Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Northern District Certifies Prisoner Transport Class in Schilling v. Transcor Am.

On February 16, 2010, Judge Susan Illston of the Northern District certified a prisoner transport class against Transcor America, LLC, in Schilling v. Transcor Am., 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 20786 (N.D. Cal. Feb. 16, 2010). Plaintiffs’ action alleges that defendant, whose business entails the transportation of pretrial detainees and prisoners, subjected prisoners in tow for more than 24 hours to inhumane conditions during the journey, including being shackled and kept in a cage, and deprived of access to regular food, water, and bathrooms. The Court certified a rule 23(b)(3) damages class based on its finding that plaintiffs’ constitutional claims arose from defendant’s systematic transport practices, including a wholesale failure to enact policies ensuring that minimal constitutional treatment was provided:
Plaintiffs challenge the conditions to which they were subjected during 24 hour transports, and it is undisputed that all inmates are restrained during such transports and not provided with a "rest over night." As in Baca and Dunn, plaintiffs challenge the failure to enact policies to ensure adequate access to food, water, and bathroom facilities, and they allege that as a result of such failures, they have been subject to the whim of TransCor employees responsible for each transport. In order to establish liability, plaintiffs must objectively show that they were deprived of something "sufficiently serious." Foster v. Runnels, 554 F.3d 807, 812 (9th Cir. 2009). Whether inmates who have been transported for more than 24 hours and who are not allowed to sleep overnight have been deprived of something "sufficiently serious" can be determined on a classwide basis. While there is also a subjective component to the analysis in that inmates must also show that a deprivation occurred with deliberate indifference the inmates' needs, id., that inquiry does not mean that the legality of policies and practices applied to all inmates cannot be litigated on a class basis.
Schilling, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 20786, at 31-33.

The Court also certified plaintiff’s claim under Cal. Civil Code § 52.1 – an enabling statute providing a private right of action for intentional deprivation of constitutional rights – despite acknowledging a split in authority on whether such a cause of action could be maintained on a representative basis.  See Schilling, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 20786, at 34-37.

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