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Hector Pastrana v. Bernon Lane

February 24, 2012

HECTOR PASTRANA,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
BERNON LANE, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Eduardo C. Robreno, J.

MEMORANDUM

Before the Court is a motion for final approval of an amended class-action settlement agreement. For the reasons provided, the Court will grant the motion and approve the amended settlement agreement.

I.BACKGROUND

On January 30, 2008, James Clarke, Antonio Charles, Richard Taylor, Emmett Coleman, and Glenn Anderson ("Plaintiffs") initiated this civil action against Bernon Lane, James Newton, Charles Steiner, Ferdinand Irizarry, Nora Williams, Irene Blackwell, John Curl, Ian Dennis, Andrea Harris, Lenora King, Patricia Jackson, and Coleman Hall*fn1 ("Defendants").

Compl. 1, ECF No. 1. Plaintiffs allege that Defendants provided inadequate medical care and access to medical care in violation of their constitutional rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983, 1988.*fn2 Id. ¶ 139-42. Plaintiffs seek injunctive and declaratory relief and damages for the individual plaintiffs and the class they represent. Id. ¶¶ 1, 142.

On June 11, 2008, Defendants answered and the parties conducted limited discovery on the issue of class certification. Answer 1, ECF No. 7; Scheduling Order ¶¶ 4-6, June 26, 2008, ECF No. 10.

On June 3, 2009, the Court granted Plaintiff's motion for leave to file an amended complaint that added Vincent Chapolini, Hector Pastrana, and Felix Cruz, as class representative plaintiffs. Order, June 3, 2009, ECF No. 67. The First Amended Complaint is the operative complaint in this action. First Am. Compl. 1, ECF No. 69.

On June 8, 2009, Plaintiff moved for class certification on Plaintiffs' claims for declaratory and injunctive relief. Pls.' Am. Mot. for Class Certification 1, ECF No. 72. On March 31, 2010, the Court granted the motion and certified a class that consists of "all current and future residents of Coleman Hall alleging inadequate access to and provision of medical and mental healthcare." Order, Apr. 1, 2010, ECF No. 96.

On May 16, 2011, the Court severed the remaining individual damages claims into separate cases, but left Hector Pastrana as the named plaintiff and Coleman Hall as the named defendant in the class action.*fn3 Order 1-2, May 16, 2011, ECF No. 128.

The parties reached a settlement for the class. On July 29, 2011, the Court preliminarily approved the Settlement Agreement and ordered notice to be posted in all housing units at Coleman Hall. Order, July 29, 2011, ECF No. 133. However, on October 14, 2011, the Court denied final approval of the Settlement Agreement because the parties failed to provide information regarding attorneys' fees that were apparently negotiated contemporaneously with the individual damages claims. Order 1 n.1, Oct. 14, 2011, ECF No. 140.

On December 22, 2011, the Court preliminarily approved an Amended Settlement Agreement and ordered notice to be posted in all housing units at Coleman Hall. Order, Dec. 22, 2011, ECF No. 142. The Amended Settlement Agreement discloses attorneys' fees for the individual damages claims and the class action claims. Am. Settlement Agreement 8.

The parties now move for final approval of the Amended Settlement Agreement. Br. in Supp. of Renewed Joint Mot. Seeking Final Approval of Class Action Settlement 1. The Court held a second fairness hearing on February 23, 2012.*fn4

II.LEGAL STANDARD

Class action settlements must be approved by the Court. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(e) ("The claims, issues, or defenses of a certified class may be settled . . . only with the court's approval."). The following procedures apply to the class action settlement at issue here:

(1) The court must direct notice in a reasonable manner to all class members who would be bound by the proposal.

(2) If the proposal would bind class members, the court may approve it only after a hearing and on finding that it is fair, reasonable, and adequate.

(3) The parties seeking approval must file a statement identifying any agreement made in connection with the proposal. . . .

(5) Any class member may object to the proposal if it requires court approval under this subdivision (e); the objection may be withdrawn only with the court's approval.

Id. At the second fairness hearing, the Court considered whether the Amended Settlement Agreement is "fair, reasonable, and adequate." The purpose of this inquiry is "to protect the unnamed members of the class from unjust or unfair settlements." See Ehrheart v. Verizon Wireless, 609 F.3d 590, 592-93 (3d Cir. 2010). In making this determination, the Court acts as a "fiduciary, guarding the claims and rights of the absent class members." See id. at 593.

In determining whether the Amended Settlement Agreement is fair, reasonable, and adequate, the Court considers at ...


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