Pa. jail faces class-action lawsuit for posting mugshots online

A lawyer for a man who sued a Pennsylvania county jail for posting his mug shot online says nearly 70,000 former inmates could have claims in a class-action lawsuit, though the county being sued disputes that.

Attorney Jonathan Shub represents Daryoush Taha, 46, a Sicklerville, New Jersey, man arrested on disorderly conduct and other charges in 1998. Those charges were expunged two years later.

Taha sued the Bucks County jail after his mug shot and arrest information were included in 2011 on a county website where people could look up current and former jail inmates. After the lawsuit, the county removed all mug shots and most inmates’ arrest information two years later.

The county lost its appeal of a judge’s ruling last year that it violated federal law and that Taha’s case can go forward as a class action.

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The Pennsylvania Criminal History Record Information Act prohibits sharing a person’s arrest record with anyone outside of law enforcement if the person isn’t convicted of a crime.

Shub contends the county could be on the hook for between $1,000 and $10,000 in punitive damages for each person whose picture was posted on the website — about 68,000 of them — or between $68 million and $680 million.

The county isn’t commenting on the lawsuit, but has argued in court filings that the posting of the inmates’ names amounts to a single violation of the act, meaning the total punitive damages the county faces would simply be $1,000 to $10,000.

Shub disagrees.

“We think we can prove willfulness and each posting of another name is a willful violation,” Shub said. “Bucks County faces a serious predicament.”

Temple University law professor Ken Jacobsen, an expert on class-action lawsuits, isn’t so sure.

Jacobsen said because the court didn’t find Taha experienced any actual damages by having his name and picture posted, a jury might be hard-pressed to award punitive damages to Taha — let alone tens of thousands of others.

“It’s going to be interesting to see how damages are proved for these 60,000 other people,” Jacobsen said.

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