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Otero v. Dart

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

September 2, 2014

BRIAN OTERO, individually and on behalf of a class of similarly situated individuals, Plaintiff,


AMY J. ST. EVE, District Judge.

Plaintiff Brian Otero has sued the Cook County Sheriff for allegedly violating his Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights by detaining him in an unreasonable manner after a jury acquitted him of all charges.[1] Plaintiff has filed an Amended Class Action Complaint on behalf of himself and all other similarly situated male inmates. (R. 56, Amended Class Action Complaint.) Before the Court is Plaintiff's Renewed Motion for Class Certification. (R. 60, Mot.) For the following reasons, the Court grants Plaintiff's motion with a modification of the class definition.


Plaintiff Brian Otero filed his initial Complaint in April 2012, alleging that Defendants maintain an unlawful policy or practice of "detaining, holding in custody, or imprisoning free citizens following a trial or other proceeding at which the citizen is found not guilty or otherwise acquitted." (R. 1, Compl. ¶ 1.) Plaintiff alleged that "Defendants' illegal policies and/or procedures" subjected class members to "being detained for unreasonable amounts of time and in an unreasonable manner." ( Id., ¶ 2.) Plaintiff moved to certify the following class:

All males who were criminal defendants in Cook County, were detained at the time of trial or other proceeding and were found not guilty or otherwise acquitted at a trial or other proceeding and for whom the Sheriff's Office no longer had any legal right to detain from April 27, 2010 through the present.

(R. 41, Mot. for Class Cert. at 7, n. 5.) On December 20, 2013, the Court denied Plaintiff's motion with prejudice to the extent that he sought to certify the class based on the alleged unreasonableness of the delay in releasing acquitted detainees from Cook County Jail, and without prejudice to the extent he sought to certify a class challenging one or more specific detention procedures applied to acquitted detainees. (R. 52.)[2]

On January 15, 2014, Plaintiff filed an Amended Class Action Complaint "on behalf of himself and other male inmates who were victimized by Defendant's policy of unconstitutionally detaining, holding in custody and imprisoning free citizens following an acquittal or other favorable disposition of the charges brought against them." (R. 56, ¶ 1.) Count I of the Amended Complaint alleges that this unlawful detention violates the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. Plaintiff specifically alleges that Defendants have:

[A] policy or practice under which it shackles, transports and detains acquitted individuals to change back into their prison jumpsuit and be processed back into the general prison population. In fact, Defendant has conceded that it has no policies or procedures in place that distinguish acquittees from other inmates over whom Defendant has the continued right to detain or that in any way acknowledge an inmate's right to freedom that he acquires by virtue of an acquittal or other favorable disposition of the charges brought against him.

( Id. ¶ 8.)

With respect to his own circumstances, Plaintiff alleges that following his acquittal, and despite the fact that he had no other pending charges or warrants against him, Cook County Sheriff's officers seized him and placed him in handcuffs. ( Id., ¶ 17.) The Sheriff's Officers then detained Plaintiff with other regular inmates in a number of different holding cells and ultimately processed him back into his Division within the general prison population. ( Id. ) Plaintiff also alleges that while he was detained after his acquittal, other inmates "punched and pummeled Plaintiff about the face and body" after they learned that he was acquitted and would be leaving jail. ( Id. ¶ 18.)

Plaintiff's Amended Complaint adds a second count for a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment as, Plaintiff alleges, "similarly situated female acquitted inmates are not subjected to these policies or practices, but rather are segregated from other inmates and not returned to their original jail cells." ( Id. ¶ 2.) Plaintiff asserts that these similarly situated females "are segregated from other inmates and are given the option to either remain in the receiving room or return to their jail cell while Defendant processes their release." ( Id. ¶ 10.)

The parties have conducted class certification discovery and Plaintiff asserts the following facts in his motion for class certification. When a male detainee is acquitted or otherwise has the charges brought against him dismissed, he is immediately taken back into the custody of the Cook County Sheriff's Office ("Sheriff's Office") and placed in a holding cell behind the judge's chambers. The Sheriff's Office then transports him to a larger holding cell known as the "bridge, " which is located in the basement of the criminal court building at 26th Street and California. The bridge consists of eight holding cells (known as "bullpens"), which hold new inmates as well as other inmates returning from court. Each bullpen holds approximately 50 individuals at any given time. The Sheriff's Office does not segregate or otherwise treat differently the acquitted detainees from the other inmates.

Sheriff's officers then transport the acquitted detainees along with the regular inmates through a tunnel that connects the criminal court building to the Cook County Department of Corrections ("DOC"). Upon arrival at the DOC, Sheriff's officers hold the acquitted detainees with the regular inmates in another bullpen. Eventually, a transport team arrives and calls out the detainees one by one, handcuffs them, and transports them back to their respective Division. Upon arrival at the Division, the Sheriff's Office identifies each detainee and returns all of the detainees to another holding cell. At some point, the Sheriff's Office processes all of the detainees back into the Cook County Jail and their respective cells.

Although the DOC has a written policy on handling court-ordered releases, that policy identifies procedures for processing an acquitted detainee's release after he has already begun the process of transferring back into the general jail population. This DOC General Order, which addresses "inmate/detainee discharge procedures, " assigns responsibility for reviewing court documents for acquitted detainees to a "Transportation Officer." There is no transportation officer assigned to the criminal courthouse at 26th Street and California. The DOC has no system or policy in place at the criminal court building to differentiate between acquitted detainees and other inmates. After the Sheriff's Office returns the detainees to their jail cells, the DOC's Records Office reviews the court documents from all of the returning inmates on that day. It is only after this process that the DOC retrieves the acquitted detainee from his cell, escorts him to an outtake area, verifies his identification, and releases him.

Defendant has acknowledged that it treated Mr. Otero in the same exact manner as every other acquitted detainee. Defendant also has acknowledged that female inmates who are acquitted or otherwise ordered to be released do not undergo the same procedure. Rather than automatically returning female acquitted detainees to the Cook County Jail, the Sheriff's Office gives them the option of remaining in the receiving department or returning to their cells to collect and pack their own belongings.


To obtain class certification under Rule 23, a plaintiff must satisfy each requirement of Rule 23(a) - numerosity, commonality, typicality, and adequacy of representation - and one subsection of Rule 23(b). See Harper v. Sheriff of Cook County, 581 F.3d 511, 513 (7th Cir. 2009); Oshana v. Coca-Cola Co., 472 F.3d 506, 513 (7th Cir. 2006). Once a party satisfies the requirements of Rule 23(a), he must meet one of the requirements of Rule 23(b). In this case, Plaintiff argues that class certification is appropriate under Rule 23(b)(3) or, in the alternative, Rule 23(b)(2) or 23(c)(4). (Mot. at 14.) A court may certify a Rule 23(b)(3) class where "questions of law and fact common to members of the class predominate over any questions affecting only individual members, and... a class action is superior to other available methods for fairly and efficiently resolving the dispute in question." Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(b)(3). Under Rule 23(b)(2), a court may certify a class where "the party opposing the class has acted or refused to act on grounds that apply generally to the class, so that ...

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