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Buffin v. City and County of San Francisco

United States District Court, N.D. California

February 26, 2018

Riana Buffin, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
City and County of San Francisco, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFFS' MOTION FOR CLASS CERTIFICATION AS MODIFIED BY THE COURT RE: DKT. NO. 140

          YVONNE GONZALEZ ROGERS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE.

         Now before the Court is plaintiffs' motion for class certification. (Dkt. No. 140 (“Motion”).) Having carefully considered the papers submitted, the pleadings in this action, the oral arguments held on December 12, 2017, and the parties' comments to the Court's proposed class definition, and for the reasons set forth below, the Court Grants As Modified By The Court plaintiffs' Motion.[1]

I. Relevant Background

         The facts at issue in this case are well known to the parties and the Court. The Court adopts in full the background section of its order denying plaintiffs' and CBAA's motions for summary judgment. (See Dkt. No. 191.) The Court summarizes the procedural background pertinent to the instant motion below.

         In response to CBAA's opposition to the motion for class certification, [2] plaintiffs Riana Buffin and Crystal Patterson redefined the proposed class as follows:

[A]ll pre-arraignment arrestees who are or who will be in the custody of the City and County of San Francisco who have the option of monetary release under current state law but remain in custody for any amount of time because they cannot afford their bail amount.

(Plaintiffs' Reply Brief in Support of Motion for Class Certification, Dkt. No. 168 at 1 (“Plaintiffs' Reply”).) In light of the oral arguments on the motion, the Court proposed for comment the following modified class definition:

All pre-arraignment arrestees (i) who are, or will be, in the custody of the City and County of San Francisco; (ii) whose bail amount is determined by the Felony and Misdemeanor Bail Schedule as established by the Superior Court of California, County of San Francisco; (iii) whose arrest has not been reviewed by a judicial officer; and (iv) who remain in custody for any amount of time because they cannot afford to pay their set bail amount.

(Order re: Class Certification and Plaintiffs' Requested Relief, Dkt. No. 178 at 2 (“Court's Inquiry”).) The Court also asked plaintiffs' counsel, Mr. Phil Telfeyan of Equal Justice Under Law, to supplement the record with information regarding his adequacy to represent the proposed class and to clarify the relief sought by plaintiffs.[3]

         Plaintiffs, CBAA, and Sheriff Vicki Hennessy (the “Sheriff”) (collectively, the “parties”) responded timely to the Court's inquiry. Plaintiffs principally approved of the Court's proposed definition but questioned whether the limitation in subsection (iii) was necessary. (Plaintiffs' Response to Inquiry at 2.) The Sheriff proposed two revisions. First, she suggested that “the City and County of San Francisco” in subsection (i) be changed to “the San Francisco Sheriff” to reflect that the Sheriff is the proper defendant, and that she acts in her capacity as a state official when enforcing the Bail Schedule. (Dkt. No. 182.) Second, the Sheriff proposed that subsection (iii) be revised to delete the reference to those “whose arrest” has not been reviewed by a judicial officer and to substitute instead “whose terms of pretrial release” have not been reviewed by a judicial officer in light of the fact that judicial officers' review of arrests for probable cause occurs independently of any individualized judicial determination of the terms of pretrial release. (Id.) Next, CBAA suggested that subsection (iii) be modified in order to exclude from the class “those arrestees who are eligible to make a §1269c application, but who either have chosen not to . . . or who have done so and are still awaiting review by a judicial officer.” (Dkt. No. 185 (emphasis in original).) Moreover, CBAA expressed concerns that the Court's proposed definition would not satisfy ascertainability by virtue of its inclusion of the terms “cannot afford” and “because.” (Id.)

         In its January 16, 2018 scheduling order, after denying plaintiffs' and CBAA's motions for summary judgment, the Court expressed lingering concerns over the adequacy of counsel and gave Mr. Telfeyan until February 8, 2018 to identify additional counsel to represent the proposed class jointly. (Dkt. No. 192.) Mr. Telfeyan notified the Court on February 2, 2018 that Equal Justice Under Law is now joined by Robert E. Sims and Steven M. Bauer from Latham & Watkins LLP as co-counsel. (Dkt. No. 203.)

         In light of the parties' submissions, and for the reasons discussed below, the Court Certifies the following class:

All pre-arraignment arrestees (i) who are, or will be, in the custody of the San Francisco Sheriff; (ii) whose bail amount is determined by the Felony and Misdemeanor Bail Schedule as established by the Superior Court of California, County of San Francisco; (iii) whose terms of pretrial release have not received an individualized determination by a judicial officer; and (iv) who remain in custody for any amount of time because they cannot afford to pay their set bail amount.

         II. Legal Framework

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(a), the Court may certify a class only where “(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). Courts refer to these four requirements as “numerosity, commonality, typicality[, ] and adequacy of representation.” Mazza v. Am. Honda Motor Co., Inc., 666 F.3d 581, 588 (9th Cir. 2012).

         Once the threshold requirements of Rule 23(a) are met, plaintiffs must then show “through evidentiary proof” that a class is appropriate for certification under one of the provisions of Rule 23(b). Comcast Corp. v. Behrend, 133 S.Ct. 1426, 1432 (2013). Here, plaintiffs seek certification under Rule 23(b)(2), which requires plaintiffs to establish 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); see also Ellis v. Costco Wholesale Corp., 657 F.3d 970, 986 (9th Cir. 2011) (“Class certification under Rule 23(b)(2) is appropriate only where the primary relief sought is declaratory or injunctive.”) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         “[A] court's class-certification analysis must be ‘rigorous' and may ‘entail some overlap with the merits of the plaintiff's underlying claim[.]'” Amgen, Inc. v. Conn. Ret. Plans & Trust Funds, 133 S.Ct. 1184, 1194 (2013) (quoting Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes, 564 U.S. 338, 351 (2011)); see also Mazza, 666 F.3d at 588. The court considers the merits to the extent they overlap with the Rule 23 requirements. Ellis, 657 F.3d at 983. Nevertheless, “Rule 23 grants courts no license to engage in free-ranging merits inquiries at the certification stage.” Amgen, 133 S.Ct. at 1194-95. If a court concludes that ...


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