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SMITH v. CHICAGO HOUSING AUTHORITY

October 6, 2004.

DIANE LINK WALLACE, ANGELA MAPLES, LISA TAYLOR, MARY E. SISTRUNK, PANDORA MEADORS, and ANNIE R. SMITH, on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs,
v.
THE CHICAGO HOUSING AUTHORITY, an Illinois Municipal Corporation, and TERRY PETERSON, in his official capacity as Chief Executive Officer of the Chicago Housing Authority, Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: RUBEN CASTILLO, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiffs Diane Link Wallace, Angela Maples, Lisa Taylor, Mary E. Sistrunk, Pandora Meadors, and Annie Smith*fn1 ("Plaintiffs") have moved to certify the following class:
All present and former public housing residents who moved or will be moved out of [Chicago Housing Authority ("CHA")] public housing using a Housing Choice Voucher (also known as a Section 8 Certificate or a Section 8 Voucher), and who, on or after October 1, 1999, have been, continue to be, or will be adversely affected by Defendants' and their agents' segregative and discriminatory actions, policies, and practices, as alleged in the Plaintiffs' first amended complaint.
(R. 37-1, Pls.' Mot. at 1.) This proposed general class contains two subclasses: (1) former CHA residents who were initially relocated after October 1, 1999, the effective date of the Relocation Rights Contract; and (2) CHA residents who will relocate from public housing but have not yet done so. (Id.) For the reasons set forth herein, we grant Plaintiffs' motion with modification.

RELEVANT FACTS*fn2

  Plaintiffs bring this lawsuit on behalf of a class of current and former CHA residents seeking declaratory and injunctive relief from CHA's alleged policy and practice of displacing CHA tenants from public housing to make way for mixed-income communities. (R. 14, First Am. Compl. ¶¶ 1-6.) Plaintiffs allege that in addition to displacing Plaintiffs from public housing, CHA has a policy and practice of failing to provide adequate relocation services or providing relocation services that effectively or openly steer Plaintiffs into racially and economically segregated neighborhoods. (Id. ¶ 3.) Plaintiffs allege that as a result of these illegal policies, the displaced Plaintiffs are now living in neighborhoods "characterized by high poverty, high crime, poor schools and poor municipal services." (Id.)

  On December 23, 2003, we dismissed counts four, eleven, and twelve of the amended complaint which alleged, respectively, violations of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000d, violations of the Uniform Relocation Assistance and Real Property Acquisition Act of 1970, and breach of the Moving to Work Agreement between CHA and the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development. Wallace, 298 F. Supp. 2d at 725. We also held that Plaintiffs' Fair Housing Act ("FHA") claims were limited by the FHA's two-year statute of limitations to any acts that occurred after January 23, 2001. Id. at 717. We noted that we might reconsider that holding if Plaintiffs could establish that their suit is premised on "pattern-or-practice" claims that could avoid the running of the statute of limitations under a continuing-violations theory. Id. at 717 n. 1. Our opinion stated, however, that "even were we to accept a continuing violations theory . . . we would hold that it would start running, at the earliest, from October 1, 1999 — the date on which CHA became contractually bound and otherwise obligated under federal law to provide relocation services."*fn3 Id. at 717.

  On January 21, 2004, Plaintiffs filed a motion to reconsider our statute of limitations holding regarding their FHA claims. (R. 31.) Upon reconsideration, we found that the Complaint adequately alleges that Plaintiffs' disparate impact, racial steering, and perpetuation of segregation claims under the FHA are based on a continued pattern or practice that extends into the statute of limitations period. Wallace v. Chi. Housing Auth., 321 F. Supp. 2d 968, 974-75 (N.D. Ill. 2004). We declined, however, to reconsider our holding that the Relocation Rights Contract is an intervening event that interrupts the alleged pattern or practice of illegal conduct. Id. at 975. As a result, we held that any acts that occurred prior to October 1, 1999 could not be considered as part of the alleged pattern or practice of FHA violations. Id.

  LEGAL STANDARDS

  A party seeking certification of a class must demonstrate that the proposed class meets all of the requirements of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(a): (1) the class is so numerous that joinder of the class members is impracticable (numerosity); (2) there are questions of law or fact common to the class (commonality); (3) the claims or defenses of the class representatives are typical of the claims or defenses of the class as a whole (typicality); and (4) the representatives will fairly and adequately protect the class interests (adequacy). Williams v. Chartwell Fin. Servs., Ltd., 204 F.3d 748, 760 (7th Cir. 2000). Even if the proposed class meets the Rule 23(a) prerequisites, the moving party must demonstrate that the class satisfies at least one of the Rule 23(b) requirements as well. Id.; see also Hispanics United of DuPage Cty. v. Village of Addison, Ill., 160 F.R.D. 681, 686 (N.D. Ill. 1995).

  The Court has broad discretion to determine whether a proposed class meets the Rule 23 certification requirements. See Uhl v. Thoroughbred Tech. and Telecomm., Inc., 309 F.3d 978, 985 (7th Cir. 2002). In making this determination, the Court recognizes that Rule 23(a) should be liberally construed to support its policy of favoring the maintenance of class actions. King v. Kansas City S. Indus., Inc., 519 F.2d 20, 25-26 (7th Cir. 1975). The Court also retains broad power to modify the definition of a proposed class if it believes that the proposed definition is inadequate. Buycks-Roberson v. Citibank Fed Sav. Bank, 162 F.R.D. 322, 328-29 (N.D. Ill. 1995); Metro. Area Housing Alliance v. U.S. Dep't of Housing and Urban Dev., 69 F.R.D. 633, 638 n. 7 (N.D. Ill. 1976).

  ANALYSIS

  Plaintiffs assert in their motion that the proposed general class and two proposed subclasses meet all of the Rule 23(a) requirements and qualify under Rule 23(b)(2), which permits class certification where "the party opposing the class has acted or refused to act on grounds generally applicable to the class, thereby making appropriate final injunctive relief or corresponding declaratory relief with respect to the class as a whole." (R. 37, Pls.' Mot. at 2.) CHA objects to the certification of Plaintiffs' proposed general class and both sub-classes. Before we can determine whether this class meets the Rule 23 criteria, we must consider two thorny threshold issues. First, we must address whether the claims of plaintiffs who relocated from public housing prior to October 1, 1999 are untimely and therefore not subject to certification. Second, we will determine whether a class of potential plaintiffs who initially relocated prior to October 1, 1999 and did not move using a Housing Choice Voucher after October 1, 1999 is sufficiently definite to support certification. Only when these matters are settled will we consider the application of Rule 23 to Plaintiffs' proposed class.

  I. Timeliness: Tenants Who Initially Moved Prior to October 1, 1999

  Whether the pre-October 1, 1999 CHA tenants can be included in the proposed class based on discriminatory acts that occurred after October 1, 1999 is the central point of controversy in the extensive briefing tendered to the Court on the motion for class certification. The controversy stems from the parties' divergent interpretations of our previous holdings regarding the application of the statute of limitations to Plaintiffs' FHA claims. Defendants argue that pursuant to our holdings, all potential plaintiffs who left public housing prior to October 1, 1999 are time-barred. (R. 42, Def.'s Resp. at 9-13.) Plaintiffs argue, on the other hand, that under our previous decisions "Plaintiffs are properly within the class if they were harmed since October 1, 1999 by CHA's pattern or practice of discriminatory relocation services." (R. 44, Pls.' Reply at 3.) Because a proposed class must be limited to plaintiffs with timely claims, Movement for Opportunity and Equal v. General Motors Corp., 622 F.2d 1235, 1248 (7th Cir. 1980), and because we have broad discretion to interpret our previous orders, Hastert v. Ill. State Bd. of Election Comm'ers, 28 F.3d 1430, 1438 (7th Cir. 1993), we will resolve this controversy before turning to the Rule 23 analysis.

  In our opinion addressing Plaintiffs' motion to reconsider, we found that Plaintiffs had alleged a pattern-or-practice theory for their racial segregation, perpetuation of segregation, and disparate impact claims under the FHA based on Defendants' conduct from 1995 until the present. Wallace, 321 F.Supp.2d at 973-75. We held, however, that the Relocation Rights Contract constitutes an intervening event that interrupts the pattern or practice of CHA's allegedly illegal conduct. Id. at 975. As a result, Plaintiffs' continuing-violation theory can only extend back to the date of that intervening event. Id. We held that any acts that occurred before October 1, 1999 are not part of the continuing violation under Plaintiffs' pattern-or-practice theory and therefore are time-barred. Id. We also held that "any acts that occurred after October 1, 1999 that comprise part of an alleged pattern or practice of FHA violations are actionable." Id.

  In our reconsideration opinion, we indicated that parties who relocated prior to October 1, 1999 but who moved again after that date may have timely claims. Id. at 975 n. 5. Specifically, we noted that because Plaintiff's amended complaint alleges that Ms. Sistrunk relocated after that date and continued to end up in segregated neighborhoods, she had a claim based on acts that are part of the continuum of the alleged pattern or practice that dates back to October 1, 1999. Id. We recognize that potential plaintiffs who initially relocated before October 1, 1999 are not included in the Relocation Rights Contract. (R. 42, Def.'s Resp. at 13.) The key question, however, is not simply whether potential plaintiffs are subject to the Relocation Rights Contract. Rather, the timeliness question hinges on whether potential ...


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