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Woodcock v. Correct Care Solutions, LLC

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Central Division, Frankfort

July 12, 2019

BRIAN WOODCOCK, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
CORRECT CARE SOLUTIONS, LLC, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

          GREGORY F. VAN TATENHOVE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiffs Ruben Rios Salinas, Brian Woodcock, Keath Bramblett, and Jessica Lawrence are dissatisfied with the level of care provided by the Defendants after they were each diagnosed with the Hepatitis C virus. The Plaintiffs seek class certification on behalf of all Kentucky inmates also diagnosed with the Hepatitis C virus who are also under the care of Defendants. Additionally, they seek injunctive relief regarding the Defendants' diagnostic and treatment practices. For the reasons that follow, the Court agrees that class certification is appropriate. However, the Plaintiffs' motion for injunctive relief fails to allege sufficient facts to establish a constitutional violation.

         I

         The facts necessary to resolve these issues are largely uncontested. The named Plaintiffs in this matter, Ruben Rios Salinas, Brian Woodcock, Keath Bramblett, and Jessica Lawrence, are inmates, incarcerated with the Kentucky Department of Corrections (KDOC). [R. 1-2 at ¶ 3; R. 36 at ¶ 1.] Each has been diagnosed with the Hepatitis C virus (HCV). Id. Defendants are various official and nonofficial entities, all sued in their individual capacities, charged with managing the HCV treatment plan for and providing care to inmates. [R. 1-2 at ¶¶ 5-15.]

         Plaintiffs believe they have not been provided constitutionally adequate treatment for their HCV infections. [R. 134; R. 135.] Defendants do not contest the facts surrounding the care Plaintiffs have received, but disagree that such care is inadequate. [R. 140 at 3-4.] According to research provided by the Plaintiffs, only around 1% of Americans suffer from HCV, but incarcerated populations experience a significantly higher incidence: at least ten percent, and as many as forty percent, of the inmate population suffers from HCV. [R. 134 at 2.] KDOC has allegedly diagnosed approximately ten percent of their inmates with HCV, though Plaintiffs believe the true number of HCV-positive inmates could be higher. Id. at 3.

         According to literature provided by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), HCV is a blood-borne virus which causes a liver infection known as Hepatitis C. Hepatitis C Information, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, https://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/hcv (last visited June 5, 2019). The infection begins as “acute hepatitis C, ” which occurs within the first six months after exposure, but left untreated can evolve into “chronic hepatitis C.” Hepatitis C Questions and Answers for the Public, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, https://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/hcv/cfaq.htm#overview (last visited June 5, 2019). The CDC indicates people with acute hepatitis C should only be considered for treatment if the infection becomes chronic. Id.

         Since approval in 2011, direct acting antivirals (DAAs) have been successful in eliminating the virus in HCV patients. [R. 135-1 at 3.] DAAs boast both a higher cure rate as well as a higher initial price tag. Id. at 3-7. Plaintiffs bring this action, in part, because the Defendants “ration” DAA treatment, only giving DAA treatment to approximately five percent of the infected population. [R. 134 at 3.] Defendants do not disagree with Plaintiffs' facts, and do not claim to be giving DAA treatment to all HCV patients. Instead, Defendants argue that giving DAAs to all HCV-infected is not recommended, and “inmates receive differing levels of monitoring and testing specific to their HCV.” [R. 139 at 8; R. 140 at 4-5.]

         II

         A

         As an initial matter, Plaintiffs have requested the Court certify a class of “all HCV-infected inmates in Kentucky prisons for the purpose of injunctive relief.” [R. 134 at 9.] Following that request, Plaintiffs have also filed a motion for permanent injunction “requiring Defendants to adopt policies that meet the standard of care, ” specifically requesting opt-out screening and direct acting antiviral treatment for all HCV-infected inmates. [R. 135 at 4.]

         This Court has broad discretion in deciding whether to certify a proposed class. Pipefitters Local 636 Ins. Fund v. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Mich., 654 F.3d 618, 629 (6th Cir. 2011); In re Am. Med. Sys., Inc., 75 F.3d 1069, 1079 (6th Cir. 1996). This is so because a “class action is ‘an exception to the usual rule that litigation is conducted by and on behalf of the individual named parties only, '” and is subject to strict requirements under Rule 23. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes, 564 U.S. 338, 348 (2011) (quoting Califano v. Yamasaki, 442 U.S. 682, 700-01 (1979)). To warrant certification, class members must not only satisfy Article III standing requirements, but must also “satisfy all four of the Rule 23(a) prerequisites- numerosity, commonality, typicality, and adequate representation-and fall within one of the three types of class actions listed in Rule 23(b).” Young v. Nationwide Mut. Ins. Co., 693 F.3d 532, 537 (6th Cir. 2012) (citing Sprague v. Gen. Motors Corp., 133 F.3d 388, 397 (6th Cir. 1998) (en banc)). “The party seeking class certification has the burden to prove the Rule 23 certification requirements.” Id. (citing In re Am. Med. Sys., Inc., 75 F.3d at 1079). The party opposing certification need not disprove the requirements. See id.

         The requirements for standing outlined by Article III of the United States Constitution apply equally to class action lawsuits. Sutton v. St. Jude Medical S.C., Inc., 419 F.3d 568, 570 (6th Cir. 2005). The “irreducible” constitutional minimum of standing contains three elements: an injury in fact, a causal connection, and likely redressability. Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560-61 (1992). The plaintiff in a suit must have suffered an “injury in fact, ” defined as “an invasion of a legally protected interest which is (a) concrete and particularized, and (b) actual or imminent, not conjectural or hypothetical.” Id. at 560 (internal citations omitted). Next, the plaintiff must demonstrate a “causal connection” between this injury and the alleged conduct of the defendant; “the injury has to be fairly traceable to the challenged action of the defendant, and not the result of the independent action of some third party not before the court.” Id. (internal citations omitted). Finally, a favorable decision for the plaintiff must likely redress this injury, and relief must be more than merely speculative. Id. at 561.

         Plaintiffs seeking the certification of a class must prove two additional components in order to show they have standing to proceed as a class. The proposed class must be identifiable and unambiguous, and the named representatives must be members of the proposed class. Pilgrim v. Universal Health Card, LLC, No. 5:09-cv-879, 2010 WL 1254849, *1 (N.D. Ohio Mar. 25, 2010), aff'd, 660 F.3d 943 (6th Cir. 2011). In a properly defined class, only members who have standing to file suit in their own right would be included. Chaz Concrete Co., LLC v. Codell, No. 3:03-cv-52-KKC, 2006 WL 2453302, at *6 (E.D. Ky. Aug. 23, 2006). For that reason, the Court may deem a proposed class overly broad if such a class would incorporate members who neither have suffered harm nor are at risk to suffer such harm at the hands of the defendant. Id. (quoting McGee v. East Ohio Gas Co., 200 F.R.D. 382, 388 (S.D. Ohio 2001).

         The Court is not required to inquire into the merits of the case in order to determine whether a person is a member of a class. Bostick v. St. Jude Med., Inc., No. 03-2626 BV, 2004 WL 3313614, *16 (W.D. Tenn. 2004). Rather, “[f]or a class to be sufficiently defined, the court must be able to resolve the question of whether class members are included or excluded from the class by reference to objective criteria.” Young v. Nationwide Mut. Ins. Co., 693 F.3d 532, 538 (6th Cir. 2012) (quoting 5 James W. Moore, et al., Moore's Federal Practice § 23.21[3] (Matthew Bender, 3d ed. 1997)). Plaintiffs, as the party invoking jurisdiction, bear the burden of proof on each requirement for standing. Id.; see also Beattie v. CenturyTel, Inc., 511 F.3d 554, 560 (6th Cir. 2007). The parties generally agree on the pertinent facts, arguing instead over whether the care provided by Defendants is inadequate as a matter of law.

         Defendants arguments that the proposed class lacks standing, specifically because Plaintiffs Brian Woodcock and Keath Bramblett have received anti-viral treatments and are therefore “cured, ” are misplaced. [R. 138 at 15.] The proposed class includes only those inmates who are infected with HCV. [R. 134 at 9.] However, if Mr. Woodcock and Mr. Bramblett are no longer infected with HCV, neither Mr. Woodcock nor Mr. Bramblett would be considered a member of the class. Their infection status does not destroy standing for the members of the proposed class who are infected with HCV. The Court therefore denies Defendants' claims that the class, defined as “all HCV-infected inmates in Kentucky prisons, ” [R. 134 at 9], lacks standing. However, in doing so, the Court reserves ruling on whether Mr. Woodcock and Mr. Bramblett are proper members of the class until that issue is properly before the Court.

         Because at this stage any Article III issues in this case are dependent on whether a class is certified, the final determination of standing will be resolved as informed by Rule 23. Amchem Prods., Inc. v. Windsor, 521 U.S. 591, 612-13 (1997). This Court “therefore follow[s] the path” taken by the Supreme Court, “mindful that Rule 23's requirements must be interpreted in keeping with Article III constraints, and with the Rules Enabling Act, which instructs that rules of procedure ‘shall not abridge, enlarge, or modify any substantive right.'” Id. at 613 (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 2072(b)); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 82.

         1

         A prospective class must meet a total of seven independent requirements. Two of these criteria stem from Article III's standing mandates: “an identifiable class must exist, and the definition of the class must be unambiguous, and the named representative must be a member of the class.” Pilgrim v. Universal Health Card, LLC, No. 5:09-cv-879, 2010 WL 1254849, *1 (N.D. Ohio Mar. 25, 2010), aff'd, 660 F.3d 943 (6th Cir. 2011) (citations omitted). The remaining five requirements originate in Rule 23(a) and 23(b):

(1) the class is so numerous that joinder of all members is impracticable; (2) there are questions of law or fact common to the class; (3) the claims or defenses of the representative parties are typical of the claims or defenses of the class; and (4) the representative parties will fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class. Finally, “In addition to the prerequisites of Rule 23(a), a ...

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