Doe et al v. Hommrich et al
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER: Plaintiff's Motion for Class Certification (Docket No. 54) is granted in part and denied in part. The court will certify a class of "all juveniles detained in the Rutherford County Juvenile Detention Center who a re or were placed in solitary confinement or isolation for punitive reasons, from April 25, 2015 to the present." Signed by District Judge Aleta A. Trauger on 2/17/2017. (DOCKET TEXT SUMMARY ONLY-ATTORNEYS MUST OPEN THE PDF AND READ THE ORDER.)(jw)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF TENNESSEE
JOHN DOE, a minor, by and through
his Mother and next friend, SHARIEKA
BONNIE HOMMRICH, et al.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
Pending before the court is Plaintiff’s Motion for Class Certification (Docket No. 54). For
the reasons stated herein, Plaintiff’s Motion will be GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.
Plaintiff Frazier filed this action on behalf of her minor son pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1983,
alleging violations of her son’s constitutional rights. The primary issue in this case is whether
facilities licensed and/or supervised by the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services, including
the Rutherford County Juvenile Detention Center (“RCJDC”), may use solitary confinement for
juvenile offenders for punitive or disciplinary reasons.
Plaintiff John Doe is a minor who was charged with, and later adjudicated guilty of, offenses
that rendered him delinquent under the laws of the State of Tennessee. The Amended Complaint
(Docket No. 34) alleges that the Juvenile Court for Rutherford County, Tennessee, ordered Plaintiff
detained in the RCJDC while he awaited adjudication. Plaintiff avers that, immediately upon his
admission into RCJDC and for a period of several days, he was placed into solitary confinement by
the Rutherford County Defendants (Rutherford County, Duke and Istvanditsch) for punitive and/or
disciplinary reasons. The Amended Complaint alleges that, once Plaintiff was adjudicated
delinquent, he was put into the custody of the Defendant Tennessee Department of Children’s
Services (“DCS”) and placed at the Middle Tennessee Juvenile Detention Facility in Columbia,
Tennessee, where he alleges he could be subjected to lengthy solitary confinement for disciplinary
reasons. Plaintiff alleges that placing him in solitary confinement for disciplinary or punitive reasons
violates his constitutional rights under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. He seeks injunctive
and declaratory relief only.
Plaintiff seeks to bring this action as a class action on behalf of “all current and future
juveniles detained in any facility licensed and/or supervised by the Tennessee Department of
Children’s Services, including Juvenile Detention Centers operated by county governments or private
entities” and a sub-class of “all current and future juveniles detained in the Rutherford County
Juvenile Detention Center and subject to Rutherford County Juvenile Detention Center’s Standard
Operating Procedures Behavior Management Policy, Chapter 6, § 19.” Plaintiff alleges that DCS and
RCJDC policies and practices permit their licensed facilities to place members of the proposed
classes in punitive and/or disciplinary solitary confinement.
A class action will be certified only if, after rigorous analysis, the court is satisfied that the
prerequisites of Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(a) have been met and that the action falls within one of the
categories under Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(b). Bridging Communities Inc. v. Top Flite Financial Inc., 843
F.3d 1119, 1124 (6th Cir. 2016). The decision whether to certify a class, committed to the sound
discretion of the district judge, turns on the particular facts and circumstances of each individual
case. Ballan v. Upjohn Co., 159 F.R.D. 473, 479 (W.D. Mich. 1994). The parties seeking class
certification bear the burden of showing that the requirements for class certification are met.
Bridging Communities, 843 F.3d at 1124.
A party seeking to maintain a class action must be prepared to show that Rule 23(a)’s
numerosity, commonality, typicality and adequacy of representation requirements have been met.
Comcast v. Behrend, 133 S.Ct. 1426, 1428 (2013). In addition, the party must satisfy, through
evidentiary proof, at least one of Rule 23(b)’s provisions. Id. at 1428-29.
Before a court may certify a class pursuant to Rule 23, the class definition must be
sufficiently definite so that it is administratively feasible for the court to determine whether a
particular individual is a member of the proposed class. Young v. Nationwide Ins. Co., 693 F.3d 532,
537-38 (6th Cir. 2012). If the class members are impossible to identify without extensive and
individualized fact-finding or “mini-trials”, then a class action is inappropriate. In re Skelaxin
Antitrust Litigation, 299 F.R.D. 555, 557 (E.D. Tenn. 2014).
As Defendants point out, Plaintiff does not allege that all solitary confinement of juveniles
is constitutionally impermissible - only solitary confinement for punitive reasons.1 To show the same
alleged injury in this case, the class members must be those who were actually placed in solitary
confinement for disciplinary or punitive purposes - not all juveniles who could be, but have not
been, placed in solitary confinement for disciplinary or punitive purposes.
Defendants argue that determining which juveniles were placed in solitary confinement or
isolation would involve extensive individualized analysis, and yet, the Rutherford County
Plaintiff has admitted that solitary confinement or isolation may be appropriate
for some purposes, see, e.g., Docket No. 99, p. 5; Docket No. 34 (Amended Complaint), ¶¶ 3334, 41.
Defendants have produced a list of 128 juveniles who experienced “isolation” pursuant to RCJDC’s
Behavioral Management policy (requiring “confinement”) from March 17, 2016, through October
7, 2016. Docket No. 94-2, Interrogatory No. 10; Docket Nos. 95 and 96. Thus, there is evidence that
RCJDC has this information, and Plaintiff has provided evidence probative of the numbers and
identities of juveniles who suffered the alleged unconstitutional harm in RCJDC.
Because it is possible to identify the juveniles in RCJDC who were placed in solitary
confinement or isolation for punitive reasons, Plaintiff’s class definition shall be revised to be “all
juveniles detained in the Rutherford County Juvenile Detention Center who are or were placed in
solitary confinement or isolation for punitive reasons, from April 25, 2015 2 to the present.” The
Rutherford County Defendants shall produce this information, for the relevant time period, by March
With regard to the State Defendants, Plaintiff’s supporting documents refer only to the total
number of juveniles in DCS secure facilities in Tennessee. Because that number is not limited to
those who actually experienced the alleged unconstitutional harm, this proposed class is merely
speculative. The proposed class members did not all share the same injury.3 If the DCS class is
defined as broadly as Plaintiff asks, Defendants would have individual defenses to each class
member’s situation - that is, whether he or she was placed in solitary confinement for disciplinary
and/or punitive purposes. Such individualized analysis defeats the purposes of class actions.
The court has chosen this beginning point because it is one year before the filing
of this case, and the statute of limitations for Section 1983 claims is one year.
Moreover, Plaintiff does not even allege that he sustained unconstitutional injury
while he was in DCS custody. Docket No. 34 (Amended Complaint), ¶¶ 27-28; Doe Deposition,
There is no evidence before the court that the State Defendants maintain information
concerning punitive solitary confinement, although there is also no indication that Plaintiff asked
for that information. See Docket Nos. 84-1 and 94-8. Because this proposed class definition is too
broad, and there is no information before the court to indicate that determining the members of the
class would not involve individualized analysis, Plaintiff’s proposed DCS class cannot be certified
at this time.
The first requirement of Rule 23(a) is that the class be so numerous that joinder of all
members is impracticable. Although there is no strict numerical test, substantial numbers usually
satisfy the numerosity requirement. Gilbert v. Abercrombie & Fitch Co., 2016 WL 4159682 at *
4 (S.D. Ohio Aug. 5, 2016) (citing Daffin v. Ford Motor Co., 458 F.3d 549, 552 (6th Cir. 2006)).
“There is no magic minimum number that will breathe life into a class.” Russo v. CVS Pharmacy,
Inc., 201 F.R.D. 291, 294 (D. Conn. 2001). Plaintiff must show some evidence of or reasonably
estimate the number of class members, and, in assessing numerosity, the court may make common
sense assumptions without the need for precise quantification of the class. Id.
With regard to Rutherford County, Plaintiff has presented evidence from discovery that
indicates that the number of juveniles held in RCJDC in one year (July 1, 2015 through June 30,
2016) numbered more than 1,000. Docket No. 94-1 (indicating 986 juveniles from Rutherford
County, 315 juveniles from out of county, and 38 juveniles from DCS). Plaintiff has also presented
evidence from discovery that, from March 17, 2016 through October 7, 2016, 128 juveniles
experienced “isolation” pursuant to RCJDC’s Behavioral Management policy that requires
“confinement.” Docket No. 94-2, Interrogatory No. 10; Docket Nos. 95 and 96. The court interprets
this list to represent juveniles who were placed in solitary confinement for disciplinary or punitive
Given the numbers produced by the Rutherford County Defendants in discovery, the court
finds that Plaintiff has satisfied the numerosity requirement with regard to that proposed class (as
revised by the court). Joinder of all potential class members would be impractical and most
juveniles, many still in DCS or RCJDC custody, would be unable to bring their own actions for this
alleged constitutional violation. Moreover, numerous lawsuits on this same question could easily
bring inconsistent rulings.
Rule 23 also requires that Plaintiff show questions of law or fact common to the class. Fed.
R. Civ. P. 23(a). Commonality requires that Plaintiff demonstrate that the class members have
suffered the same injury. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes, 131 S.Ct. 2541, 2551 (2011). Their claims
must depend upon a common contention of such a nature that it is capable of class-wide resolution,
which means that determination of its truth or falsity will resolve an issue that is central to the
validity of each one of the claims in one stroke. In re Whirlpool Corp. Front-Loading Washer
Products Liability Litigation, 722 F.3d 838, 852 (6th Cir. 2013).
As noted above, to show the same alleged injury in this case, the class members must be
those who were actually placed in solitary confinement for disciplinary or punitive purposes - not
all juveniles who could be, but have not been, placed in solitary confinement for disciplinary or
For the RCJDC revised class, the common questions are:
(1) Whether Defendants allow the use of solitary confinement of juveniles for punitive and/or
(2) Whether the use of punitive and/or disciplinary solitary confinement of juveniles violates
the U.S. Constitution.
The answers to the above questions would apply to all juveniles who have been placed in
solitary confinement for punitive and/or disciplinary reasons at RCJDC. For these reasons, Plaintiff
has demonstrated commonality as to the RCJDC class, as revised above.
Typicality is met if the class members’ claims are fairly encompassed by the named
plaintiffs’ claims. This requirement insures that the class representative’s interests are aligned with
the interests of the represented class members so that, by pursing his own interests, the class
representative also advocates the interests of the class members. Whirlpool, 722 F.3d at 852-53.
Thus, a plaintiff’s claim is typical if it arises from the same event or practice or course of conduct
that gives rise to the claims of other class members and if his claims are based on the same legal
theory. In re American Medical Systems, Inc., 75 F.3d 1069, 1082 (6th Cir. 1996); Young, 693 F.3d
Commonality and typicality tend to merge because both of them serve as guideposts for
determining whether, under the particular circumstances, maintenance of a class action is
economical, and whether the plaintiff’s claims and the class claims are so interrelated that the
interests of the class members will be fairly and adequately protected in their absence. Young, 693
F.3d at 542. Typicality cannot be established when a named plaintiff who proves his own claim
would not necessarily have proved anyone else’s claim. Coleman v. General Motors Acceptance
Corp., 220 F.R.D. 64. 79 (M.D. Tenn. 2004). If Plaintiff here proves his constitutional claim, he will
prove the constitutional claims of the other class members, so long as the class is defined in the
limited way described above. If placing RCJDC juveniles in solitary confinement for disciplinary
and/or punitive reasons is unconstitutional as to Plaintiff, it is also unconstitutional for other RCJDC
juveniles placed in solitary confinement for those purposes.
Here, the claim of Plaintiff - that it is unconstitutional to place juvenile detainees in punitive
and/or disciplinary solitary confinement and that such actions should be enjoined - is typical of a
RCJDC class defined as revised above. Plaintiff’s claim and those of the potential class members
are based on the same legal theory and arise from the same course of conduct. Plaintiff has met the
typicality requirement for class certification as to the RCJDC class defined above.
Rule 23(a)(4) requires that the representative party will fairly and adequately protect the
interests of the class. The Sixth Circuit has recognized that this adequacy of representation
requirement encompasses two criteria : (1) the representative must have common interests with
unnamed members of the class, and (2) it must appear that the representative will vigorously
prosecute the interests of the class through qualified counsel. Coleman, 220 F.R.D. at 79.
In this case, if the class is defined as limited above, Plaintiff will share common interests
with the members of the class. In addition, the court finds no evidence that Plaintiff will not
vigorously prosecute the interests of the class through qualified counsel.
Plaintiff must not only satisfy the requirements of Rule 23(a), but he must also meet one of
the requirements of Rule 23(b). Plaintiff contends that he meets the requirements of Rule 23(b)(2),
which provides: “the party opposing the class has acted or refused to act on grounds that apply
generally to the class, so that final injunctive relief or corresponding declaratory relief is appropriate
respecting the class as a whole.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(b)(2).
Plaintiff alleges that the Defendants have acted on grounds that apply generally to the class
by allowing and using punitive solitary confinement for the juveniles in their secure facilities. The
injunctive relief Plaintiff seeks would enjoin any use of punitive solitary confinement for juveniles
in the RCJDC facilities, relief that would affect all class members.
For all these reasons, Plaintiff’s Motion for Class Certification (Docket No. 54) is granted
in part and denied in part. The court will certify a class of “all juveniles detained in the Rutherford
County Juvenile Detention Center who are or were placed in solitary confinement or isolation for
punitive reasons, from April 25, 2015 to the present.”
IT IS SO ORDERED.
ALETA A. TRAUGER
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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