West et al v. Timberlake et al

Filing 31

ORDER signed by Judge J P Stadtmueller on 4/8/09 as follows: granting 18 plaintiffs' motion to amend the complaint; adding as party plaintiffs Rafael Garcia, Jr. and Desiree Seamster; granting 27 plaintiff's motion for leave to permit L egal Action of Wisconsin, Inc. to withdraw from representation in this case; granting 19 plaintiffs' motion to certify this case as a class action; plaintiffs in this case shall be the class representatives and plaintiffs' counsel Anne L. De Leo of the law firm of Nelson, Irvings & Waeffler, S.C. is appointed as counsel for the class. See Order. (cc: all counsel)(nm)

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UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT EASTERN DISTRICT OF WISCONSIN ____________________________________________ A P R IL W E S T , SHENITA HORTON, N A T A L IE ESPINOZA, SHIRA RAYMOND, A W IL D A BOSQUE, BOBBIE PRESCOTT, J U L E T T E MURPHY, ELIZABETH TORRES, C A R O L IN E W E S L E Y , MARY RANSON, A N G E L A CLEMENTS, CLARA TRUJILLO, J E F F R E Y POLINSKE, RAFAEL GARCIA, JR. and D E S IR E E SEAMSTER, Plaintiffs, v. K A R E N TIMBERLAKE, JASON HELGERSON, C O R E Y HOZE and FELICE RILEY D e fe n d a n ts . ____________________________________________ C a s e No. 08-CV-670 ORDER O n July 7, 2008, plaintiffs filed a summons and complaint in Milwaukee County C irc u it Court seeking declaratory and injunctive relief against defendants for violating va rio u s federal and state laws in implementing and administering the State of W is c o n s in 's Food Stamp, Medical Assistance and BadgerCare Plus programs. On A u g u s t 6, 2008, defendants filed a notice of removal to the United States District C o u rt for the Eastern District of W is c o n s in . (Docket #1). After amending their c o m p la in t, plaintiffs moved to certify this case as a class action pursuant to Rule 23 o f the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure ("Rule 23"). Before addressing plaintiffs motion to certify a class, the court notes that p la in tiffs have also moved to amend their complaint. (Docket #18). Under the court's s c h e d u lin g order issued on October 2, 2008, the parties had until October 31, 2008, to amend their pleadings without seeking formal leave of the court. (Docket #15). P la in tiffs filed their amended complaint on October 31, 2008. Therefore, plaintiffs d id not need to seek the court's leave to file it. Nonetheless, plaintiffs' motion is u n o p p o s e d and the court will grant their motion. Plaintiffs next move to certify this case as a class action under Rule 23. In th e ir motion, plaintiffs initially proposed a class and a subclass. Defendants did not c h a lle n g e the appropriateness of certifying a class action, but asked that the class b e defined more narrowly. Defendants also object to certification of a subclass. In th e ir reply brief, plaintiffs modified the proposed class to the following: "All eligible a p p lic a n ts for and recipients of Food Stamps, Medical Assistance and BadgerCare P lu s benefits whose applications and/or continuing eligibility for such benefits are p ro c e s s e d by Milwaukee County." Defendants have apparently agreed to this c o n s tru c tio n . Plaintiffs also withdrew their proposed subclass. A party seeking class certification has the burden of demonstrating that c e rtifica tio n is appropriate. Retired Chicago Police Ass'n v. City of Chicago, 7 F.3d 5 8 4 , 596 (7th Cir. 1993). To meet this burden, the party must establish a class a c tio n will "advance `the efficiency and economy of litigation which is a principal p u rp o s e of the procedure.'" Gen. Tel. Co. of Southwest v. Falcon, 457 U.S. 147, 159 (1 9 8 2 ) (quoting Am. Pipe & Constr. Co. v. Utah, 414 U.S. 538, 553 (1974)). -2- T h e court conducts a two-step analysis to determine whether class c e rtific a tio n is appropriate. First, the plaintiff must satisfy all four requirements of R u le 23(a), which are numerosity, commonality, typicality, and adequacy of re p re s e n ta tio n . Harriston v. Chicago Tribune Co., 992 F.2d 697, 703 (7th Cir. 1993) (c ita tio n s omitted). Second, the plaintiff must satisfy one of the conditions of Rule 2 3 (b ). Oshana v. Coca-Cola Co., 472 F.3d 506, 513 (7th Cir. 2006). Numerosity pursuant to Rule 23(a)(1) requires the class be "so numerous that jo in d e r of all members is impracticable." Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(a)(1). "[T]he court is e n title d to make common sense assumptions in order to support a finding of n u m e ro s ity." Stawski v. Secured Funding Corp., No. 06-CV-918, 2008 W L 647024, a t *1 (E.D. W is . 2008) (quoting Patrykus v. Gomilla, 121 F.R.D. 357, 360 (N.D. Ill. 1 9 8 8 )) . Here, the plaintiffs state that in Milwaukee County there are approximately 6 7 ,6 3 7 households receiving Food Stamp benefits, 51,210 disabled and elderly p e r s o n s receiving benefits through the Medical Assistance program, and 155,042 a d u lts and children receiving BadgerCare Plus benefits. Plaintiffs concede that th e s e numbers do not take into account duplication in counting persons receiving b e n e fits under multiple state programs. However, plaintiffs note, and the court a g re e s , that the number of class members is likely to be at least equal to the number o f households receiving Food Stamp benefits, or 67,637. This number is more than s u ffic ie n t to warrant class certification. See, e.g., Blarek v. Encore Receivable M g m t., Inc., 244 F.R.D. 525, 528 (E.D. W is . 2007) (noting that classes including -3- m o re than 40 individuals are generally sufficient to meet the numerosity requirement o f Rule 23(a)(1)). Thus, the court concludes the proposed class is sufficiently large to make joinder of all members impracticable. Commonality pursuant to Rule 23(a)(2) requires the presence of questions of la w or fact common to the class. "A common nucleus of operative fact is usually e n o u g h to satisfy the commonality requirement of Rule 23(a)(2)." Rosario v. L iv a d itis , 963 F.2d 1013, 1018 (7th Cir. 1992). The presence of some factual va ria tio n s among class members' experiences will not defeat class certification. Id. a t 1017. Plaintiffs need only show there is "at least one question of law or fact c o m m o n to the class" to satisfy the commonality requirement. In re VMS Sec. Litig., 1 3 6 F.R.D. 466, 473 (N.D. Ill. 1991). Here, the court finds that common questions o f both law and fact exist within the proposed class. Plaintiffs' proposed class m e m b e rs share factual circumstances because each member has had to complete th e same application forms, has been subjected to the same review processes, and h a s suffered the same delays or interruptions in receiving their benefits from M ilw a u k e e County officials administering the Food Stamp, Medical Assistance and B a d g e r C a re Plus programs. Plaintiffs' proposed class also share common legal q u e s tio n s , including whether defendants' actions in administering these programs vio la te d the Social Security Act, the Food Stamp Act, the Americans with Disabilities A c t and the Rehabilitation Act. As a result, this case appears to be one in which the p la in tiffs allege that defendants "have engaged in standardized conduct towards -4- m e m b e rs of the proposed class . . . ." Keele v. Wexler, 149 F.3d 589, 594 (7th Cir. 1 9 9 8 ), and, as a result, the court finds that plaintiffs' claims meet the commonality re q u ire m e n t of Rule 23(a)(2). R u le 23(a)(3) requires the representative's claims be typical of those of the c la s s . "A plaintiff's claim is typical if it arises from the same event or practice or c o u rs e of conduct that gives rise to the claims of other class members and his or her c la im s are based on the same legal theory." De La Fuente v. Stokely-Van Camp, In c ., 713 F.2d 225, 232 (7th Cir. 1983). This requirement ensures "that the named re p re s e n ta tive 's claims have the same essential characteristics as the claims of the c la s s at large." Oshana, 472 F.3d at 514 (citations and internal quotation marks o m itte d ). Here, the court finds that the named plaintiffs allege claims that are typical o f the claims of others in the proposed class. Both the claims of the representatives, a n d the claims of other proposed class members, arise from defendants' alleged p ra c tic e s and procedures in administering the Food Stamp, Medical Assistance and B a d g e rC a re program. The representatives and potential class members also share th e same legal theory that those practices and procedures, though perhaps not a lw a y s uniformly applied, violate the Social Security Act, the Food Stamp Act, the A m e ric a n s with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act. Despite the fact that the c irc u m s ta n c e s of many class members are distinct, for example not all of the p la in tiffs experienced the same problems or seek the identical benefits, such factual d iffe re n c e s are insufficient to defeat typicality in this case. See De La Fuente, 713 -5- F .2 d at 232. Therefore, the court finds that plaintiffs' proposed class meets Rule 2 3 (a )(3). A d e q u a c y of representation pursuant to Rule 23(a)(4) requires the named p la in tiffs to "fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class." Fed. R. Civ. P. 2 3 (a )(4 ). Adequacy of representation has three requirements. First, the chosen c la s s representatives cannot have antagonistic or conflicting claims with other m e m b e rs of the class. Rosario v. Livaditis, 963 F.2d 1013, 1018 (7th Cir. 1992). S e c o n d , the named representatives must have "a sufficient interest in the outcome to ensure vigorous advocacy." Riordan v. Smith Barney, 113 F.R.D. 60, 64 (N.D. Ill. 1 9 8 6 ). Third, counsel for the named plaintiffs must be competent, experienced, q u a lifie d , and generally able to conduct the litigation vigorously. Kriendler v. C h e m ic a l Waste Mgmt., Inc., 877 F. Supp. 1140, 1159 (N.D. Ill. 1995). Here, the c la im s of the named plaintiffs do not appear to be antagonistic or conflicting with t h o s e of the proposed class members. The named plaintiffs seek a benefit p ro c e s s in g system in Milwaukee County that functions in accordance with federal la w . The named plaintiffs also appear to have a sufficient interest in the outcome of th e case as they either currently receive, or are seeking benefits under these state p ro g ra m s . According to an affidavit included with plaintiffs' motion, plaintiffs' counsel A n n L. De Leo has experience in litigating class action lawsuits in federal court, as w e ll as experience in litigating issues involving social assistance programs in W is c o n s in and Milwaukee County. Therefore, the court finds that the representative -6- p la in tiffs will fairly and adequately protect the interests of the proposed class. C o n c u rre n tly , after considering the factors address in Rule 23(g)(1), the court finds th a t plaintiffs' counsel would fairly and adequately represent the interests of the p r o p o s e d class. T h e court next looks to whether plaintiffs can satisfy one of the requirements o f Rule 23(b). Plaintiffs seek to certify the class under Rule 23(b)(2) which allows fo r certification when "the party opposing the class has acted or refused to act on g ro u n d s that apply generally to the class, so that final injunctive relief or c o rre s p o n d in g declaratory relief is appropriate respecting the class as a whole." F e d . R. Civ. P. 23(b)(2). Certification under Rule 23(b)(2) is appropriate in cases w h e r e plaintiffs seek injunctive or declaratory relief concerning standard practices o r policies of employers applicable to the entire class. See, e.g., Meiresonne v. M a rrio tt Corp., 124 F.R.D. 619, 625 (N.D. Ill. 1989); Hendricks-Robinson, et al. v. E x c e l Corp., 164 F.R.D. 667, 671 (C.D. Ill. 1996) (certifying class adversely affected b y company-wide medical layoff policy). Here, plaintiffs seek declaratory and in ju n c tive relief relating to the generally applicable practices and policies of d e fe n d a n ts that allegedly violate federal law. Therefore, the court finds that c e rtific a tio n under Rule 23(b)(2) is appropriate in this case. F i n a lly , plaintiffs seek leave for Legal Action of W is c o n s in , Inc., to withdraw a s plaintiffs' co-counsel in this case. (Docket #27). Legal Action of Wisconsin, Inc., a s s e rts that it is prohibited from participating in class action lawsuits due to the -7- s u p p o rt it receives from the federal government's Legal Services Corporation. See 4 5 C.F.R. 1617.3. The court will grant plaintiffs' motion. A c c o r d in g ly , IT IS ORDERED that plaintiffs' motion to amend the complaint (Docket #18) b e and the same is hereby GRANTED; Rafael Garcia, Jr. and Desiree Seamster are h e re b y added as party plaintiffs in this action; IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that plaintiffs' motion for leave to permit Legal A c tio n of W is c o n s in , Inc., to withdraw from representation in this case (Docket #27) b e and the same is hereby GRANTED; IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that plaintiffs' motion to certify this case as a c la s s action (Docket #19) be and the same is hereby GRANTED; IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the following plaintiff class be and the same is hereby CERTIFIED: A ll eligible applicants for and recipients of Food Stamps, Medical A s s is ta n c e and BadgerCare Plus benefits whose applications and/or c o n tin u in g eligibility for such benefits are processed by Milwaukee C o u n ty. IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the named plaintiffs, April West, Shenita H o rto n , Natalie Espinoza, Shira Raymond, Awilda Bosque, Bobbie Prescott, Julette M u rp h y, Elizabeth Torres, Caroline W e s le y , Mary Ranson, Angela Clements, Clara T ru jillo , Jeffrey Polinske, Rafael Garcia, Jr. and Desiree Seamster shall be the class re p re s e n ta tive s , and plaintiffs' counsel, Anne L. De Leo of the law firm of Nelson, -8- Irvin g s & Waeffler, S.C., is appointed as counsel for the class under Fed. R. Civ. P. 2 3 (g ). D a te d at Milwaukee, W is c o n s in , this 8th day of April, 2009. BY THE COURT: J .P . Stadtmueller U .S . District Judge -9-

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