Sabata v. Neb. Dep't of Corr. Servs., 4:17-CV-3107

CourtUnited States District Courts. 8th Circuit. United States District Court of Nebraska
Writing for the CourtBrian C. Buescher United States District Judge
PartiesHANNAH SABATA, on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated; DYLAN CARDEILHAC, on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated; JAMES CURTRIGHT, on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated; JASON GALLE, on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated; RICHARD GRISWOLD, on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated; MICHAEL GUNTHER, on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated; ANGELIC NORRIS, on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated; R. P., a minor, on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated; ISAAC REEVES, on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated; ZOE RENA, on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated; and BRANDON SWEETSER, on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated; Plaintiffs, v. NEBRASKA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONAL SERVICES, SCOTT FRAKES, In his official capacity as Director of the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services; HARBANS DEOL, In his official capacity as Director of Health Services of the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services; NEBRASKA BOARD OF PAROLE, JULIE MICEK, In her official capacity as the Board of Parole Acting Parole Administrator; and DOES, 1 to 20 inclusive; Defendants.
Docket Number4:17-CV-3107
Decision Date08 June 2020

HANNAH SABATA, on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated;
DYLAN CARDEILHAC, on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated; JAMES CURTRIGHT,
on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated; JASON GALLE,
on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated; RICHARD GRISWOLD,
on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated; MICHAEL GUNTHER,
on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated; ANGELIC NORRIS,
on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated; R. P., a minor,
on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated; ISAAC REEVES,
on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated; ZOE RENA,
on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated; and BRANDON SWEETSER,
on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated; Plaintiffs,
v.
NEBRASKA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONAL SERVICES, SCOTT FRAKES,
In his official capacity as Director of the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services; HARBANS DEOL,
In his official capacity as Director of Health Services of the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services;
NEBRASKA BOARD OF PAROLE, JULIE MICEK, In her official capacity as
the Board of Parole Acting Parole Administrator; and DOES, 1 to 20 inclusive; Defendants.

4:17-CV-3107

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEBRASKA

June 8, 2020


MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

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I. INTRODUCTION AND SUMMARY

This is a putative class action lawsuit in which Plaintiffs, inmates of various Nebraska Department of Correctional Services ("NDCS") facilities, seek redress for alleged violations of their civil and constitutional rights based on perceived deficiencies in the Nebraska prison healthcare system. Plaintiffs allege that Nebraska state prisons are "overcrowded, under-resourced, and understaffed," and that prisoners are "consistently deprived of adequate health care, including medical, dental, and mental health care, and denied accommodations for their disabilities." Filing 1 at 4. Plaintiffs file causes of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution, the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), and the Rehabilitation Act ("RA"). Filing 1 at 73-84.

This case presents itself to the Court with eleven pending motions and over 1,300 pages of briefing, along with more than 15,000 pages of exhibits, expert reports, and documentation. This opinion addresses all outstanding motions.1

Motion for Class Certification

The primary motion for the Court's consideration is Plaintiffs' Motion for Class Certification. Filing 247. Plaintiffs seek to certify a class of "all persons who are now, or will in the future, be subjected to the health care (including medical, mental health and dental care) policies and practices of NDCS." Filing 247 at 1. Plaintiffs further seek to certify two subclasses, a disability subclass defined as "all persons with disabilities who are now, or will in the future be, confined at any NDCS facility" and an "isolation" subclass defined as "all NDCS prisoners who

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are now, or will in the future be, subject to conditions of confinement that provide limited contact with other prisoners, strictly controlled movement while out of cell, and out-of-cell time of less than twenty-four hours per week." Filing 247 at 1-2.

The Court concludes that Plaintiffs' proposed class and subclasses do not meet the requirements outlined in Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23 for the certification of a class-action lawsuit. The Court further concludes certification is not warranted pursuant to binding case law interpreting the class-certification requirements from the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals and the United States Supreme Court.

Plaintiffs ask the Court to group together as a single class the entire Nebraska prison population for the purpose of redressing grievances regarding healthcare. This request is not suitable for class treatment for several reasons as outlined in this opinion, including the fact that inmates' individual medical needs run the gamut from no health issues at all to significant illnesses and conditions requiring frequent and considerable treatment. The proposed solutions to the alleged deficiencies in NDCS's healthcare system are likewise diverse, broad, and would require individualized rather than classwide application. Plaintiffs' claims simply do not satisfy the commonality required by the law.

In addition, the Court declines to exercise authority over the Nebraska prison system as Plaintiffs request because doing so would be contrary to the idea of federalism outlined in the United States Constitution. The Nebraska prison system is operated by the State of Nebraska, not the federal government, and certainly not by the federal courts. Although this Court stands ready to defend the civil rights inmates have under the federal Constitution, it will not exercise its authority to promote public-policy preferences that should be debated, funded, and if enacted, implemented through the legislative and executive branches of the State of Nebraska.

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Plaintiffs' request for class certification in this case, if granted, would also likely lead to this Court overseeing a significant portion of the operation of Nebraska's prisons, including the healthcare provided to prisoners, the adequacy of procedures applicable to prison administration, and the grievance process for prisoners. Indeed, other federal district courts which have granted class certification in all-encompassing prison cases have retained jurisdiction over certain internal prison operations for years once the plaintiffs prevailed in the case, resulting in the parties filing motions related to the original claims for an extended period of time. See, e.g., Parsons v. Ryan, 289 F.R.D. 513, 516 (D. Ariz. 2013) (reflecting repeated filings and on-going requests to the court dating from 2012 to 2020 in prison case with broadly certified class), aff'd, 754 F.3d 657 (9th Cir. 2014). Citing this concern, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals has already overruled a judge in the District of Nebraska for certifying an over-arching class in a lawsuit involving the Nebraska prison system. See Elizabeth M. v. Montenez, 458 F.3d 779, 784 (8th Cir. 2006) (finding the district court "conferred upon itself jurisdiction to assert control over the operation of three distinct mental health facilities, a major component of Nebraska state government"). For these reasons, and others as explained in greater detail below, the Court declines to certify the class and two proposed subclasses requested by Plaintiffs.

Other Pending Motions

In addition to Plaintiffs' Motion for Class Certification (Filing 247), the ten other motions presented to the Court address summary judgment, expert witnesses, discovery disputes, and the question of whether particular claims are moot based on certain Plaintiffs' release from Nebraska prison incarceration. For the convenience of those reviewing this lengthy opinion, the Court will briefly summarize these motions and the decision of the Court on each of these matters.

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Defendants filed an Objection to Affidavits Submitted by Plaintiffs in Support of Summary Judgment on September 28, 2018. Filing 176 at 13. Therein, Defendants assert that the expert testimony of Plaintiffs' experts, Dr. Pablo Stewart, Eldon Vail, and Dr. Peter Leone, fails to "create any issues of material fact" regarding whether Plaintiffs exhausted all possible administrative remedies for their claims. Filing 176 at 1. Further, Defendants challenge the expert testimony as "inadmissible legal conclusions." Filing 176 at 1-2. Defendants ask the Court to strike these experts' declarations from the record. Filing 176 at 11.

The Court concludes that the expert declarations from Dr. Stewart, Dr. Leone, and Vail are admissible under Federal Rule of Evidence 702 to assist the Court in ruling on Defendants' partial summary judgment motion regarding Plaintiffs' exhaustion of administrative remedies. For reasons discussed further herein, the Court denies Defendants' Objection to Affidavits Submitted in Support of Summary Judgment. Filing 176.

Defendants filed an Objection to United States Magistrate Judge Michael D. Nelson's Order Regarding Expert Witnesses on September 3, 2019. Filing 395 at 8. After Magistrate Judge Nelson denied Defendants' motion to strike the declarations of Plaintiffs' experts, Margo Schlanger, Eldon Vail, Dr. Craig Haney, Dr. Pablo Stewart, "and portions of the declarations of [Drs.] Jay Shulman . . . and Marc Stern" submitted in support of their motion for class certification, the defendants objected and asked the undersigned judge to overrule the magistrate judge's ruling. Filing 395 at 1. Defendants argue that the magistrate judge inappropriately applied a "focused Daubert analysis" in determining these expert opinions are admissible at the class certification stage as instructed by In re Zurn Pex Plumbing Products Liability Litigation, 644 F.3d 604, 608 (8th Cir. 2011). Filing 395 at 2. Defendants request that the Court sustain their original objection and strike the expert testimony in question from the record. Filing 395 at 7.

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The Court concludes that Magistrate Judge Nelson was correct in applying the focused Daubert analysis from In re Zurn Pex in finding certain expert declarations submitted by Plaintiffs in support of class certification are admissible. Defendants' Objection to the Magistrate Judge's Order Regarding Expert Witnesses (Filing 395) is accordingly denied.

Defendants filed a Motion for Partial Summary Judgment Regarding Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies on July 27, 2018. Filing 125 at 2. Defendants argue that most of Plaintiffs' claims should be dismissed because prisoners are required to exhaust their administrative remedies in making complaints regarding prison treatment prior to bringing an action in court and that requirement was not met for the majority of Plaintiffs' claims. Filing 128 at 4-5...

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