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Huerta v. Ewing

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Terre Haute Division

May 19, 2017

Jauston Huerta, Thomas Bolton, Jr., Curtis Gillie, Carl Sherb, Derek Hicks, and Durand Randle, Plaintiffs,
v.
Greg Ewing, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER

          Hon. Jane Magnus-Stinson, United States District Court Chief Judge

         On May 17, 2017, the Court held a hearing on the parties' Joint Motion to Approve Joint Stipulation and Class Certification, [Filing No. 37].[1] Plaintiffs were present by counsel Michael Sutherlin. Defendant Sheriff Greg Ewing was present in person and by counsel Craig McKee, David Friedrich, and Michael Wright. The remaining Defendants were present by counsel David Friedrich and Michael Wright. The court reporter was Jean Knepley.

         The Court outlined its continuing concerns with the Joint Motion to Approve Joint Stipulation and Class Certification, and counsel discussed those concerns. Based on that discussion and on the parties' filings, the Court makes the following rulings:

         A. Joint Stipulation

         The Court DENIES IN PART WITH EXPLANATION the Joint Motion to Approve Stipulation and Class Certification to the extent it requests approval of the Joint Stipulation. [Filing No. 37.] The parties' statements at the hearing clarified that they have differing opinions regarding whether the Joint Stipulation is a consent decree, a private settlement agreement, or something else altogether. If it were the former, it must comply with the provisions of the Prison Litigation Reform Act and it does not. If it were the latter, then the Court's approval is not necessary or appropriate. As the parties could not agree on how it should be treated, the Court will treat it as a reflection of the parties' agreement as to certain facts, and future plans with respect to resolution of the issues in this litigation. The Court, therefore, ACCEPTS the Proposed Joint Stipulation, [Filing No. 44], [2] save for the following language:

Plaintiffs' counsel will petition the Court for fees from time to time, in the course of monitoring the progress of construction and compliance with the time line. The County reserves the right to object to any fee applications for any reason and the Court retains its discretion regarding approval of fees. The County agrees to pay any fees ordered by the Court within 30 days of the order. When counsel's fees exceed the Cap, the County is free to argue that [the] PLRA rate (or a lower hourly rate) should apply to an award of plaintiffs' attorney fees.

[Filing No. 44 at 3.] As the Court stated at the hearing, the parties may privately agree to whatever arrangement they would like regarding attorneys' fees. But the Court will not entertain interim fee petitions, nor order payment of such fees on an interim basis, pursuant to anything short of a merits adjudication, which has not been entered here.

         The language of the Proposed Joint Stipulation that the Court has accepted may be used to support Plaintiffs' Motion for Preliminary Injunction, [Filing No. 12], a future dispositive motion, or for any other purpose for which a stipulation may legally be used.

         B. Class Certification

         The Court GRANTS IN PART the Joint Motion to Approve Joint Stipulation and Class Certification, [Filing No. 37], to the extent that it seeks class certification, and likewise GRANTS Plaintiffs' Motion for Class Certification, [Filing No. 10]. The Court has reviewed Plaintiffs' Motion for Class Certification, [Filing No. 10], along with Defendants' Notice of Consent to Class Action Certification, [Filing No. 19], and finds that the requirements of Fed. R. Civ. P. 23 are satisfied here. Specifically, the Court must find that the putative class satisfies the four prerequisite set forth in Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(a). If the putative class does satisfy these prerequisites, the Court must additionally find that it satisfies the requirements set forth in Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(b), which vary depending on which of three different types of class is proposed.

         It is the plaintiffs' burden to prove first that an identifiable class exists that merits certification under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(a). Oshana v. Coca-Cola Co., 472 F.3d 506, 513 (7th Cir. 2006). The four prerequisites under Rule 23(a) are: “(1) [that] the class is so numerous that joinder of all its members is impracticable; (2) [that] there are questions of law or fact common to the class; (3) [that] the claims or defenses of the representative parties are typical of the claims or defenses of the class; and (4) [that] the representative parties will fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(a). Class certification is not appropriate unless the named plaintiff establishes all four prerequisites. Gen. Tel. Co. of the Southwest v. Falcon, 457 U.S. 147, 156, 102 S.Ct. 2364, 72 L.Ed.2d 740 (1982).

         In their Motion to Certify, Plaintiffs define the putative class as:

All individuals in the care and custody of Vigo County, Indiana, including the current and future inmates who are or will be incarcerated in the Vigo County Jail and all current and future individuals who were transported to other county jails as a result of the overcrowding in the Vigo County Jail.

[Filing No. 11 at 1.] The Court finds that Plaintiffs have met their burden of showing that class certification ...


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