Mute and Moot: How Class Action Mootness Procedure Silences Inmates

Abstract

This Comment uses a recent prisoners’ rights class action that challenges solitary confinement to demonstrate the way in which class action mootness procedure disadvantages inmates. With courts divided on how they should evaluate plaintiffs’ claims that are mooted before the court reaches a class certification decision, this unsettled area leaves prisons with creative ways to moot named plaintiffs’ claims. From moving inmates, to reclassifying them, to taking away their legal paperwork, prison officials exercise extreme levels of control over inmates’ lives. Prison officials can utilize this gap in the procedural law on pre-class certification mootness, along with their power over the captive class members, to end prisoner class actions before they even reach the class certification stage. This ultimately blocks the court from reaching an enforceable judgment that protects inmates’ constitutional rights. This Comment recommends extending the holding of the most forgiving case on pre-certification mootness and a recent Supreme Court decision to allow inmates protections from mootness even before they file their class certification motion. Given the racialized nature of mass incarceration and the harsh conditions of solitary confinement, current social movements that challenge racial inequality like Black Lives Matter could help to push through these recommended reforms and protect prisoners’ rights.

Nielsen-63-3
By uclalaw