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Federal Court Certifies Class-action for Thousands of Detroit Prisoners, Enters Default Judgment

U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Ludington certified a § 1983 class-action lawsuit affecting tens of thousands of people arrested and detained by the City of Detroit, and appointed a noted prisoners’ rights law firm in Chicago, Loevy and Loevy, to represent the lead plaintiff, Jonathan A. Brown. The judge held that two classes of former prisoners could present claims – those who were held by the city for more than 48 hours without receiving probable cause hearings, and a second class of those held over 60 hours without being provided mattresses or probable cause hearings.

Brown originally filed his lawsuit in 2010, alleging, “First, Defendant does not provide bedding when an arrestee is detained overnight or for more than sixteen hours. Second, Defendant regularly detains arrestees for more than forty-eight hours without a judicial determination of probable cause.” Brown’s request for certification of another class, consisting of prisoners who did not receive at least two meals a day, was denied. The size of the proposed first class was estimated at “about 108,000,” and the second class “about 30,000.”

The lawsuit arose out of Brown’s arrest in September 2007, when he was arrested without a warrant and taken to a “small, cold, isolated room. There was no place to sit but on concrete and there was no place to sleep; he was not even provided a mattress, blanket, or pillow.” After remaining in custody for more than 60 hours with limited food and drink, and denied contact with his family and legal counsel, Brown gave a coerced statement at the request of police officers.

The City of Detroit at first appeared to ignore Brown’s lawsuit, which is never a good idea in federal litigation. According to the district court, “Over the next several months Defendant did not respond to discovery demands, notwithstanding two court orders compelling their production. Accordingly, in April 2011 the Court entered an order of default against Defendant.” The district court then found the city liable for damages.

Before damages could be determined, however, Detroit filed for bankruptcy and an automatic stay was issued by the bankruptcy court that prevented further progress in the suit. The automatic stay was lifted in October 2014, which allowed the litigation to proceed and damages to be determined. The case currently remains pending. See: Brown v. City of Detroit, U.S.D.C. (E.D. Mich.), Case No. 1:10-cv-12162-TLL-CEB.

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Related legal case

Brown v. City of Detroit