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Wright v. Calumet City

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

February 17, 2017

Marquise Wright, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
Calumet City, Illinois, Defendant-Appellee.

          Argued January 6, 2017

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 14-cv-10351 - Jorge L. Alonso, Judge.

          Before Wood, Chief Judge, and Bauer, and Rovner, Circuit Judges.

          ROVNER, Circuit Judge.

         On or around December 22, 2014, Marquise Wright was arrested by police officers employed by Calumet City, Illinois (the "City"). The officers did not have an arrest warrant for Wright at the time of the arrest. As characterized by the officers, the incident underlying the arrest involved a murder of one individual and the shooting of multiple other people, and Wright admitted to having a gun at the scene. At a minimum, he was to be charged with unlawful use of a weapon by a felon, a felony offense, but the assistant state's attorney instructed the City's officers to wait to criminally charge Wright until lab results came back establishing whether the gun carried by Wright matched the casings and bullets recovered from the scene.

         On December 24, 2014, while still in custody on that arrest, Wright filed an action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the City alleging that it violated his Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights by failing to provide him with a judicial determination of probable cause within 48 hours of his arrest. At that time, Wright had been in custody for nearly 55 hours. On December 25, 2014, Wright was presented for a bond hearing and a judge made a finding of probable cause to detain Wright. In the § 1983 action, Wright asserted that the City had a policy or practice authorizing its officers to detain persons arrested without a warrant for up to 72 hours before permitting the arrestee to appear before a judge, and sought to pursue both an individual claim and class claims.

         Wright sought certification of two classes in the district court under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 23(b)(2) and 23(b)(3): one, involving "[a]ll persons who will in the future be detained by Calumet City police officers so that they do not receive a judicial determination of probable cause within 48 hours of arrest;" and one consisting of "[a]ll persons who, following an arrest without a warrant on and after December 24, 2012 until the date notice is disseminated, were detained by Calumet City police officers so that they did not receive a judicial determination of probable cause within 48 hours of arrest." With respect to the latter class, the district court determined that the class consisted of, at most, 31 individuals, that the members were unlikely to be geographically dispersed given the nature of the allegations, and that joinder was not impracticable. The court denied certification because Wright failed to demonstrate that the classes were sufficiently numerous to satisfy Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(a)(1), which requires that a putative class plaintiff establish that: (1) the class is so numerous that joinder of all members is impracticable; (2) there are questions of law or fact common to the class; (3) the claims of the putative class representative are typical of the claims or defenses of the class; and (4) the putative class representative will fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class.

         After Wright's petition for permission to appeal the certification issue immediately was denied, the City made an offer of judgment pursuant to Rule 68 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Wright accepted that offer without qualification, which provided that:

the Defendant Calumet City, Illinois, agrees to allow Plaintiff Marquise Wright to take a judgment against it, comprised of $5, 000.00 to Plaintiff for all claims brought under this lawsuit, inclusive of his attorneys' fees and costs to date accrued in pursuing this action on Plaintiff's behalf, but excluding all attorneys' fees and costs accrued in pursuing this lawsuit as a class action.

         Despite accepting the Rule 68 offer that granted him relief as to "all claims brought under this lawsuit, " Wright now appeals to this court the district court's denial of the class certification. Because he is not an aggrieved person with a personal stake in the case or controversy as is required under Article III of the Constitution, we dismiss this appeal for lack of jurisdiction.

         On appeal, the only claim asserted by Wright is that the district court erred in denying certification of the class consisting of himself and "[a]ll persons who will in the future be detained by Calumet City police officers so that they do not receive a judicial determination of probable cause within 48 hours of arrest." He does not appeal the denial of certification of the other class, involving the approximately 31 persons who had been detained.

         Under Article III of the Constitution, federal court jurisdiction is limited to "cases" or "controversies, " and therefore federal courts are restricted to resolving only "'the legal rights of litigants in actual controversies.'" Genesis Healthcare Corp. v. Symczyk, ___ U.S. ___, 133 S.Ct. 1523, 1528 (2013), quoting Valley Forge Christian College v. Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Inc., 454 U.S. 464, 471 (1982). Accordingly, a plaintiff seeking to invoke federal-court jurisdiction "must demonstrate that he possesses a legally cognizable interest, or 'personal stake, ' in the outcome of the action." Genesis Healthcare, 133 S.Ct. at 1528. Moreover, that personal stake evincing an actual controversy must be present at all stages of review, not merely at the inception of the lawsuit. Id. "'If an intervening circumstance deprives the plaintiff of a "personal stake in the outcome of the lawsuit, " at any point during the litigation, the action can no longer proceed and must be dismissed as moot.'" Campbell-Ewald Co. v. Gomez, ___ U.S. ___, 136 S.Ct. 663, 669 (2016), quoting Genesis Healthcare, 133 S.Ct. at 1528. A case becomes moot "'only when it is impossible for a court to grant any effectual relief whatever to the prevailing party.'" Id., quoting Knox v. Service Employees, 132 S.Ct. 2277, 2287 (2012).

         We turn, then, to the initial issue in this case, which is whether Wright's acceptance of the offer of judgment eliminated any personal stake in the claim such that this appeal lacks the case or controversy required by Article III. The Supreme Court as well as appellate courts have applied the Article III case or controversy analysis to widely varying factual scenarios resolving individual and class claims, including but not limited to: voluntary settlement of claims; involuntary judgments in the plaintiff's favor; voluntary settlement of individual claims with the reservation of the class certification issue; and settlement of claims but with the retention of various interests that could be impacted by the class certification issue. As the Supreme Court recently held, an unaccepted settlement offer-even if it offers all relief sought in the case-does not render a case moot when the party seeks relief on behalf of himself and a class of persons, at least where the settlement amount is not deposited with the court. Campbell-Ewald Co., 136 S.Ct. at 672. Where the Rule 68 offer is accepted but by its terms exempts the class certification issue, courts are divided as to whether the plaintiff retains a concrete interest sufficient to meet the case or controversy requirement of Article III. See, e.g. United States Parole Comm'n v. Geraghty, 445 U.S. 388, 404 n.10 (1980)(reserving the issue "as to whether a named plaintiff who settles the individual claim after denial of class certification may, consistent with Article III, appeal from the adverse ruling on class certification"); Rhodes v. E.I. DuPont De Nemours & Co., 636 F.3d 88, 100 (4th Cir. 2011)(“when a putative class plaintiff voluntarily dismisses the individual claims underlying a request for class certification, ... there is no longer a 'self-interested party advocating' for class treatment in the manner necessary to satisfy Article III standing requirements."); Muro v. Target Corp., 580 F.3d 485, 491 (7th Cir. 2009) (the reservation in the settlement of the right to appeal the certification issue is insufficient to establish the concrete interest necessary under Article III); Richards v. Delta Air Lines, Inc., 453 F.3d 525, 529 (D.C. Cir. 2006)) (plaintiff who settled individual claims but reserved the right to appeal the class claims retained a personal stake in the class claim, including in shifting attorneys' fees and other litigation costs).

         The case before us presents a different situation in that Wright accepted a settlement offer without reservation and did not exempt the class certification issue, but our decision in Muro is nevertheless instructive. Muro brought an action under the Truth in Lending Act (TILA), 15 U.S.C. § 1601 et seq., alleging both an individual and class-based claim. After class certification was denied, Muro settled her individual claim, but reserved the right in that settlement to appeal the denial of class certification. Muro, 580 F.3d at 491-92. We considered whether, having accepted an offer of judgment and therefore lacking any cognizable interest in our evaluation of the district court's decision on that issue, Muro could nevertheless appeal the court's decision denying certification of the class. We noted in Muro that "[m]ost of the circuits that have considered the issue have held that 'a named plaintiff's unqualified release of claims relinquishes not only his interest in his individual claims but also his interest in class certification.'" Id. at 490, quoting Toms v. Allied Bond Collection Agency, Inc.,179 F.3d 103, 105 (4th Cir. 1999). Where an express reservation of the right to appeal the class certification was part of that settlement, those courts differed as to whether that alone was sufficient to permit a prospective class representative who settled his individual claims to appeal the denial of class certification. Muro, 580 F.3d at 490. We agreed with the circuits that held that the mere reservation of the right to appeal was insufficient alone to satisfy the case or controversy requirement; plaintiffs must demonstrate ...


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