United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
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For Walter Barry, by his next friend Elaine Barry, on behalf of himself and all others similarly situated, Heather Woodward, Plaintiffs: Elan S Nichols, Jacqueline Doig, Center For Civil Justice, Flint, MI; Miriam J. Aukerman, American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, West Michigan Regional Office, Grand Rapids, MI; Sofia V. Nelson, ACLU of Michigan, Detroit, MI.
For Donitha Copeland, Kenneth L. Anderson, Westside Mothers, Plaintiffs: Elan S Nichols, Jacqueline Doig, Center For Civil Justice, Flint, MI.
For Maura Corrigan, in her capacity as Director, Michigan Department of Human Services, Defendant: Joshua S. Smith, MI Department of Attorney General, Lansing, MI; Kristin M. Heyse, Michigan Department of Attorney General; William R. Morris, Michigan Department of Attorney General, Health, Education and Family Services Division, Lansing, MI.
OPINION AND ORDER DENYING IN PART AND GRANTING IN PART DEFENDANT'S  MOTION TO DISMISS AND / OR FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT, GRANTING PLAINTIFFS'  AMENDED MOTION TO CERTIFY CLASS, AND GRANTING PLAINTIFFS'  MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
Hon. JUDITH E. LEVY, United States District Judge.
Plaintiffs bring this suit as a class action against defendant Maura Corrigan, in her official capacity as Director of the Michigan Department of Human Services (hereinafter " DHS" ), challenging Michigan's law and policy governing disqualification of " fugitive felons" from various forms of public assistance, including federal food assistance. Under that law and policy, defendant disqualifies applicants and recipients of federally-funded public assistance benefits based on a match between the applicant's / recipient's name
and a record of an outstanding felony warrant in the Michigan Law Enforcement Information Network (hereinafter " LEIN" ). Defendant informs persons of their disqualification by means of a written notice. Plaintiffs challenge that notice as failing to provide the due process of law required by the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and as failing to meet the notice requirements of the Food and Nutrition Act, as amended, 7 U.S.C. § 2011 et seq. Plaintiffs also contend the Michigan law and DHS policy themselves violate and are preempted by the Act.
Before the Court are defendant's Motion to Dismiss or for Summary Judgment (Dkt. 81), plaintiffs' Amended Motion to Certify Class (Dkt. 39), and plaintiffs' Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. 49). For the reasons set forth below, the Court will grant defendant's Motion to Dismiss with respect to defendant Woodward only, and deny defendant's motion with respect to the remainder of the relief sought; grant plaintiffs' Motion to Certify Class; and grant plaintiffs' Motion for Summary Judgment.
I. Factual background
Congress first established a permanent Food Stamp Program in 1964. Food Stamp Act of 1964, Pub. L. No. 88-525, 78 Stat. 703 (1964). The purpose of the program was " to promote the general welfare" and " to safeguard the health and well-being of the Nation's population by raising levels of nutrition among low-income households." Id. § 2. Congress made significant revisions to the program in 1977. Food Stamp Act of 1977, Pub. L. No. 95-113, 91 Stat. 913 (1977). In 2008, the Food Stamp Program was renamed the " Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program" (hereinafter " SNAP" ) and the Food Stamp Act was renamed the Food and Nutrition Act of 2008 (hereinafter " SNAP Act" ). Food and Nutrition Act of 2008, Pub. L. No. 110-234, 122 Stat. 1092 (2008).
SNAP is administered through state programs, although the benefits are funded by the federal government. 7 U.S.C. § § 2013, 2020(a), (d), (e). The state programs are governed by criteria set forth in the SNAP Act. Those criteria include the standards for qualification for and disqualification from SNAP benefits. 7 U.S.C. § § 2014-2015. The eligibility standards in state plans must be " in accordance with sections 2014 and 2015 of [the SNAP Act] and " include no additional requirements imposed by the State agency." Id. § 2020(e)(5). States are expressly prohibited from imposing " any other standards of eligibility as a condition for participating in the program," Id. § 2014(b).
Of relevance here, section 2015(k) provides that:
ember of a household who is otherwise eligible to participate in the supplemental nutrition assistance program shall be eligible to participate in the program as a member of that or any other household during any period during which the individual is--
(A) fleeing to avoid prosecution, or custody or confinement after conviction, under the law of the place from which the individual is fleeing, for a crime, or attempt to commit a crime, that is a felony under the law of the place from which the individual is fleeing or that, in the case of New Jersey, is a high misdemeanor under the law of New Jersey; or
(B) violating a condition of probation or parole imposed under a Federal or State law.
7 U.S.C. § 2015(k)(1).
Michigan's SNAP program, titled Food Assistance Program (hereinafter " FAP" ), is administered by DHS. DHS also administers other public assistance programs, including the Family Independence Program, State Disability Assistance Program, Child Day Care Program, and Refugee Assistance Program.
Since October 8, 2011, Michigan's Social Welfare Act prohibits DHS from granting public assistance benefits to any person who is " subject to arrest under an outstanding warrant arising from a felony charge against that individual in this or any other jurisdiction." 2011 P.A. 198, codified at Mich. Comp. Laws § 400.10b. The Act also requires DHS and Michigan State Police (hereinafter " MSP" ) to develop an automated program that compares DHS' list of public assistance recipients with MSP's information regarding outstanding felony warrants or extradition warrants. Mich. Comp. Laws § 400.10c. That program, dubbed the " fugitive felon interface," has been operational since January 2013. (Dkt. 49-2 & 49-3, Ex. A & B to Pls.' Mot. Summ. J.)
DHS' computer eligibility system is known as " Bridges." Pursuant to the policies set forth in its Bridges Eligibility and Bridges Administrative Manuals [hereinafter " BEM" and " BAM" ], DHS disqualifies persons from food assistance benefits who are (1) subject to arrest under an outstanding warrant arising from a felony charge, (2) subject to arrest under an outstanding warrant for extradition arising from a criminal charge, or (3) admitted fugitive felons. (Dkt. 49-5 & 49-6, Exs. D & E to Pls.' Mot. Summ. J. (BEM 204); Dkt. 49-7 & 49-8, Ex. F & G to Pls.' Mot. Summ. J. (BEM 203).) Bridges automatically identifies matches between the DHS benefit list and the MSP warrant information. Bridges then sets the benefit applicant's / recipient's file to close, generates a criminal justice disqualification notice that is sent to the applicant / recipient, and automatically schedules the reduction or termination of benefits. (Dkt. 49-14, Ex. M to Pls.' Mot. Summ. J. (BAM 811, eff. 2/1/13); Dkt. 49-15, Ex. N to Pls.' Mot. Summ. J. (BAM 811, eff. 5/1/13); Dkt. 49-16, Ex. O to Pls.' Mot. Summ. J. (BAM 811, eff. 7/1/13); Dkt. 49-17, Ex. P to Pls.' Mot. Summ. J. 2-3.)
The individual plaintiffs in this case are Walter Barry, Heather Woodward, Donitha Copeland, Kenneth Anderson, and Westside Mothers, a non-profit organization with 450-500 dues-paying members that advocates on behalf of public assistance applicants and recipients. Barry, Woodward, Copeland, and Anderson have all received at least one criminal justice disqualification notice and have been threatened with reduction or termination of food assistance benefits, or have experienced actual reduction or termination of benefits, based on the criminal justice disqualification.
Plaintiffs bring four counts in their Second Amended Complaint (Dkt. 70). Counts I, II, and III are brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983:
o Count I: Denial of due process under the Fourteenth Amendment. Plaintiffs allege defendant's criminal justice disqualification notices violate plaintiffs' constitutional rights to adequate notice and a meaningful opportunity to be heard, before denial / reduction / termination of public assistance benefits, as a matter of constitutional law.
o Count II: Denial of due process under the Supplemental Nutritional
Assistance Program Act (" SNAP Act" ), 7 U.S.C. § 2020(e)(10). Plaintiffs allege the criminal justice disqualification notices violate plaintiffs' rights to adequate notice and a meaningful opportunity to be heard before denial / reduction / termination of public assistance benefits, as a matter of statutory law.
o Count III: Violation of rights to receive food assistance under the SNAP Act, 7 U.S.C. § § 2014(a) and (b) and 2020(e)(5). Plaintiffs allege Mich. Comp. Laws 400.10b, as well as defendant's policies enacted pursuant to that law, violate plaintiffs' federal statutory right to food assistance benefits.
o Count IV: Preemption of Mich. Comp. Laws § 400.10b and defendant's fugitive felon policy by the SNAP Act, 7 U.S.C. § § 2014(b), 2015(k), and 2020(e)(5). Plaintiffs allege the SNAP Act expressly preempts Mich. Comp. Laws 400.10b and defendant's fugitive felon policy and practices.
The Court will begin its analysis with the issues of whether plaintiffs have standing to bring this suit and whether their claims are moot. The Court will then address plaintiffs' motion for class certification and the remaining issues in the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment.
II. Standing / mootness
Defendant argues for dismissal of all plaintiffs' claims for lack of standing. Defendant further maintains that the claims of plaintiffs Barry, Woodward, and Copeland (and therefore, Westside Mothers) are moot, and should therefore be dismissed. (Dkt. 75, Def.'s Resp. to Pls.' Mot. Summ. J. xi.)
It is an " essential and unchanging part of the case-or-controversy requirement of Article III" that a plaintiff must have standing to bring a case in federal court. Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560, 112 S.Ct. 2130, 119 L.Ed.2d 351 (1992). Constitutional standing doctrine requires a plaintiff to show (1) a " concrete, particularized, and actual or imminent" injury, that is (2) " fairly traceable" to the defendant's conduct, and is (3) " likely" to be " redressed by a favorable decision." Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. at 560-61. An association has standing " when its members would otherwise have standing to sue in their own right, the interests at stake are germane to the organization's purpose, and neither the claim asserted nor the relief requested requires the participation of individual members in the lawsuit." Friends of the Earth v. Laidlaw Envtl. Servs., Inc., 528 U.S. 167, 181, 120 S.Ct. 693, 145 L.Ed.2d 610 (2000). The plaintiff bears the burden of establishing these elements. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. at 561.
The relevant time for determining standing is the outset of the litigation. See Laidlaw, 528 U.S. at 189 (defining standing as " the requisite personal interest that must exist at the commencement of the litigation" (citations and internal quotation marks omitted)). But the elements of standing must be supported throughout the litigation. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. at 561. Thus, " [a]t the pleading stage, general factual allegations of injury resulting from defendant's conduct may suffice." Id. But at the summary judgment stage, the plaintiff must " set forth by affidavit or other evidence specific facts" supporting the existence of an injury in fact. Id.
Defendant argues that the individual plaintiffs cannot show the first element of standing -- injury in fact. Westside Mothers thus cannot show the first element of associational standing, as its only member among the individual plaintiffs, Copeland, lacks standing herself.
When, as here, " the suit is one challenging the legality of government action or inaction" and the plaintiff is the " object of the action," then " there is ordinarily little question that the action . . . has caused him injury, and that a judgment preventing . . . the action will redress it." Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. at 561-62. Indeed, the individual plaintiffs here were the objects of the two actions they challenge: notice of disqualification from public assistance benefits, and disqualification from food assistance benefits. All four individual plaintiffs assert the same two injuries: (1) procedural injury, from defendant's allegedly inadequate notices, and (2) economic injury, in the form of actual or threatened loss of food assistance benefits, from defendant's automatic felon disqualification policy. (Dkt. 85, Pls.' Resp. 1.) Plaintiff Westside Mothers asserts standing based on economic injury: namely, that its members' ability to pay dues is directly affected by their loss of food assistance under defendant's challenged policies. (Dkt. 70, Second Amended Compl. ¶ ¶ 200-201.) Westside Mothers also claims associational standing through plaintiff Copeland.
Plaintiff Barry filed the initial class action complaint in this matter on July 25, 2013. (Dkt. 1.) At that time, he had an outstanding felony warrant in his name, and a disqualification from food assistance that went into effect on June 1, 2013. (Dkt. 50-2, Ex. S to Pls.' Mot. Summ. J.) Barry did not receive his July food assistance until July 26, 2013 -- two days after he filed the complaint, and one day after he moved for class certification. (Dkt. 70-10, Ex. I to Second Amended Compl.) At the time he brought his claim, Barry suffered several injuries in fact: a procedural injury, from the allegedly inadequate notice, and economic injuries, consisting of defendant's withholding of his July 2013 food assistance, the threat of having to repay those benefits, once received, if he lost at the hearing on his disqualification, and the threatened termination of all future benefits. Barry thus had standing to bring the claims in this suit.
Defendant maintains Barry lacks standing because he has suffered no injury in fact. (Dkt. 81, Def.'s Br. in Support of Mot. to Dismiss 1.) Defendant apparently means that because Barry has received food assistance " every month since June 1, 2013," he has suffered no injury. ( See Dkt. 75, Def.'s Resp. to Pls.' Mot. Summ. J. 1.) But defendant fails to counter evidence that (1) Barry's food assistance had been withheld at the time he filed the complaint, (2) Barry's disqualification had not been resolved at the time he filed the complaint, leaving him exposed to the possibility of having to repay benefits and to termination of future benefits, and (3) Barry suffered a procedural injury from defendant's notice.
Woodward applied for food assistance in July 2013 and received a denial notice, based on a criminal justice disqualification, on August 1, 2013. (Dkt. 50-8, Ex. Y to Pls.' Mot. Summ. J.) Woodward joined this action in the Amended Complaint filed on August 13, 2013. (Dkt. 7.) At that time, Woodward remained disqualified from receiving food assistance. She therefore has established an injury in fact (both the procedural injury from the notice and
the economic injury from the disqualification) and has standing to bring this suit.
Defendant argues that Woodward lacks standing because (1) she was denied food assistance as an applicant, not a recipient, of benefits, and (2) she currently receives food assistance benefits. (Dkt. 75, Def.'s Resp. to Pls.' Mot. Summ. J. 3.) But neither argument bears on standing: the first goes to Woodward's adequacy as a class representative, while the second goes to mootness (see below).
Copeland applied and was approved for food assistance in September 2012. (Dkt. 70, Second Amended Compl. ¶ ¶ 137-38.) She received a criminal justice disqualification notice dated December 31, 2012, terminating her food assistance effective February 1, 2013. (Dkt. 70-21, Ex. T to Second Amended Compl.) Copeland reapplied and received a notice dated February 12, 2013, denying benefits based on a criminal justice disqualification. (Dkt. 70-22, Ex. U to Second Amended Compl.) Plaintiffs moved to amend their complaint and motion for class certification on October 28, 2013, adding Copeland to both. (Dkt. 38.) At that time, Copeland still had an outstanding felony warrant and remained disqualified from receiving food assistance benefits. She therefore has established procedural and economic injuries, and has standing to bring her claims.
Defendant argues that Copeland lacks standing because she (1) failed to request an administrative hearing, and (2) has moved out of state. (Dkt. 75, Def.'s Resp. to Pls.' Mot. Summ. J. 3.) The only authority defendant provides for the proposition that Copeland had to exhaust her state administrative remedies in order to have standing to bring this suit is an unpublished order denying a petition for a writ of habeas corpus. ( See Dkt. 75-4, Ex. 3 to Def.'s Resp. to Pls.' Mot. Summ. J.) Defendant does not explain, nor can the Court discern, why this case is relevant. In fact, as explained below, there is a strong presumption against requiring a plaintiff to exhaust state remedies before bringing a suit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Patsy v. Bd. of Regents of State of Florida, 457 U.S. 496, 516, 102 S.Ct. 2557, 73 L.Ed.2d 172 (1982). Copeland's failure to request a state administrative hearing on her disqualification does not preclude her from bringing this suit. As for Copeland's relocation to Alaska, that argument goes to mootness, not standing.
It is undisputed that Anderson still has an outstanding felony warrant in his name and is not receiving food assistance benefits. Defendant only argues that Anderson lacks standing based on Anderson's failure to exhaust state administrative remedies. (Dkt. 75, Def.'s Resp. to Pls.' Mot. Summ. J. 3.) As with Copeland, Anderson's failure to request a state administrative hearing does not affect his standing to bring this action.
5. Westside Mothers
Because Copeland had standing at the time Westside Mothers joined the case, Westside Mothers has associational standing.
The case for Westside Mothers' independent standing, however, is more difficult, and turns on an element of standing not addressed by the parties: redressability. Westside Mothers has met the injury element by asserting economic injury in the form of lost dues payments from members. However, when " a plaintiff's asserted injury arises from the government's allegedly unlawful regulation (or lack of regulation) of someone else . . . causation and redressability ordinarily hinge on the response of the regulated (or regulable) third party to
the government action or inaction." Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. at 562. In such circumstances, standing " is ordinarily substantially more difficult to establish." Id.
Here, a decision in favor of plaintiffs would plausibly lead to some members of Westside Mothers receiving food assistance benefits. As a result, those members could reasonably be expected to have more money to spend on other, non-food expenses. But the alleged economic injury to Westside Mothers can only be remedied if those members decide to spend a portion of that money as dues. That is, the redressability of Westside Mothers' economic injury depends on decisions beyond the Court's control. While the scenario here is not precisely analogous to that in Defenders of Wildlife -- where redressability hinged on the decisions of third parties not before the Court -- it is close enough to require more from Westside Mothers to show it meets the redressability element of standing. The Court therefore finds that Westside Mothers has associational, but not independent, standing to bring this action.
Courts have often described mootness as " the doctrine of standing set in a time frame." Laidlaw, 528 U.S. at 189. On this view, the relationship between standing and mootness is as follows: " The requisite personal interest that must exist at the commencement of the litigation (standing) must continue throughout its existence (mootness)." Id. If the plaintiff's personal interest, or " stake in the outcome of the lawsuit," is eliminated during the litigation, " the action can no longer proceed and must be dismissed as moot." Genesis Healthcare Corp. v. Symczyk, 133 S.Ct. 1523, 1528, 185 L.Ed.2d 636 (2013).
There are recognized exceptions to the mootness doctrine, including the exception, invoked here by plaintiffs, for claims that are " capable of repetition yet evading review." See Laidlaw, 528 U.S. at 191. This exception applies " when (1) the challenged action was in its duration too short to be fully litigated prior to its cessation or expiration, and (2) there was a reasonable expectation that the same complaining party would be subject to the same action again." Lawrence v. Blackwell, 430 F.3d 368, 371 (6th Cir. 2004). The party asserting that this exception applies has the burden of establishing both elements. Id. But it is not necessary to show that " recurrence of the dispute [is] more probable than not," only that " the controversy [is] capable of repetition." Honig v. Doe, 484 U.S. 305, 319 n.6, 108 S.Ct. 592, 98 L.Ed.2d 686 (1988).
Defendant argues Barry's claims are moot because " there is no Department action against his food assistance, he no longer has a felony warrant in his name and he is receiving benefits." (Dkt. 81, Def.'s Br. in Support of Mot. to Dismiss 6.) While it is undisputed that Barry is receiving benefits, it also appears undisputed that he has a second outstanding felony warrant in his name. (Dkt. 79-8, Ex. G to Pls.' Reply in Support of Mot. Summ. J.; Dkt. 86, Def.'s Sur-reply to Amended Mot. Cert. Class 4, 6.) At the hearing on these motions, defendant's counsel stated that defendant had been advised by email that all of Barry's warrants had been resolved. Defendant has not, however, proffered the email or any other evidence that Barry's second warrant has, in fact, been resolved. Barry's claims are therefore not moot -- there is a reasonable expectation that he will be again subject to defendant's criminal disqualification policy and notice.
Defendant maintains that Woodward's claims have become moot, because she " no longer appears as a fugitive felon" and receives food assistance benefits. (Dkt. 81, Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss 6.) In support, defendant points to the affidavit of Dale Shaw, a Cash Assistance Senior Policy Analyst at DHS. (Dkt. 74-2, Ex. 1 to Def.'s Resp. to Pls.' Amended Mot. Cert. Class [hereinafter " Shaw Aff." ) Shaw states that Woodward " is not currently listed as a fugitive felon." ( Id.) He further states that Woodward applied for food assistance on August 11, 2014. ( Id.) On that same day, " [i]t appears the caseworker changed her FF [ sc. fugitive felon] status from yes to no," but " there are no notes . . . as to whether the caseworker verified that she had resolved her FF status." Woodward was approved for food assistance benefits on September 4, 2014. ( Id.)
Woodward's outstanding felony warrant was apparently related to her alleged theft of exercise equipment from her father's house. While her father has submitted a declaration stating that he does not wish to pursue charges against Woodward, and has advised police accordingly (Dkt. 52, Ex. YY to Pls.' Mot. Sum. J.), it is not clear from the record whether the warrant has, in fact, been resolved.
Plaintiffs do not, however, assert that Woodward still has an outstanding warrant. Rather, they maintain Woodward's claims are not moot based on her ongoing interest in receiving declaratory and notice relief that would allow her to recover food assistance benefits she lost while disqualified. (Dkt. 79, Pls.' Reply in Support of Mot. Class. Cert. 9).
Because Woodward is currently receiving food assistance benefits and is not at risk of disqualification based on an outstanding felony warrant, she no longer has a personal stake in the injunctive relief sought by plaintiffs. Under Green v. Mansour, declaratory relief against a state runs afoul of the Eleventh Amendment in the absence of a continuing or threatened violation of federal law. 474 U.S. 64, 73, 106 S.Ct. 423, 88 L.Ed.2d 371 (1985). And the notice relief sought by plaintiffs cannot stand on its own, but only " escape[s] the Eleventh Amendment bar" if it is ancillary to another type of relief. Green, 474 U.S. at 71. Given, then, that neither declaratory nor notice relief would be available to Woodward, her alleged interest in such relief cannot keep her claims alive in this case. Woodward's claims are therefore moot.
3. Copeland and Westside Mothers
Defendant maintains Copeland's claims are moot because she no longer has an outstanding felony warrant and has moved to Alaska. (Dkt. 81, Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss 6.) Plaintiffs counter there is a reasonable expectation that Copeland will be again subject to disqualification (and notice thereof), because (1) her warrant was dismissed without prejudice, (2) that warrant was the result of someone stealing Copeland's identity, and that person could commit further crimes using Copeland's identity, and (3) Copeland will return to Michigan in November 2014.
Whether Copeland's claims are moot is a close question. Copeland has submitted a declaration in which she states that she moved to Alaska for seasonal employment and intends to return to Michigan thereafter. (Dkt. 83, Ex. E to Pls.' Reply in Support of Mot. Summ. J., Second Copeland Dec. ¶ 2 [hereinafter " Second Copeland Dec." ].) Copeland notified DHS of her move to Alaska and expects to reapply for food assistance benefits upon her return to Michigan, as she does not have employment
arranged in Michigan. ( Id. ¶ ¶ 4-5.) On the basis of Copeland's declaration, the Court finds a reasonable expectation that she will not be disqualified from receiving food assistance benefits on the basis of her residency.
Still, Copeland must show there is a reasonable expectation she will again be subject to defendant's fugitive felon disqualification policy. Again, she need not show it is more likely than not she will be subject to the disqualification policy. Honig, 484 U.S. at 319 n.6. Copeland raises the possibility that her felony warrant could be reinstated, and that her identity could again be used in the commission of a felony. The facts in Barry's case are certainly suggestive of the latter possibility: at least two felony warrants have issued in his name for acts he did not commit. Although it seems less likely that Copeland's warrant will be reinstated, the two possibilities together -- of reinstatement of Copeland's felony warrant, and of a new warrant issuing in Copeland's name -- are enough to create a reasonable expectation that Copeland " faces some likelihood of becoming involved in the same controversy in the future." United States Parole Comm'n v. Geraghty, 445 U.S. 388, 398, 100 S.Ct. 1202, 63 L.Ed.2d 479 (1980). Copeland's claims are therefore not moot. Because Copeland's claims are not moot, Westside Mothers' claims are similarly not moot.
Defendant does not challenge Anderson's claims as moot, and with good reason, as Anderson still has an outstanding felony warrant in his name and is not receiving food assistance benefits.
In sum, of the five named plaintiffs, only Woodward's claims are moot. Defendant's motion to dismiss thus cannot succeed on mootness grounds.
Even if the claims of all named plaintiffs were moot, this case would nonetheless survive defendant's motion under the " special mootness rules [that] exist for class actions." Brunet v. City of Columbus, 1 F.3d 390, 399 (6th Cir. 1993). It is well-established in this Circuit that mooting the named plaintiffs' claims while a motion for class certification is pending does not moot the case. See Carroll v. United Compucred Collections, Inc., 399 F.3d 620, 625 (6th Cir. 2005); Dozier v. Haveman, No. 14-12455, at *25-36 (E.D. Mich. Oct. 29, 2014) (thoroughly surveying relevant cases).
Here, plaintiffs Barry, Woodward, and Copeland joined in the motion for class certification before being approved for food assistance -- the act that defendant maintains mooted their claims. Barry's food assistance benefits were reinstated the day after he filed his motion for class certification. (Dkt. 70-10, Ex. I to Second Amended Compl.) Woodward joined the First Amended Class Action Complaint on August 13, 2013, and the proposed Amended Motion to Certify Class on October 28, 2013. (Dkt. 7, 39.) Her fugitive felon status was changed in DHS' records on August 11, 2014, and she was approved for food assistance benefits on September 4, 2014. (Shaw Aff. ¶ 5.) Copeland joined the proposed Second Amended Class Action Complaint and the Amended Motion to Certify Class on October 28, 2013. (Dkt. 39, 40.) Her felony warrant was dismissed without prejudice on November 19, 2013. (Dkt. 79-9, Ex. H to Pls.' Reply Br. in Support of Mot. Cert. Class.) Copeland's food assistance benefits were approved thereafter. (Dkt. 79, Pls.' Reply Br. in Support of Mot. Cert. Class 10.)
In short, defendant's attempts to moot the individual plaintiffs' claims, if they had been successful, would still not have prevented
this case from going forward as a class action.
III. Motion to Certify Class
Having found that the individual plaintiffs have standing to bring their claims and that the claims of four individual plaintiffs are not moot, the Court must now determine whether class certification is warranted pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 23.
A. Standard of Review
Plaintiffs bear the burden of affirmatively demonstrating that their proposed class meets all four requirements of Rule 23(a) and satisfies at least one provision of Rule 23(b). Comcast Corp. v. Behrend, 133 S.Ct. 1426, 1432, 185 L.Ed.2d 515 (2013); Senter v. Gen'l Motors Corp., 532 F.2d 511, 522 (6th Cir. 1976). Rule 23(a) provides for class certification only if:
(1) the class is so numerous that joinder of all members is impracticable;
(2) there are questions of law or fact common to the class;
(3) the claims or defenses of the representative parties are typical of the claims or defenses of the class; and
(4) the representative parties will fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class.
Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(a). Plaintiffs maintain their proposed class falls within Rule 23(b)(2), which comprises actions in which " the party opposing the class has acted or refused to act on grounds that apply generally to the class, so that final injunctive relief or corresponding declaratory relief is appropriate respecting the class as a whole." Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(b)(2). Rule 23 further includes an " implicit requirement" that " an ascertainable class of persons to be represented" exists. Dozier, at *37 (internal citation and quotation marks omitted). Failure to satisfy any of these requirements precludes certification. Davis v. Cintas Corp., 717 F.3d 476, 484 (6th Cir. 2013).
" Meeting the requirements of Rule 23(a) requires something more than mere repetition of the rule's language; there 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) (internal citation and quotation marks omitted). To that end, the Court must perform a " rigorous analysis," including, if necessary, " prob[ing] behind the pleadings before coming to rest on the certification question." Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes, 131 S.Ct. 2541, 2551-52, 180 L.Ed.2d 374 (2011).
A threshold question in determining a motion for class certification is whether the defined class is " sufficiently definite so that it is administratively feasible for the court to determine whether a particular individual is a member of the proposed class." Young, 693 F.3d at 537-38. The Court must be able to make this determination by reference to objective criteria. Id.
Plaintiffs propose the following class, termed a " Due Process Class" :
[A]ll past, present, and future applicants for, or recipients of, benefits administered by the Michigan Department of Human Services (DHS) under the
o Food Assistance Program (FAP)
o Family Independence Program (FIP)
o State Disability Assistance Program (SDA)
o Child Day Care (CDC), and
o Refugee Assistance Programs (RAP)
public assistance programs, who have suffered or will suffer actual or threatened denial, termination, or reduction of public assistance benefits based on DHS' determination that the applicant / recipient or a member of the applicant / recipient's household is ineligible based on a criminal justice disqualification, and who do not receive a written notice, at the time of ...