United States District Court, E.D. California, Sacramento Division
LORENZO MAYS, RICKY RICHARDSON, JENNIFER BOTHUN, ARMANI LEE, LEERTESE BEIRGE, and CODY GARLAND, on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs,
COUNTY OF SACRAMENTO, Defendant.
J. Fischer Anna Hadreas Donald Specter Margot Mendelson
Attorneys for Plaintiffs
Jessica Valenzuela Santamaria Mark A. Zambarda Attorneys for
FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
RECOMMENDING FINAL APPROVAL OF CLASS ACTION
SETTLEMENT BE ADOPTED
KENDALL J. NEWMAN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
November 12, 2019, Plaintiffs and Defendant County of
Sacramento (“Defendant”) filed a Joint Motion for
Final Approval of Class Action Settlement. The matter came
before the Court for a hearing on December 6, 2019. Having
considered the briefing in support of the motion, responses
from class members, relevant legal authority, and the record
in this case, the Court GRANTS the motion.
Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(e), “claims,
issues, or defenses of a certified class may be settled . . .
only with the court's approval.” The Ninth Circuit
has instructed district courts to consider and balance
multiple factors when assessing whether a settlement is
“fair, adequate, and free from collusion” under
Rule 23(e). See Hanlon v. Chrysler Corp., 150 F.3d
1011, 1027 (9th Cir. 1998). These factors include:
the strength of the plaintiffs' case; the risk, expense,
complexity, and likely duration of further litigation; the
risk of maintaining class action status throughout the trial;
the amount offered in settlement; the extent of discovery
completed and the stage of the proceedings; the experience
and views of counsel; the presence of a governmental
participant; and the reaction of the class members to the
Id. at 1026. “This list is not exclusive and
different factors may predominate in different factual
contexts.” Torrisi v. Tucson Elec. Power Co.,
8 F.3d 1370, 1376 (9th Cir. 1993).
Court finds that consideration of the factors favors
settlement, and that the settlement is fair, reasonable, and
Strength of Plaintiffs' Case and the Risk, Expense,
and Complexity of Further Litigation: The
Plaintiffs' case is strong, as shown by the evidence that
has been submitted and the serious ongoing settlement
discussions that began even before the complaint was filed.
However, Plaintiffs face substantial burdens in demonstrating
a current and ongoing violation of individuals'
constitutional rights on a system-wide basis. Proceeding
through pre-trial motions, trial, and possible appeal would
impose risks, costs, and a substantial delay in the
implementation of any remedy in this matter.
Risk of Maintaining a Class Action Status Through
Trial: Plaintiffs face little or no risk of maintaining
class action status throughout the trial. The Court approved
the parties' joint application for class action status on
December 28, 2018, ECF No. 49, and it is unlikely that
Defendant would contest class certification if the Court
rejects the proposed Consent Decree. See Fed. R.
Civ. P. 23(c)(1)(C) (allowing court to revisit certification
before final judgment).
Extent of Discovery Taken in the Case: Settlement
discussions began even before the filing of this case, and
were informed by considerable information-sharing as well as
the investigation conducted through class counsel Disability
Rights California's statutory access authority. The
parties also engaged in targeted discovery after the case was
filed. Throughout, Plaintiffs' counsel had access to the
jails, personnel who worked there, and people incarcerated
there. The settlement also was informed by the opinions of
five neutral experts who had access to the jails.
Experience and Views of Counsel: Plaintiffs'
counsel has extensive experience in prisoners' rights
litigation and complex class action litigation and believe
that the settlement here is in the best interest of all
plaintiffs. Defendant is represented by counsel who similarly
is experienced and knowledgeable in this type of litigation.
The Court has already found that “experienced and
knowledgeable counsel . . . have actively prosecuted and
defended this litigation.” ECF No. 88 at 2.
Reaction of the Class Members to the Settlement: The
reaction of class members to the settlement further supports
final approval. Defendant complied with the Court's order
regarding the provision of notice to the class. ECF No. 91.
Class members were afforded an opportunity to comment or
object to the settlement, and this Court held a hearing on
the matter. Though approximately 3, 700 individuals are
incarcerated at Defendant's jails, the Court received
only four letters about the settlement, including one from a
non-class member. See ECF Nos. 96-98, 100. The
letters detailed individual experiences with the deficiencies
for which Plaintiffs seek a remedy in this case; these
letters weigh in favor of approving the Consent Decree.
Court is satisfied that the concerns in the comments are
adequately addressed by the Consent Decree. The Court also
notes that the settlement will not bar individual damage
claims by class members. See Hiser v. Franklin, 94
F.3d 1287, 1291 (9th Cir. 1996) (“[T]he general rule is
that a class action suit seeking only declaratory and
injunctive relief does not bar subsequent individual damage
claims by class members, even ...