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Judge grants limited class certification in stage collapse lawsuit

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While she said she doubts the plaintiffs can win their case, U.S. Judge Sarah Evans Barker is allowing limited class certification in a lawsuit challenging the state’s $5 million damage liability cap. Plaintiffs incurred injuries in the Indiana State Fair stage collapse Aug. 13.

In a 28-page ruling, the federal judge in the Southern District of Indiana granted class certification for the limited purpose of determining whether the $5 million cap violates the due process and equal protection clauses of the 14th Amendment.

However, Barker wrote that the court doesn’t believe the plaintiffs have demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits, given the well-established caselaw on damages caps for tort claims against governmental entities. She denied a preliminary injunction request that sought to both stop the state from settling any tort claims relating to the stage collapse and prevent the state from disbursing any of the $5 million in public funds to the stage collapse victims.

 “Given the severity of the Plaintiffs’ and other similarly situated claimants’ reported injuries, we believe the public interest would not be served by restricting Defendants’ scope of action as Plaintiffs have requested. When compared with the potential deprivation of much-needed money that the claimants are likely to suffer if a preliminary injunction is granted, the balance of hardships tips in Defendants’ favor,” she wrote.

The judge also denied an emergency motion for discovery.

Her ruling comes almost a month after an evidentiary hearing in the case, which Valparaiso attorney Kenneth Allen filed in September on behalf of six plaintiffs who were injured or killed in the stage collapse at the fairgrounds in Indianapolis. This is one of many lawsuits that has been filed in state and federal courts in the three months since the deadly accident.

Barker found that plaintiffs met the class certification numerosity requirement because they could institute individual claims, and joinder of all the parties would be impractical. But the judge determined the plaintiffs fell short of meeting the class certification criteria for commonality in regard to their share of the state’s public fund and because plaintiffs haven’t shown the defendants did or intended to do anything that might connect everyone. Barker found that the named plaintiffs’ claims aren’t all substantially similar for the bulk of the lawsuit, but that they do share a typical focus for the limited purpose of challenging the Indiana cap’s constitutionality.

The judge wasn’t persuaded to involve Rule 23(b) on class certification based on the obvious possibility that some claimants might ultimately be more successful than others, but the plaintiffs do meet the requirements of Rule 23(a) on that limited constitutional question.

“Lastly, although we acknowledge the real merits of Defendants’ Eleventh Amendment and abstention arguments against class certification, our limited certification does not run afoul of these doctrines,” Barker wrote.
 

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  1. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  2. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  3. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  4. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

  5. I am compelled to announce that I am not posting under any Smith monikers here. That said, the post below does have a certain ring to it that sounds familiar to me: http://www.catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2014/0907/cardinal.aspx

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