United States District Court, E.D. California
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, ex rel. DENIKA TERRY and ROY HUSKEY III, and each of them for themselves individually, and for all other persons similarly situation and on behalf of the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiffs/Relators,
WASATCH ADVANTAGE GROUP, LLC, WASATCH PROPERTY MANAGEMENT, INC., WASATCH POOL HOLDINGS, LLC, CHESAPEAKE COMMONS HOLDINGS, LLC, LOGAN PARK APARTMENTS, LLC; LOGAN PARK APARTMENTS, LP, Defendants.
motion seeking (1) clarification, or in the alternative,
amendment of the class definition, (2) compilation of the
class list, (3) approval of the proposed class notice, and
(4) amendments to the scheduling order is before the court.
Mot., ECF No. 107. Defendants oppose the motion only to the
extent it seeks to redefine the operative class period
previously certified by the court. Opp'n, ECF No. 108.
All other forms of relief sought by plaintiffs are unopposed.
Id. On the issue of class definition, plaintiffs
have lodged a reply. Reply, ECF No. 112. On August 23, 2019,
the court heard oral argument on the matter; counsel Laura Ho
appeared for plaintiffs and counsel Ryan Matthews appeared
for defendants. For the reasons explained below,
plaintiffs' motion is GRANTED in its entirety.
the lengthy history of this case, the court need not rehash
the factual and procedural background beyond what is relevant
to the present motion. Plaintiffs initiated this putative class
action on April 14, 2015. Compl., ECF No. 1. Since then, the
complaint has undergone four rounds of amendment.
See First Am. Compl., ECF No. 25; Second Am. Compl.,
ECF No. 66; Third Am. Compl. (“TAC”), ECF No.
71-2; Fourth Am. Compl. (“FAC”), ECF No. 98. From
inception, plaintiffs have consistently described the
relevant class period “as the time period starting
[four or six] years prior to the date of filing of this
Complaint.” See Compl. ¶¶ 39, 41
(six-year class period); First Am. Compl. ¶¶ 39, 41
(same); Second Am. Compl. ¶¶ 41, 43 (same); TAC
¶¶ 44, 47 (four-year class period); FAC
¶¶ 47, 50 (same).
30, 2018, citing to plaintiffs' Third Amended Complaint,
the court certified the Rule 23(b)(3) “reimbursement
class” as follows:
All persons who, in the time period starting four years prior
to the date of filing this Complaint through the final
resolution of this matter, (1) have been tenants at any of
Defendants' California properties; (2) have participated
in the “Section 8” Housing Choice Voucher Program
in connection with their tenancies at the California
properties; and (3) have paid additional charges set forth in
Additional Services Agreements in excess of their individual
portions of the contract set forth in the HAP Contracts.
Class Cert. Order at 13 (citing TAC ¶ 44).
meant by “the time period starting four years prior to
the date of filing this Complaint” is the
subject of dispute here. Plaintiffs contend this four-year
class period begins April 14, 2011, exactly four years prior
to the filing of the initiating complaint. Mot. at 9; Reply
at 2. Defendants believe the four-year class period runs from
the date of the operative Fourth Amended Complaint. See
generally Opp'n. As discussed below, the court
GRANTS plaintiffs' motion in its entirety and defines the
class period to begin April 14, 2011.
ask the court to clarify that when certifying the class
period as “starting four years prior to the date of
filing this Complaint, ” the court meant from the
initial complaint, and thus the class period begins April 14,
2011. Mot. at 9. Alternatively, if the court's
certification order ambiguously defines the class period,
plaintiffs ask the court to adopt their interpretation
because it relates the class claims back to the filing of the
original complaint. Id.
the latter argument, plaintiffs rely on the relation-back
doctrine rooted in Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(c) and
apply the Ninth Circuit's three-part test set forth in
In re Syntex Corp. Sec. Litig., 95 F.3d 922, 935
(9th Cir. 1996), for expanding the class scope. The
Syntex test requires: “(1) the original
complaint gave the defendant adequate notice of the claims of
the newly proposed plaintiff; (2) the relation back does not
unfairly prejudice the defendant; and (3) there is an
identity of interests between the original and newly proposed
plaintiff.” 95 F.3d at 935. Applying this test,
plaintiffs contend (1) defendants had adequate notice
“because the original complaint . . . alleged
violations based on general conduct and practices by Wasatch
that Wasatch knew applied to its Section 8 tenants across
California” and “the complaint directly referred
to the scope of Defendants' entire portfolio of
residential properties and explicitly reserved the right to
amend the class definition if supported by discovery”;
(2) defendants will not be prejudiced “because the
expanded class's claims are identical to the claims set
forth in the original complaint, and depend on common methods
of proof”; and (3) “members of the expanded
certified class based on the Third Amended Complaint share an
identity of interests with members of the putative class in
the original complaint because they are bringing identical
claims.” Mot. at 10-11.
extent “four years prior to the date of filing this
Complaint” is ambiguous, plaintiffs reason their
interpretation is consistent with the nature of the class
certification pleadings and, moreover, defendants “were
on notice of the temporal scope of Plaintiffs' class
claims based on the parties' earlier discovery dispute .
. . and although they discussed the proposed class definition
in their opposition to class certification, they did not
suggest that it temporally limited the class period . . .
.” Id. at 12.
plaintiffs argue that if the court determines the current
class period is limited to the four years preceding the Third
Amended Complaint, the court should exercise its discretion
to amend the class definition exercising its authority under
Rule 23. Id. Plaintiffs assert that modifying the
class-period definition “would not change a single
element of the Court's Rule 23 analysis from its July 30,
2018 [class certification] order[, ]” would not
prejudice defendants who have been on notice of state-wide
claims and received voluminous discovery dating back to 2011,
and will not meaningfully affect the nature of the litigation
because the claims of property residents prior to 2014 verse
current residents are nearly identical. Id. Finally,
plaintiffs maintain they expeditiously moved for amendment of
the class definition upon discovering defendants'
divergent interpretation. Id.
counter that the plain language of the court's
certification order and the Third and Fourth Amended
Complaints clearly define the class period as limited by the
four years prior to “that Complaint, ”
meaning the operative complaint, not the original complaint.
Opp'n at 2-4 (emphasis in original). Defendants argue
that “complaint” is not synonymous with
“action” or “matter”; thus, when
plaintiffs' own definition refers to ...