41-Year-Old Lawsuit Gasps but Lives

     NASHVILLE (CN) – Discovery from an anonymous plaintiff must proceed before the court can rule on a consent decree at the heart of a 41-year-old class action about arrest records, a federal judge ruled.
     “The procedural history of this case is both remarkable and tortured,” U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger wrote in the 17-page ruling. “John Doe, whose identity remains under seal, initiated this class action lawsuit in 1973, seeking to change local policies concerning the consideration and dissemination of arrest records that did not involve a conviction.”
     Doe, on behalf of the class, entered into two consent decrees with the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County in the mid-70s.
     The 1973 consent decree required Metro Nashville not to consider arrest records in new hires, and the 1974 decree related to the dissemination and publication of arrest records.
     Vanderbilt University Law School Professor James Blumstein, an attorney in the original lawsuit, reopened the case in 2006 by filing a “motion for further relief to assure compliance” with the 1974 decree.
     A Tennessee district court vacated the 1974 decree based on a Supreme Court repeal and the 6th Circuit affirmed.
     Negotiations over modifications to the 1973 decree stalled and both parties have submitted their own proposed modifications, which are pending.
     The district granted Metro Nashville’s motion for discovery of a class representative in February, with both the court and the defendants suspecting that the plaintiff’s attorney was “negotiating on the basis of his own views and was not consulting with the class representative, John Doe,” according to the new ruling.
     Doe, with a supporting affidavit, responded by moving to add a Jane Roe as a plaintiff. The court then granted a motion to defer previously ordered discovery of the class representative.
     In the lawsuit’s latest saga, the district court granted Metro Nashville’s motion for reconsideration, vacated an April order staying discovery, and denied the parties’ competing motions to modify the 1973 consent decree.
     Trauger deferred ruling on a motion to add a named plaintiff, and permitted “discovery to proceed relative to both John Doe and Jane Roe, and, perhaps, with respect to the substitution of an appropriate representative party more generally.”
     “In order to resolve whether and how to modify the decree (or whether factual circumstances now warrant reconsideration of the court’s previous refusal to vacate the decree), the court will required a better developed – or at least centralized – record supporting each side’s proposed modifications,” Trauger wrote.
     “Furthermore, the issue of standing (as to John Doe and the prospective Jane Roe) is now of paramount concern and could substantially affect the nature and types of modifications to the decree,” the judge wrote. “Rather than rule on the motions without sufficient facts and on such shifting procedural sands, the court will deny both motions [to modify] without prejudice to refilling them at an appropriate stage.”

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