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Hale v. Stoffel

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division

March 12, 2018

THOMAS HALE, and JUSTIN WALLS, for themselves and on behalf of themselves and other similarly situated persons, Plaintiffs,
v.
TERRY STOFFEL, in his official capacity, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          THERESA L. SPRINGMANN CHIEF JUDGE

         Plaintiffs Thomas Hale and Justin Walls, on behalf of themselves and others similarly situated, bring this class action against Defendant Terry Stoffel in his official capacity as the Huntington County Sheriff. The Plaintiffs assert that they have been denied access to the courts in violation of their Fourteenth Amendment right to due process and in violation of Section 12 of Article 1 of the Indiana State Constitution. (See generally Compl., ECF No. 1.) This matter is before the Court on the Plaintiffs' Motion to Certify Class [ECF No. 2], filed on March 21, 2017. The Defendant responded on May 22, 2017 [ECF No. 23], and the Plaintiffs replied on October 20, 2017 [ECF No. 32]. For the reasons stated herein, the Court denies class certification.

         BACKGROUND

         At the time they filed their Complaint, the Plaintiffs were housed in the Huntington County Jail in Huntington, Indiana. (Compl. ¶ 8.) The Plaintiffs allege that they “have been unable to pursue or even bring their civil rights, post-conviction, and habeas corpus claims in court due to the Huntington County Jail's total lack of available law library, legal research materials, or professional legal assistance.” (Id. at ¶ 19.) Specifically, Plaintiff Walls asserts that he has been unable “to file and pursue (a) civil rights claims for alleged unconstitutional conditions of confinement including lack of hygiene and toiletry items, (b) habeas corpus claims over unlawful revocation of good time credit and unlawful disciplinary segregation, and (c) post-conviction claims to challenge his criminal sentence.” (Id. at ¶ 20.) Plaintiff Hale asserts that he has been unable to “file and pursue civil rights claims for alleged unconstitutional conditions of confinement including the lack of adequate toilet paper and hygiene supplies and the threat to health and safety presented by mold, poor ventilation, improper classification of inmates, and overcrowding in the jail.” (Id. at ¶ 21.) Both Plaintiffs assert that they requested access to the jail's law library and resources several times but were denied each time.

         Accordingly, the Plaintiffs seek declaratory and injunctive relief and reasonable attorneys' fees and costs available under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1988. At issue here, the Plaintiffs also seek certification of a class related to the claims set forth in the Complaint.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         Certification of a class is proper only if the class meets all of the requirements of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(a) and one of the requirements of Rule 23(b). See Fed. R. Civ. P. 23; Rosario v. Livaditis, 963 F.2d 1013, 1017 (7th Cir. 1992). Rule 23(a) is satisfied if:

(1) the class is so numerous that joinder of all members is impracticable;
(2) there are questions of law or fact common to the class;
(3) the claims or defenses of the representative parties are typical of the claims or defenses of the class; and
(4) the representative parties will fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(a)(1)-(4); Kress v. CCA of Tenn., LLC, 694 F.3d 890, 892-93 (7th Cir. 2012). Additionally, the Seventh Circuit has held that a class must be sufficiently defined so that the class is identifiable. All. to End Repression v. Rochford, 565 F.2d 975, 977 (7th Cir. 1977); see also Simer v. Rios, 661 F.2d 655, 669 (7th Cir. 1981) (“It is axiomatic that for a class action to be certified, a ‘class' must exist.”); Oshana v. Coca-Cola Co., 472 F.3d 506, 513 (7th Cir. 2006). If all of these prerequisites are met, the Court must also find that at least one of the subsections of Rule 23(b) is satisfied. As relevant here, Rule 23(b)(2) is satisfied if:

the party opposing the class has acted or refused to act on grounds that apply generally to the class, so that final injunctive relief or corresponding declaratory relief is ...

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