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Media Alerts - Daryoush Taha v. County of Bucks - Third Circuit
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July 11, 2017
  Daryoush Taha v. County of Bucks - Third Circuit
Headline: Third Circuit Determines that Compensatory Damages are not Required to Impose Punitive Damages under CHRIA; Punitive Damages can be Imposed on Government Agencies.

Area of Law: Class Certification, punitive damages

Issue(s) Presented: Can a court impose punitive damages without any compensatory damages under CHRIA? Does Plaintiff need to demonstrate actual harm to have standing under Article III? Can punitive damages be imposed on a government agency?

Brief Summary:
The Third Circuit affirmed the District Court's certification of a class in a suit challenging Bucks County's creation of an internet search tool that included personal information on every individual held in the Bucks County Correctional Facility since 1938. The Court ruled that intangible harm is sufficient to create standing under Article III. Taha sufficiently demonstrated "aggrieved" standing under Pennsylvania's Criminal History Record Information Act (CHRIA) by showcasing harm that was unique to him. The Court further affirmed that compensatory damages are not required for punitive damages to be imposed. Under Pennsylvania law, punitive damages can be imposed as long as the plaintiff can demonstrate a cause of action. The Court affirmed the District Court's finding that punitive damages could be imposed on a government agency because CHRIA provides a waiver of sovereign immunity.

Extended Summary:

Daryoush Taha is the class representative for a punitive class claim brought against Bucks County and Bucks County Correctional Facility for the creation of an "Inmate Lookup Tool." This tool allows individuals to search for people who have been held or incarcerated at Bucks County Facility. Taha was incarcerated in 1998, but his record was ultimately expunged. In 2011, Taha learned of the inmate search tool, which had his mug shot and information on his arrest. Taha filed for certification of a class composed of individuals whose criminal history could be located on the search tool. The District Court granted class certification and partial summary judgment.

The Third Circuit was unwilling to review the Defendants' defense that certification violated one-way intervention under Rule 23 because they failed to raise the defense in District Court. The Third Circuit determined that the defendants had multiple opportunities to raise this defense below and they failed to do so.

The Third Circuit also found that Taha had standing under Article III and under CHRIA. The Court determined that Taha had standing under Article III because intangible harm can be sufficient to meet the necessary requirements. The Court determined that Taha sufficiently demonstrated that he suffered actual harm from the posting of his photograph, including embarrassment, sadness, and weight loss. Under CHRIA, the Court found that Taha demonstrated "aggrieved" standing because he has a substantial, direct, and immediate interest in the outcome of the litigation. Taha sufficiently showcased that the harm he experienced was unique to him and that causation exists between the defendants' actions and the harm that occurred.

The Third Circuit affirmed the District Court's finding that punitive damages could be imposed, even though Taha did not suffer compensatory damages. The Court affirmed this decision with the understanding that, under CHRIA, a court may impose punitive damages without compensatory damages, as long as the plaintiff has demonstrated a cause of action.

The Court affirmed that punitive damages could be imposed upon a government agency. The District Court ruled that CHRIA provides a waiver of sovereign immunity, so punitive damages could be imposed. CHRIA authorizes punitive damages and is applicable to government agencies.

The Third Circuit affirms the District Court holding that the remaining factual issue of willfulness can be determined based on common evidence. The predominance factor requires that common questions relevant to all class members predominate over any questions specific to each individual. The question of the defendants' intent in creating the website can be answered without taking into account the individual effects on class members.

The Third Circuit affirmed the District Court's decision.

The full opinion can be found at

Panel: Greenaway, Jr., Shwartz, and Greenberg, Circuit Judges

Argument Date: March 15, 2017

Date of Issued Opinion: July 6, 2017

Docket Number: No. 16-3077

Decided: Affirmed

Case Alert Author: Kristina Flatley

Counsel: Frank Chernak and Burt Rublin, Counsel for Appellants; Alan Denenberg, Robert LaRoca, and Jonathan Shub, Counsel for Appellee; Crystal Clark, Counsel for Amicus Curiae County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania; Janet Ginzberg, Counsel for Amicus Curiae Community Legal Services.

Author of Opinion: Circuit Judge Greenberg

Circuit: Third Circuit

Case Alert Circuit Supervisor: Professor Susan L. DeJarnatt

    Posted By: Susan DeJarnatt @ 07/11/2017 03:05 PM     3rd Circuit  

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