J., et al v. Riley, et al

Filing 266

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER granting 259 Motion to Decertify Classes; further ORDERED that the decision is subject to the representation of the parties that they "will file a joint stipulation of dismissal upon entry of" this Order; failure to comply with the representation will result in prompt reconsideration of this Order. Signed by Hon. Chief Judge Mark E. Fuller on 7/29/2009. (wcl, )

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IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR T H E MIDDLE DISTRICT OF ALABAMA N O R T H E R N DIVISION S U S A N J., et al., P la in tiffs , v. BOB RILEY, in his official capacity as G o v e rn o r of the State of Alabama, et al., D e fe n d a n ts . ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) C A S E NO. 2:00-cv-918-MEF (W O ) M E M O R A N D U M OPINION AND ORDER T o d a y the Court finds itself near the end of a long and trying litigation. The p a rtie s to the instant action have, by Herculean effort and amicable cooperation, reached a s e ttle m e n t in this case. The non-confidential settlement agreement provides Plaintiffs with e s s e n tia lly everything they seek to gain from the claims that survived summary judgment. Other individuals who are not plaintiffs stand to benefit too. In particular, the settlement a g re e m e n t provides for the Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation to provide a d d itio n a l notices and procedures on a system-wide basis. The relief provided by the s e ttle m e n t will inure to the benefit of all present class members and will also benefit other p e rs o n s who are not members of the subclasses. As an additional provision, the parties a g re e d that the previously certified subclasses should be decertified and that they would jo in tly stipulate to dismiss the case upon decertification of the subclasses by this Court. The n e e d to decertify is motivated by a desire to avoid binding non-named class members by the ju d g m e n t for purposes of issue and claim preclusion. The combination of system-wide relief and decertification would have the effect of allowing the benefits of the settlement to reach a ll class members (and other persons who are not class members) without the otherwise a tte n d a n t burdens of issue and claim preclusion. Accordingly, and after preliminary d is c u s sio n s with the Court on the matter, the parties jointly moved to decertify the two s u b c la s s e s . (Doc. # 259).1 The Court subsequently held a hearing where it exhaustively e x p lo re d the pros and cons of decertification. (Doc. # 260.) Accordingly, this case is now b e fo re the Court on the Joint Motion for Decertification of Subclasses. For the reasons set fo rth below, the Court finds that the Motion is due to be GRANTED. Questions concerning class certification are rightly left to the sound discretion of the d is tric t court. Forehand v. Fla. State Hosp. at Chattahoochee, 89 F.3d 1562, 1566 (11th Cir. 1 9 9 6 ). By implication, this Court has discretion to decertify the subclasses pursuant to Fed. R . Civ. P. 23(c)(1)(C). See Buford v. H & R Block, Inc., 168 F.R.D. 340, 346 (S.D. Ga. 1 9 9 6 ) ("options such as decertification or revised certification are always available to the d is tric t court."). The Court has carefully considered the text of the settlement agreement, w h ic h the parties submitted for its review. The Court has also drawn on its deep well of in s titu tio n a l knowledge about this litigation and considered the costs and benefits of d e c e rtific a tio n . Counsel for the parties have worked hard to guard the interests of the named p la in tiffs , class members, and even non-class members. The Court has herd their arguments a n d is satisfied that decertification is in the best interests of the named plaintiffs and other Defendants John M. Houston and Bob Riley later moved to join the Motion. (Doc # 261.) This Motion was made simply to clarify the record, and the parties intended John M. Houston and Bob Riley to be movants from the outset. 1 class members, as decertification (together with the terms of the settlement agreement) re s u lts in all plaintiffs receiving the benefits of the settlement but only the named plaintiffs s u ffe rin g its burdens. The Court also notes the incidental benefits to persons not party to this litig a tio n . The Court has given great pause to this decision and is resolute about its rightness. Therefore, it is hereby ORDERED that the Motion to Decertify Classes (Doc. # 259) is GRANTED. It is further ORDERED that this decision is subject to the representation of the parties th a t they "will file a joint stipulation of dismissal upon entry of" this Order; failure to comply w ith this representation will result in prompt reconsideration of this Order. Done this the 29th day of July, 2009. /s/ Mark E. Fuller CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

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