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Disabled Detainee at Cook County Jail Wins Class Certification in Lawsuit

a disabled prisoner at the Cook County Jail (CCJ) in Chicago, won class-action certification to represent all of the jail’s disabled prisoners housed in its Division 10 as he proceeds with a lawsuit alleging violations of federal laws protecting the disabled.

The ruling by Judge John Robert Blakey of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois allows Bennet to proceed with a 2018 suit filed against Cook County Sheriff Thomas Dart, alleging that CCJ’s Division 10 failed to provide accessibility for disabled persons.

Bennett, an amputee, was housed with inmates in Division 10, all of whom need canes, crutches or walkers. His lawsuit alleges that Division 10 lacks grab bars and other fixtures needed for safe use of showers and bathrooms, resulting in a fall he took. The missing fixtures also constitute violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act, the suit said.

Bennett initially sought to represent a class consisting of all detainees who need canes, crutches or walkers, but Judge Blakey denied that motion, ruling that the diverse types of apparatuses would prevent the formation of a class. Bennett then proposed an alternative class consisting of all detainees in Division 10, contending that the 1992 facility must comply with the Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards.

But Blakey denied that motion, too, in a September 2019 ruling that said the court “would need to rule on the merits of Plaintiff’s case” in order to grant the class-action certification – effectively putting the legal cart before the horse. Bennett was granted an interlocutory appeal, and in March 2020 the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals vacated Judge Blakey’s order denying certification of a class.

Noting that Rule 23(a) and (b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure list the requirements for class certification, the court said that “surety of prevailing on the merits is not one of them,” since classes can lose as well as win. The district court’s order was a formula for one-way intervention rather than avoiding it, the court continued, and Bennett’s proposed class would win only if the Standards apply to Division 10’s facility.

“That’s how class actions should proceed,” the Seventh Circuit wrote. It vacated the district court’s order and remanded the case to Judge Blakey, who determined the Rule 23 standards had been met and granted the class certification. See: Bennett v. Dart, 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 62454. 

 

Related legal case

Bennett v. Dart