7th Circuit orders new hearing in Marion County wrongful-detention suit

June 16, 2017

The issue of the certification of two subclasses of inmates who allege they were wrongfully detained for unconstitutional periods of time is back before a district court after the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the court erred in initially denying class certification.

In Michael Driver, et al. v. Marion County Sheriff, et al., 16-4239, plaintiffs brought a case against the Marion County Sheriff’s Department and the Consolidated City of Indianapolis and Marion County, alleging their practices caused the class member to be detained in the Marion County Jail for an unreasonable amount of time in violation of their Fourth Amendment rights. The plaintiffs sought to certify five subclasses, but the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana granted certification to only two of the subclasses.

The plaintiffs petitioned the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals for permission to appeal the denial of two of those class certifications, which included individuals who were confined from Dec. 19, 2012, to the present after legal authority for the detentions ceased.  The plaintiffs claimed the proposed class members were people who were unlawfully detained due to the sheriff’s office’s practice of operating under a standard of allowing up to 72 hours to release prisoners ordered to release; and due to the office’s employment of a computer system that was inadequate for the purposes of ensuring the timely release of prisoners.

The appellate court granted an interlocutory appeal, then ruled on the merits in a Thursday opinion that held Judge Richard L. Young in the Southern District had erred in denying the class certifications.

Specifically, Judge Ilana Rovner wrote that Young had applied a 48-hour rule for defining the reasonableness of a detention, relying on the case of County of Riverside v. McLaughlin, 500 U.S. 44 (1991), and thus determined that members of the proposed class detained for less than 48 hours could not be treated the same as those detained more than 48 hours. However, the proposed class in the instant case involves a different set of facts than in McLaughlin, which addressed the amount of time between a warrantless arrest and a judicial determination of probable cause, Rovner said.

Here, legal authority for the detention of the proposed class had ceased, so “the tasks involved in the situation presented here are significantly less onerous and less time-consuming than the ones involved in McLaughlin,” Rovner wrote. Thus, relying on McLaughlin’s 48-hour rule to define an unreasonable detention does not make sense, she said.

Further, she wrote there was evidence the sheriff profited from an arrangement in which it received its computer system for free and failed to follow the standard review process in choosing the system. The chosen system, OMS, was rife with technical issues, she said, yet the sheriff’s office chose to continue using it, even in the face of significant delays.

Young denied certification to the second subclass affected by the computer system because it was not “identifiable,” but Rovner wrote that “given the evidence of a dramatic increase in detention times in correlation with the implementation of the computer system…the class is capable of detention both by the timing and the length of the delay in the release.”

The case was remanded with instructions to the district court to “consider factual and legal issues comprising plaintiffs’ cause of action insofar as those issues are necessary to a determination of the (Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23) factors.”


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