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Class-Action Status Granted in Civil Rights Suit Over Disenfranchised Indiana Jail Prisoners

by Matt Clarke

On May 17, 2018, a federal district court certified a class of Allen County, Indiana jail prisoners who were denied their right to vote in the November 2016 general election.

Ian Barnhart was held at the jail on misdemeanor charges from October 31, 2016 until December 15, 2016. He was registered to vote and wanted to vote in the 2016 election. He and other jail prisoners requested absentee ballots per the jail’s policy, but neither received absentee ballots nor were allowed to vote at a voting center a block from the jail.

Aided by Fort Wayne attorney David Frank, Barnhart filed a federal civil rights action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging violation of his and other prisoners’ Fourteenth Amendment rights. He sought class certification.

The complaint alleged that over 75 percent of the 500 to 600 prisoners incarcerated at the jail on any given day were pretrial detainees and about 25 percent of the remaining prisoners were serving a misdemeanor sentence. Both groups were eligible to vote. The lawsuit accused Allen County Sheriff David Gladieux of systematically disenfranchising the approximately 300 jail prisoners who were both eligible and registered to vote in the 2016 general election.

The district court determined that the class of prisoners was readily identifiable since government records indicated whether a prisoner held at the jail as of November 8, 2016 was a registered voter. The court also found the proposed class met the requirements of numerosity, commonality, typicality and adequacy. Thus, it satisfied the requirements of Rule 23(b), Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

Chief District Court Judge Theresa L. Springmann certified a class consisting of “All individuals held at the Allen County jail on November 8, 2016, who on that date were U.S. citizens, residents of Indiana, were at least eighteen years of age, were not serving a sentence for a conviction of a felony crime, had not previously voted in the 2016 election, were provided neither an absentee ballot nor transportation to a voting center, and were registered to vote or had been denied the opportunity to vote while being held in the Allen County jail.” She also appointed Christopher C. Meyers & Associates, the law firm that employed David Frank, as class counsel.

The case remains pending on the sheriff’s motion for partial summary judgment. See: Buroff v. Gladieux, U.S.D.C. (N.D. Ind.), Case No. 1:17-cv-00124-TLS. 


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Related legal case

Buroff v. Gladieux