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Seventh Circuit Reverses Class Certification in Cook County Jail Case

On September 8, 2008, the Seventh Circuit court of appeals reversed an Illinois federal district court's class certification in a suit over delay in the release of an arrestee while family members were attempting to post bond.

Robert Harper was arrested by a Chicago police officer. At a probable cause hearing held the next day, a judge set his bond at $15,000. His wife attended the hearing and immediately sought to post bond. She was able to post bond about three hours later, but Harper wasn't released for another seven hours, after completing the intake procedures at the Cook County Jail.

The intake procedures included assigning an identification number, taking photos, fingerprinting, strip searching, confiscating personal property, interviewing, medical examination, psychiatric screening and assigning housing. It includes the non-consensual insertion of a swab into the penis to perform a test for sexually-transmitted infections.

Harper filed a civil rights suit against the Sheriff of Cook County in federal district court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, seeking class certification for persons held excessively while they or others attempt to post bond. The district court granted class certification, but found the class definition to be too broad and ordered Harper to redefine it. The sheriff appealed before this was done.

The Seventh Circuit noted that the sheriff's policy provided for arrestees undergoing the intake process for whom bail has been posted to be moved ahead of other arrestees so that their release is speeded up. It allows for the elimination of the medical examination and psychiatric interview in some cases. Furthermore, the clerk of the court accepts the bond, not the sheriff, so the sheriff cannot be responsible for delays encountered before bond is posted.

The Seventh Circuit held that the sheriff could appeal before the class was redefined as the district court clearly granted class certification in its order. It also held that Harper could not attack the specifics of the intake processing, such as the STI screening or strip search, because this would duplicate other pending class actions. This means that the lawsuit can only be over the delays in release after bond is posted. However, delays can be caused by a variety of reasons peculiar to the individual arrest, such as time of day, number of other arrestees being processed and whether the arrestee cooperated with the intake processing. This makes the issue inappropriate for class certification. Therefore, the Seventh Circuit vacated the class certification and returned the case to the district court for resolution of Harper's individual claims.

See: Harper v. Sheriff of Cook County, 581 F.3d 511 (7th Cir. 2009).

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Related legal case

Harper v. Sheriff of Cook County