May 26, 2022
(St. Louis, Mo.) — On Wednesday, May 25, 2022, a federal judge granted a motion for class action status in the lawsuit James Cody, et al vs. St. Louis City, et al, filed by attorneys from ArchCity Defenders and DLA Piper. James Cody and five other named plaintiffs filed suit on November 13, 2017 alleging they and thousands of other people were forced to endure inhumane conditions such as flooding, sewage, insect and rodent infestation, and excessive heat while detained at the City’s Medium Security Institution commonly known as the “Workhouse.” This certification ruling means that individuals detained from approximately 2012 to 2018 could be eligible to receive monetary damages after a successful trial or if settlement is reached.
A link to the Order for Class Certification may be found here.
“It feels like the chains are finally starting to be lifted,” said Diedre Wortham, a plaintiff and grandmother of five from St. Louis. “I’m hopeful that they close the Workhouse and keep it closed.”
“This ruling represents an important milestone in achieving justice for the thousands of people who were trapped in the Workhouse,” says Nathaniel Carroll, staff attorney with ArchCity Defenders. “Our clients have been fighting with us for nearly five years, both for themselves and for others who suffered extreme temperatures and outrageous conditions in the jail.”
The Court certified two classes of individuals (one for pretrial detainees, and one for post-conviction inmates) who were held at the Workhouse between November 13, 2012 and July 1, 2018.The Court also certified heat-related damages subclasses for individuals detained in the Workhouse between November 13, 2012 and July 24, 2017 on days when the temperature in St. Louis exceeded 88 degrees Fahrenheit.
During an extreme heatwave in July 2017, video footage of detainees yelling for help from inside the Workhouse made national news. Local organizations like ArchCity Defenders and Action St. Louis, which had recently participated in a national Black Mama’s Bail Out in May 2017, raised funds and posted bond for people held on cash bail in the hellish conditions.
Catalyzed by the atrocities of summer 2017, and previous years of public scrutiny and litigation, the Close the Workhouse campaign launched in April 2018 with the primary goal of permanently shuttering the building and ensuring no jail would replace it. Since it began, the campaign has mobilized numerous residents and applied pressure for the City to close the jail.
Beginning during her 2016 candidacy, and throughout her time as St. Louis City Mayor, Tishaura Jones has publicly advocated for the closure of the Workhouse. In June 2021, for the first time in its history, the Workhouse was empty. Since then, it has been used as an overflow for the City Justice Center while that jail undergoes repairs. The Close the Workhouse (CTW) campaign has continued to advocate for further decarceration and for the Workhouse to be closed. In February 2022, CTW held a virtual town hall on public safety during which Mayor Jones publicly stated “let me be clear, I remain committed to closing the Workhouse” (around the twenty-five minute mark).
While the population at the Workhouse has decreased significantly over recent years, so have overall numbers of people detained pretrial. City data shows an average of 537 people detained in the two City jails in 2022, compared to 1,147 people when the Cody case was filed in 2017. According to other data provided by the City, 26 people were detained at the Workhouse on May 24, 2022.
Following this federal order for class certification, Plaintiffs and the City are now required to submit a trial schedule, and the Court has also ordered the parties to schedule mediation. A “notice” process will also soon commence, wherein class members will receive notification explaining the Court’s decision, notifying them of the trial date, and notifying class members of their right to remain in the class or exclude themselves from the class.
The complaint is available online here.
This is one of four federal lawsuits brought by clients of ArchCity Defenders alleging inhumane jail conditions in recent years. Currently, there are cases pending against the St. Louis City Justice Center, St. Charles County jail, and the St. Francois County jail.
ArchCity Defenders is a holistic legal advocacy organization in St. Louis, Missouri. For more, find ArchCity on social media and online– www.archcitydefenders.org
DLA Piper is a multinational law firm and joined as co-counsel in the Cody lawsuit in 2020. For more, find DLA Piper on social media and online– www.dlapiper.com/en/us
Z Gorley, Communications Director, ArchCity Defenders