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Bynum v. District of Columbia

January 25, 2006

MARCUS BYNUM, ET. AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, DEFENDANT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Royce C. Lamberth, United States District Judge,

FINAL APPROVAL ORDER

This Lawsuit, having come before this Court for a final approval hearing on January 20, 2006, at 9:30 a.m., pursuant to this Court's Order Preliminarily Approving Proposed Settlement Between Plaintiffs and Defendant, dated August 31, 2005 (the "Preliminary Approval Order") (docket # 128) to consider and determine the matters set forth in the Preliminary Approval Order; and due notice of said hearing having been published and given; and all entities that made timely objections to the proposed settlement set forth in the Settlement Agreement made and entered into on June 16, 2005, as amended June 22, 2005 and August 31, 2005, 2005, and described in the Class and Settlement Notice, having been given an opportunity to present such objections to the Court and to be heard at the hearing; and the Court having considered the matter, including all papers filed in connection therewith, and the oral presentations of counsel and objectors at said hearing; and good cause appearing,

IT IS HEREBY ORDERED, ADJUDGED AND DECREED that:

1. Each term and phrase used in this Final Order and Judgment shall have the same definition and meaning as in the Settlement Agreement, as follows:

a. "Class Administrator" - The firm chosen by agreement of the parties to administer the claims process - Rosenthal & Co. - which specializes in such work.

b. "Plaintiff class" or "Class Member(s)" - All Class Members

c. "Named plaintiffs" or "Class Representatives" - The original named plaintiffs in the Amended Complaint to this suit:

d. "Claimant(s)" - Class members who actually file claims pursuant to the procedures set forth in this Agreement.

e. "Class Fund or Class Settlement" - Lump sum payment to be paid by the defendant, totaling $12,000,000, which will be paid and/or distributed and allocated as further described in this Agreement.

f. "Class Fund Attorneys' Fees"- That portion of the Class Fund awarded as attorney's fees and costs to Class Counsel. Litigation costs and the costs of class notice and administration shall constitute a separate cost and will be paid separately from the attorney's fees. The amount of these fees will be paid from the portion of the Class Fund that is to be distributed to class members (as opposed to the reversion fund).

g. "Defendant" - The District of Columbia

h. "Department" - The D.C. Department of Corrections.

i. "Fairness Hearing" - The final hearing on the fairness of this Settlement in the District Court, held on January 20, 2006.

j. "Named Plaintiffs' Distribution" - The amount of the Class Fund to be distributed to the Named Plaintiffs.

k. "Plaintiffs" - As used in this Order, the term "Plaintiffs" refers to all class members who have not opted out of this settlement.

l. "Preliminary District Court approval" - The date on which the Court granted initial approval of the Settlement Agreement (August 31, 2005).

m. "Final District Court approval" - The date on which the District Court granted final approval of the Settlement Agreement.

n. "Plaintiffs' counsel," "Counsel for plaintiffs," or "Class Counsel" - The counsel of record for the plaintiff class. They are William Claiborne, Lynn Cunningham and Barrett Litt, Attorneys at Law.

o. "Counsel for the parties" - Counsel for plaintiffs and counsel for the defendant.

p. "Settlement Funds" - The sum of $12 million the District must pay under the Settlement Agreement.

2. This Court has jurisdiction over this Lawsuit and each of the parties to it.

Notice

3. As required by this Court in its Preliminary Approval Order: (a) Class and Settlement Notice were mailed by first-class mail to all Class Members or their representatives whose addresses could be obtained with reasonable diligence, and to all potential Class Members who requested a copy; and (b) Class and Settlement Notice was published as set forth in the Settlement Agreement and in the Preliminary Approval Order, all as more fully set forth in the Declaration of the Class Administrator, dated January 16, 2006.

4. The notice given to the class is hereby determined to be fully in compliance with requirements of Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and due process and is found to be the best notice practicable under the circumstances and to constitute due and sufficient notice to all parties entitled thereto.

5. Due and adequate notice of the proceedings having been given to the Class and a full opportunity having been offered to the Class to participate in the hearing, it is hereby determined that all Class Members, except those who have opted out of the settlement (who are listed in Exhibit 1 to this Order) are bound by this Final Order of Approval of Settlement. Exhibit 1 contains the list of the three individuals who opted out of the settlement.

Objections

6. There were a combined total of two objections to the settlement and/or the Motion for an award of attorneys' fees filed. Mr. Gregory Bess, through counsel, challenged the accuracy of the data on his claim form regarding the number of over-detention days he was entitled to. Mr. Bess through counsel and Class Counsel filed a notice withdrawing his objection before the Final Fairness Hearing and his counsel appeared at the Final Fairness Hearing and confirmed that Mr. Bess was withdrawing his objection because the error on his claim form had been corrected by Class Counsel. Mr. Richard Jones, acting pro se, filed an objection to the effect that the District should not receive money for programs from the settlement, that the attorneys should not receive 1/3 from the settlement, and that the distribution formula was faulty or that class members should be receiving more money than proposed under the settlement. At the hearing, Mr. Jones stated to the Court that after reviewing Class Counsel's written responses to his objections, and after discussing his objections with Class Counsel, he wanted to withdraw his objection to the reversion because he realized that it was being used to fund the injunctive relief component of the settlement, and to withdraw his objection to the attorneys' fees request because he thought it was fair in light of Class Counsel's efforts. Mr. Jones did maintain his objection to the amount of the settlement to be distributed to plaintiffs, and to the fact that class members would not know the exact size of the award until after all claims had been processed. The Court concludes that the proposed method of allocating a sum certain for distribution to all class members who filed valid and timely claims (as allowed by this Order) is fair, especially since this is the only method for the District to be certain about its liability under the settlement. Several persons sent letters to Class Counsel or to the Class Administrator challenging the accuracy of the data in their claim forms, claiming membership in the class, or complaining about aspects of the settlement generally. None of these letters complied with the procedure for making objections to the Bynum Settlement Agreement provided in ¶ 15 of the Class Notice. Letters to Class Counsel or to the Class Administrator by persons challenging the accuracy of the data in their claim forms, or claiming membership in the class, will be examined according to the verification procedure set out below in this Order. Letters complaining about aspects of the settlement generally that did not comply with the procedure for making objections to the Bynum Settlement Agreement provided in ¶ 15 of the Class Notice will not be treated as objections. None of the letters complaining about aspects of the settlement generally raised issues that the Court has not already addressed in overruling Mr. Jones' objections.

a. The Court concludes that Class Counsel negotiated a very favorable fund for distribution to class members. The low number of opt outs and objectors (or purported objectors) supports the conclusion that the terms of the settlement were viewed favorably by the overwhelming majority of class members. For example, in Neal v. Director of the Department of Corrections, this Court approved a class action settlement where four of the eight named plaintiffs objected and 60 people filed comments or objections and the class was ultimately held to comprise about 125 members. Memorandum Opinion, Neal v. Director, Department of Corrections, 93-cv-02420 (RCL) June 28, 1999, pages 14, 22, and 27. See also, e.g., Stoetzner v. U.S. Steel Corp., 897 F.2d 115, 118-119 (3d Cir.1990) ("only" 29 objections in 281 member class "strongly favors settlement"); In re Prudential Ins. Co. of America Sales Practices Litigation, 148 F.3d 283, 318 (3d Cir.1998) (affirming conclusion that class reaction was favorable where 19,000 policyholders out of 8 million opted out and 300 objected).

Settlement Agreement Approved Because Fair, Adequate, and Reasonable

7. The settlement of this Lawsuit was not the product of collusion between Plaintiffs and Defendant or their respective counsel, but rather was the result of bona fide and arm's-length negotiation conducted in good faith by the Parties and their counsel through the United States District Court Mediation Program administered by the Office of the Circuit Executive for the United States Courts for the District of Columbia Circuit, pursuant to LCvR 84. The Settlement Agreement and the settlement set forth therein are hereby approved and found to be fair, adequate, reasonable, in the best interest of the Class as a whole, and in satisfaction of Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and due process requirements.

Class Certified under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 23(b)(2) and 23(b)(3)

8. The Court has previously certified both an Over-detention Class and a Strip Search Class under both Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(b)(2) and (b)(3). This is a hybrid class action, certified under Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(b)(2) with regard to seeking injunctive relief on over-detentions, and strip searches of inmates under the definition of the strip search class set forth herein. Therefore, regarding prospective relief, no member of the class may opt-out. With regards to monetary relief, the class is certified under Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(b)(3) and class members have a right to opt out of the monetary relief stage.

9. The Over-Detention Injunctive Relief Class is defined as:

(a) Each person who has been, is or will be incarcerated in any District of Columbia Department of Corrections facility beginning in the three years preceding the filing of this action on or about May 16, 2002 up to and until the date this case is terminated; and (b) who was not released, or, in the future will not be released by midnight on the date on which the person is entitled to be ...


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