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Third Circuit Reverses Denial of Class Certification

by Christopher Zoukis

The Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has resurrected a challenge to the constitutionality of 8 U.S.C. § 1226(c), the section of the Immigration and Nationality Act that requires mandatory detention of undocumented immigrants who have committed certain crimes.

The challenge was brought in 2012 by plaintiffs Garfield Gayle, Neville Sukhu and Sheldon Francois. On behalf of themselves and all similarly situated individuals, they alleged that the mandatory detention provision of § 1226(c) violated constitutional guarantees of procedural and substantive due process.

Years of litigation ensued, and the district court ultimately ruled for the plaintiffs on their individual claims – finding the mandatory detention provision did indeed violate due process – but against them on their request for class certification.

On appeal, the Third Circuit reversed each ruling. The individual claims were reversed because the plaintiffs had been released prior to the district court’s decision, rendering their constitutional challenge moot. As such, the lower court lacked jurisdiction to rule on the merits of their claims.

However, in reversing the denial of class certification, the Court of Appeals reinstated the constitutional challenge. The Court held that “class claims can breathe life into an otherwise moot case, for they ‘allow a plaintiff to continue seeking class certification in certain circumstances even though his individual claim for relief has become moot,’” and directed the district court on remand to reconsider its ruling that class certification was improper.

“[S]o long as a plaintiff files a motion to certify a class when he still has a live claim, the mooting of the claim while the motion is pending precludes the court from reaching the merits but does not preclude it from deciding the certification motion,” the appellate court wrote in its September 22, 2016 decision.

With the class certification still at issue, the district court would again be in a position to rule on the constitutionality of the mandatory detention provision of § 1226(c). The case remains pending on remand. See: Gayle v. Warden, 838 F.3d 297 (3d Cir. 2016). 

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Related legal case

Gayle v. Warden