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Case Name Demler v. Inch PC-FL-0031
Docket / Court 4:19-CV-0094 ( N.D. Fla. )
State/Territory Florida
Case Type(s) Prison Conditions
Attorney Organization Florida Justice Institute
Case Summary
On February 19, 2019, a man serving a life sentence in a Florida prison filed this putative class-action lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida. The plaintiff sued the Secretary of the Florida Department of Corrections under 42 U.S.C. §1983 and the Declaratory ... read more >
On February 19, 2019, a man serving a life sentence in a Florida prison filed this putative class-action lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida. The plaintiff sued the Secretary of the Florida Department of Corrections under 42 U.S.C. §1983 and the Declaratory Judgment Act. The case was ultimately assigned to Judge Robert L. Hinkle. The plaintiff, represented by the Social Justice Law Collective and the Florida Justice Institute, sought a declaration that the Department had violated the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment and the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. He also sought a preliminary and permanent injunction that would restore his access while in prison to digital media files that he had previously purchased.

Specifically, the plaintiff claimed that the Department of Corrections had violated his constitutional rights when they switched from the Digital Music Player Program to the current Multimedia Tablet Program without allowing inmates to retain their previously-purchased digital media and digital media players. The Department implemented the Digital Music Player Program in 2011 in order to provide a secure method by which prisoners could browse, select, purchase, and download digital content to MP3/MP4 players, made specifically for use by inmates in a correctional setting. Advertisements to inmates emphasized that once they purchased media, they would always own it and could delete and re-order digital media that they had purchased from a cloud-based library at no additional cost.

In 2017, the Department terminated its contract with the Digital Music Player Program vendor, entered into a new contract with a competing vendor, and transitioned to the Multimedia Tablet Program. Under the new program, inmates were required to purchase a new multimedia device and were required to surrender their previous digital media players, along with all the digital content they had purchased for the previous devices. Inmates had the option of sending the player/files to someone outside the prison at an additional cost, but they could no longer access the media files they had purchased while in prison. Although inmates who had participated in the Digital Music Player Program received discounts on the new program, they did not receive any other form of compensation for the taking of their digital media players and files.

Because inmates had purchased the devices and files specifically to use while in prison, the plaintiff claimed that the Department’s transition to the Multimedia Tablet Program amounted to an unconstitutional taking of private property (particularly for inmates serving a life sentence who would not benefit from sending the device to family or friends outside the prison). The plaintiff also claimed that the Department’s transition to the new program violated the plaintiffs’ substantive Due Process rights; he claimed that the transition was implemented in the Department’s legislative capacity, was arbitrary and capricious, and had no rational basis. The plaintiff sought to represent a class defined as All Florida Department of Corrections prisoners whose digital media files were taken, or will be taken, pursuant to the Multimedia Tablet Program.”

On April 5, 2019, the Department filed a motion for a more definite statement. The court denied this motion on May 3, 2019. On May 20, 2019, the Department filed a motion to dismiss for improper venue, lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, failure to state a claim, and failure to join a required party. The court denied the motion on on May 30, 2019, holding, among other things, that “Under the plain language of Rule 12(h)(1)(A), the Secretary waived the venue defense by failing to include it in the motion for a more definite statement.”

On June 3, 2019, the plaintiff moved to certify the class. The Department sought summary judgment on August 21, 2019. The court denied both motions on September 25, 2019. Regarding the class certification motion, the court held that the proposed class failed to meet the numerosity requirement, writing that “the Department’s policy change, when coupled with the replacement media players and credits available to affected inmates, will make some inmates winners and some losers. The record gives no information at all on the number in each category. A class cannot properly be certified unless there are enough losers to meet the numerosity requirement.” Regarding the Department’s motion for summary judgment, the court held that the motion ignored a critical part of the plaintiff’s claim, and contrary to the Department’s assertions, the plaintiff’s claims presented genuinely disputed material facts.

The plaintiff sought amend the order denying class certification on October 25, 2019. On January 9, 2020, the court denied this motion, “based on evidence that, while the original class-certification motion was pending, [the plaintiff] prepared a fraudulent document for submission in a prison disciplinary proceeding,” deeming the plaintiff inadequate as a class representative. On January 21, 2020, the plaintiff again filed a motion to alter or amend the order denying class certification.

On March 2, 2020, the plaintiff filed a motion to amend the complaint. The proposed changes included addition of two new individual plaintiffs and new factual allegations. A day later, the Department moved for summary judgment. The court granted leave for plaintiff to amend the complaint on March 6, 2020. The Department filed a motion to dismiss the proposed changes to the complaint on March 20, 2020.

At a hearing on April 15, 2020, the parties announced that they had reached a settlement agreement, contingent upon certification of a class for settlement purposes and, in due course, the court’s approval of the settlement.

The court partly granted the plaintiffs’ motion to reconsider class certification on April 16, 2020. According to this order, a class was certified consisting of “all current Florida Department of Corrections prisoners whose digital media files were taken, or will be taken, pursuant to the Department’s termination of the MP3 program, and who purchased more than 75 songs through that program.” In addition, the court denied the Department’s motion to dismiss and motion for summary judgment on the same day. The court reasoned that “denial is based on mootness with this exception: the Department’s assertion that the plaintiffs lack standing and the court lacks jurisdiction is not moot but is denied on the merits.”

On May 14, 2020, the parties filed a joint motion for preliminary approval of class action settlement. According to this motion, the Department “agreed to restore the ability of each member of the Class to listen to a certain, agreed upon number of songs that were previously purchased under the Digital Music Player Program through the issuance of Settlement Credits,” among other things. The agreement also required the Department to pay the plaintiffs $150,000 in attorneys’ fees and costs. The court issued an order preliminarily granting the proposed settlement on May 26, 2020.

On July 13, 2020, the parties filed a joint motion to amend the class definition, to include inmates who had purchased 100 songs, rather than 75. In addition, on July 14, 2020, the parties jointly filed a fully executed settlement agreement, which, among other things, removed an individual plaintiff as a class representative.

On July 27, 2020, the court approved the parties’ joint motion to amend the class definition. As of August 3, 2020, this case is ongoing; the Final Fairness Hearing, which will determine whether the Settlement Agreement is fair, reasonable, and adequate, is scheduled for December 4, 2020.

Sara Stearns - 04/05/2019
Bogyung Lim - 08/02/2020


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Constitutional Clause
Due Process
Takings
Defendant-type
Corrections
General
Conditions of confinement
Grievance Procedures
Loss or damage to property
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Type of Facility
Government-run
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. § 1983
Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201
Defendant(s) Florida Department of Corrections
Plaintiff Description Florida prison inmates who lost digital property because of the Florida Department of Correction's transition between digital media programs.
Indexed Lawyer Organizations Florida Justice Institute
Class action status sought Yes
Class action status granted Yes
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief Attorneys fees
Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement
Source of Relief Settlement
Form of Settlement Court Approved Settlement or Consent Decree
Filed 02/19/2019
Case Ongoing Yes
Additional Resources
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Docket(s)
4:19-CV-0094 (N.D. Fla.)
PC-FL-0031-9000.pdf | Detail
Date: 07/30/2020
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Class Action Complaint for Injunctive and Declaratory Relief [ECF# 1]
PC-FL-0031-0001.pdf | Detail
Date: 02/19/2019
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order Denying the Motion to Dismiss [ECF# 38] (N.D. Fla.)
PC-FL-0031-0002.pdf | Detail
Date: 05/30/2019
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order Denying Class Certification and Denying Summary Judgment [ECF# 64] (N.D. Fla.)
PC-FL-0031-0003.pdf | Detail
Date: 09/25/2019
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Plaintiff's Motion for Leave to File an Amendment to the Complaint and Proposed Amendment [ECF# 133]
PC-FL-0031-0004.pdf | Detail
Date: 03/02/2020
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order Preliminarily Approving Settlement and Authorizing Notice to the Settlement Class [ECF# 170] (N.D. Fla.)
PC-FL-0031-0005.pdf | Detail
Date: 05/26/2020
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order Amending the Class Definition, Requiring Notice, and Extending Deadlines [ECF# 288] (N.D. Fla.)
PC-FL-0031-0006.pdf | Detail
Date: 07/27/2020
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
show all people docs
Judges Hinkle, Robert Lewis (N.D. Fla.) show/hide docs
PC-FL-0031-0002 | PC-FL-0031-0003 | PC-FL-0031-0005 | PC-FL-0031-0006 | PC-FL-0031-9000
Jones, Gary R. (N.D. Fla.) [Magistrate] show/hide docs
PC-FL-0031-9000
Plaintiff's Lawyers Glickman, Joshua Aaron (Kansas) show/hide docs
PC-FL-0031-9000
Glickman, Joshua Aaron (Florida) show/hide docs
PC-FL-0031-0001 | PC-FL-0031-0004
Heller, Shawn Alex (Florida) show/hide docs
PC-FL-0031-0001 | PC-FL-0031-0004 | PC-FL-0031-9000
Taseff, Ray (Florida) show/hide docs
PC-FL-0031-0001 | PC-FL-0031-0004 | PC-FL-0031-9000
Trevisani, Dante Pasquale (Florida) show/hide docs
PC-FL-0031-0001 | PC-FL-0031-0004 | PC-FL-0031-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Olivella, Miguel A. Jr. (Florida) show/hide docs
PC-FL-0031-9000
Patel, Anita J (Florida) show/hide docs
PC-FL-0031-9000

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