On July 29, 2004, several minors held in Ohio juvenile facilities sued the state's governor, its' Division of Youth Services ("DYS"), and the director of that division. The plaintiffs' complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, alleged that plaintiffs and others of their class had been denied access to the courts and deprived of adequate legal services by the state's policies at its' juvenile facilities. Each plaintiff allegedly had been a victim of assault by a correctional officer, had filed an unsuccessful grievance about the assault, and had unsuccessfully requested assistance of counsel to assist them in challenging the conditions of their confinement. Citing 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and seeking class action status for their case, plaintiffs alleged that the defendants had denied plaintiffs' rights under the First, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, as well as rights accruing under state law. They sought declaratory and injunctive relief, plus attorneys' fees and costs. Plaintiffs were represented by private counsel, as well as attorneys from the Children's Law Center, Inc., and the ACLU Foundation.
Plaintiffs amended their complaint on May 18, 2006, seeking the same relief. As amended, the complaint added plaintiffs and the state agency was dropped as a defendant but the governor and the (new, interim) agency director remained. The amended complaint referenced steps DYS had taken since the filing of the original complaint, including hiring a person to assess the demand for legal services among the juveniles committed to DYS custody and posting a notice explaining administrative options available to juveniles concerned about the conditions of their confinement. The plaintiffs alleged they had exhausted these administrative processes without satisfaction.
The defendants sought summary judgment, saying that their revised program of providing legal services to juvenile detainees mooted plaintiffs' claims (e.g., in September 2004, DYS hired a contract attorney available to meet with juvenile prisoners biweekly and to consult with them about conditions of confinement, and also hired a youth advocate to act on youths' behalf in the grievance process). Judge Algenon L. Marbley granted the defendants' motion in an unpublished order on September 29, 2006. He then also denied the request to certify the case as a class action. Two of the more recently-added plaintiffs' claims remained, as the judge ruled they were not moot. Plaintiffs sought discovery to assess the sufficiency of the new legal services program to meet the needs of a potential class of 2,400 members, but the defendants obtained a protective order from the court on February 7, 2005, blocking discovery. Plaintiffs sought to have the court modify its' September 29th mootness ruling and to convince the court that its' denial of class certification was premature; however, Judge Marbley denied these requests in a March 15, 2006, unpublished order. He similarly granted the governor's request to be dismissed as a defendant, saying in an April 21, 2006, ruling that the complaint failed to plead specific facts showing direct and active participation by the governor in the alleged constitutional injury.
By July 2005, one of the remaining plaintiffs had filed a pro se excessive force claim in the Northern District of Ohio federal district court, so she was dismissed from this case, leaving but one plaintiff. The defense sought summary judgment as to his claim. Judge Marbley reviewed in detail the grievances filed by the juvenile and his consultations with attorneys, one of whom indicated an interest in taking his case stemming from the alleged assault by a correctional officer. The judge noted that the defendants' efforts at reforming their legal services program for juveniles were not so successful as to preclude denial-of-access complaints in the future and that the remaining plaintiff's claim of denial-of-access was both non-frivolous and sufficient, at least in limited respects. Thus, the court denied the defense summary judgment motion on July 6, 2006, and both lifted the prior stay of discovery and directed plaintiff to amend the class action certification request, updating it, as possible, with the product of the discovery process. With minor amendments, the ruling was published as J.P. v. Taft, 439 F. Supp.2d 793 (S.D. Ohio 2006).
Settlement negotiations followed and resulted in a stipulation between the parties in January 2007. In it, the parties agreed to the existence of a settlement class and that DYS would provide a constitutionally-adequate legal assistance program for juveniles to use in addressing conditions of confinement issues and detention credit issues. Details of the plan, of compliance and review procedures, and of staffing and exceptions were addressed in the stipulation. The judge preliminarily approved the settlement in an unpublished order on January 12, 2007, pending a fairness hearing.
On March 6, 2007, Judge Marbley issued his order accepting the settlement as fair, awarding plaintiffs' counsel $190,000 in fees and expenses, and retaining jurisdiction over the case for the purpose of construing, enforcing and administering the settlement.
We have no information showing additional activity in the case.Mike Fagan - 05/21/2008