Riggleman v. Clarke

In this putative class action for Eighth Amendment violations, certification is inappropriate. The plaintiff, a Virginia inmate, is not an adequate class representative because his counsel is not adequate to handle this case as a class action.

Counsel initially failed to provide evidence about their qualifications, experience, or financial ability to litigate a class action, despite binding case law placing a meaningful evidentiary burden on the plaintiff to prove he has adequate counsel. Counsel’s filings also reveal a lack of substantive knowledge about class actions and a disregard for the privacy interests of their client.

Although counsel has almost a decade of civil rights litigation experience, including prisoner litigation, his declaration failed to list, let alone describe, cases in which he has served as class counsel or otherwise have experience in representing a class. The plaintiff’s first motion to certify was obviously deficient, neither citing nor attaching any evidence. This illustrates counsel’s lack of familiarity with basic class actions principles, as well as a lack of thoroughness in failing to uncover them.

More problematically, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 5.2 requires a party to partially redact certain sensitive personal identifiers — like birth dates and social security numbers — from all filings. Counsel has violated this rule. These failures are especially troublesome given that the case at present involves only a single plaintiff. Counsel apparently cannot ensure protection of personal, sensitive information of even one plaintiff, let alone sensitive information they might encounter if litigating this case as a class action on behalf of hundreds or perhaps thousands of prisoners.

Lastly, counsel’s performance in other cases in this District evinces, among other things, a shortfall in legal acumen and an inability to comply with basic procedural rules.

Motion to certify class denied.

Riggleman v. Clarke, No. 5:17cv63, Apr. 29, 2019. WDVA at Harrisonburg (Moon).

Categories: Opinions, U.S. District Court - Western District of Virginia

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