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Arnold v. Washington

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

November 16, 2017

MICHAEL ARNOLD, Plaintiff,
v.
HEIDI WASHINGTON, [1]Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR CLASS CERTIFICATION (ECF No. 113)

          HONORABLE LINDA V. PARKER JUDGE

         Plaintiff Michael Arnold (“Arnold”) brings this action against Michigan Department of Corrections (“MDOC”) Director Heidi Washington, claiming that Jewish inmates requiring a kosher diet are receiving food not prepared or served in a kosher manner. Arnold alleges that this conduct violates the putative class members' First Amendment rights and their rights under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”), 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1. Arnold seeks declaratory and injunctive relief.

         Presently before the Court is his motion for class certification, filed October 9, 2017. (ECF No. 113.) In the motion, Arnold proposes the following class definition:

Jewish prisoners who are designated to receive religious meals and have been served Vegan meals prepared in a non-Kosher manner, including, but not limited to, where the utensils used in the preparation of the Vegan meals are not certified as being Kosher; where all the area where the Vegan meals are prepared is not Kosher; and where all the equipment used to clean the utensils is not Kosher are included within this class.

         The deadline for Defendants to respond to the motion was October 30, 2017. See E.D. Mich. LR 7.1(e). No response has been filed. For the reasons set forth below, the Court is granting Arnold's motion.

         Applicable Law and Analysis

         A party seeking class certification must meet the requirements of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(a) and 23(b)(1), (2), or (3). The movant bears the burden of “establish[ing] his right” to class certification. Beattie v. Centurytel., Inc., 511 F.3d 554, 560 (6th Cir. 2007). A proposed class must meet four prerequisites before being certified as a class, namely: (1) it must be “so numerous that joinder of all members is impractical;” (2) there must be “questions of law or fact common to the class;” (3) “the claims … of the representative parties” must be “typical of the claims … of the class;” and (4) “the representative parties” must be capable of “fairly and adequately protect[ing] the interests of the class.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(a).

         Numerosity

         As to the first requirement, there is no “strict numerical test” that must be met for class certification. Senter v. Gen. Motors Corp., 532 F.2d 511, 523 n.24 (6th Cir. 1976). The requirement can be satisfied with a class size as low as 35 people. See Afro Am. Patrolmen's League v. Duck, 503 F.2d 294, 298 (6th Cir. 1974) (finding class sufficiently numerous at 35); Ham v. Swift Transp. Co., 275 F.R.D. 475, 483 (W.D. Tenn. 2011) (“Where the number of class members exceeds forty, Rule 23(a)(1) is generally deemed satisfied.”). Rather, numerosity “requires examination of the specific facts of each case . . ..” Gen. Tel. Co. of the N.W., Inc. v. EEOC, 446 U.S. 318, 330 (1980). In addition to the number of proposed members, then, courts commonly consider such factors as the ability of the members to bring individual lawsuits and whether class certification would promote judicial economy. See Gaspar v. Linvatec Corp., 167 F.R.D. 51, 56 (N.D. Ill. 1996).

         Arnold believes that there are at least 50 to 100 MDOC inmates who are similarly situated to him-that is, they are Jewish individuals incarcerated in an MDOC facility and are designated to receive a kosher diet. Arnold contends that their joinder is impractical. This Court agrees, particularly because these individuals are prisoners housed at various MDOC facilities throughout the State of Michigan. The ability of these inmates to bring individual lawsuits is unlikely, particularly in light of the filing fee, which is not waived for indigent prisoners (although it can be paid incrementally). See 28 U.S.C. § 1915. Moreover, these individuals are unlikely able to afford counsel to represent them and finding pro bono counsel is difficult. Judicial economy therefore is promoted by joining their claims in one action. As such, the Court finds that Arnold meets the numerosity requirement.

         Commonality and Typicality

         Rule 23(a)(2)'s commonality requirement “simply requires a common question of law or fact.” Bittinger v. Tecumseh Prods. Co., 123 F.3d 877, 884 (6th Cir. 1997). As the Sixth Circuit subsequently explained: “‘The interests and claims of the various plaintiffs need not be identical. Rather, the commonality test is met when there is at least one issue whose resolution will affect all or a significant number of the putative class members.'” Fallick v. Nationwide Mut. Ins. Co., 162 F.3d 410, 424 (6th Cir. 1998) (quoting Forbush v. J.C. Penney Co., Inc., 994 F.2d 1101, 1106 (5th Cir. 1993)).

         Meanwhile, Rule 23(a)(3)'s typicality requirement demands that the representative be a member of the class and share at least a common element of fact or law with the class. Senter, 532 F.2d at 525. Like the test for commonality, the test for typicality is not demanding and the interests and claims of the various plaintiffs need not be identical.[2] Bittinger, 123 F.3d at 884. The Sixth Circuit has explained the typicality requirement as follows:

“Typicality determines whether a sufficient relationship exists between the injury to the named plaintiff and the conduct affecting the class, so that the court may properly attribute a collective nature to the challenged conduct. In other words, when such a relationship is shown, a plaintiff's injury arises from or is directly related to a wrong to a class, and that wrong includes the wrong to the plaintiff. Thus, a plaintiff's claim is typical if it arises from the same event or practice or course of ...

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