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Massie v. U.S. Dep't of Housing and Urban Development

October 1, 2007

JEAN MASSIE, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HOUSING AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ambrose, Chief District Judge.

OPINION and ORDER OF COURT

SYNOPSIS

In this civil action, Plaintiffs have filed a Motion for Class Certification pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(a) and (b)(2). Plaintiffs are low-income families, and past and present members in Third East Hills Park, Inc. ("TEHP"), allegedly divested of their interests therein. They claim, inter alia, that Defendants wrongfully created the predicate for foreclosure on the property, and acted contrary to the Constitution and applicable regulations. Plaintiffs seek declaratory relief, injunctive relief, nominal security under Rule 65(c), and fees and costs. Defendants, the United States Department of Housing and Development and its Secretary (collectively, "HUD"), oppose class certification.

For the following reasons, Plaintiffs' Motion will be granted.

I. FACTS

The parties have stipulated to several facts. The cooperative, Third East Hills Park, Inc., was formed in 1974. Under the bylaws, membership in the Cooperative is dependent on payment of a membership fee. In 1974, the membership fee was $350.00. The amount of the membership fee for new members varied over the years. On November 10, 2004, HUD issues a notice that it was initiating foreclosure proceedings, having declared default based on failed property inspections. On November 10, 2004, HUD issued a separate notice suspending/abating the project-based Section 8 subsidy payments for all units covered by the Housing Assistance Payments contract attached to the property. On November 17, 2004, HUD issued notice of displacement to all residents. In total, there are 52 putative class members. The parties have stipulated to a list of those members, in Document No. 70. Under Article 3, Section 7(b) of the bylaws, a Cooperative member may sell his or her membership, the Cooperative having a right of first refusal. In addition, if the Cooperative purchases a membership, the value of the membership is calculated according to a formula set forth in that provision of the bylaws. Between February 14, 2005, and September 1, 2005, sixteen Cooperative members received monies paid toward refunds from the Cooperative, as listed in Document no. 70. Nineteen households currently reside at the property.

Neither party has requested an evidentiary hearing or oral argument at this juncture, and such a hearing does not appear to be necessary.

II. PLAINTIFFS' MOTION

A. Timeliness - Local Rule 23(a)

I first address Defendants' argument that Plaintiffs' failure to timely file for certification under Local Rule 23.1 is fatal to their claims. Although it is within their discretion to do so, courts are reluctant to deny a motion for certification based solely on untimeliness pursuant to local rule. lson v. Seven Seventeen HB Phila. Corp. No. 2, No. 99-1729, 2001 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 5470, at *9 (E.D. Pa. Mar. 7, 2001). This Complaint was filed, as a class action, in July of 2006. The parties actively engaged in litigation activities, until the Complaint was dismissed in its entirety in January of 2007. In March of 2007, upon Motion for Reconsideration, the case was reopened.

A week later, Plaintiffs moved for class certification. Under the circumstances, neither Defendants nor class members have been prejudiced, and Plaintiffs have not been dilatory. In my discretion, I will not deny the Motion as untimely.

B. CLASS CERTIFICATION

A class may be certified only if the court is "satisfied, after a rigorous analysis, that the prerequisites of Rule 23(a) have been satisfied." Falcon, 457 U.S. at 161. In addition, "parties seeking class certification must show that the action is maintainable under Rule 23(b)(1), (2), or (3)." In re Warfarin Sodium Antitrust Litig., 391 F.3d 516, 527 (3d Cir. 2004). The burden of demonstrating that all of the requirements of class certification have been met rests on the party seeking to utilize the class action mechanism. Hohider v. United Parcel Service, No. 4-363, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 51274, at *18 (W.D. Pa. July 16, 2007). Moreover, any uncertainties at the certification stage are to be resolved in favor of certification. In re Microcrystalline Cellulose Antitrust Litig., 218 F.R.D. 79, 93 (E.D. Pa. 2003) (citing Eisenberg v. Gagnon, 766 F.2d 770, 785 (3d Cir. 1985)). The prerequisites of Rule 23(a) are to be liberally construed, in favor of class maintenance. Wallace v. Chicago Housing Auth., 224 F.R.D. 420, 423 (D. Ill. 2004).

Sometimes, class certification questions are "enmeshed in the factual and legal issues comprising the plaintiff's cause of action," and courts may "delve beyond the pleadings to determine whether the requirements for class certification are satisfied." Beck v. Maximus, Inc., 457 F.3d 291, 297 (3d Cir. 2006). Recently, my ...


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