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LLC v. City of Warren

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

May 23, 2017

NILI 2011, LLC; EETBL, LLC, and Investment Realty Services, LLC D/B/A SBYC Garner, LLC Plaintiffs,
v.
The City of Warren, Defendant.

          R. Steven Whalen, United States Magistrate Judge

          ORDER

          HON. GERSHWIN A. DRAIN, United States District Court Judge

         Introduction

         This is a class action against the City of Warren (hereinafter “Defendant” or “the City”). Plaintiffs seek declaratory and injunctive relief based on the Defendant's alleged violations of due process and the Fourth Amendment. Currently before the Court is Plaintiffs' Motion to Certify Class [30]. For the reasons stated below, the Court will GRANT Plaintiffs' Motion IN PART.

         Factual Background

         There are three lead Plaintiffs: NILI 2011, LLC (hereinafter “NILI”); EETBL, LLC (hereinafter “EETBL”); and Investment Realty Services, LLC doing business as SBYC Garner, LLC (hereinafter “SBYC”). Dkt. No. 1, p. 2 (Pg. ID 2). NILI, EETBL, and SBYC are each Michigan limited liability companies with registered offices in Wayne County. Id. The Defendant is the City of Warren, located in Macomb County, Michigan. Id. The Plaintiffs each own rental property in the City of Warren Id., pp. 13, 14 and 17 (Pg. ID 13, 14, and 17).

         The Home Rule City Act permits municipal entities like the City of Warren to adopt laws and rules for building maintenance. Id., p. 4 (Pg. ID 4); Mich. Comp. Laws § 117.3(k). According to the Plaintiffs, the City adopted the international property maintenance code (the “IPMC”) pursuant to the Home Rule City Act. Id. The IPMC governs the regulation of rental property, inter alia. Id., p. 5 (Pg. ID 5). An owner of rental property cannot obtain a certificate of compliance from the City of Warren until the owner passes IPMC inspection. Id. If the City of Warren does not issue a certificate of compliance after an inspection, the City issues a property inspection report that requires the owner to correct violations of the IPMC and other City codes. Id.

         The IPMC guidelines emphasize the importance of due process and equal protection and contain its own set of procedural guidelines that the City must comply with. Id., p. 6. For example, the IPMC establishes procedure for prosecuting violations of its code and appealing decisions made by enforcement officers. Id., p. 8. However, according to the Plaintiffs, the City of Warren did not adopt the language in the IPMC pertaining to appeals. Plaintiffs also allege that the City of Warren fails to properly issue deficiency notices.

         Plaintiffs allege that omitting the appellate procedures mentioned in the IPMC guidelines is unconstitutional and illegal. Plaintiffs seek declaratory and injunctive relief from the City of Warren based on: (1) violations of due process for failure to provide proper notice and meaningful opportunity to be heard; (2) violations of due process due to vague and uncertain provisions on the IPMC; (3) violations of the Fourth Amendment due to warrantless searches of rental properties; and (4) violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

         Law and Analysis

         A. Legal Standard

         “The district court has broad discretion to decide whether to certify a class and [the Sixth Circuit] reviews class certification for an abuse of discretion. A district court's decision to certify a class is subject to very limited review and will be reversed only if a strong showing is made that the district court clearly abused its discretion. An abuse of discretion occurs if the district court relies on clearly erroneous findings of fact, applies the wrong legal standard, misapplies the correct legal standard when reaching a conclusion, or makes a clear error of judgment.” Young v. Nationwide Mut. Ins. Co., 693 F.3d 532, 536 (6th Cir. 2012) (internal citations and quotations omitted).

         B. Class Certification

         “The trial court has broad discretion in deciding whether to certify a class, but that discretion must be exercised within the framework of Rule 23.” In re Am. Med. Sys., Inc., 75 F.3d 1069, 1079 (6th Cir. 1996). First, the Court must determine whether the class is sufficiently definite. Young, 693 F.3d 532, 537-38. Next, a class must satisfy Rule 23. Id.

         1. Class Definition

         “Before a court may certify a class pursuant to Rule 23, the class definition must be sufficiently definite so that it is administratively feasible for the court to determine whether a particular individual is a member of the proposed class.” Id. (citing 5 James W. Moore et al., Moore's Federal Practice § 23.21[1] (Matthew Bender 3d ed. 1997) (“Although the text of Rule 23(a) is silent on the matter, a class must not only exist, the class must be susceptible of precise definition. There can be no class action if the proposed class is ‘amorphous' or ‘imprecise.' ”). “For a class to be sufficiently defined, the court must be able to resolve the question of whether class members are included or excluded from the class by reference to objective criteria. In some circumstances, a reference to damages or injuries caused by particular wrongful actions taken by the defendants will be sufficiently objective criterion for proper inclusion in a class definition. Similarly, a reference to fixed, geographic boundaries will generally be sufficiently objective for proper inclusion in a class definition.” Id.

         Defendant alleges that the proposed class definitions are “inaccurate and overbroad” because they do not “adequately define who would be class members and such class members are not easily ascertainable.” Dkt. No. 35, p. 17 (Pg. ID 319). The Court disagrees. In this case, Plaintiffs propose three[1] classes:

(1) All persons and entities that currently own or at one time owned any parcel of real property located within the City of Warren for the purpose of renting or leasing a residential structure or multiple family unit on that property who or which has been issued a civil infraction for failing to obtain a certificate of compliance and subsequently paid them, stemming from an inspection under the IPMC and the City Code, at any time since September 28, 2009 and through the date of final judgment, or such longer amount of time as may be allowed by law. (hereinafter “Class One”).
(2) All persons and entities that currently own or at one time owned any parcel of real property in the City of Warren for the purpose of renting or leasing a residential structure or multiple family unit on that property, who or which have made repairs pursuant to a City of Warren International Property Maintenance Code of 2009 City Certification Inspection Report or other deficiency notice issued by the City of Warren without being provided with notice of the violation or their ability to appeal such determination to an impartial Board of Appeals. (hereinafter “Class Two”).
(3) All persons and entities who paid rental registration and inspection fees to the City of Warren pursuant to the ordinance permitting searches without a warrant. (hereinafter “Class Three”).

Dkt. No. 36, pp. 2-3 (Pg. ID 416-17).

         Each class adequately defines the members that should comprise the group. For Class One and Class Two, the Plaintiffs include sufficient objective information to determine which members should be included in the class. For example, Plaintiffs include the geographic boundaries where the properties must be located, the type of infraction issued, the specific type of residential structure, and the relevant time period. These specifics are precise enough for the Court to determine who belongs in the classes.

         Class Three is written more broadly, but is still sufficiently definite. See Young, 693 F.3d 532, 538 (upholding certification of class of persons “who were charged local government taxes on their payment of premiums which were either not owed, or were at rates higher than permitted.”). Class Three includes the type of fee, geographic boundary, the type of property and the circumstances leading up to issuance of the fee. Although Class Three is more general, it still provides sufficient detail to identify class members without speculation. Based on the multiple categories of objective criteria, which include a fixed geographical boundary and reference to injuries caused by a specific wrong, each class is sufficiently definite to support a class action suit.

         2. Assumpsit

         Along with its objection that the class is overbroad, the Defendant argues that the class definition is improper because a six-year statute of limitations does not apply. According to the Defendant, the proposed class should date back three ...


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