On July 6, 2017, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled in favor of Plaintiff Daryoush Taha, who is represented by his counsel Jonathan Shub, Robert J. LaRocca, and Kevin Laukaitis along with co-counsel, Abramson & Denenberg, P.C. Mr. LaRocca argued successfully the case before the Third Circuit panel consisting of Judge Joseph A. Greenaway Jr., Judge Patty Shwartz, and Judge Morton I. Greenberg.
Mr. Taha initially filed his case on December 12, 2012, under section 9121 of the Criminal History Records Information Act (“CHRIA”) seeking injunctive relief and actual and punitive damages under CHRIA section 9183 against defendants Bucks County, Pennsylvania, and the Bucks County Correctional Facility based on the internet release of his “criminal history record information” stemming from his expunged 1998 arrest. After several years of litigation, the parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment. On March 28, 2016, the District Court denied defendants’ motion for summary judgment and granted Taha’s motion for partial summary judgment on liability under CHRIA. Defendants subsequently moved to certify the order entered on the motions for summary judgment for interlocutory appeal but the Court denied that motion and granted a motion that Taha filed for class certification on his punitive damages claim on May 4, 2016. The Court certified a class composed of “[a]ll persons whose criminal history record information was made available on the BCCF Inmate Lookup Tool.”
On July 5, 2016, the Third Circuit granted defendants’ motion to allow an interlocutory appeal of the class certification order. In the Opinion written by Judge Greenberg, the Third Circuit affirmed the District Court’s May 4, 2016 order granting class action certification.
On appeal, defendants challenged the District Court’s class certification order on both procedural and substantive grounds. However, the Third Circuit sided with Mr. Taha on all arguments. Notably, the Third Circuit held that Mr. Taha had both Article III standing and “aggrieved” party standing required by CHRIA, as a result of defendants posting his criminal history record information over the Internet. Furthermore, the Third Circuit concluded that the District Court did not err when it based its class certification order on its conclusion that punitive damages could be imposed under CHRIA even if Mr. Taha could not recover compensatory damages. According to Judge Greenberg, “CHRIA on its face permits the imposition of punitive damages on defendants who willfully cause [harms that can be wrought by the release of someone’s criminal history information].” The Third Circuit also held that CHRIA on its face permits punitive damages to be imposed on government agencies. Judge Greenberg wrote, “[T]he clear language of the statute, read in its entirety, indicates that the Pennsylvania legislature intended individuals to be able to recover damages, possibly including punitive damages, against government entities willfully violating CHRIA.”
Lastly, the Third Circuit held that the District Court properly determined that common questions predominate over individual questions in the case so that the predominance aspect of Rule 23 had been met. Judge Greenberg correctly reasoned that at this stage of the proceeding, the only remaining factual issue is whether defendants willfully violated CHRIA, and that the trier of fact could determine whether a violation was “willful” without taking into account information regarding the individual class members. Furthermore, because any “actual and real” damages suffered by individual class members cannot be considered in this case as the class was not certified for the purpose of making such determinations, the impact of defendants’ actions on individual plaintiffs has no bearing on the remaining essential element in this case, i.e., defendants’ willfulness. Therefore, the District Court did not make an error when it found that the predominance factor had been met.
Read the compete Third Circuit Opinion here.