A. THE PROPOSED CLASS DEFINITION SATISFIES THE REQUIREMENTS OF FED. R. CIV. P. 23(a)
1. Class Definition Satisfaction
A court should deny class certification when the class definition is “overly broad, amorphous, and vague, or where the number of individualized determinations required to determine class membership becomes too administratively difficult.” Gittens v. Sch. Bd., 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 115987, *18 (M.D. Fla. July 7, 2017)
The two class definitions pled by Plaintiffs are sufficiently tailored to identify prospective class members without need for any individualized determinations to determine membership beyond certification that that the individual is or was a property owner in Bella Collina on the defined dates. This certification can be easily obtained by referencing public records.
2. Middle District Local Rule 4.04 Compliance
While considering a motion for class certification under Fed. R. Civ. P. 23, the Court must take the allegations in support of the certification as true and refrain from conducting a preliminary assessment of the merits of the case. Susan J. v. Riley, 254 F.R.D. 439, 458, (M.D. Ala. Oct. 24, 2008) [citing Eisen v. Carlisle & Jacquelin, 417 U.S. 156, 177 (1974)].
In Plaintiffs’ Complaint, a bold-headlined section titled “CLASS ACTION ALLEGATIONS” was included in compliance with Middle District Local Rule 4.04(a). The allegations contained in that section, and which are further set forth in this Memorandum, are sufficient to support a ruling for class certification.
3. Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(a) Certification
The district court has discretion to certify a class if, after a rigorous analysis, the court is satisfied that the requirements of Fed. R. Civ. P. 23 are met. Lee-Bolton v. Koppers Inc., 319 F.R.D. 346, 351, (N.D. Fla. Mar. 20, 2017).
Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(a) contains four prerequisites that must be satisfied under a rigorous analysis to proceed as a class action:
(a) One or more members of a class may sue or be sued as representative parties on behalf of all only if:
(1) the class is so numerous that joinder of all members of the class 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.
All four of these elements required under Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(a) have been by Plaintiffs, as set forth below.
i. Numerosity – Rule 23(a)(1)
The test for numerosity is whether “the class [is] so numerous that joinder of all members is impracticable.” Phillips v. Joint Legislature Comm. on Performance & Expenditure
Review, 637 F.2d 1014, 1022 (5th Cir. 1981) [citing Ass’n for Disabled Americans, Inc. v. Amoco Oil Co., 211 F.R.D. 457, 462, (S.D. Fla. Feb. 19, 2002)].
“There exists no definite numerical standard as to what size class satisfies this numerosity requirement. [Garcia v. Gloor, 618 F.2d 264, 267 (5th Cir. 1980), cert. denied, 449 U.S. 1113, 66 L. Ed. 2d 842, 101 S. Ct. 923 (1981); David v. Showtime/Movie Channel, Inc., 697 F. Supp. 752, 756 (D.C.N.Y. 1988).] Rather, impracticability will be gauged according to the circumstances of the particular case. [Fifth Moorings Condominium, Inc. v. Shere, 81 F.R.D. 712, 715-716 (S.D. Fla. 1979)]” Alfred v. Okeelanta Corp., 1990 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 21021, *26 (S.D. Fla. July 18, 1990).
Plaintiffs are seeking to certify classes of approximately 350 members and approximately 95 members. Numerous Courts have held that such numbers are more than adequate to justify the numerosity requirement of Rule 23(a)(1). See Alfred v. Okeelanta Corp., 1990 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 21021, *26 (S.D. Fla. July 18, 1990) – (Classes of 893 and 686 found sufficient); Cox v. American Cast Iron Pipe Co., 784 F.2d 1546, 1553 (11th Cir. 1986), cert. denied 479 U.S. 883, (1986) – (Class of 240 members found sufficient). Joinder with approximately 350 members or with 95 members is certainly impracticable and is certainly in line with precedent for class certification.
The members of each proposed class are either former or current property owners within Bella Collina. All Bella Collina property owners since June 27, 2012, excluding those related to the various Defendants and listed specifically above, have been subjected to the alleged illegal actions of Defendants alleged within Plaintiffs’ Complaint. These members are easily defined, and readily available through a public records search. Plaintiffs have adequately satisfied the numerosity requirement of Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(a) and met their burden.
ii. Commonality – Rule 23(a)(2)
“The commonality analysis…..measures the extent to which all members of a putative class have similar claims.” Susan J. v. Riley, 254 F.R.D. 439, 460 (M.D. Ala. Oct. 24, 2008).
“‘[F]or purposes of Rule 23(a)(2) even a single common question will do.’ Carriuolo, 823 F.3d at 984 (quoting Dukes, 564 U.S. at 359); Williams v. Mohawk Indus., Inc., 568 F.3d 1350, 1355 (11th Cir. 2009) (“Commonality requires that there be at least one issue whose resolution will affect all or a significant number of the putative class members.”).” Lee-Bolton v. Koppers Inc., 319 F.R.D. 346, 384, (N.D. Fla. Mar. 20, 2017).
“The common question must be one that has a class-wide answer or resolution, ‘which means that determination of its truth or falsity will resolve an issue that is central to the validity of each one of the claims in one stroke.’ Carriuolo, 823 F. 3d at 984. Also, the class members must have all suffered the same injury. See Dukes, 564 U.S. at 350 (quoting Gen. Telephone Co. of the Southwest v. Falcon, 457 U.S. 147, 157, 102 S. Ct. 2364, 72 L. Ed. 2d 740 (1982)).’ Lee- Bolton v. Koppers Inc., 319 F.R.D. 346, 384 (N.D. Fla. Mar. 20, 2017).
In the instant action, Plaintiffs seek to certify a class action in a case that, at its heart, involves the Developer of a community common to all prospective class members and the Property Owner’s Association that owes fiduciary duties to all prospective class members by virtue of owning property within the community. All prospective class members either currently own or at one-time owned property within the community, and have incurred the same alleged illegal actions alleged within Plaintiffs’ Complaint. By usurping control of the POA, passing various self-serving special assessments subsequent to passing improper and illegal amendments to the CC&R, and acting as a debt collector on behalf of the privately-owned Bella Collina Club, all prospective class members were subjected to the alleged illegal actions of the Defendants. Plaintiffs’ detailed allegations, as argued above, are all contained within its Complaint.
If Plaintiffs are to prevail in their causes of action against Defendants, and the post-August 29, 2005 turnover actions of Defendants are deemed to be void, this resolution will affect all or a significant number of the putative class members. Plaintiffs, needing to have only one common question of law with a prospective class, have met their burden for commonality.