Elizabeth v. Montenez, 05-2750.

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (8th Circuit)
Citation458 F.3d 779
Docket NumberNo. 05-2750.,05-2750.
PartiesELIZABETH M., et al., on behalf of themselves and on behalf of others similarly situated, Plaintiffs-Appellees, v. Nancy MONTENEZ, et al., Defendants-Appellants.
Decision Date15 August 2006
458 F.3d 779
ELIZABETH M., et al., on behalf of themselves and on behalf of others similarly situated, Plaintiffs-Appellees,
Nancy MONTENEZ, et al., Defendants-Appellants.
No. 05-2750.
United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit.
Submitted: February 15, 2006.
Filed: August 15, 2006.

[458 F.3d 782]

Douglas D. Dexter, argued, Lincoln, NE (David D. Cookson, Lincoln, on the brief), for appellant.

Matt D. Schulz, argued, Lincoln, NE (Mike J. Eisken, Lincoln, on the brief), for appellee.

Before LOKEN, Chief Judge, BOWMAN and SMITH, Circuit Judges.

LOKEN, Chief Judge.

This is a putative class action filed by sixteen present and former female patients at Nebraska's three residential mental health facilities — the Lincoln Regional Center (LRC), the Norfolk Regional Center (NRC), and the Hastings Regional Center (HRC). Plaintiffs seek declaratory and injunctive relief against the Director of the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services and the Chief Executive Officers and the Clinical Directors of the three facilities, all sued in their official capacities. The complaint alleges that these seven defendants are violating plaintiffs' federal constitutional and statutory rights by failing to protect them from sexual and physical assaults by male patients and staff, and by failing to adequately treat their mental illnesses and developmental disabilities. The district court certified a single class for these disparate claims:

All women who were subjected to rape, sexual assault, sexual harassment, sexual exploitation, and physical assault, while in the care and custody of Nebraska Health and Human Services System (NHHSS) as residents at one or more of the NHHSS residential mental health facilities; and all women who are currently, or in the future will be, in the care and custody of the NHHSS and placed as residents at one or more of the NHHSS residential mental health facilities.

458 F.3d 783

We agreed to review defendants' interlocutory appeal of this order under Rule 23(f) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See generally Prado-Steiman v. Bush, 221 F.3d 1266, 1271-77 (11th Cir.2000). We conclude plaintiffs failed to satisfy the requirements of Article III and Rule 23, and the district court abused its discretion in presuming these requirements were satisfied. See In re Milk Prods. Antitrust Litig., 195 F.3d 430, 436 (8th Cir.1999), cert. denied, 529 U.S. 1038, 120 S.Ct. 1534, 146 L.Ed.2d 348 (2000) (standard of review). We therefore vacate the class certification order.


The named plaintiffs are women who are or were involuntarily confined at LRC, NRC, and/or HRC. One plaintiff, Caroline C., was the named plaintiff in a prior class action alleging failure to protect patients at HRC from assaults by male patients. The district court certified a class consisting of all women who had been sexually assaulted or raped by male patients at HRC plus all current and future residents of that facility. Caroline C. v. Johnson, 174 F.R.D. 452 (D.Neb.1996). The court subsequently approved a consent decree that went far beyond patient safety issues, committing state officials to detailed provisions mandating "the development and implementation of appropriate mental health treatment for class members." Caroline C. v. Johnson, Case No. 4:CV95-22 (D.Neb. Oct. 29, 1998). That decree expired by its own terms on December 31, 2000. In this action, plaintiffs expanded their causes of action to include both safety and treatment claims and broadened the purported class to include women at all three regional facilities. Plaintiffs urged the district court to exercise jurisdiction under the expired Caroline C. consent decree, but the court denied the request. That ruling is not before us.

Ten plaintiffs allege they were sexually assaulted by facility employees, nine by the same staff member at LRC and one by a different staff member at NRC. One plaintiff alleges she was sexually harassed by a staff member at NRC. Five plaintiffs allege they were sexually assaulted by male residents at LRC and NRC. Five plaintiffs allege they were denied adequate mental health trauma treatment at one or more of the facilities. Three plaintiffs allege they were denied adequate trauma treatment after discharge. All plaintiffs allege that defendants failed to provide:

appropriate and effective nursing care, medical care, academic instruction, occupational therapy, social, and independent living skills training, recreational therapy, vocational training and rehabilitative, psychological testing, psychiatric care, individualized training, meaningful physical education, discharge planning and the provision for a system of community-based mental health residential facilities designed to meet the individual needs of Plaintiffs.

Plaintiffs allege violations of their rights under "the First, Fourth, Fifth, Ninth, and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution," Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101, et seq., and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 794.1

Plaintiffs' class action complaint requests sweeping injunctive relief which, if granted, would require the district court to mandate and monitor detailed programs governing nearly every facet of the State's operation of the three residential facilities

458 F.3d 784

— patient risk assessment, placement, and discipline; staff leadership structure; prehire procedures and training for staff; sex education and sexual expression policies; creation of "all women safe units" and a "Woman's Council" selected by class members at each facility; a "trauma treatment model" that includes "biological (medications), psychological, [and] psychosocial" components; and programs for "mental health treatment and rehabilitation consistent with the individual needs" of each class member. The complaint also seeks a declaratory judgment that defendants have violated plaintiffs' constitutional and statutory rights.


By certifying a single class action to litigate this broad array of claims and prayers for relief, the district court has essentially conferred upon itself jurisdiction to assert control over the operation of three distinct mental health facilities, a major component of Nebraska state government. A federal court may not lightly assume this power. "Where, as here, the exercise of authority by state officials is attacked, federal courts must be constantly mindful of the special delicacy of the adjustment to be preserved between federal equitable power and State administration of its own law." Rizzo v. Goode, 423 U.S. 362, 378, 96 S.Ct. 598, 46 L.Ed.2d 561 (1976) (quotation omitted); see Angela R. v. Clinton, 999 F.2d 320, 326 (8th Cir.1993) ("Federal courts operate according to institutional rules and procedures that are poorly suited to the management of state agencies."). Moreover, as the sweeping consent decree in Caroline C. illustrates, this concern is heightened in the class action context because of the likelihood that an order granting class certification "may force a defendant to settle rather than incur the costs of defending a class action and run the risk of potentially ruinous liability." Advisory Committee Notes to 1998 Amendments adopting Rule 23(f). Consequently, before certifying a class seeking broad injunctive relief against a state agency, a district court must ensure that it has Article III jurisdiction to entertain each claim asserted by the named plaintiffs. See Rivera v. Wyeth-Ayerst Labs., 283 F.3d 315, 319 n. 6 (5th Cir. 2002); Prado-Steiman, 221 F.3d at 1279-80. And the court must conduct a "rigorous analysis" to ensure that the prerequisites of Rule 23 are satisfied. Gen. Tel. Co. of the S.W. v. Falcon, 457 U.S. 147, 161, 102 S.Ct. 2364, 72 L.Ed.2d 740 (1982).


Plaintiffs' complaint seeks only equitable relief because Nebraska's Eleventh Amendment immunity would bar damage claims in federal court against these defendants acting in their official capacities. See Murphy v. State of Arkansas, 127 F.3d 750, 754 (8th Cir.1997). To have Article III standing to seek prospective relief, plaintiffs must show they are likely to suffer future injury that will be remedied by the relief sought. James v. City of Dallas, 254 F.3d 551, 563 (5th Cir.2001), cert. denied, 534 U.S. 1113, 122 S.Ct. 919, 151 L.Ed.2d 884 (2002). "Past exposure to illegal conduct" is not enough absent present adverse effects. City of Los Angeles v. Lyons, 461 U.S. 95, 102, 103 S.Ct. 1660, 75 L.Ed.2d 675 (1983) (quotation omitted); see Steel Co. v. Citizens for a Better Environment, 523 U.S. 83, 108-09, 118 S.Ct. 1003, 140 L.Ed.2d 210 (1998). For this reason, a claim for equitable relief altering the custodial conditions at a state institution normally becomes moot when the plaintiff is no longer subject...

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