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Hernandez v. City of Houston

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

July 3, 2019

JUAN HERNANDEZ, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
THE CITY OF HOUSTON, TEXAS, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          KENNETH M. HOYT, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         This matter is before the Court on the plaintiffs' motion for class certification. (Dkt. Nos. 86). The defendant, the City of Houston, has filed a response in opposition to the motion (Dkt. No. 112), the plaintiffs have filed a reply (Dkt. No. 115), and the City of Houston has filed a sur-reply. (Dkt. No. 119). After having carefully considered the plaintiffs' motion, the opposition and reply briefs filed thereto, and the applicable law, the Court determines that the plaintiffs' motion for class certification should be GRANTED.

         II. BACKGROUND

         The named plaintiffs, Juan Hernandez, DeQuan Kirkwood, Manuel Trevino, Kent Wheatfall, and Eric Aguirre (collectively, the “plaintiffs”), are five individuals who were arrested without a warrant after December 5, 2014, and detained by the City of Houston either for more than 48 hours or for more than 24 hours but less than 48 hours. The defendant is the City of Houston, Texas (“the City”). The plaintiffs have initiated this lawsuit against the City, alleging that the City routinely and callously disregards the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Texas state law by arresting individuals without a warrant and detaining them in the City of Houston Jail for unreasonable periods of detention, without the requisite judicial probable cause determination.

         Specifically, the plaintiffs contend that as a matter of policy and practice, probable cause determinations for warrantless arrestees in the City's custody, who have not otherwise posted bail, are provided only after the arrestees have been transferred to the Harris County Jail. The plaintiffs maintain that whenever it takes longer than 48 hours to transfer such arrestees to the Harris County Jail, the City, as a matter of practice and custom, continues to detain the arrestees in its jail cells, without a neutral probable cause finding, instead of releasing them after 48 hours as the Fourth Amendment requires.

         The plaintiffs have commenced this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution and Texas law seeking compensatory damages for the City's practice and custom of overdetaining warrantless arrestees. They now seek certification of the following classes:

Class A: All people arrested without a warrant after December 5, 2014, and detained by the City of Houston for more than 48 hours.
Class B: All people arrested without a warrant after December 5, 2014, and detained by the City of Houston for more than 24 hours and less than 48 hours.

         The City, in opposition, disputes the plaintiffs' allegations and argues that the plaintiffs' case is fundamentally flawed. It maintains that such delays, if any, are due to extraordinary circumstances, such as overcrowding. Further, the City opposes certification, claiming that the plaintiffs have failed to meet their burden of proof necessary to certify a class under Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Specifically, the City argues that: (1) under Rule 23(a)(1), the plaintiffs' claims of numerosity are inaccurate; (2) under Rule 23(a)(2), the plaintiffs' Class A and Class B claims lack commonality and cannot be resolved class-wide; (3) under Rule 23(a)(3), the plaintiffs' Class A and Class B claims are not typical of the claims of the putative class members; (4) under Rule 23(a)(4), the named plaintiffs would be inadequate class representatives; and (5) under Rule 23(b)(3), individual issues predominate over common questions and a class action is not the superior method for resolving the plaintiffs' claims.

         III. LEGAL STANDARD

         Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure governs federal class actions. Unger v. Amedisys Inc., 401 F.3d 316, 320 (5th Cir. 2005). “The party seeking [class] certification bears the burden of establishing that all requirements of Rule 23 have been satisfied.” Id. (citing Berger v. Compaq Comput. Corp., 257 F.3d 475, 479 - 80 (5th Cir. 2001) (emphasis in original)). To certify a class, a plaintiff must show that the putative class meets the four prerequisites contained in Rule 23(a), [1] which are often referred to as “numerosity, commonality, typicality, and adequacy of representation.” Gene And Gene LLC v. BioPay LLC, 541 F.3d 318, 325 (5th Cir. 2008); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(a). In addition to the aforementioned prerequisites, a plaintiff must establish that the action satisfies at least one of the three enumerated categories contained in Rule 23(b). Gene, 541 F.3d at 325 (citing Amchem Prods., Inc. v. Windsor, 521 U.S. 591, 613 - 14, 117 S.Ct. 2231, 138 L.Ed.2d 689 (1997)).

         Although a district court has broad discretion when deciding whether to certify a class, a court must, nonetheless, exercise that discretion “within the framework of [R]ule 23.” Castano v. Am. Tobacco Co., 84 F.3d 734, 740 (5th Cir. 1996) (citing Gulf Oil Co. v. Bernard, 452 U.S. 89, 100, 101 S.Ct. 2193, 2200, 68 L.Ed.2d 693 (1981)). District courts are to “conduct a ‘rigorous analysis of the Rule 23 prerequisites' before certifying a class.” O'Sullivan v. Countrywide Home Loans, Inc., 319 F.3d 732, 738 (5th Cir. 2003) (quoting Castano, 84 F.3d at 740). When performing such an analysis, a district court is permitted to “look beyond the pleadings to ‘understand the claims, defenses, relevant facts, and applicable substantive law'” in order to make a determination as to whether Rule 23's prerequisites have been satisfied. O'Sullivan, 319 F.3d at 738 (quoting Castano, 84 F.3d at 744).

         IV. ANALYSIS AND DISCUSSION

         A. Prerequisites Under ...


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