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Hall v. County of Milwaukee

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

May 23, 2018

MELISSA HALL, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Plaintiff,
v.
COUNTY OF MILWAUKEE and RICHARD R. SCHMIDT, in his Official Capacity as Sheriff of Milwaukee County, [1]Defendant.

          DECISION AND ORDER

          LYNN ADELMAN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         The Sheriff of Milwaukee County runs the Milwaukee County Jail and maintains a policy under which all detainees must be shackled to their beds while they are receiving medical treatment at a hospital. Until recently, the sheriff applied this policy to pregnant detainees who were hospitalized for childbirth. Melissa Hall was a detainee at the Milwaukee County Jail during the time when this policy was in force. She was shackled to her hospital bed during labor, delivery, and post-partum treatment. She filed this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Milwaukee County and its sheriff, alleging that the sheriff's policy, as applied to pregnant women during childbirth, violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Hall proposes to represent a class of all women who were confined in the jail while the policy was in force and who were shackled during childbirth. Before me now is her motion to certify the class under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23.

         I. FACTS

         The plaintiff was incarcerated at the Milwaukee County Jail from February 2013 to August 2013. During this time, the official policy of the Milwaukee County Sheriff was that “[i]nmates in the hospital will be restrained by a handcuff and leg iron attached to the side rail of the bed.” (Pl.'s Exs. 2 & 3; ECF Nos. 31-2 & 31-3.) The policy made no exception for pregnant inmates who were hospitalized for childbirth. Moreover, the sheriff's department made no individualized assessment of an inmate before deciding to shackle her during childbirth.

         While she was in the jail, the plaintiff spent two days in the hospital for labor, delivery, and post-partum care. At the hospital, she was restrained with leg irons, wrist restraints, and a belly chain. At least one armed sheriff's deputy was in the room with her at all times. The plaintiff asked to have the restraints removed, but the deputies refused. A nurse asked to have the restraints removed while the plaintiff was undergoing a stress test, but again the deputies refused. During delivery, the doctor asked to have some of the restraints removed. The deputies agreed to remove the belly chain, but the plaintiff remained shackled to the bed with a handcuff and a leg iron. The shackles made it difficult to administer an epidural, left marks on the plaintiff's wrists, cut her ankles, and made it difficult for her to hold her newborn son.

         According to the plaintiff, at least 45 inmates were shackled during childbirth while the sheriff's policy was in force. Seven of these women have filed declarations in this case. In their declarations, they describe being restrained under circumstances similar to the plaintiff's.

         II. DISCUSSION

         The plaintiff proposes to have the claims of the 45 women who were shackled during childbirth adjudicated as a class action. When a case is certified as a class action, a class representative litigates a common claim on behalf of a large group of similarly situated persons. Because the claim of the class representative is largely the same as the claims of the absent class members, using the class device enables the court to resolve most of the issues that affect all class members by adjudicating only the class representative's claim.

         To determine whether a class may be certified, I must conduct a two-step analysis. Under the first step, I must determine whether the plaintiff has satisfied the four express requirements of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(a) and a fifth, implied requirement not mentioned in the rule but enforced by the courts. The four express requirements are: (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 claim of the named plaintiff is typical of the claims of the class members; and (4) the plaintiff will fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class. These four requirements are known as “numerosity, ” “commonality, ” “typicality, ” and “adequacy of representation.” The fifth, implied requirement is known as “ascertainability.” It requires that the class “be defined clearly” and that its membership be determined “by objective criteria rather than by, for example, a class member's state of mind.” Mullins v. Direct Digital, LLC, 795 F.3d 654, 657 (7th Cir. 2015).

         Under the second step of the analysis, I must determine whether the case meets one of the three criteria identified in Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(b). In the present case, Hall seeks to have the class certified under Rule 23(b)(3). This is allowed only if (a) questions of law or fact common to the class members predominate over questions affecting only individual members and (b) a class action is superior to other available methods for fairly and efficiently adjudicating the controversy.

         In order to analyze whether the plaintiff's claim satisfies the above requirements, 1 must first describe the nature of her claim. The plaintiff alleges that, by restraining her during childbirth, the sheriff deprived her of her right to be free from the use of unnecessary bodily restraints. See May v. Sheahan, 226 F.3d 876, 884 (7th Cir. 2000).[2] The use of bodily restraints is unnecessary “if their use is not rationally related to a legitimate non-punitive government purpose or they appear excessive in relation to the purpose they allegedly serve.” Id. To apply this standard, a court balances the detainee's interest in being free from unnecessary restraints against the jail's reason for using the restraints, i.e., preventing escapes and protecting the safety of inmates, guards, and medical providers. See Hart v. Sheahan, 396 F.3d 887, 893 (7th Cir. 2005). If, under the circumstances, the risk of the inmate's escaping or harming another person does not outweigh the inmate's interest in being free from the restraints, then applying the restraints will violate the inmate's constitutional rights.

         For the plaintiff to prevail on her claim, then, she must show that the jail did not have sufficient reason to believe that she would attempt to escape or to harm herself or others if she was not shackled during childbirth. But here we immediately encounter a problem that prevents me from certifying the plaintiff's claim as a class action: each inmate is different, and thus, at least in theory, the sheriff could have had sufficient reason for shackling some inmates but not others. Some inmates may be more dangerous or likely to attempt an escape than others. Perhaps the vast majority of inmates will not try to escape or to harm themselves or others while they are in the hospital for childbirth. For these women, the sheriff's interest in preventing escapes and harm to other persons would likely not justify the use of shackles during childbirth. But it is at least conceivable that an inmate could be so dangerous or likely to attempt an escape that the sheriff would be justified in restraining her during childbirth. Thus, the claims of the potential class members are not amenable to resolution on a representative basis. That is, resolving the plaintiff's claim will not go very far towards resolving the claim of any other potential class member. If the plaintiff wins her claim, all that she will have established is that the sheriff did not have reason to believe that she was so dangerous or likely to escape that she needed to be restrained during childbirth. It would not follow from the resolution of her claim that the sheriff did not have reason to believe that any other woman in the class was so dangerous or likely to escape that she needed to be restrained during childbirth. Rather, to resolve the claims of the other women, the facts and circumstances applicable to each of them would have to be examined. This would require 45 separate trials.

         The plaintiff attempts to get around this problem by noting that her theory of the case is that there could never be an adequate justification for shackling any woman during labor, delivery, or post-partum care, no matter how dangerous she may be. (Reply Br. at 7, ECF No. 39.) But this tactic fails for two reasons. First, in order to win her own claim, the plaintiff does not have to prove that there could never be an adequate justification for shackling a woman during childbirth. Instead, all the plaintiff has to prove is that the jail did not have an adequate justification for shackling her. The same goes for the other class members: each of them only has to prove that the sheriff did not have sufficient reason for shackling her. None of them has to also prove that the sheriff could never constitutionally shackle a woman during childbirth.

         The second problem with the plaintiff's tactic is that answering the plaintiff's proposed common question will not necessarily go a long way towards resolving the claims of the proposed class. To be sure, if the court agreed with the plaintiff and found that there could never be an adequate justification for shackling an inmate during childbirth, then the plaintiff will have established that every class member was unlawfully shackled, and this would go a long way towards resolving the claims of the entire class. But if the court disagreed with the plaintiff and determined that the sheriff could shackle an inmate during childbirth under some circumstances, then the answer would not resolve any class ...


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