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GATES v. TOWERY

November 9, 2004.

ELTON GATES and LUSTER NELSON, Plaintiffs,
v.
Officer B. TOWERY, Star No. 8233, Officer P. GALIARDO, Star No. 19174, Officer ECHOLS, Star No. 12329, Officer COLLIER, Star No. 18240, PHILIP CLINE, Superintendent of Police for the City of Chicago, and the CITY OF CHICAGO, Defendants.



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

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiffs Elton Gates and Luster Nelson ("Plaintiffs") contend that Officers Towery, Galiardo, Echols, and Collier, Superintendent Cline, and the City of Chicago (collectively "Defendants") have a policy of issuing incomplete, false, and misleading receipts to arrestees whose property is taken for inventory purposes at the time of their arrest. (R. 31, Second Am. Compl., Count I ¶ 25(e) & Count II ¶ 25 (e).) They allege that this policy "is designed to prevent, delay, and impede the return of non-forfeitable property to the rightful owners." (Id.) Presently before the Court is Plaintiffs' motion for class certification, in which Plaintiffs ask the Court to certify the following class:

[A]ll those persons who had property taken from them upon their arrests by Chicago police officers provided: a) the criminal charges have been resolved in the trial court; b) no forfeiture action was commenced against the seized property; c) the time for filing a forfeiture action has expired; d) the arrestee was issued an inventory receipt when arrested; and e) the money has not been returned to the arrestee.*fn1 (R. 29-1, Pls.' Mot. ¶ 2.) In their reply brief, Plaintiffs revise their initially proposed class definition to exclude arrestees whose property was inventoried in its original form as evidence. (R. 35, Pls.' Reply at 10.) For the reasons set forth below, we grant Plaintiffs' motion for class certification with modification.

  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 that their proposed class meets all of the Rule 23(a) requirements and qualifies for certification under Rules 23(b)(2) and 23(b)(3). Defendants object to the certification of the proposed class on several grounds. In their response brief, Defendants raise two threshold issues: 1) whether Plaintiffs' claims in this matter are moot; and 2) whether the proposed class definition is sufficiently definite and manageable. Defendants also argue that we should deny class certification because the proposed class does not meet the Rule 23 typicality, adequacy, and commonality requirements. We will address each argument in turn.

  I. Mootness

  Defendants argue that Plaintiffs lack standing to represent the proposed class because the case was mooted when the City of Chicago offered to return Plaintiffs' money before Plaintiffs filed their class certification motion. (R. 32, Defs.' Resp. at 2-5.) Article III of the Constitution confers jurisdiction on the federal courts over actual cases and controversies. Jones v. Sullivan, 938 F.2d 801, 805 (7th Cir. 1991). This Article III limitation underpins both standing and mootness jurisprudence, but the two inquiries differ in critical respects. See Friends of the Earth, Inc. v. Laidlaw Envtl. Servs., Inc., 528 U.S. 167, 180 (2000). To establish standing, a plaintiff must show that it has suffered an actual or imminent injury in fact that is concrete and particularized, that the injury is traceable to the challenged conduct, and that a favorable decision would likely redress the injury. Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560-61 (1992). If a plaintiff lacks standing when a case is filed, the fact that the challenged activity is "capable of repetition yet evading review" cannot confer jurisdiction. Friends of the Earth, 528 U.S. at 191. The "capable of repetition yet evading review" exception does exist, however, when a defendant claims that a case has become moot after the action is filed. Id. at 190-91. "It is well settled that a defendant's voluntary cessation of a challenged practice does not deprive a federal court of its power to determine the legality of the practice . . . [i]f it did, the courts would be compelled to leave the defendant . . . free to return to his old ways." Id. at 190 (internal quotation omitted). As a result, a defendant arguing that its voluntary actions have mooted a case "bears the formidable burden of showing that it is absolutely clear the allegedly wrong behavior could not reasonably be expected to recur." Id.

  In the class action context, claims may become moot in certain situations where a named plaintiff's claims expire before a class is certified.*fn2 Holstein v. City of Chi., 29 F.3d 1145, 1147 (7th Cir. 1994). Where the defendant offers to satisfy a named plaintiff's "entire demand, there is no dispute over which to litigate, and a plaintiff who refuses to acknowledge this loses outright . . . because he has no remaining stake." Id. (quoting Rand v. Monsanto Co., 926 F.2d 596, 598 (7th Cir. 1991)). The offer of relief, however, must be complete: "obviously the rejection of an offer of less than the complete relief sought by a suit does not prove that there is no dispute between the litigants." Griesz v. Household Bank, N.A., 176 F.3d 1012, 1015 (7th Cir. 1999). The claims of a plaintiff seeking injunctive relief from a purportedly unconstitutional government policy may become moot where the government voluntarily implements a new policy eradicating any reasonable expectation that the purportedly unconstitutional conduct will be repeated. See Jones v. Bowman, 120 F.R.D. 88, 91 (N.D. Ill. 1988). If a plaintiff receives all of the monetary and injunctive relief sought, a request for a declaratory judgment and attorney's fees alone will not provide a justiciable controversy. See Alliance to End Repression v. City of Chi., 820 F.2d 873, 875-76, 878 (7th Cir. 1987).

  In this case, Plaintiffs have requested numerous forms of relief, including the return of their money with interest, a judgment declaring that the alleged policy is unconstitutional, attorney's fees and costs, and an injunction preventing Defendants from continuing the purportedly unconstitutional practice.*fn3 (R. 31, Second Am. Compl. at 13-14.) While Defendants have brought forth evidence showing that they offered Plaintiffs the monetary relief they seek, (see R. 32, Defs.' Resp. at 4 & Exs. A-H), they have not asserted that they offered to discontinue the alleged practice that Plaintiffs challenge here. Indeed, Plaintiffs argue that the purportedly unconstitutional practice continues today. (R. 35, Pls.' Reply at 2.) If Defendants had offered not to engage in the purportedly discriminatory policy along with its offer to return Plaintiffs' money with interest, that may have mooted Plaintiffs' claims. See Alliance to End Repression, 820 F.2d at 877 (noting that if plaintiffs had sought an injunction to prevent particular government action, the litigation would have been "live" even after the plaintiffs received the monetary compensation sought). Because they have not addressed the underlying policy challenged here, however, Defendants have neither offered all of the relief sought nor met their burden of showing that "it is absolutely clear the allegedly wrongful behavior could not reasonably be expected to recur." Friends of the Earth, 528 U.S. at 190. As a result, we find that Plaintiffs' claims are not moot.

  II. Definiteness and Manageability

  Defendants also argue that certification of Plaintiffs' proposed class is inappropriate because the class is inherently indefinite and unmanageable. (R. 32, Defs.' Resp. at 8-11.) There are two prongs to Defendants' argument. First, Defendants state that the proposed class is actually made up of two discreet classes that are incompatible with one another. (Id. at 8-9.) Second, Defendants argue that the proposed class definition must be sharpened to specify that: a) arrestees whose money has been returned previously are not included in the class; and b) those whose money was not inventoried in its physical form but reported as evidence to a criminal court are not included in the class. (Id. at 9-11.) In their reply brief, Plaintiffs accepted and adopted the two changes to the class definition that Defendants have proposed, so we need not address the second prong of the argument. (R. 35, Pls.' Reply at 10.) We note, however, that in order to conform to the allegations in Plaintiffs' second amended complaint, the class should be further modified to clarify that the class includes only those arrestees who never received notice that their property was ready for return despite the fact that Defendants issued inventory receipts representing that they would be so notified. (See R. 31, Second Am. Compl., Count I ¶ 25(b), Count II ¶ 25(b), ¶ 26.) With those points of clarification in mind, we will focus on whether Defendants have demonstrated that Plaintiffs' proposed class is so indefinite or unmanageable as to preclude certification. A sufficiently definite class exists "if its members can be ascertained by reference to objective criteria." Gomez v. Ill. State Bd. of Educ., 117 F.R.D. 394, 397 (N.D. Ill. 1987). The scope of the prospective class may be defined, for example, by reference to the defendant's conduct. Alliance to End Repression v. ...


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