nassau County who thereafter were strip searched at the Nassau County Correctional Center pursuant to defendants' blanket policy, practice and custom which required that all arrestees be strip-searched upon admission to the facility, from May 10,1996 until and including June 1, 1999"; (2) appointed counsel for the class; and (3) granted summary judgment on liability for all strip searches upon admission to the facility against defendants Joseph Jablonsky and the County of Nassau and in favor of the certified class and each and every member thereof. Presently before the Court is Plaintiffs' application to certify the class as to Plaintiffs' entire claims, i.e., to extend class certification to include damages. Defendants oppose the application on the grounds that the predominance test for class certification cannot be met because of the "highly variable and individualized damages" of the class members. As set forth in detail below, the Court finds that extending class certification to the entire claim is appropriate because questions common to class members predominate over any questions affecting only individual members and a class action is superior to other available methods for adjudicating this controversy. Accordingly, the application is granted.

Background

The background of this action is set forth in the prior decisions of this Court as well as the Second Circuit's decision directing this Court to certify a class on liability and to consider anew whether to certify a class as to damages as well. Familiarity with those decisions is presumed. It suffices to note that these consolidated actions seek damages due to the blanket policy of the Nassau County Correction Center ("NCCC") of strip searching newly admitted, misdemeanor detainees. Said policy was declared to violate clearly established Fourth Amendment law in Shain v. Ellison, 53 F. Supp. 2d 564 (E.D.N.Y. 1999), aff'd in part, remanded in part, 273 F.3d 56 (2d Cir. 2001).

Discussion

I. Class Certification Generally

Class action certification is governed by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23. Class certification may be granted only if the court "is satisfied after a 'rigorous analysis' that the prerequisites of Rule 23 have been satisfied." In re Initial Public Offering Sec. Litig.,471 F.3d 24, 32 (2d Cir. 2006), clarified on denial of rehear'g, 483 F.3d 70 (2d Cir. 2007) (quoting Gen. Tel. Co. of Southwest v. Falcon, 457 U.S. 147, 161 (1982)). The following standard governs class certification motions in the Second Circuit:

(1) a district judge may certify a class only after making determinations that each of the Rule 23 requirements has been met; (2) such determinations can be made only if the judge resolves factual disputes relevant to each Rule 23 requirement and finds that whatever underlying facts are relevant to a particular Rule 23 requirement have been established and is persuaded to rule, based on the relevant facts and the applicable legal standard, that the requirement is met; (3) the obligation to make such determinations is not lessened by overlap between a Rule 23 requirement and a merits issue, even a merits issue that is identical with a Rule 23 requirement; (4) in making such determinations, a district judge should not assess any aspect of the merits unrelated to a Rule 23 requirement; and (5) a district judge has ample discretion to circumscribe both the extent of discovery concerning Rule 23 requirements and the extent of a hearing to determine whether such requirements are met in order to assure that a class certification motion does not become a pretext for a partial trial of the merits.

Id.

A moving party must satisfy all four prerequisites to certification contained in Rule 23(a). Additionally, the class must be maintainable as defined in Rule 23(b). This Court has already found that Rule 23(a)'s requirements of numerosity, commonality, typicality and adequacy have been met in this case.

Turning then to Rule 23(b), it is subsection 3 on which these Plaintiffs rely. Under Rule 23(b)(3), a class action may be maintained if:

(3) the court finds that the questions of law or fact common to the members of the class predominate over any questions affecting only individual members, and that a class action is superior to other available methods for the fair and efficient adjudication of the controversy. . . .

Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(b)(3).

For a class to be certified under Rule 23(b)(3), Plaintiffs must demonstrate both (1) that the questions of law or fact common to the members of the class predominate over any questions affecting only individual members; and (2) that a class action is superior to other ...


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