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Smentek v. Sheriff of Cook County

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

October 13, 2016

JOHN SMENTEK, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
SHERIFF OF COOK COUNTY and COOK COUNTY, ILLINOIS, Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          Joan H. Lefkow U.S. District Judge.

         In this class action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the Sheriff of Cook County in his official capacity and Cook County, Illinois, [1] plaintiffs claim that inadequate dental care at Cook County Jail (CCJ) constitutes cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. Plaintiffs have moved to divide the class which the court certified under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(b)(3) into five subclasses. They also move to allow limited discovery to address claims of detainees arising after the evidentiary hearing was held in this case. For the reasons stated below, plaintiffs' amended motion to divide the (b)(3) class (dkt. 430) is denied. Plaintiffs' motion for additional discovery (dkt. 465) is denied.

         PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         On November 18, 2010, the court denied certification of a Rule 23(b)(3) class based on collateral estoppel but certified a class under Rule 23(b)(2) for injunctive relief. The class was defined as “[a]ll persons presently confined at the Cook County Jail who are experiencing dental pain and who have waited more than seven days after making a written request for treatment of that pain without having been examined by a dentist.” (Dkt. 68 at 15.) Because of a change in the law, see Smith v. Bayer Corp., 564 U.S. 299, 314-316, 131 S.Ct. 2368, 180 L.Ed.2d 341 (2011) (holding that an adverse class determination was not binding on putative class members), the court reconsidered its denial of the (b)(3) class and certified a class consisting of “all inmates housed at Cook County Department of Corrections on or after January 1, 2007, who have made a written request for dental care because of acute pain and who suffered prolonged and unnecessary pain because of lack of treatment” (dkt. 93 at 11).[2]

         On December 22, 2014, following an evidentiary hearing, the court decertified the (b)(2) class and modified the (b)(3) class to include an end date coinciding with the time period for which the CCJ became adequately staffed. (Dkt. 390 at 23.) Plaintiffs appealed the order decertifying the (b)(2) class. (See dkt. 392). The court of appeals affirmed. Phillips v. Sheriff of Cook Cnty., ___ F.3d ___, 2016 WL 3615761 (7th Cir. July 6, 2016), and its mandate issued on August 11, 2016 (dkt. 461). This leaves the (b)(3) class comprising “all inmates housed at Cook County Department of Corrections on or after January 1, 2007 until [date to be determined], who have made a written request for dental care because of acute pain and who suffered prolonged and unnecessary pain because of lack of treatment.” The parties have been unable to agree on the end date.

         The issues before the court are whether the proposed subclasses are consistent with the court's previous directions in the case and, if so, whether the requirements of Rule 23(b)(3) are met for each proposed subclass.

         ANALYSIS

         I. Whether the Proposed Subclasses Are Consistent With “the Law of the Case”

         Plaintiffs argue that their proposed subclasses can all be certified under Rule 23(b)(3), which requires that common questions predominate over individual ones and that a class action is the superior method for adjudicating the controversy.[3] Whether the proposed subclasses can be certified, however, must be addressed in the context of the history of this litigation. Previously, with respect to the (b)(3) class, the court found that Rule 23(a)(2)'s commonality and Rule 23(b)(3)'s predominance and superiority requirements were not met absent an end date coinciding with when the CCJ staffing rose to a constitutionally adequate level. (Dkt. 390 at 17- 23.) To avoid having to make inferences from the evidence elicited at the preliminary injunction hearing, it urged the parties to agree on an end date such that individual class members could be notified and their claims for damages addressed. Defendant has proposed July 14, 2009, which is the date CCJ exceeded the “pre-cut” staffing and budgetary levels of 2006 (specifically, employing four dentists, which defendant contends, met minimal standards of adequacy under the Constitution).

         Rather than proposing a single end date marked by a staffing level, plaintiffs propose to divide the (b)(3) class into five subclasses representing succeeding segments of time up to the present, each describing a type of needed-but-delayed/denied care within specific time frames of residency at CCJ. The five subclasses plaintiffs propose fall into two categories. Subclasses one and two include inmates whose claims arose before the CCJ became staffed at current levels. Subclasses three, four, and five define subclasses beginning after that point, continuing to entry of judgment, and address what plaintiffs contend is persistent lack of constitutionally adequate dental care even after the adequate staffing level was achieved.

         A. Post-March 12, 2013 Subclasses-Subclasses Three, Four, and Five[4]

         Defendant vociferously objects to inclusion of plaintiffs whose claims arose after March 12, 2013, as inconsistent with the court's decision to modify the (b)(3) class by setting an end date for inclusion in the class. Plaintiffs' effort to circumvent that ruling is not accepted. Certainly, a class might be able to proceed on the allegation that, optimal staffing notwithstanding, defendant's practices expose all inmates at CCJ to substantial risk of serious harm even if the harm might be different for different inmates, but such is a case for injunctive relief.[5] The court has already decided that plaintiffs failed to demonstrate that injunctive relief could be granted on the basis that failure to implement procedures was so serious as to support a finding that all detainees are at serious risk of harm. (See dkt. 390 at 6 (“Plaintiffs' argument focuses on whether the policies are implemented consistently.”); id. at 17 (“Although there continue to be access to care issues at CCJ, these questions do not point to the type of ‘systemic and gross deficiencies in staff, facilities, equipment, or procedures' that would lead to a finding that all detainees are effectively denied treatment of dental pain.”).)

         To expand the scope of the class as requested would entail reopening discovery (plaintiffs have moved for additional discovery) and would prolong the litigation, denying already delayed relief to members of this transient class. Inmates who believe they have been denied constitutionally-required dental care after the end date will not be bound by the judgment in this case, but theirs is a different case, based on conditions that are significantly different from those existing when this case was filed years ago or even as of the date of the evidentiary hearing.

         Accordingly, the court denies plaintiffs' proposal to create subclasses three, four, and five.

         B. Pre-March 12, 2013 Subclasses-Subclasses One and Two[6]

         Subclass one includes inmates housed at CCJ from January 1, 2007 until July 14, 2009 (defendant's proposed end date), who made written requests for dental care because of acute pain but were not examined by a dentist within seven days of that request. The second subclass is the same, but for the period from July 15, ...


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