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Indiana Jail’s Overdetention of Pretrial Detainees Erroneously Denied Class-action Status

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals reversed an Indiana federal district court’s denial of class-action status for a subclass in a civil rights action alleging that the policies and practices of the Marion County Sheriff’s Office caused pretrial detainees at the county jail awaiting release to be held for an unreasonably long period of time.

The district court denied class status to prisoners who, from December 19, 2012 to present, were held by the sheriff after legal authority for their detentions ended, due to: 1) the sheriff’s practice of allowing up to 72 hours to release prisoners who were ordered released, and 2) the sheriff’s practice of employing a computer system that was inadequate with respect to the timely release of prisoners.

To certify a class, “a district court must find that each requirement of Rule 23(a) (numerosity, commonality, typicality, and adequacy of representation) is satisfied as well as one subsection of Rule 23(b).”

The court denied the 72-hour subclass because it believed the 48-hour presumptive detention period at issue in County of Riverside v. McLaughlin, 500 U.S. 44 (1991) was critical in defining the period of reasonable detention. On appeal, however, the Seventh Circuit said the presumption of a 48-hour period in this context was error.

The McLaughlin time period included “the time involved in processing and booking the defendant, determining the appropriate charges and preparing charging documents, assigning and transporting to the court, and ultimately obtaining a judicial determination of probable cause.” In this case, “the class members already qualify for release, and all that is left are the ministerial actions to accomplish that release, which are within the control of the jail officials.”

As the lawsuit alleged overdetention of detainees was a matter of policy at the jail, the Seventh Circuit held in a June 15, 2017 decision that it was error for the district court to deny certification of the subclass.

As for the computer system subclass, the Seventh Circuit said the district court “appears to deny certification ... because the policy or practice caused the over-detention of the entire class. That, however, would be a basis to grant certification of the class as a whole rather than as a subclass, not to deny certification because it is not limited to a portion of the class.”

The Court of Appeals concluded that “[t]he court on remand should consider all issues related to the Rule 23 factors even if they overlap with the merits, and can make the appropriate fact findings at that time.”

Accordingly, the district court’s order was reversed and the case remanded for further proceedings, where it remains pending. See: Driver v. Marion County Sheriff, 859 F.3d 489 (7th Cir. 2017). 

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Related legal case

Driver v. Marion County Sheriff