The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chief Judge Kane
Currently pending before the Court is Plaintiffs' April 5, 2012 motion for class certification. (Doc. No. 33.) A hearing on the motion was held on June 21, 2012. For the reasons that follow, the Court will grant the motion.
Plaintiffs filed the above captioned case on January 20, 2011, against Defendant Lebanon School District alleging violations of their rights under the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment related to the collection and retention of unlawful truancy fines. (Doc. No. 1.) Pursuant to the statutory requirements of 24 P.S. § 13-1354, Defendant has filed more than 1,200 citations for violations of Pennsylvania's compulsory school attendance law, 24 P.S. § 13-1327, in each school year since the 2004-05 school year. (Doc. No. 1 ¶¶ 9-10.) During the 2008-09 school year, Defendant issued at least 1,489 citations against more than 700 parents and students in Pennsylvania Magisterial District Courts 52-1-01 and 52-2-01. (Id. ¶¶ 9, 12.) Pursuant to the statute, a Magisterial District Judge may impose a fine not to exceed $300 on the parent of a child violating the compulsory school attendance law. 24 P.S. § 13-1333. Any fine imposed by the Magisterial District Judge is paid to the school district. Id.
Plaintiffs allege that Defendant sought fines in excess of the statutory maximum. (Doc. No. 1 ¶¶ 13-15.) Between July 1, 2004, and June 30, 2009, Magisterial District Judges awarded Defendant some 935 fines in excess of $300, at least 178 of which were in excess of $1,000. (Id. ¶ 15.) During this period, Defendant accepted and retained fines exceeding the statutory maximum on at least 323 occasions, for a total of at least $107,000 in excess fines. (Id. ¶ 16.) In 2010, however, Defendant sought and obtained a downward adjustment of at least 340 fines that had been levied in excess of the statutory maximum to comply with 24 P.S. § 13-1333. (Id. ¶ 18.) No fines that had already been paid in full were affected by the adjustments. (Id.) Defendant has not notified any class members of a procedure to seek adjustment, nor has Defendant offered restitution of excessive amounts already paid. (Id. ¶ 22.)
Plaintiffs now seek certification of a class pursuant to Rule 23(b)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure consisting of all persons against whom the Magisterial District Court 52-01-01 or 51-02-01 imposed fines exceeding $300 per citation for truancy violations in the Lebanon School District who have paid an amount exceeding $300 plus costs on any single citation. Plaintiffs seek declaratory relief as well as restitution of excessive payments retained by Defendant.
Parties seeking class certification have the burden of demonstrating that the requirements of Rule 23 have been satisfied, but they do not need to prove the merits of their case at the class certification stage. Eisen v. Carlisle & Jacquelin, 417 U.S. 156, 177-78 (1974). However, "a preliminary inquiry into the merits is sometimes necessary to determine whether the alleged claims can be properly resolved as a class action." Newton v. Merrill Lynch, 259 F.3d 154, 168 (3d Cir. 2001). The class certification requirements are "meant to assure both that class action is necessary and efficient and that it is fair to the absentees under the particular circumstances." Baby Neal for and by Kanter v. Casey, 43 F.3d 48, 55 (3d Cir. 1994). To demonstrate that a class action is an appropriate method of litigation, the party seeking certification has the burden of demonstrating, by a preponderance of the evidence, that all requirements under Rules 23(a) and (b) have been met. In re Hydrogen Peroxide Antitrust Litig., 552 F.3d 305, 320 (3d Cir. 2008).
Rule 23(a) permits the certification of a class only if:
(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 or defenses of the class; and (4) the representative parties will fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class.
Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(a). With regard to Rule 23(b), Plaintiffs seek class certification under 23(b)(2), which requires the Court to also find that "the party opposing the class has acted or refused to act on grounds that apply generally to the class, so that final injunctive relief or corresponding declaratory relief is appropriate respecting the class as a whole." Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(b)(2). The sole issue raised by Defendants in opposition to class certification is whether Plaintiffs have satisfied the typicality requirement of Rule 23(a)(3). (Doc. No. 35.) In the interest of completeness, the Court will address this issue first, and then briefly review the remaining class certification requirements.
A. Rule 23(a)(3) Typicality Requirement
Rule 23(a)(3) requires that "the claims or defenses of the representative parties [be] typical of the claims or defenses of the class." Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(a)(3). This requirement is intended to ensure that the representative plaintiffs' claims "align with those of absent class members so as to assure that the absentees' interests will be fairly represented." Baby Neal, 43 F.3d at 57. Factual differences among the various claims do not preclude a finding of typicality, so long as the injuries affecting both the named and absentee plaintiffs stem from the same unlawful conduct. Id. at 58 (stating that differences in fact do "not render a claim atypical if the claim arises from the same event or practice or course of conduct that gives rise to the claims of the class members, and if it is based on the same legal theory" (citation ...