Nicholas Malfitano May 20, 2016, 9:33am


PHILADELPHIA – A motion for class certification has been granted by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, in the case of a man seeking to be the lead plaintiff in a prospective lawsuit revolving around the improper dissemination of arrest records for himself and thousands of other individuals.

On May 4, Judge Wendy S. Beetlestone approved Daryoush Taha’s motion to be the lead plaintiff in a class action suit brought under the Pennsylvania Criminal History Record Information Act. Taha alleges defendants Bucks County and the Bucks County Correctional Facility “published the arrest records of thousands of individuals on a public electronic search tool in violation of the anti-dissemination provisions of CHRIA.”

“On Sept. 29, 1998, Taha was arrested by members of the Bensalem Police Department and transported to the Bucks County Correctional Facility. Personnel at the Bucks County Correctional Facility took Taha’s photograph and he was subsequently charged with harassment, disorderly conduct, and resisting arrest. Taha was released one day later,” Beetlestone said.

“On Jan. 5, 1999, Taha entered the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) program. Judge R. Barry McAndrews of the Bucks County Court of Common Pleas issued an order directing the Bucks County Clerk of Courts, the Bucks County District Attorney, the district court, and the arresting agency to expunge Taha’s ‘arrest and other criminal records,’ and directed Bensalem Township to retrieve all arrest records from federal and state agencies that had been issued the information,” Beetlestone clarified.

The county defendants created an electronic search tool in January 2011 which would retrieve corrections data contained in the Offender Management System, a national arrest records management system, and provide public access to it through an Inmate Lookup Tool.

In the system, Taha’s photograph, arrest record and vital statistics were made available for public dissemination – a fact which Taha discovered in the fall of 2011 and led to his initial lawsuit.

In late March, Taha won summary judgment as to the county defendants’ liability, with a possible opportunity to file for punitive damages. The District Court found “Taha’s criminal history record information was wrongfully disseminated to the public in violation of the provisions of Pennsylvania’s Criminal History Record Information Act.”

Proceedings relating to Taha’s motion for class certification followed.

“Certification of a proposed class under Rule 23 requires an affirmative demonstration that the following four requirements of Rule 23(a) are met: “(1) Numerosity; (2) Commonality; (3) Typicality; and (4) Adequacy of Representation,” Beetlestone said. “If the plaintiff satisfies the Rule 23(a) criteria, the Court must also determine whether the proposed class fits within one of the three categories of class actions defined in Rule 23(b).”

With 60,000 people having the common link of whether the county defendants’ publication of information on the Inmate Lookup Tool willfully violated CHRIA, numerosity and commonality were accounted for. As for typicality and adequacy of representation, Beetlestone said the final two Rule 23(a) requirements were also satisfied.

“In common sense terms, Taha’s claim that his CHRIA-protected information was willfully published on the Inmate Lookup Tool is typical of the class. [Plus,] Taha asserts, and the County Defendants do not dispute, that Taha is represented by counsel who are highly experienced in matters relevant to the litigation. The Court concludes that counsel has the requisite experience, knowledge, and resources to adequately represent the proposed class,” Beetlestone said.

As for the Rule 23(b) mandates, Beetlestone explained Taha’s motion also fit one of them and thus, qualified for class action status.

“In addition to the requirements of Rule 23(a), parties seeking class certification must also demonstrate that the class is maintainable under one of the categories of Rule 23(b),” Beetlestone said.

“Given that the size of the class numbers in the tens of thousands, that there is no other pending litigation seeking relief for the same wrongdoing, and that efficiency can be achieved by resolving the issues common to all class members in one suit, a class action is the most viable method of adjudication,” Beetlestone added.

“Thus, Taha has met the requirements of Rule 23(b)(3) by demonstrating that questions common to the class predominate over those affecting individual members and that a class action suit is superior to other available methods for fairly and efficiently adjudicating the controversy,” Beetlestone concluded.

The plaintiff is represented by Alan E. Denenberg of Abramson & Denenberg, Jonathan Shub of Kohn Swift & Graf and Scott A. George of Seeger Weiss, all in Philadelphia.

The defendants are represented by Frank A. Chernak, Burt M. Rublin and Erin K. Clarke of Ballard Spahr, Jay Barry Harris of Fineman Krekstein & Harris, all in Philadelphia, plus Joseph F. Centrich and Lance Winchester of Clausen & Centrich, in The Woodlands, Texas.

U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania case 2:12-cv-06867

From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at nickpennrecord@gmail.com

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