United States District Court, D. Kansas
TYRELL JACKSON and RANDALL CHAPMAN, on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated, and MABEL ESTES, on behalf of herself and on behalf of a class of persons similarly situated, Plaintiff,
DONALD ASH, In his official capacity as Sheriff for Wyandotte County, Kansas, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
ERIC F. MELGREN, District Judge.
Plaintiffs Tyrell Jackson ("Plaintiff Jackson") and Randall Chapman ("Plaintiff Chapman"), individually and on behalf of others similarly situated, and Plaintiff Mabel Estes ("Plaintiff Estes"), on behalf of herself and on behalf of a class of persons similarly situated, assert claims against Defendant Donald Ash ("Defendant"), in his official capacity as Sheriff of Wyandotte County, Kansas, alleging violations of the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. This matter comes before the Court on Plaintiffs' Motion for Class Certification (Doc. 3), filed September 30, 2013, pursuant to FED. R. CIV. P. 23. For the reasons set forth below, the Court grants the motion.
I. Factual and Procedural Background
At all times relevant to this action, Defendant has been the Sheriff of Wyandotte County, Kansas. As such, Defendant is charged not only with the care and custody of the inmates of the Wyandotte County Adult Detention Center (the "Jail"), but also with creating and enforcing all policies and practices of the Jail. Located in Kansas City, Kansas, the Jail houses convicted prisoners, pretrial detainees, and civilly committed individuals. Its capacity, at any given time, is approximately 327 inmates. Plaintiffs Jackson and Chapman are current inmates of the Jail. Plaintiff Estes is a private citizen and the girlfriend of Plaintiff Chapman.
Effective on or about June 9, 2009, Defendant instituted a policy requiring all outgoing and incoming mail, with the exception of legal or privileged mail,  to be written on a postcard no larger than five inches by seven inches ("Postcard-Only Mail Policy" or "the Policy"). Prior to implementation of the Policy, Jail inmates were allowed to send correspondence in typical letter form, on multiple sheets of paper. Jail inmates enclosed all outgoing non-privileged correspondence in unsealed, open envelopes, and placed those envelopes in a mailbox within their Jail pod. An assigned Sheriff's deputy collected this non-privileged mail, screened its content for violations of the Jail's mail policy, sealed the envelopes, and placed the correspondence in the possession of the United States Postal Service. Likewise, prior to implementation of the Policy, outside correspondents were allowed to send correspondence to inmates in typical fashion, on one or more sheets of paper.
Under the Policy, Jail officials provide inmates with two postcards per week, as part of the inmates' weekly indigent supply packet. Inmates may purchase extra postcards from the Jail's commissary. The Policy allows for substantive content on only one side of the postcard; the front is reserved solely for the addressee's name and address, the sender's name and return address, and postage.
Plaintiffs Jackson, Chapman, and Estes now allege that the Policy not only limits the amount of correspondence inmates may generate and receive, but it also curtails the type of information contained within that correspondence. For example, Plaintiffs claim that the Policy restricts their ability to write about family and romantic relationships, health and medical treatment, finances, and legal matters, given that, when written on postcards, the information may be easily read by a whole host of people, both inside and outside the Jail. While Plaintiffs admit that they have other options for communication, including in-person visits and telephone calls, they argue that mail correspondence is the most economical and efficient means through which inmates and their chosen correspondents can stay in touch.
While Defendant admits that he is responsible for all Jail policies and practices, including the Postcard-Only Mail Policy, he denies that the Policy infringes upon Plaintiffs' First or Fourteenth Amendment rights.
A. Class Certification Under Rule 23
1. General Standards Governing Class Certification
Whether to certify a class is a matter committed to the broad discretion of the trial court. In exercising this discretion, the Court should err on the side of class certification, given its authority to later redefine or even decertify the class if necessary. In deciding whether to certify, the Court must perform a "rigorous analysis" as to whether the proposed class satisfies the requirements of Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. While Rule 23 does not provide the Court with the authority to conduct a preliminary inquiry into the merits of the lawsuit,  the Tenth Circuit has emphasized that the question of class certification necessarily involves considerations that are "enmeshed in the factual and legal issues comprising the plaintiff's cause of action." Therefore, it is the responsibility of the court to consider, "without passing judgment on whether plaintiffs will prevail on the merits, " whether the requirements of Rule 23 are met.
As the parties seeking class certification, Plaintiffs have the burden of demonstrating, under a strict burden of proof, that the requirements of Rule 23 are clearly satisfied. To do so, Plaintiffs must establish the prerequisites of Rule 23(a) by demonstrating: (1) the class is so numerous that joinder of all members is impracticable; (2) questions of law or fact are common to the class; (3) the claims of the representative parties are typical of the claims of the class; and (4) the representative parties will fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class. Upon meeting these requirements, Plaintiffs must demonstrate that the proposed class falls under one of the categories described in Rule 23(b).
2. Class Definition
Prior to determining whether a plaintiff has met the prerequisites of Rule 23(a), the Court must first address the proposed class definition. "Defining the class is of critical importance because it identifies the persons (1) entitled to relief, (2) bound by a final judgment, and (3) entitled... to... notice." The definition must be "precise, objective, and presently ascertainable." Here, Plaintiffs Jackson and Chapman seek certification of the following class: "all current and future detainees in the Wyandotte County Adult Detention Center who are subject to or affected by the Postcard-Only Mail Policy." Plaintiff Estes seeks certification of a class comprised of "all current and future outside correspondents who wish to write letters to inmates in the Wyandotte County Adult Detention Center and who are subject to or affected by the Postcard-Only Mail Policy."
Defendant sets forth no objection to Plaintiffs' proposed class definition. Therefore, the Court presumes that Defendant concedes this preliminary issue and finds that ...