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Lightfoot v. District of Columbia

November 15, 2007

ELIZABETH LIGHTFOOT, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Colleen Kollar-kotelly United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Currently pending before the Court is the [342] Motion to Decertify the Class filed by Defendant, the District of Columbia (hereinafter the "District"). In addition, at the Court's request, Plaintiffs filed supplemental briefing clarifying the nature of the relief they seek in this action in light of the substantial narrowing of their claims by this Court and the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Both the District's initial Motion to Decertify and the supplemental briefing requested by the Court are now ripe for consideration. Upon a searching review of the filings submitted by both parties, the relevant statutes and caselaw, and the entire record herein, the Court shall deny the District's [342] Motion to Decertify the Class, and shall order that this action continue as a class action, with the class defined as:

All persons who received disability compensation benefits pursuant to D.C. Code § 1-623.1, et seq. and whose benefits were terminated, suspended or reduced between June 27, 1998 and April 5, 2005, the date on which the Disability Compensation Effective Administration Amendment Act of 2004, D.C. Act 15-685, 52 D.C. Reg. 1449 (Jan. 4, 2005), took effect. "Disability compensation benefits" is defined to exclude a scheduled award provided in D.C. Code § 1-623.7 expiring at the end of the statutory term, continuation of pay provided in D.C. Code § 1-623.18(a) expiring at the end of the statutory term, funeral expenses provided in D.C. Code § 1-623.34, a fully paid lump sum settlement provided in D.C. Code § 1-623.35, and credited compensation leave provided in D.C. Code § 1-623.43.

In addition, the Court shall order discovery to continue on Plaintiffs' sole remaining claim--Claim Two--which alleges that, as Title 23 of the District's Comprehensive Merit Personnel Act of 1978 ("CMPA") was applied prior to April 5, 2005, Defendants*fn1 modified, suspended, or terminated class members' disability compensation benefits "without affording beneficiaries adequate and timely notice and opportunity to demonstrate a continuing entitlement to benefits in violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution."Third Am. Compl. ("TAC") ¶ 134.

I: BACKGROUND

This case has been the subject of numerous opinions and orders of this Court as well as of the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. As such, the Court shall recite herein only those facts that are relevant to the Motion to Decertify currently before the Court and shall assume familiarity with the factual background of this case.*fn2

Plaintiffs, a class of former District of Columbia employees, challenge the policies and procedures applied to terminate, suspend, and modify their disability compensation benefits pursuant to the CMPA. The Court initially certified the class in this action on January 14, 2004 pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(b)(2), and defined the class as All persons who have received or will receive disability compensation benefits pursuant to D.C. Code § 1-623.1, et seq., and whose benefits have been terminated, suspended or reduced since June 27, 1998 or whose benefits will be terminated, suspended or reduced in the future. "Disability compensation benefits" is defined to exclude a scheduled award provided in D.C. Code § 1-623.7 expiring at the end of the statutory term, continuation of pay provided in D.C. Code § 1-623.18(a) expiring at the end of the statutory term, funeral expenses provided in D.C. Code § 1-623.34, a fully paid lump sum settlement provided in D.C. Code § 1-623.35, and credited compensation leave provided in D.C. Code § 1-623.43.

See Order, Jan. 14, 2004, Docket No. [153]; see also Lightfoot v. District of Columbia, Civil Action No. 01-1484, Mem. Op. (D.D.C. Jan. 14, 2004), Docket No. [154] (hereinafter "Class Cert. Opinion"). At the time of the class certification, Plaintiffs' case included eight claims, however those claims have been whittled down significantly by subsequent events. Specifically, in its September 24, 2004 Memorandum Opinion and Order, this Court granted Plaintiffs' motion for partial summary judgment as to Claims Six and Seven. See generally Lightfoot, 339 F. Supp. 2d 78. On appeal, the D.C. Circuit reversed the grant of summary judgment as to Claim Six, and remanded Claim Seven to this Court for reconsideration of this Court's decision to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over that claim. Lightfoot Appeal, 338 F.3dat 397-99.*fn3

On remand, the District moved to dismiss Claims One, Three, Four, and Five of the Third Amended Complaint. The Court granted the District's motion to dismiss as to Claims Three, Four, and Five in its January 16, 2007 Memorandum Opinion, in which it also declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over, and thus dismissed, Claim Seven. See generally Jan. 16, 2007 Opinion. The Court granted the District's motion to dismiss as to Claim One in its April 10, 2007 Memorandum Opinion. See generally Apr. 10, 2007 Opinion. As a result, Plaintiffs' sole remaining claim is Claim Two, in which Plaintiffs allege that, as the CMPA was applied, Defendants modified, suspended, or terminated class members' disability compensation benefits "without affording beneficiaries adequate and timely notice and opportunity to demonstrate a continuing entitlement to benefits in violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution."TAC ¶ 134. The District's pending Motion to Decertify argues that Claim Two does not meet the requirements of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23, and that the class should be decertified as a result. Defs.' Mem. of P. & A. in Support of Their Mot. to Decert. the Class (hereinafter "Dist. Mem.") at 3.

While the District's Motion to Decertify reflects the changed circumstances since the Court initially certified the class, the District admits that its Motion to Decertify was spurred by issues related to discovery regarding Claim Two. In connection with the Court's grant of summary judgment as to Claims Six and Seven, the Court ordered Plaintiffs' disability compensation benefits reinstated. See Lightfoot, 339 F. Supp. 2d at 96. To that end, in April 2005, Magistrate Judge John M. Facciola and this Court both ordered Defendants to provide Plaintiffs with (1) the identification of all class members, and (2) verification of the last known address for each class member. See Order, Apr. 11, 2005, Docket No. [227]; Order, Apr. 26, 2005, Docket No. [230]. The District engaged an outside contractor tasked with compiling a list of class members. See Dist. Mot. to Stay Disc. on Claim Two, Docket No. [312], at 4. After eliminating duplicates in the list created by the outside contractor, in June 2005 the District provided Plaintiffs with a list of 5,052 class members. Id. Thereafter the District determined that the initial list was substantially over-inclusive, and reduced the number of class members to 568. Id. For their part, Plaintiffs asserted at the time--and continue to maintain--that each of the lists produced by the District is both over- and under-inclusive. See Pls.' Opp'n to Gov't Defs.' Mot. to Stay Disc., Docket No. [313], at 5-6, n.3.

The D.C. Circuit decision terminated the District's obligation to reinstate Plaintiffs' disability compensation benefits and made clear that Plaintiffs could not pursue prospective injunctive relief after April 5, 2005 (the date on which amendments to the CMPA took effect). See Lightfoot Appeal, 448 F.3d at 399. On remand, the Court ordered the parties to continue discovery on Claim Two while briefing the viability of the remaining claims in light of the D.C. Circuit decision. See Order, Oct. 12, 2006, Docket No. [301].*fn4 The Court also referred the resolution of discovery disputes to Magistrate Judge Facciola. The parties' efforts at discovery into Claim Two soon began to unravel due to disagreements over the composition of the class list. On December 29, 2006, the District proposed to conduct an audit of the class list and moved to stay discovery on Claim Two pending clarification of the class definition (which still included future class members) and the District's audit. See Dist. Mot. to Stay Disc. Plaintiffs subsequently proposed that rather than audit the seemingly deficient class lists, the parties mutually engage in a sampling of a statistically significant number of class member case files, in order to create a common factual predicate for assessing Claim Two. See Pls.' Status Report, Apr. 11, 2007, Docket No. [331]. The parties agreed to Plaintiffs' proposed sampling and began efforts to that end, including numerous discovery conferences with Magistrate Judge Facciola. Id. However, on April 3, 2007, the District determined that it would not participate in the sampling process, believing that the process inappropriately shifted the burden of Plaintiffs' discovery onto the District. See Dist. Status Report, Apr. 12, 2007, Docket No. [332]. The District informed the Court of this change in plans one day before the Court's scheduled status hearing, and only in response to the Court's request for status reports prior to the hearing.

On April 13, 2007, the Court held a status hearing in this matter, following which the Court redefined the class in order to reflect that only Claim Two remained in this action and that Plaintiffs could not pursue prospective relief. See Order, Apr. 17, 2007, Docket No. [333]. The revised class definition includes:

All persons who received disability compensation benefits pursuant to D.C. Code § 1-623.1, et seq. and whose benefits were terminated, suspended or reduced between June 27, 1998 and April 5, 2005, the date on which the Disability Compensation Effective Administration Amendment Act of 2004, D.C. Act 15-685, 52 D.C. Reg. 1449 (Jan. 4, 2005), took effect. "Disability compensation benefits" is defined to exclude a scheduled award provided in D.C. Code § 1-623.7 expiring at the end of the statutory term, continuation of pay provided in D.C. Code § 1-623.18(a) expiring at the end of the statutory term, funeral expenses provided in D.C. Code § 1-623.34, a fully paid lump sum settlement provided in D.C. Code § 1-623.35, and credited compensation leave provided in D.C. Code § 1-623.43.

Id. In addition, during the April 13, 2007 status hearing, the District did not dispute that it was responsible for creating an accurate class list in response to Plaintiffs' discovery request, and was unwilling to represent that an accurate list had been generated. See Order, Apr. 17, 2007, Docket No. [334]. The Court therefore ordered the parties to confer with Magistrate Judge Facciola in order to devise a means of creating an accurate class list. Id.

The District subsequently contested the Court's Order requiring it to compile an accurate class list. See Defs.' Excepts. to Court's Apr. 17, 2007 Order, Apr. 26, 2007, Docket No. [335]. On May 10, 2007, Magistrate Judge Facciola issued an Order requiring the District to show cause why the court should not order the parties to collaborate in retaining an outside vendor capable of compiling an accurate class list and developing a statistically significant sample of the class records to be used as a factual predicate in addressing Claim Two. See Order, May 10, 2007, Docket No. [338]. In response, the District filed their Motion to Decertify the Class, as well as a Response to Magistrate Judge Facciola's show cause Order, which relies in part upon the District's Motion to Decertify. Plaintiffs filed their Opposition to the District's Motion to Decertify and a Response regarding the show cause Order on June 11, 2007; and on June 21, 2007, the District filed its Reply and further response to the show cause Order. Subsequently, the Court ordered Plaintiffs to file additional briefing clarifying the nature of relief they seek in this action. See Order, June 29, 2007, Docket No. [349]. Plaintiffs filed that brief on July 13, 2007, the District filed its responsive brief on August 2, 2007, and Plaintiffs filed their reply brief on August 9, 2007. The District's Motion to Decertify is therefore now ripe for review.

II. LEGAL STANDARDS

The District's Motion to Decertify argues that the class, as redefined in the Court's April 17, 2007 Order, is neither ascertainable nor consistent with Claim Two, and further argues that Claim Two does not satisfy the requirements of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23.

As the proponent of continued class certification, Plaintiffs have the burden of establishing that each of the requirements for class certification set forth in Federal Rule of Procedure 23 are met. See Amchem Prods, Inc. v. Windsor, 521 U.S. 591, 614 (1997). Class certification requires that the elements of Rule 23(a) are met and that the class is maintainable pursuant to one of Rule 23(b)'s subdivisions. Id.; Fed. R. Civ. P. 23; Richards v. Delta Air Lines, Inc., 453 F.3d 525, 529 (D.C. Cir. 2006). The four prerequisites to a class action lawsuit under Rule 23(a) are: (1) the class is so numerous that joinder of all members is impracticable; (2) there are questions of law or fact common to the class; (3) the claims or defenses of the representative parties are typical of the claims and defenses of the class; and (4) the representative parties will fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(a). These four requirements are referred to as numerosity, commonality, typicality, and adequacy of representation. In addition, Plaintiffs must demonstrate that the class is maintainable under Rule 23(b). In the instant case, the class was certified pursuant to Rule 23(b)(2), which requires a showing that "the party opposing the class has acted or refused to act on grounds generally applicable to the class, thereby making appropriate final injunctive relief or corresponding declaratory relief with respect to the class as a whole." Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(b)(2).

The Court will not--and cannot--make a preliminary inquiry into the merits of Plaintiffs' claim in determining whether class certification is proper. Eisen v. Carlisle and Jacquelin, 417 U.S. 156, 177 (1974); Richards, 453 F.3d at 531 n.5. Nevertheless, "the class determination generally involves considerations that are 'enmeshed in the factual and legal issues comprising the plaintiff's cause of action'" and the Court is required to conduct a "rigorous analysis" of the Rule 23 requirements. Gen. Tele. Co. of the SW v. Falcon, 457 U.S. 147, 160-61 (1982) (quoting Coopers & Lybrand v. Livesay, 437 U.S. 463, 469 (1978)); see also Richards, 453 F.3d at 531 n.5. Therefore, while the Court accepts the substantive allegations contained in Plaintiffs' Third Amended Complaint as true, see Vitamins, 209 F.R.D. at 257, "it may be necessary for the court to probe behind the pleadings before coming to rest on the certification question." Falcon, 457 U.S. at 160-61; see also McCarthy, 741 F.2d at 1413 n.8.

III. DISCUSSION

The District's Motion to Decertify calls upon the Court to examine the propriety of the class in this action for a third time. In originally certifying the class in January 2004, the Court engaged in a complete Rule 23 analysis. See generally Class Cert. Opinion. Furthermore, in redefining the class on April 17, 2007, the Court again considered the contours of the plaintiff class. As a result, Plaintiffs argue that the Court's April 17, 2007 redefinition is the law of the case, such that the Court should not revisit the issue of class certification. Pls.' Opp'n to Gov't Defs.' Mot. to Decert. ...


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