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ODonnell v. Harris County

United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Houston Division

April 28, 2017

MARANDA LYNN ODONNELL, et al., On behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs,
v.
HARRIS COUNTY, TEXAS, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER CERTIFYING A RULE 23(b)(2) CLASS

          Lee H. Rosenthal Chief United States District Judge

         In accordance with this court's Memorandum and Opinion of today's date, the plaintiffs' motion for class certification is granted. The following class is certified under Rule 23(b)(2):

All Class A and Class B misdemeanor arrestees who are detained by Harris County from the date of this order through the final resolution of this case, for whom a secured financial condition of release has been set and who cannot pay the amount necessary for release on the secured money bail because of indigence.

         For the purpose of the preliminary injunction, the class period extends from the date of this order through the disposition of this case, or until further order from the court. “Indigence” is determined by the affidavit of financial condition Harris County Pretrial Services will make available to misdemeanor arrestees under this court's Order of Preliminary Injunction. (See Docket Entry No. 304).

         I. Background

         The named plaintiffs, Maranda Lynn ODonnell, Robert Ryan Ford, and Loetha McGruder, sued Harris County, the Harris County Sheriff, five Harris County Hearing Officers, and sixteen Harris County Criminal Courts at Law Judges, seeking injunctive and declarative relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The plaintiffs allege that Harris County has a custom or practice having the force of policy of detaining before trial misdemeanor defendants who are too poor to pay a secured financial condition of release, in violation of the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses. (Docket Entry No. 54). The parties vigorously dispute whether money bail set on a secured basis is the cause of pretrial detention in Harris County. The parties presented evidence and argument at an eight-day motion hearing in March 2017. The court has today issued a Memorandum and Opinion setting out findings of fact and conclusions of law. (Docket Entry No. 302). The Memorandum and Opinion extensively addresses the factual background of each plaintiff's arrest, the nature of the plaintiffs' claims, the legal standards governing this case, and the record evidence showing the plaintiffs' likelihood of success on the merits and the balance of harms if an injunction does not issue. (Id.).

         The plaintiffs move to certify the following class under Rule 23(b)(2): All Class A and B misdemeanor arrestees who are or will be detained by Harris County for any amount of time after arrest because they are unable to pay money bail. (Docket Entry No. 146). For the reasons set out in detain below, the court finds that the Rule 23 requirements are met and certifies a Rule 23(b)(2) class. But the class definition the plaintiffs proposed is modified, as follows: All Class A and Class B misdemeanor arrestees who are detained by Harris County from the date of this order through the final resolution of this case, for whom a secured financial condition of release has been set and who cannot pay the amount necessary for release on the secured money bail because of indigence.

         The reasons for this ruling are set out below.

         II. The Legal Standard for Class Certification

         To certify a Rule 23 class, the plaintiffs must show that their proposed class meets the requirements of Rule 23(a) and of at least one Rule 23(b) subsection. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 23. The plaintiffs seek certification under Rule 23(b)(2). (Docket Entry No. 146).

         Before granting certification, a court must conduct a rigorous analysis to determine whether the plaintiffs have met the Rule 23 requirements. Benavides v. Chi. Title Ins. Co., 636 F.3d 699, 701 (5th Cir. 2011); Castano v. Am. Tobacco Co., 84 F.3d 734, 740 (5th Cir. 1996). “Frequently that rigorous analysis will entail some overlap with the merits of the plaintiff's underlying claim. That cannot be helped. The class determination generally involves considerations that are enmeshed in the factual and legal issues comprising the plaintiff's cause of action.” Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes, 564 U.S. 338, 351 (2011) (alterations, citations, and internal quotation marks omitted); see also Castano, 84 F.3d at 744 (“Going beyond the pleadings is necessary, as a court must understand the claims, defenses, relevant facts, and applicable substantive law in order to make a meaningful determination of the certification issues.”).

         Certification does not depend on showing that the plaintiffs will ultimately prevail on the merits of their claims. The certification ruling does not turn on the strengths and weaknesses of the claims or defenses. Rather, the court must be able to resolve issues and consider the evidence used to present them on a class-wide basis. Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(c)(1) Committee n. (2003). The party seeking certification has the burden of showing that the Rule 23 requirements are satisfied. Comcast Corp. v. Behrend, 133 S.Ct. 1426, 1432 (2013); Benavides, 636 F.3d at 701; Allison v. Citgo Petroleum Corp., 151 F.3d 402, 408 (5th Cir. 1998); Castano, 84 F.3d at 740.

         III. Analysis

         A. Rule 23(a)

         The threshold question is whether the proposed class meets the four Rule 23(a) requirements:

(a) Prerequisites. One or more members of a class may sue or be sued as representative parties on behalf of all members 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 ...

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