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CORBY v. SCRANTON HOUSING AUTHORITY

June 7, 2005.

KAREN CORBY, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
SCRANTON HOUSING AUTHORITY and its Executive Director, DANIEL E. BAKER, in his official capacity, Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: A. RICHARD CAPUTO, District Judge

MEMORANDUM

Presently before the Court is Plaintiffs' Motion for Temporary Restraining Order and Preliminary Injunction. (Doc. 2.) I will grant the motion because I find that there is a likelihood of success on the merits, there is a risk of irreparable harm to the Plaintiffs if the injunction were not issued, there is no risk of irreparable harm to the Defendants if I issue the injunction, and the public interest is served by issuance of the injunction. The Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

  The facts of this case are undisputed. The Scranton Housing Authority (hereinafter Housing Authority) owns and operates low income housing for residents of Scranton, Pennsylvania, including the Washington Plaza Apartments (hereinafter Washington Plaza). The Housing Authority receives funds from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (hereinafter HUD). For several years, the Housing Authority has planned to renovate and modernize Washington Plaza. They sought out and received funds from HUD to perform the modernization. The Housing Authority included the modernization in their five year plan. The plan called for all residents to vacate Washington Plaza, thus permitting all buildings to be renovated simultaneously. Residents could choose to moved to other Housing Authority developments, Section Eight housing, or private residencies. The Housing Authority offered to compensate residents for the relocation. The plan further called for new residents to move into the units after they were reopened. On or about October 6, 2004, the Housing Authority sent residents a letter informing them that they had ninety days to begin relocation. The same letter informed residents that information on relocation options and available housing could be received from a person on site at Washington Plaza. Residents had already begun moving out by the time the action was filed.

  On November 19, 2004, Plaintiffs filed an Emergency Complaint against the Scranton Housing Authority and its Executive Director, David Baker, in his official capacity. (Doc. 1.) The complaint alleged that the renovation plan violated the Uniform Relocation Assistance Act, 42 U.S.C. § 4601, et seq., as well as the federal regulations governing HUD funded projects, 24 C.F.R. § 968.105, et seq., and the Due Process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. On November 19, 2004, I held a hearing on the Motion for Temporary Restraining Order and Preliminary Injunction. After hearing testimony from both sides, I conditionally certified the class and issued a temporary restraining order enjoining the Housing Authority from moving residents out of Washington Plaza. (Doc. 6.) I scheduled a hearing on the preliminary injunction for December 1, 2004, (id.) but it was canceled because the parties informed the Court that a settlement was forthcoming (Docs. 10 & 11). After several months of negotiations, the parties informed the Court that settlement was not possible. (Doc. 22.) I held a hearing on the preliminary injunction on April 18, 2005. Prior to the hearing, the parties submitted legal memoranda. (Docs. 30 & 32.) The motion is now ripe for disposition.

  DISCUSSION

  There are two issues presently before the Court: whether I should certify the class for purposes of this action, and whether I should grant a preliminary injunction. I will address each of these in turn.

  A. Class Certification

  At the November 19, 2004 hearing, I conditionally certified the class. Now, I will revisit the issue to determine whether the class should be certified for the purposes of this litigation. Class relief is appropriate when the "issues involved are common to the class as a whole" and when they "turn on questions of law applicable in the same manner to each member of the class." Califano v. Yamasaki, 442 U.S. 682, 701 (1979). Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure sets forth the requirements for class certification. To be certified, a putative class must first satisfy the four threshold requirements of Rule 23(a): (1) numerosity; (2) commonality; (3) typicality; and (4) adequacy of representation. See Amchem Products, Inc. v. Windsor, 521 U.S. 591, 613 (1997); FED. R. CIV. P. 23(a). In addition, a plaintiff seeking class certification must show the action is maintainable under Rule 23(b) (1), (2), or (3). Id. at 614.

  For purposes of class certification, the Court does not consider the merits of the plaintiff's claim. Eisen v. Carlisle & Jacquelin, 417 U.S. 156, 178 (1974). Rule 23 is given liberal rather than restrictive construction. See In re A.H. Robins Co., 880 F.2d 709 (4th Cir. 1989). The "interests of justice require that in a doubtful case . . . any error, if there is to be one, should be committed in favor of allowing a class action." In re Flat Glass Antitrust Litig., 191 F.R.D. 472, 476 (W.D. Pa. 1999) (quoting Eisenberg v. Gagnon, 766 F.2d 770, 785 (3d Cir. 1985)). The ultimate burden, however, is on the plaintiff to demonstrate that a class should be certified. See Davis v. Romney, 490 F.2d 1360, 1366 (3d Cir. 1974).

  A class action may be maintained only if "the class is so numerous that joinder of all members is impracticable." Rule 23(a)(1). "The question of what constitutes [numerosity] . . . depends on the particular facts of each case and no arbitrary rules regarding the size of classes have been established by the courts." 7A WRIGHT, MILLER & KANE, FEDERAL PRACTICE AND PROCEDURE § 1762 (1986). In the present case, Washington Plaza contains sixty units. Of these units, fifty to fifty-five families lived in the units when the modernization planning began. Thus, I find that the potential plaintiffs are numerous enough.

  The commonality requirement states that there must be "questions of law or fact common to the class." Rule 23(a)(2). This requirement does not mean that every question must be common to the entire class. See Weiss v. York Hosp., 745 F.2d 786, 809 (3d Cir. 1984); Edmondson v. Simon, 86 F.R.D. 375, 380 (N.D. Ill. 1980). In the present case, the conduct in question is the manner in which the Scranton Housing Authority planned and intends to execute the modernization of Washington Plaza. Thus, the legal issues as they relate to the individual plaintiffs are identical.*fn1

  "Typicality entails an inquiry into whether the named plaintiffs' individual circumstances are markedly different or the legal theory upon which the claims are based differs from that upon which the claims of other class members will perforce be based." Reilly v. Gould, Inc., 965 F. Supp. 588, 598 (M.D. Pa. 1997) (quoting Hassine v. Jeffes, 846 F.2d 169, 177 (3d Cir. 1988)). Although typicality measures the sufficiency of the named plaintiffs, it does not require that "all putative class members share identical claims." Neal v. Casey, 43 F.3d 48, 56 (3d Cir. 1994). Rather, the typicality requirement is intended "to screen out class actions involving legal or factual positions of the class representative which are markedly different from those of other class members." Reilly, 965 F. Supp. at 600 (quoting Liberty Lincoln Mercury v. Ford Marketing, 149 F.R.D. 65, 77 (D.N.J. 1993)). In the present case, the named Plaintiffs represent a large cross-section of the residents of the complex. They are mothers rearing children, people caring for elderly parents, people suffering from ongoing medical conditions which require frequent hospital visits, people who work, and people who rely upon public transportation. Thus, I find the typicality requirement is met.

  Last is the question of adequacy of representation. This requirement actually encompasses two factors. First, "the interests of the named plaintiffs must be sufficiently aligned with those of the absentees." Georgine v. Amchem Prods., 83 F.3d 610, 630 (3d Cir. 1996). I find that this requirement has been met. Plaintiffs are seeking to enforce their rights of relocation assistance and participation provided under the applicable statutes and regulations. The second component of Rule 23(a)(4) is that "class counsel must be qualified and must serve the interests of the entire class." Id. at 630. After observing Plaintiffs' counsel in two hearings and in camera meetings, and after ...


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