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Ruthee Goldkorn, An Individual v. County of San Bernardino

February 13, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: VIRGINIA A. Phillips United States District Judge



[Motion filed on January 30, 2012]

The parties' joint motion for final approval of class action settlement ("Motion for Final Approval" or "Motion") is before the Court for hearing on February 13, 2012. After reviewing and considering all papers filed in support of the Motion, the Court GRANTS the Motion.


A. Procedural Background

Plaintiffs and the proposed class members encompass all litigants, attorneys, witnesses, jurors, and other users of the courthouse facilities of San Bernardino County with physical, mobility, or manual dexterity disabilities.*fn1 (First Am. Compl. ("Am. Compl.") (Doc. No. 6) ¶ 13.) On July 5, 2006, Plaintiffs brought this action against Defendants. (Doc. No. 1.) Plaintiffs alleged that all courthouses of the San Bernardino Superior Court were inaccessible to individuals with mobility disabilities in violation of:

1. Title II of the American Disabilities Act ("ADA");

2. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 ("Section 504");

3. The Unruh Civil Rights Act ("Unruh Act");

4. California Government Code Section 11135 ("Section 11135");

5. The First, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and Article I Section 3 of the California Constitution. (Am. Compl. ¶ 1.)

On July 6, 2006, Plaintiffs filed their first amended complaint ("the Amended Complaint") to assert claims for declaratory and injunctive relief on behalf of the class. (Am. Compl. ¶ 146.) On the same day, Plaintiff Goldkorn also filed a separate action ("the State Action") in the Superior Court, County of San Bernardino alleging the same state claims included in the Complaint. (Decl. of Shawna L. Parks "Parks Decl." (Doc. No. 106) Ex. A. ("Settlement") ¶ 2.) The parties stipulated on December 5, 2006, to stay the State Action pending resolution of this case. (Id.)

On December 11, 2006, Defendants filed their answer to the Amended Complaint denying liability. (Doc. No. 15.) The parties participated in discovery and settlement negotiations throughout 2007. (See Doc Nos. 18-20.) On June 4, 2007, in a joint scheduling conference report, the Parties agreed to a settlement protocol by which a third party expert retained by the County would assess the public areas of the Rancho Cucamonga, Victorville, Needles, Barstow, Big Bear, Fontana, Chino, Joshua Tree, Juvenile Delinquency, Juvenile Dependency, San Bernardino Civil, San Bernardino Central, and San Bernardino Annex courthouses (the "Subject Courthouses"), based on ADA Guidelines, as well as Chapter llB of the California Building Code. (Doc No. 20.)

The parties agreed on June 4, 2007, to stay litigation of the action in order to develop a "settlement protocol." (Doc. No. 22.) Over the next three years, the third party expert completed surveys of each courthouse site, and the parties agreed to remediation and renovation plans based on these findings. (See Doc. Nos. 23, 24, 27, 29, 37, 38, 45, 51, 52, 68-76.)

The parties jointly submitted a Motion for Preliminary Approval of Class Action Settlement Agreement ("Motion for Preliminary Approval") on October 11, 2011. (Doc. No. 106.) The parties filed the "Motion for: (1) Conditional Class Certification for Purposes of Settlement; (2) Preliminary Approval of Class Action Settlement Agreement; (3) Approval of Class Notice and Method for Distribution of Notice Settlement;" 4) the Declaration of Shawna L. Parks ("Parks Declaration"); (5) Declarations from Named Plaintiffs in Support of the Motion; (6) the Declaration of Defendants' counsel in Support of the Motion; and (7) a Proposed Order. (Id.)

In a November 10, 2011, order granting the Motion for Preliminary Approval ("Preliminary Approval Order"), the Court:

(1) conditionally certified a class ("Class") consisting of "all litigants, attorneys, witnesses, jurors, and other public users of the courthouse facilities of San Bernardino County, with mobility, and/or manual dexterity disabilities who have used or will use courthouse facilities of the Superior Court of California, County of San Bernardino during the Class Period";

(2) granted preliminary approval of the parties' Settlement set forth in the jointly submitted Motion for Preliminary Approval;

(3) directed dissemination of the class notice; and

(4) set the hearing date for final approval, as well as dates for the notice and objection period. (See Doc. No. 119.)

The Court established January 23, 2012, as the deadline for class members ("Class Members") to file claims or objections, and ordered the parties to file a motion for final approval of the settlement no later than January 30, 2012. (Prelim. Approval Order at 23.)

On January 30, 2012, the parties jointly filed the Motion for Final Approval, and the declarations of Rebecca Craemer, Shawna L. Parks, Robert A. Naeve, and Stephen E. Horan in support of the Motion. (Doc. No. 120.) Plaintiff also filed a Motion for Approval of Attorneys' Fees for Class Counsel ("Motion for Attorneys' Fees"). (Doc. No. 121.)

B. Settlement Terms

The parties agreed to a Settlement granting injunctive and declaratory relief to the Class without providing for a monetary award to the Class. (See Settlement §§ C, D (laying out remediation plans and requirements to verify compliance).) The Settlement creates remediation plans for the public spaces of all currently operational courthouses in San Bernardino County, to include all of the Subject Courthouses. (Mot. at 3.)

The remediation plans will be implemented over a five year period, according to the Settlement, and the Superior Court will be obligated to maintain all accessible features, provide staff training, and make the most important accessible features known to the public. (Id.)

Under the Settlement Agreement, Class counsel will receive $690,000.00 as compensation for their work on the lawsuit and for costs incurred during litigation. (Settlement § N.1; see also Mot. for Att'ys' Fees at 2.) The agreement specifies that the County shall be responsible for paying $365,000.00 of the attorneys' fees, while the Superior Court shall be responsible for paying $325,000.00 of the fees. (Id. § N.1.) The County will also pay a collective $80,000.00 damages award to Named Plaintiffs. (Settlement § H.) The County will issue a check for this amount to the Disability Rights Legal Center ("DRLC") and Class counsel will then apportion the damages payment to Named Plaintiffs. (Id. § H.) The parties agree to allocate the damages using a pro rata approach that takes into account the number of visits on which each Named Plaintiff alleged to have encountered barriers.*fn2 (Mot. at 9.)

The Settlement Agreement also includes a provision allowing Class counsel to recover reasonably incurred attorneys' fees and costs for monitoring compliance with the Settlement Agreement. (Settlement § N.2.) This amount is not to exceed $61,000.00. (Id.; Mot. for Att'ys' Fees at 2.)

C. Settlement Procedure

1. Notice to Class Members and Claims Received

The parties followed the process for providing notice approved in the Preliminary Approval Order. (See Preliminary Order at 21-22.) Class counsel placed the Notice of Settlement ("Notice") and the Settlement Agreement at the top of the DRLC's website home page. (Mot. at 12.) Counsel included information on the settlement in the DRLC's weekly electronic newsletter. (Id.) Counsel also sent the Notice to San ...

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