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Class of Plaintiffs and Defendants Certified in Mental Health Suit

The plaintiff alleged that, notwithstanding a state court decision striking down the state statutory provisions for commitment of persons deemed incompetent to stand trial, those standards were still being applied at a number of Office of Mental Health facilities. He sought class certification.

Though the named plaintiff's claims were moot, the action could still be certified, relating back to the filing of the complaint, since his claim was "inherently transitory" (it lasted for six days). He could continue to serve as class representative.

At 61:
Courts have not required evidence of the exact class size or identify of class members to satisfy the numerosity requirement.... Instead, a good faith estimate is sufficient when the exact number of class members is not readily ascertainable. ... Generally, courts will find that the numerosity requirement has been satisfied when the class comprises forty or more members. ...

... Other relevant considerations include "judicial economy arising from the avoidance of a multiplicity of actions, geographic dispersion of class members, financial resources of class members, the ability of claimants to institute to substitute individual suits, and requests for prospective injunctive relief which would involve future class members." ...

The court then cites the fact that 300-plus individual suits might be required and the class members are scattered all over the state. Id.: "Moreover, because the proposed class is entirely composed of incapacitated individuals who suffer from mental illnesses severe enough that they have been deemed incompetent to stand trial, individual suits would be difficult to pursue." The fluidity of the proposed class also makes certification appropriate.

At 61 (for commonality): "Minor factual differences will not preclude class certification if there is a common question of law." At 62 (for typicality): "It is not necessary that the factual basis for the claims of all class members be identical."

Although a district court may deny class certification when declaratory or injunctive relief is sought against allegedly unconstitutional law or practice, especially where the relief sought is only prohibitory, doing so is not mandatory, and the interest in avoiding mootness makes certification more than an "empty formality." (63) The court therefore finds that class certification under Rule 23(b)(2) "is a superior method of adjudication in this case." (No such finding is required; that's for Rule 23(b)(3).) This plaintiff also seeks affirmative as well as prohibitory relief. Defendants' alleged failure to follow the earlier state court ruling also supports class certification.

The court also certifies a defendant class of criminal court judges. At 65-66:

Because the certification of a defendant class raises due process issues not encountered in the context of a plaintiff clas, a defendant class generally should not be certified unless each member of the plaintiff class has a claim against each member of the defendant class. ... However, this requirement may be waived where the members of the proposed defendant class are related by a "juridical link." ... A juridical link is "'some [independent] legal relationship which relates all defendants in a way such that a single resolution of the dispute is preferred to a multiplicity of similar actions.'" ... Courts have found that such a link exists when all of the members of the defendant class are state officials who are bound to enforce the state statutes or regulations challenged by the plaintiff. ...

At 66: "... [A] higher threshold number of members is required for a plaintiff class than for a defendant class." The 62 county sheriffs in New York State are quite enough for certification. However, the proposed class does not meet the typicality requirement because of the variation in defenses with respect to the logistics of transporting defendants to and from the relevant facilities in different counties. See: Monaco v. Stone, 187 F.R.D. 50 (E.D.N.Y. 1999).

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Related legal case

Monaco v. Stone