This class action lawsuit was originally filed on March 6, 1996 in the Supreme Court of the State of New York on behalf of undocumented aliens who were detained at a facility that the Immigration and Naturalization Service (''INS'') maintained in Elizabeth, New Jersey pending a determination of their asylum status. The facility was operated by a private corporation, Esmor Correctional Services, Inc. Plaintiffs alleged that during their detention they were subjected to torture, beatings, harassment, and inhumane living conditions which included inadequate sanitation, exercise, and medical treatment.
Esmor removed the case to federal court, the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. On March 11, 1998, the case was transferred to U.S. District Court District of New Jersey
On April 2, 1998, plaintiffs filed an amended complaint and moved for class certification. By order dated April 24, 1998, the District Court (Judge Dickinson R. Debevoise) certified a class of all detainees who were incarcerated at the Elizabeth, New Jersey facility from August 1994 to July 1995. Notice was sent to class members in March 1999. Class members were given the option to opt out of the class and pursue their own damage actions. Many of the class notices mailed out were returned as undeliverable, as detainees had been released or transferred.
Management of pretrial proceedings was referred to Magistrate Judge S. D. Wigenton. The Brown case was consolidated with two other pending related cases, Jama v. United States Immigration and Natural Service, et al., Civil Action No. 97-3093, and Joaquin DaSilva v. Esmor Correctional Services Incorporated, et al., Civil Action No. 96-3755 for the purpose of discovery.
Extensive discovery proceeded for four years. During that time, the parties also engaged in protracted litigation over whether plaintiffs in the Jama and DaSilva actions failed to timely opt-out of the Brown class action.
In January 2003, Esmor filed a motion for summary judgment in the Jama Action. A similar motion was filed in the Brown class action case in September 2003.
Eventually, in September 2003, the DaSilva case was dismissed without prejudice and the plaintiffs became members of the Brown action class. The DaSilva plaintiffs moved for reconsideration.
By order dated October 27, 2003 the Brown class' claims against all defendants, other than Esmor and its officers, were dismissed with prejudice.
Oral arguments on all the motions for summary judgment were conducted on June 29 and June 30, 2004. The key issues raised in the motions were 1) whether an INS Interim Report which severely criticized Esmor's operation of the New Jersey was admissible into evidence, 2) whether the plaintiffs had presented sufficient evidence of negligent hiring, retention, training and/or supervision of Esmor, 3 ) whether Esmor was entitled to the government contract defense and 4) whether plaintiffs were third party beneficiaries of the contract between Esmor and the federal government, regarding the operation of the New Jersey facility. On September 9, 2004, the District Court ruled on the motions, finding in plaintiffs' favor on issues 1, 2 and 3 and in Esmor's favor on issue 4. Jama v. INS, 334 F. Supp. 2d 662 (D.N.J. 2004).
The Court the deconsolidated the Brown case from the Jama and DaSilva actions, finding that the Brown case was ready for trial. Extensive settlement negotiations followed, including court ordered settlement conferences. On February 17, 2005, the parties arrived at a settlement of the Brown class action case. The District Court preliminarily approved the settlement on May 24, 2005.
Final approval followed a fairness hearing on August 10, 2005. Brown v. Esmor Corr. Serv., Inc., 2005 WL 1917869 (Aug. 10, 2005). Under the terms of the settlement, Esmor agreed to pay a total of $2.5 million to class members. Attorneys' fees of $766,667 and costs and expenses of $200,000 were to be paid out of that settlement fund, netting $1,533,338 which was to be distributed to class members. A Plan of Allocation was established to govern the procedure for submission and payment of individual class member claims. The distribution process continued through October 16, 2006, when Judge Debevoise entered an order authorizing final distribution of unclaimed proceeds.
Note that Jama v. United States Immigration and Natural Service, et al. proceeded to trial on the damage claims of individual plaintiffs that opted out of the Brown class action. See IM-NJ-6 for a summary of the proceedings in Jama.Dan Dalton - 11/16/2007