Appellate Law, Chicago, Class Action, Client Results, Firm News, Municipal Liability

Seventh Circuit Affirms Dismissal of Potential Class Action Against Municipality, Sheriff and County Jail

December 9, 2020

In a case based on allegations of a systemic failure by a municipality and its county sheriff to provide timely dental care to detainees in the county jail, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals recently affirmed a district court’s ruling that denied plaintiff’s motion for class certification.  The issues surrounding that denial were the basis for the appeal.  The Seventh Circuit found that the commonality, typicality, and predominance factors were lacking, and affirmed the dismissal, which effectively ends what would have been a very big, and expensive, case for the defendants.  For the defendants, Johnson & Bell Shareholder, Garrett L. Boehm, Jr., and Attorney, Samuel D. Branum, drafted the appellate brief.  Mr. Branum argued the appeal.

In this case, plaintiff alleged that detainees at the county jail did not receive face-to-face evaluations by a nurse or higher level practitioner after submitting health service request forms in which they complained of dental pain. Plaintiff alleged that the failure to provide these face-to-face evaluations was a jail policy that violated the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees detainees the right to receive adequate dental care. Plaintiff moved for class certification, and the district court denied the motion, finding that plaintiff failed to meet Rule 23’s requirements of commonality, typicality, and predominance. Plaintiff appealed, and the Seventh Circuit affirmed on all grounds.

The Seventh Circuit held that plaintiff failed to meet the commonality requirement because the question of whether the jail’s policy violated the Constitution required plaintiff to prove that the policy was objectively unreasonable, “but that is, by its nature, an inquiry not suitable for resolution as to all class members in one fell swoop.” Rather, objective unreasonableness is an individualized inquiry and not a common question. In addition, the question of whether the policy even exists is not a question that materially advances resolution of the litigation on a classwide basis.

On the typicality requirement, the Seventh Circuit stated that it was insufficient for plaintiff to assert that the same course of conduct affected all members of the class. The Seventh Circuit pointed out that plaintiff’s claim must also have “the same essential characteristics as the claims of the class at large.” Because the district court found that the cause of plaintiff’s delay in treatment was unrelated to the alleged policy, plaintiff’s claim was different than those of the other putative class members. Therefore, the typicality requirement was not met. The Seventh Circuit also affirmed the district court’s conclusion that the highly individualized inquiry required to evaluate each case means that no case is typical.

Finally, the Seventh Circuit held that the predominance requirement was not met because it is a far more demanding requirement than the commonality requirement that plaintiff already failed to meet. Given the Seventh Circuit’s analysis on commonality and typicality, it agreed with the district court’s finding that individual issues predominate over common questions, which is the opposite of what Rule 23(b)(3) requires.

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