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Tellis v. LeBlanc

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Shreveport Division

April 3, 2019


          HORNSBY JUDGE.



         Before the Court is Defendants' appeal of the Magistrate Judge's order granting Plaintiffs' first motion to amend their complaint. [Record Document 157]. Because the Advocacy Center has associational standing and because good cause exists for the amendment, the Magistrate Judge's order granting leave to amend the complaint [Record Document 153] is AFFIRMED.[1]

         I. Background

         Anthony Tellis (“Tellis”)[2] and Bruce Charles (“Charles”) brought this suit on behalf of a class of all prisoners held in extended lockdown at David Wade Correctional Center (“DWCC”) and a sub-class of prisoners with mental illness on the lockdown tiers. [Record Document 1 at 7-8]. The motion for class certification remains pending; a hearing is set for October 15, 2019. [Record Documents 2 and 141]. Tellis and Charles were represented by attorneys from the Advocacy Center, the protection and advocacy (“P&A”) agency for the state of Louisiana. [Record Document 1 at 52]. P&A agencies such as the Advocacy Center have a statutory mandate to investigate conditions at facilities that treat individuals with mental illness. 42 U.S.C. §§ 10802(3), 10805(a)(1)(A). Following such investigations, P&A agencies have the authority to bring legal or administrative actions to protect those individuals' statutory and constitutional rights. Id. § 10805(a)(1)(B)-(C).

         In the midst of protracted and contentious discovery, Plaintiffs moved to amend their complaint to add the Advocacy Center as a plaintiff. [Record Document 128]. The amended complaint names as Defendants a variety of officials at DWCC and at the Louisiana Department of Corrections who are responsible for the allegedly deficient mental health treatment provided at the prison. [Record Document 154 at 4-7].[3] Specifically, Plaintiffs contend that the conditions on the extended lockdown tiers at DWCC and the level of mental health care provided evince deliberate indifference to serious mental health needs. [Id. at 11-45]. According to Plaintiffs, Defendants provide inadequate screening, treatment, and medication for mental illnesses, maintain inadequate staffing levels, and misuse their suicide-watch procedures. [Id. at 11-24]. Plaintiffs seek injunctive and declaratory relief to remedy alleged violations of the First and Eighth Amendments, the Americans with Disabilities Act (the “ADA”), and § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. [Id. at 53- 54].

         In an order addressing several pending motions, the Magistrate Judge granted the motion for leave to amend over Defendants' objections. [Record Documents 132 and 153 at 4-7]. Specifically, the Magistrate Judge found that the Advocacy Center satisfied the requirements for associational standing under the test laid out in Hunt v. Washington State Apple Advertising Commission, 432 U.S. 333, 343 (1977), because remediating the systemic abuses alleged in the amended complaint would not require the participation of individual DWCC inmates:

The sum and substance of the Amended Complaint is that DWCC's staff does not properly screen for or treat prisoners with mental health problems, and when a prisoner does request mental health care or speaks up for himself, the prisoner is punished by being placed on suicide watch and/or held in harsh and brutal conditions. The court agrees with Plaintiffs that this case presents exactly the sort of claims and remedies for which associational standing is appropriate.

         [Record Document 153 at 7 (internal citation omitted)]. The Magistrate Judge also found that although the deadline for amending the complaint had passed, Defendants would suffer “little if any prejudice” from the amendment. [Id.].

         On appeal, Defendants essentially reiterate the objections they made to the motion for leave to amend. [Record Documents 132 and 157-2]. Defendants argue that adding the Advocacy Center as a party is an improper attempt to evade the requirements for class certification, that the Advocacy Center lacks associational standing, and that the Magistrate Judge failed to apply the proper legal standard when evaluating whether there was good cause to amend. [Record Document 157-2 at 2-9]. Plaintiffs maintain that class certification requirements do not apply to an organization seeking associational standing, that the Advocacy Center has associational standing as a consequence of its P&A authority, and that the discovery completed to date remains relevant after the amendment. [Record Document 166 at 2-8].

         Although Defendants had the opportunity to file a reply brief, [Record Document 159 at 1], they elected not to do so. As a result, this matter is ripe for adjudication.

         II. Standard of Review

         Under the Federal Magistrate Act, a magistrate judge may issue binding rulings on non-dispositive matters. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A). A party that objects to such a ruling may appeal to the district judge who “must . . . modify or set aside any part of the order that is clearly erroneous or contrary to law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(a). A clear error standard applies to a magistrate judge's findings of fact, while legal conclusions are reviewed de novo. See Spillers v. Chevron USA Inc., No. 11-2163, 2013 WL 869387, at *3 (W.D. La. Mar. 6, 2013) (citing Choate v. State Farm Lloyds, No. 03-2111, 2005 WL 1109432, at *1 (N.D. Tex. May 5, 2005)). “A finding is ‘clearly erroneous' when although there is evidence to support it, the reviewing court on the entire evidence is left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed.” United States v. U.S. Gypsum Co., 333 U.S. 364, 395 (1948). Hence, reversal of a factual finding is improper whenever the “magistrate judge's ‘account of the evidence is plausible in light of the record viewed in its entirety.'” Smith v. Smith, 154 F.R.D. 661, 665 (N.D. Tex. 1994) (quoting Resolution Tr. Corp. v. Sands, 151 F.R.D. 616, 619 (N.D. Tex. 1993)).

         III. Law and Analysis

         A. Relationship of Amendment to Class Certification

         Defendants correctly note that a court must “conduct a rigorous analysis of the [R]ule 23 prerequisites before certifying a class.” Castano v. Am. Tobacco Co., 84 F.3d 734, 740 (5th Cir. 1996) (citing Gen. Tel. Co. v. Falcon, 457 U.S. 147, 161 (1982); Applewhite v. Reichhold Chems., 67 F.3d 571, 573 (5th Cir. 1995)). This Court has every intention of doing so. However, the Magistrate Judge was not tasked with certifying a class; rather, he was to evaluate whether leave should be granted to add the Advocacy Center as an associational plaintiff. Although Defendants maintain that the showing required for class certification under Rule 23 should apply to an amendment seeking to add an associational plaintiff, [Record Document 157 at 9], this contention is contrary to well-established law.

         The Supreme Court has roundly rejected the equation of Rule 23 and associational standing because such a view “fails to recognize the special features . . . that distinguish suits by associations on behalf of their members from class actions.” UAW v. Brock, 477 U.S. 274, 289 (1986). Following similar reasoning, the Fifth Circuit has observed that the associational standing inquiry is “[a]n altogether separate question” from class certification. Soc'y of Separationists, Inc. v. Herman, 939 F.2d 1207, 1214 (5th Cir. 1991), rev'd en banc on other grounds, 959 F.2d 1283 (5th Cir. 1992); see also Dunn v. Dunn, 219 F.Supp.3d 1163, 1166 n.5 (M.D. Ala. 2016) (“[C]lass certification under Rule 23 and associational standing are evaluated on two different rubrics . . . .” (quoting Bhd. of Maint. of Way Emps. v. Ind. Harbor Belt R.R. Co., 20 F.Supp.3d 686, 691 (N.D. Ind. 2014))). In fact, it is perfectly possible for a court to find Rule 23 unsatisfied and yet find that an organization representing members of the proposed class has associational standing. See S.S. ex rel. S.Y. v. City of Springfield, 332 F.Supp.3d 367, 375 (D. Mass. 2018) (noting that while a denial of certification “raise[s] substantive questions regarding the viability of the claims brought by [the associational plaintiffs], [it] do[es] not, and should not, have a direct bearing on the threshold issue of standing”). In the absence of any contrary authority identified by Defendants, this Court rejects their argument that the Magistrate Judge's grant of leave to amend to add an associational plaintiff violated Rule 23.

         B. Associational Standing

         1. The Requirements for Associational Standing

         Hunt imposes three requirements an association must meet to have standing to sue on its members' behalf: “(a) its members would otherwise have standing to sue in their own right; (b) the interests it seeks to protect are germane to the organization's purpose; and (c) neither the claim asserted nor the relief requested requires the participation of individual members in the lawsuit.” 432 U.S. at 343. The first two prongs of this test are mandated by Article III, while the third prong is prudential. United Food & Commercial Workers Union Local 751 v. Brown Grp., Inc., 517 U.S. 544, 555-57 (1996). As a “rule of judicial self-governance, ” a prudential limitation on standing may be abrogated by statute. Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 509 (1975).

         2. The ...

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