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Howell v. City of Youngstown

United States District Court, N.D. Ohio, Eastern Division

February 20, 2018

THE CITY OF YOUNGSTOWN, OHIO, et al., Defendants.



         Pending is Plaintiff's Corrected Motion for Class Certification, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(a), 23(b)(2), and 23(b)(3). ECF No. 4. Defendants oppose, on the ground that Plaintiff's motion fails to make the requisite showings to satisfy the requirements for class certification under Fed.R.Civ.P. 23. ECF No. 11. For the reasons that follow, Plaintiff's motion (ECF No. 4) is denied without prejudice to be refiled at a later time, if appropriate.


         Plaintiff Venicee Howell is the named plaintiff in the above-entitled putative class action against Defendants The City of Youngstown, Ohio and the Honorable Mayor John McNally. The Complaint alleges that Defendants violated the provisions of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Fourteenth Amendment by denying Plaintiff and other similarly-situated Black residents who reside in Youngstown's “Sharonline” neighborhood equal city services to a dual system of sewers for controlling the flow of storm water and sewage (otherwise known as “storm sewers”) within their residential community.[1] ECF No. 1. Plaintiff asserts that, due to Defendants' longstanding racially discriminatory practice, storm sewers in Sharonline neither existed or functioned properly, which resulted in the continuous backup of storm water onto Plaintiff's residential property and of those similarly-situated. Id. at PageID#: 6, ¶ 28. Plaintiff alleges that the storm water backups have caused extensive damage to her property and of those similarly-situated, in the form of mold and mildew accumulation within their residences, damage to their property's foundation, and diminishment of property value and habitability. Id. at ¶ 29. Despite Defendants' failure to provide storm sewers, Plaintiff and other similarly-situated Black residents of Sharonline have been charged, as part of their monthly water bill payment, fees for maintenance and operations of the dual water system. Id. at PageID#: 5, ¶ 20. Recently, storm sewers have been extended to service Plaintiff's residential property. Id. at ¶ 22.

         Plaintiff requests that the Court enter a preliminary and permanent injunction, enjoining Defendants from continuing their alleged discriminatory practices of engaging in unequal distribution of city services, and compensate her and those similarly-situated for the loss of value of their land. Id. at PageID#:9.

         On November 16, 2017, Plaintiff moved for certification of the following class:

All Blacks who reside or have resided in the area known as the Sharonline, an area encompassing the City of Youngstown, Ohio East of Lansdowne
Boulevard to the Pennsylvania State line, Northeast of Lansdowne Boulevard to Hubbard, Ohio and North of Oak Street to Liberty Township and have been denied storm sewers but charged for sewer service by the City of Youngstown, Ohio.

Id. at PageID#: 3, ¶ 9. Plaintiff also moves the Court to appoint the named Plaintiff, Venicee Howell, as class representative, and to appoint Attorney Percy Squire, as class counsel. ECF No. 4 at PageID#: 42.

         Defendants oppose, asserting that Plaintiff's motion is unsupported by evidence and fails to satisfy the requirements of Rule 23(a), 23(b)(2), and 23(b)(3). ECF No. 11 at PageID:# 98. Specifically, Defendants argue that “Plaintiff relies solely on the allegations in her Complaint in support of her Motion and . . . has failed to conduct any discovery which would support a Motion for Class Certification.” Id.


         The principal purpose of class actions is to achieve efficiency and economy of litigation, with respect to both the parties and the courts. See Gen. Tel. Co. of Southwest v. Falcon, 457 U.S. 147, 159 (1982). Before certifying a class, the district court must conduct a “rigorous analysis” of the prerequisites of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes, 564 U.S. 338, 35051 (2011). A district court has broad discretion in deciding whether to certify a class, although it must exercise that discretion within the framework of Rule 23. Beattie v. Century Tel, Inc., 511 F.3d 554, 55960 (6th Cir. 2007); In re American Med. Sys., Inc., 75 F.3d 1069, 1079 (6th Cir. 1996).

         “Rule 23 does not require a district court, in deciding whether to certify a class, to inquire into the merits of the plaintiff's suit.” Beattie, 511 F.3d at 560. In evaluating whether class certification is appropriate, however, “it may be necessary for the court to probe behind the pleadings, ” because the relevant issues are often “enmeshed” within the legal and factual considerations raised by the litigation. Falcon, 457 U.S. at 160.

         The party seeking class certification bears the burden of establishing that the requisites are met. Alkire v. Irving,330 F.3d 802, 820 (6th Cir. 2003). Meeting the requirements of “Rule 23(a) requires something more than mere repetition of the rule's language; ‘[t]here must be an adequate statement of the basic facts to indicate that each requirement of the rule is fulfilled.'” Young v. Nationwide Mut. Ins. Co.,693 F.3d 532, 537 (6th Cir. 2012) (quoting Pipefitters Local 636 Ins. Fund v. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Mich.,654 F.3d 618, 629 (6th Cir. 2011)). Ordinarily, this means ...

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