The Jama lawsuit is a companion case to the class action, Brown v. Esmor Correctional Services, Inc., No. 98-1282(DRD) [IM-NJ-0003] and Joaquin DaSilva v. Esmor Correctional Services Incorporated, et al., No. 96-3755(DRD), which were also pending in to U.S. District Court District of New Jersey. All three cases, Jama, Brown and DaSilva were filed 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. Plaintiffs in all cases alleged that during their detention they were subjected to torture, beatings, harassment and inhumane living conditions which included inadequate sanitation, exercise, and medical treatment. Brown was a class action, while Jama and DaSilva were filed and maintained on behalf of individual plaintiffs that opted out of the Brown class. All three cases were assigned to District Court Judge Dickinson R. Debevoise.
Jama was filed on June 16, 1997 and named as defendants the INS, Esmor Correctional Services, Inc., the private corporation which operated the facility for the INS., and individual corporate officers and agents. Claims for relief included alleged violations of the First, Fifth, and Thirteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution; numerous provisions of the New Jersey Constitution; the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (''ICCPR''); customary international law; the Alien Tort Claims Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1350 (''ATCA''); the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000bb, et seq. (''RFRA''); the Fair Labor Standards Act; and New Jersey law.
On April 24, 1998 the District Court (Judge Dickinson R. Debevoise) certified the Brown case as a class action consisting of 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.
The defendants moved to dismiss the Jama case as applied to various groups. The District Court, Judge Debevoise) granted the motion in part and denied it without prejudice in part. Jama v. U.S. I.N.S., 22 F.Supp.2d 353 (D.N.J. Oct 01, 1998).
On October 29, 1998, the Jama, Brown and DaSilva cases were consolidated 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. See DaSilva v. Esmor Correctional Services Inc., 215 F.R.D. 477 (D.N.J. 2003); Jama v. Esmor Correctional Services, Inc., 2005 WL 2901899, 2005 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 26060 (D.N.J. Nov 01, 2005); and Dasilva v. Esmor Correctional Services, Inc., 167 Fed.Appx. 303 (3rd Cir. 2006). The Jama plaintiffs eventually settled their claims against the U.S. and the INS, leaving Esmor and its officers as the lone defendants.
In January 2003, the Esmor defendants filed a motion for summary judgment in the Jama Action. A similar motion was filed in the Brown class action case in September 2003. Individual INS defendants also moved to dismiss or for summary judgment
Oral arguments on all the motions for summary judgment were conducted on June 29 and June 30, 2004. The District Court Debevoise, disposed of all pending motions in two separate orders. Jama v. INS, 334 F. Supp. 2d 662 (D.N.J. 2004) (addressing the Brown motions) and Jama v. U.S. I.N.S., 343 F.Supp.2d 338 (D.N.J. 2004) (addressing the Jama motions). Judge Debevoise held that the settlement agreement between plaintiffs and the U.S. settled any and all claims, that the INS was therefore entitled to be dismissed from the case. As to the Esmor defendants, Judge Debevoise ruled that plaintiffs had viable claims under 1) the Alien Tort Claims Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1350 (the "ATCA"); the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000 bb, et seq. (the "RFRA"); and state law claims based on Esmor's and its officers' alleged negligent failure to safeguard plaintiffs' property and negligent hiring, training, supervision and retention of employees. All other claims were dismissed.
The Court then deconsolidated the Brown case from the Jama and DaSilva actions, finding that the Brown case was ready for trial. The DaSilva case was eventually dismissed without prejudice and its plaintiffs became members of the Brown action class. The Brown case ultimately settled in August 2005, while the Jama action proceeded to trial.
The Jama proceedings were stayed briefly from November 2005 to February 2006, while the Courts resolved the objection that the Jama plaintiffs did not timely opt out of the Brown class action. See Jama v. Esmor Correctional Services, Inc., 2005 WL 2901899, 2005 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 26060 (D.N.J. Nov 01, 2005) and Dasilva v. Esmor Correctional Services, Inc., 167 Fed.Appx. 303 (3rd Cir. 2006). After the stay was lifted, the parties completed discovery, including depositions of experts.
Pre-trial motions were filed and the Court was called upon to resolve disputes over expert witness testimony. Jama v. Esmor Correctional Services, Inc., 2007 WL 1847385, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 45706 (D.N.J. Jun 25, 2007).
A jury trial began on September 25, 2007 and continued through mid-November. On November 13, 2007, the jury reached a verdict, finding as follows:
1. For defendants on the Alien Tort Claims Act claim and certain negligence claims.
2. For plaintiff Jama on Religious Freedom Restoration Act claim and awarded $1.00 in nominal damages.
3. For plaintiff Jama and against Esmor and several individual defendants on claim for negligent hiring, training, supervision and/or retention and awarded $100,000 in compensatory damages.
No punitive damages were rendered.
On November 20, 2007, the Court awarded plaintiffs attorneys' fees in the amount of $137,808.04 ($29,208.04 to Debevoise & Plimpton and $108,600.00 to the Rutgers Constitutional Litigation Clinic) in connection to a prior ruling concerning spoliation of evidence. Jama v. Esmor Corr. Servs., Inc., No. 97-3093(DRD), 2007 WL 4166016 (D.N.J. Nov. 20, 2007).
On March 17, 2008, the District Court (Judge Debevoise) entered an opinion denying Defendants' renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law. The Court held that the trial record "revealed a history of grievous abuses of the religious beliefs and practices not only of Jama but also of others, utterly without justification; and there is revealed a pattern of physical and emotional abuse of detainees, including Jama, perpetrated by untrained and often sadistic guards, all of which was known or should have been known by higher officers in Esmor." Jama v. Esmor Corr. Servs., Inc., No. 97-3093(DRD), 2008 WL 724337 (D.N.J. Mar. 17, 2008).
On April 16, 2008, Defendants filed a notice of appeal, seeking review of the Court's denial of their motions for judgment as a matter of law. This appeal would subsequently be voluntarily dismissed on October 2, 2008.
On April 23, 2008, the District Court awarded Plaintiffs attorneys' fees and expenses, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988, in the amount of $642,398.57. Jama v. Esmor Corr. Servs., Inc., 549 F. Supp. 2d 602 (D.N.J. 2008). The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit subsequently vacated the order, holding that the District Court's "degree of success inquiry under § 1988 was based on an impermissible reconstruction of the jury verdict," and remanded for further proceedings. Jama v. Esmor Corr. Servs, Inc., 577 F.3d 169 (3d Cir. 2009). The parties subsequently reached a settlement agreement on the question of attorneys' fees (which was not filed with the Court). The case was dismissed with prejudice on August 9, 2010.Dan Dalton - 11/16/2007
Dan Whitman - 11/12/2014