Filed Date: Dec. 7, 2012
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On December 7, 2012, a former detainee of Bucks County Correctional Facility filed this class action in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. The plaintiffs initially sued Bensalem Township, various Bensalem Township officials, and the company that operated as mugshots.com, under Pennsylvania state law. The last amended complaint named defendants Bucks County and Bucks County Correctional Facility, along with Unpublish and Citizens Information Associates—the companies that operated mugshots.com, bustedmugshots.com, and mugshotsonline.com. The plaintiffs, represented by private counsel, sought injunctive relief, damages, and attorneys' fees. The named plaintiff alleged that the defendants publicly disseminated his personal information and criminal history despite his completion of a plea deal diversion program that expunged his record. He claimed that this conduct violated the Pennsylvania Criminal History Records Information Act (CHRIA), Pennsylvania state tort law, and Pennsylvania common law. The plaintiffs sought injunctive relief for Bucks County Correctional Facility to cease publishing online criminal histories of individuals who were arrested but not convicted. As to Unpublish and Citizen Information Associates, the plaintiffs sought an injunction to order the defendants to take down their websites.
The complaint alleged the defendants failed to expunge records despite a court order and wrongfully disseminated criminal histories of the plaintiff in violation of CHRIA. The plaintiff also claimed intentional infliction of emotional distress under Pennsylvania state law.
On February 5, 2013, Bensalem Township moved to dismiss the complaint, arguing that the named plaintiff did not have a cause of action under state law to bring an intentional infliction of emotional distress claim. On February 28, 2013, Judge Timothy Savage denied the motion to dismiss, since the plaintiff filed an amended complaint to seek class action status in order to represent those whose records were ordered expunged and whose criminal history information was still available and publicly accessible in the files and on Bucks County Correctional Facility's website. The amended complaint included the Pennsylvania State Police commissioner, Bucks County, the Bucks County records custodian, director of Bucks County Department of Corrections, the warden of the Bucks County jail, and mugshots.com as defendants. Further, the plaintiffs amended the complaint to add a claim under § 1983 that the defendants violated Fourteenth Amendment Due Process.
On July 19, the plaintiffs filed a second amended complaint to add Bucks County Correctional Facility and Citizen Information Associates as defendants, which operated as bustedmugshots.com and mugshotsonline.com.
On March 18, 2013, Bensalem Township filed another motion to dismiss and on April 11, 2013, the Director of Public Safety moved the court to dismiss the claims against him as well. He argued that the plaintiff did not plead sufficient facts to allege he violated CHRIA or that the defendants’ conduct violated the Fourteenth Amendment. Judge Savage denied Bensalem Township’s motion on April 17, 2013, and denied the motion from the Director of Public Safety on July 30, 2013 as moot due to the second amended complaint.
Various defendants continued to attempt to dismiss the case. On June 13, 2013, Bucks County, the warden, and the director of the Department of Corrections moved to dismiss the case. They alleged that the plaintiff failed to state a claim under § 1983 and argued that the defendants were entitled to immunity from the claims under CHRIA and state tort law. On June 14, the state police commissioner filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under both federal and state law and a motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction. Judge Savage denied these motions on July 30, 2013 as moot due to the second amended complaint.
On August 6, 2013, the case was reassigned to Judge Felipe Restrepo. Two days later Bucks County Correctional Facility and Bucks County moved the court to dismiss the case, alleging qualified immunity from the CHRIA claims and that the plaintiff lacked standing. Judge Restrepo denied the County and the County Correctional Facility’s motion on February 21, 2014. Judge Restrepo predicted that the Pennsylvania State Court would hold that CHRIA demonstrates a clear legislative intent to hold government entities liable for damages, so the defendants would not be immune. Judge Restrepo also found that the defendants had not made a “unconditional and irrevocable” covenant to refrain from the challenged activity necessary to deny standing. 2014 WL 695205.
In November 2013, Citizens Information Associates, bustedmugshots.com and mugshotsonline.com, filed motions to dismiss the state records law and state tort laws claims. On March 26, 2014, Judge Restrepo granted the dismissal of the claims under CHRIA, holding that it does not apply to private actors. Judge Restrepo also dismissed the state unauthorized use of name or likeness claim as the plaintiff had not shown he has invested time, effort, and money to create a “valuable interest” in his name or likeness. Judge Restrepo denied the dismissal of the tort law claim, finding that the website design created the impression that the plaintiff is a criminal, which qualifies as a highly offensive false statement publicized with reckless disregard of the falsity. 9 F. Supp. 3d 490.
In September of 2014, Citizens Information Associates filed a motion for summary judgment on the remaining tort claim. After oral argument, Judge Restrepo granted summary judgment on December 30, 2015, dismissing Citizens Information Associates as a defendant. Judge Restrepo found that Citizens Information Associates’ reliance on the accuracy of the records of Bucks County did not qualify as reckless disregard for falsity or actual malice towards the plaintiff. 2015 WL 9489586.
On April 19, 2014, the plaintiffs filed a third amended complaint, adding Unpublish LCC, which operated mugshots.com.
In November of 2014, the defendant Bucks County and Bucks County Correctional Facility filed for summary judgment. On March 27, 2015, the plaintiffs moved for summary judgement. In January of 2016 the case was reassigned to District Judge Wendy Beetlestone and on March 28, 2016, Judge Beetlestone denied the defendants’ motion and granted the plaintiff’s partial motion for judgment regarding liability, holding that the defendants wrongfully published state law-protected information on their website. Judge Beetlestone dismissed the plaintiff’s claim for “actual and real damages,” but allowed the question of punitive damages to proceed. Judge Beetlestone found the defendant's claim that all the possible criminal history record information listed in CHRIA was necessary for qualify the material as criminal history record information incorrect. Criminal history record information could be found from any of the items listed.172 F. Supp. 3d 867.
On June 6, 2016, the court entered a default order against defendant Unpublish LLC for failure to appear.
Judge Beetlestone granted the plaintiff’s motion for class certification on May 4, 2016. The class met the numerosity requirement as more than 60,000 individuals were potentially affected. The class met the commonality requirement as the common questions of law and fact were whether the county defendant's publication of information on the Inmate Lookup Tool willfully violated CHRIA. The plaintiff's claim that his CHRIA-protected information was willfully published on the Inmate Lookup Tool meets the typicality requirement of the class. Judge Beetlestone found that the plaintiff's counsel was adequately experienced to represent the class. Judge Beetlestone also found that questions common to the class predominate over those affecting individual members, and a class action suit is superior to other methods for adjudicating the controversy. 2016 WL 2345998. The class included about 66,799 individuals who had been incarcerated at the jail and whose information the jail publicly disseminated through their Inmate Lookup Tool.
A few weeks later Judge Beetlestone denied Bucks County and Bucks County Correctional Facility’s motion to certify an order for interlocutory appeal. On June 8, 2016, the court entered an order to stay the proceedings and notification to the class, pending the Third Circuit decision on the appeal of class certification filed by the County defendants (USCA No. 16−3077). The Third Circuit affirmed class certification and denied the appeal on July 6, 2017. 862 F.3d 292.
For the remainder of 2017 and through early 2018, the parties scheduled and subsequently cancelled multiple settlement conferences. In September 2018, Bucks County Correctional Facility and Bucks County moved for summary judgment and the plaintiffs moved for partial summary judgment. On February 14, 2019, the court denied both motions for summary judgment on the issue of whether the defendants’ conduct was “willful,” a determinative question of fact for granting punitive damages to be found by a jury. 367 F. Supp. 3d 320.
In late May 2019, a jury trial began with the County defendants. On July 2, 2019, the jury awarded the plaintiffs $68 million, averaging $1,000 in punitive damages per class member. The defendants moved for a judgment as a matter of law or a new trial, which Judge Beetlestone denied on October 4, 2019. Judge Beetlestone found the jury instruction on willfulness correct, and evidence was appropriately admitted. Lastly, Judge Beetlestone denied the defendants’ motion for remittitur. The defendants’ argued the jury award was excessive, but Judge Beetlestone pointed out it was the lowest statutory amount. 408 F.Supp.3d 628.
On July 29, 2019, defendants appealed to the Third Circuit (USCA No. 19-2761). In December the defendants added the denial of their motion for judgment as a matter of law or new trial and all orders or judgments against them that may have affected that motion or the judgment order from the jury verdict. In November the parties settled and filed a joint stipulation to dismiss the case, which the Third Circuit granted.
On November 30, 2020 Judge Beetlestone approved a Class Action Settlement Agreement. The claims-made settlement provided for a minimum aggregate payment by the defendants to the class of $3.5 million, and a maximum aggregate payment to the class of $10 million. Under the terms of the agreement, each class member will be entitled to receive $600, or 60% of the jury award. Programmatic relief included expungement and addiction services for clients of the Bucks County Public Defender, consisting of 5% of the difference between the aggregate amount distributed to class members and the $10 million ceiling. The defendants agreed to pay class counsel $4 million. The named plaintiff received a service award of $30,000 to be paid from the $10 million available for the class. 2020 WL 7024238.
On February 12, 2021 Judge Beetlestone awarded the named plaintiff $150,000 in damages from defendant mugshots.com and closed the case. 2021 WL 534464.
Lily Sawyer-Kaplan (10/17/2019)
Zoe Van Dyke (12/7/2022)
Simran Takhar (6/1/2023)
For PACER's information on parties and their attorneys, see: https://www.courtlistener.com/docket/4370403/parties/taha-v-bensalem-township/
Beetlestone, Wendy (Pennsylvania)
Cullen, Patrick C. (Pennsylvania)
Centrich, Joseph F. (Texas)
Chernak, Frank A. (Pennsylvania)
Clarke, Erin K. (Pennsylvania)
Beetlestone, Wendy (Pennsylvania)
See docket on RECAP: https://www.courtlistener.com/docket/4370403/taha-v-bensalem-township/
Last updated June 29, 2023, 3:02 a.m.
State / Territory: Pennsylvania
Filing Date: Dec. 7, 2012
Case Ongoing: Yes
The class included about 66,799 individuals who had been incarcerated at the Bucks County Correctional Facility and whose information the jail publicly disseminated through their Inmate Lookup Tool.
Public Interest Lawyer: No
Filed Pro Se: No
Class Action Sought: Yes
Class Action Outcome: Granted
Causes of Action:
Prevailing Party: Plaintiff
Nature of Relief:
Source of Relief:
Form of Settlement:
Amount Defendant Pays: 14,000,000
Type of Facility: