Justia Class Action Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Constitutional Law
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Wisconsin inmates undergo regular strip searches. One guard performs the search; another observes. West is a Muslim. Strip searches by guards of the opposite sex violate the tenets of his faith. He was required to submit to a strip search by a guard who is a transgender man—a woman who identifies as a man. West objected but was refused an accommodation. West unsuccessfully requested an exemption from future cross-sex strip searches. The warden stated that he would be disciplined if he objects again. West sought an injunction under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), 42 U.S.C. 2000cc, and alleged Fourth Amendment violations. The district court dismissed the constitutional claim; circuit precedent held that a prisoner has no Fourth Amendment interest against visual inspections of his body. Rejecting the RLUIPA claim, the judge concluded that West had not shown a substantial burden on his religious exercise and that cross-sex strip searches are permissible as the prison’s only means to avoid unlawfully discriminating against transgender employees.The Seventh Circuit reversed. Intervening precedent revives the Fourth Amendment claim. West is entitled to judgment on the RLUIPA claim. His objection to cross-sex strip searches is religious in nature and sincere. The prison has substantially burdened his religious exercise by requiring him to either submit, in violation of his faith, or face discipline. The burden is unjustified under RLUIPA’s strict-scrutiny standard: providing an exemption will not violate the rights of transgender prison employees under Title VII or the Equal Protection Clause. View "West v. Radtke" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court’s approval of a settlement between Defendant Monsanto and Plaintiffs. The court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in concluding the notice to the class was sufficient or in concluding that payment to class members of 50% of the average weighted retail price of the items they purchased fully compensated the class members.    Plaintiffs filed suit pleading multiple claims arising out of the allegedly deceptive labeling of Roundup products manufactured by Monsanto. The parties agreed to a total Common Fund. They agreed that Monsanto would not object to Plaintiffs’ counsel seeking 25% of that amount as an attorney’s fee. Class members who filed claims were to receive 10% of the average retail price for the product(s) they bought, and any remaining funds after the costs of administration would be distributed cy pres. The parties executed a Second Corrected Class Action Settlement Agreement that made four changes to the initial agreement.   Appellant, a party injured by Roundup, made three objections to the settlement, all of which she renewed on appeal. First, she argued that the district court should have (1) required the parties to take additional steps to identify additional class members and (2) increased the pro-rata portion of the Common Fund up to 100% of the weighted average retail price. The court held the district court did not abuse its discretion in concluding that notice to the class was sufficient in light of the comprehensive notice plan and the estimated results from the claims administrator.Further, the court wrote that cy pres distribution of residual funds pursuant to the settlement agreement neither constitutes speech by any individual class member nor infringes on their First Amendment rights. View "Lisa Jones v. Anna St. John" on Justia Law

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In a putative class action, Plaintiffs allege that as prisoners at two of Virginia’s supermax facilities, they have suffered severe isolation in violation of the U.S. Constitution. Plaintiffs argue that the Virginia Department of Corrections (“VDOC”) has not used its supermax facilities for any legitimate penological purposes. Instead, Plaintiffs claim, that Virginia and its officers have warehoused prisoners in solitary, without any meaningful path back to the general population, to justify the profligate costs of building and running those institutions.     The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial of Defendant’s motion. The court explained that Defendants invoked qualified immunity at the motion to dismiss before any of the evidence is in. And on the facts Plaintiffs have pleaded, Defendants cannot succeed. Plaintiffs have adequately alleged that Defendants knew the harms long-term solitary confinement causes and disregarded them. But qualified immunity does not protect knowing violations of the law.   The court explained that its analysis of due process entails a two-part inquiry: (1) whether Plaintiffs had a protectable liberty interest in avoiding security detention; and (2) whether Defendants failed to afford minimally adequate process to protect that liberty interest. Plaintiffs allege Defendants failed to meet even the most basic due process requirements like notice and a meaningful opportunity to be heard and that the criteria Defendants employ to assess solitary placements are entirely divorced from legitimate penological interests. On those allegations—and at this litigation stage—Defendants cannot claim immunity. View "William Thorpe v. Harold Clarke" on Justia Law

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After a judicial foreclosure proceeding for delinquent property taxes, the county generally sells the land at a public auction and pays any proceeds above the delinquency amount to the owner upon demand. Ohio's 2008 land-bank transfer procedure for abandoned property permits counties to bring foreclosure proceedings in the County Board of Revision rather than in court and authorizes counties to transfer the land to landbanks rather than sell it at auctions, “free and clear of all impositions and any other liens.” The state forgives any tax delinquency; it makes no difference whether the tax delinquency exceeds the property’s fair market value. The Board of Revision must provide notice to landowners and the county must run a title search. Owners may transfer a case from the Board to a court. After the Board’s foreclosure decision, owners have 28 days to pay the delinquency and recover their land. They also may file an appeal in a court of general jurisdiction. Owners cannot obtain the excess equity in the property after the land bank receives it.After Tarrify’s vacant property was transferred to a landbank, Tarrify sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983, claiming that the transfers constituted takings without just compensation. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the denial of Tarrify’s motion to certify a class of Cuyahoga County landowners who purportedly suffered similar injuries. While the claimants share a common legal theory—that the targeted Ohio law does not permit them to capture equity in their properties after the county transfers them to a land bank—they do not have a cognizable common theory for measuring the value in each property at the time of transfer. View "Tarrify Properties, LLC v. Cuyahoga County" on Justia Law

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This putative class action against California and San Diego County officials challenged California Governor Gavin Newsom’s emergency orders and related public health directives restricting business operations during the COVID-19 pandemic. Plaintiffs, owners of affected restaurants and gyms (Owners), primarily contended the orders were procedurally invalid because they were adopted without complying with the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). Furthermore, Owners contended that the business restrictions were substantively invalid because they effected a taking without compensation, violating the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Rejecting these claims, the superior court sustained demurrers to the third amended complaint without leave to amend and dismissed the action. While the Court of Appeal sympathized with the position some Owners find themselves in and the significant financial losses they alleged, the unambiguous terms of the Emergency Services Act and controlling United States Supreme Court regulatory takings caselaw required that the judgment be affirmed. View "640 Tenth, LP v. Newsom" on Justia Law

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Inmates who were housed by three Illinois Department of Corrections centers between April-July 2014, alleged that the prison-wide shakedowns conducted violated their constitutional and statutory rights, 42 U.S.C. 1983. The shakedowns involved uniformed tactical teams called “Orange Crush” that operated according to a uniform plan, which involved a loud entry, strip searches, handcuffing, and other procedures involving allegedly humiliating physical contact. The inmates allege that the planning and execution of the shakedowns violated the Eighth Amendment because it was designed to inflict pain and humiliation.The Seventh Circuit affirmed class certification. The plaintiffs satisfied the “commonality” requirement because they alleged that the defendants acted pursuant to a common policy and implemented the same or similar procedures at each institution and that the challenge was to the constitutionality of that common plan as enacted. The claims require resolution of key common factual and legal questions, specifically: “whether Defendants developed and carried out a uniform policy and practice that had the effect of depriving the putative class members of their Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment; whether the shakedowns were executed in the manner Defendants contend or as Plaintiffs claim; whether Defendants engaged in a conspiracy to deprive the putative class members of their constitutional rights through the shakedowns; and whether the Defendants knew of, approved, facilitated and/or turned a blind eye to the alleged unconstitutional shakedowns.” Those questions do not require individualized consideration. View "Ross v. Gossett" on Justia Law

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In November 2017, Saul Cisneros was charged with two misdemeanor offenses and jailed. The court set Cisneros’s bond at $2,000, and Cisneros’s daughter posted that bond four days later, but the County Sheriff’s Office did not release him. Instead, pursuant to Sheriff Bill Elder’s policies and practices, the Sheriff’s Office notified U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) that the jail had been asked to release Cisneros on bond. ICE then sent the jail a detainer and administrative warrant, requesting that the jail continue to detain Cisneros because ICE suspected that he was removable from the United States. Cisneros was placed on an indefinite “ICE hold,” and remained in detention. During his detention, Cisneros, along with another pretrial detainee, initiated a class action in state court against Sheriff Elder, in his official capacity, for declaratory, injunctive, and mandamus relief. The Colorado Supreme Court granted certiorari to consider whether the appellate court erred in concluding that section 24-10-106(1.5)(b), C.R.S. (2021), of the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act (“CGIA”) did not waive sovereign immunity for intentional torts that result from the operation of a jail for claimants who were incarcerated but not convicted. The Supreme Court concluded section 24-10-106(1.5)(b) waived immunity for such intentional torts. "In reaching this determination, we conclude that the statutory language waiving immunity for 'claimants who are incarcerated but not yet convicted' and who 'can show injury due to negligence' sets a floor, not a ceiling. To hold otherwise would mean that a pre-conviction claimant could recover for injuries resulting from the negligent operation of a jail but not for injuries resulting from the intentionally tortious operation of the same jail, an absurd result that we cannot countenance." Accordingly, the judgment of the division below was reversed and the case remanded for further proceedings. View "Cisneros v. Elder" on Justia Law

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Appellants Raymond and Michelle Plata were property owners in the City of San Jose and customers of Muni Water. Muni Water’s annual budget was reflected each year in a document called a source and use of funds statement, which was part of the City’s annual operating budget. In 2013, the Platas filed with the City a claim pursuant to Government Code sections 910 and 910.2, accusing Muni Water of violating Proposition 218 ab initio by collecting money from customers and illegally transferring it to the City’s own general fund. The City rejected the claim, so in early 2014, the Platas brought a class action lawsuit seeking declaratory and injunctive relief against the City under Proposition 218, as well as recovery of the amounts overpaid. After a lengthy bench trial, the trial court issued a statement of decision finding: (1) the late fees charged by Muni Water were not a fee or charge covered by Proposition 218; (2) any claims accruing prior to November 4, 2012 were time-barred because of the statute of limitations provided under Government Code section 911.2, and there was no basis for applying any equitable tolling doctrine; (3) as for tiered water rates, the discussion of high rates in the Platas’ government claims adequate to gave notice to the City that its rate structure was being questioned; and (4) “[a] more significant complication” raised by the City in its class decertification motion. The tiered rate structure would impact different class members differently from month to month, thus making it potentially “impossible” to draw a “line between ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ based on monthly water consumption[.]” The court granted the City’s motion to decertify the class, and refused to grant the Platas any relief as to their tiered rate argument. The Platas appealed. The Court of Appeal reversed judgment only as to the trial court’s findings on the tiered rate structure. In all other respects, it was affirmed. View "Plata v. City of San Jose" on Justia Law

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Santiago, a severely disabled Chicago resident, would leave her van parked on the street near her home for extended periods of time. In 2018, pursuant to the Chicago Municipal Code, her van was towed, impounded, and destroyed. She sued the city on her own behalf and on behalf of others similarly situated, challenging the constitutionality of various aspects of the ordinance. The district court granted, in part, her motion to certify her suit as a class action. With respect to the “Tow Class,” the court concluded that Santiago “is asserting only a facial challenge: the ordinance is unconstitutional because it fails to require adequate notice before a vehicle has been towed.” Concerning the Vehicle Disposal Class, the court rejected Chicago’s assertion that state law requires the class to show prejudice from the city’s failure to strictly follow its ordinance.The Seventh Circuit vacated. The class certification order does not fully demonstrate the “rigorous analysis” required by FRCP 23 and constituted an abuse of discretion. Considering whether questions of law or fact common to class members predominate begins with the elements of the underlying cause of action. The district court did not discuss any of the elements of the underlying causes of action or what the causes of action are. View "Santiago v. City of Chicago" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed the rulings of the district court denying the Commission of the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services' motion to dismiss Plaintiffs' complaints against her, holding that Plaintiffs' allegations of error were without merit.Plaintiffs were (1) a class of individuals who claimed to have been held against their will without due process on the basis of a certification of their need for emergency mental health treatment, and (2) a group of hospitals who claimed to have been forced to retain persons certified to be in need of such treatment. The Commissioner moved to dismiss the claims based on Eleventh Amendment immunity and Plaintiffs' asserted lack of standing. The district court denied the motion to dismiss. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that there was no merit to the Commissioner's challenges to the district court's standing and Eleventh Amendment immunity rulings. View "Doe v. Shibinette" on Justia Law