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Ray v. Judicial Corrections Services Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division

September 20, 2017

GINA KAY RAY, et al., Plaintiffs,



         This case is before the court on (1) Defendant City of Childersburg's Motion to Exclude Expert Report and Affidavit of Peter Coons[1] (Doc. # 432) and (2) Plaintiffs' Motion to Strike and Exclude Defendants' Class Certification Expert - Brad Bishop (Doc. # 444). The Motions have been fully briefed. (Docs. # 439, 441, 457, 477, 479, 485). After careful review, and for the reasons explained below, the court concludes that Defendants' motion to exclude is due to be denied and Plaintiffs' motion to exclude is due to be granted in part and denied in part.

         I. Background

         This case is a putative class action suit challenging alleged constitutional violations committed by Defendants against individuals placed on probation by Alabama's municipal courts. In their Motion for Class Certification (which has been administratively terminated without prejudice to refiling after summary judgment proceedings), Plaintiffs sought to certify a statewide class of individuals who “were assigned by municipal courts in Alabama to ‘probation' with [Defendant Judicial Correction Services, Inc. (“JCS”)] for the collection of fines, fees and costs.” (Doc. # 400 at 1). Plaintiffs also sought to certify a class action for individuals “assigned to JCS” that either were incarcerated or subject to incarceration for failure to pay fines, fees, and costs without any consideration of their indigency. (Id.).

         Plaintiffs have identified Peter R. Coons as their class certification expert. (See generally Doc. # 382). Coons has submitted a lengthy report in support of Plaintiffs' efforts to obtain class certification. (Id.). Plaintiffs describe Coons and his proposed testimony as follows:

Coons is Senior Vice President and co-founder of D-4. D-4 offers services in e-discovery, digital forensic and collection, information governance and security, software and training, and technology enhanced deposition solutions. . . .
[Coons's] report and extensive exhibits are the result of his analysis of the data collected in the JCS paperless collection system [Probation Tracker], the underlying SQL database tables, the JCS manual, together with confirming data pertaining to the named plaintiffs. It is from the analysis of this data that his opinions are based showing the highly systemic approach of the JCS collection system with its robust data collection applied throughout Alabama.[2]

(Doc. # 441 at 3-4). In his affidavit filed in support of class certification, Coons states:

Due to the robust data provided, the individuals assigned to JCS and the payments they made within any time period at any city is easily ascertained. Similarly, the fees, fines, costs paid by each such persons, and their status changes including warrant status and jailed status are documented for each city. This systematic use of codes for arrest, warrant, jail and other matters provide tools for identifying those involved in each status.

(Doc. # 402-1 at 7-8).

         Although the court has administratively terminated the motion for class certification in this case, the briefing on that motion is nevertheless instructive. In their responses opposing class certification, Defendants challenged Plaintiffs' requests for statewide classes by highlighting the distinct factual issues at play in deciding each class member's § 1983 claims. (See, e.g., Doc. # 431 at 3-4) (describing the individualized indigency, probation length, and Rooker-Feldman factual issues that a court would need to address before granting a probationer relief on the proposed § 1983 claims). Defendants JCS, Correct Care Solutions, LLC, and CHC Companies, Inc. identified T. Brad Bishop as a class-certification-stage expert. (Docs. # 406 & 407). Defendant JCS described Bishop and his proposed testimony as follows:

Bishop has been a Professor at Cumberland School of Law since the early 1970s. He has been a municipal judge in Alabama for 30 years. He literally “wrote the book” on municipal court practice in Alabama. See Bishop, Municipal Courts: Practice and Procedure, Fourth Edition (2012) (Darby Press). (He wrote the First through Third Editions, too.) He teaches municipal judges in Alabama in regular Continuing Legal Education courses regarding municipal court practice issues. His experience qualifies him to describe - as much from his own personal experience as that of an expert - as to how municipal judges in Alabama conduct, or should conduct, indigency determinations.

(Doc. # 477 at 2).

         II. Standards of Review

         The admissibility of expert testimony is governed by Federal Rule of Evidence 702, along with the Supreme Court's Daubert decision and its progeny. Rule 702 provides for the admission of expert testimony when “scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will help the trier of fact.” In Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals Inc., 509 U.S. 579 (1993), the Supreme Court held that scientific expert testimony is admissible only if the proffered testimony is both relevant and reliable. Id. at 597. “[A] district court judge is to act as a ‘gatekeeper' for expert testimony, only admitting such testimony after receiving satisfactory evidence of its reliability.” Dhillon v. Crown Controls Corp., 269 F.3d 865, 869 (7th Cir. 2001); see also United States v. Majors, 196 F.3d 1206, 1215 (11th Cir. 1999). Rule 702 provides:

A witness who is qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education may testify in the form of an opinion or otherwise if:
(a) the expert's scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will help the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue;
(b) the testimony is based on sufficient facts or data;
(c) the testimony is the product of reliable principles and ...

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