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Oglala Sioux Tribe v. Van Hunnik

United States District Court, Eighth Circuit

January 28, 2014

OGLALA SIOUX TRIBE and ROSEBUD SIOUX TRIBE, as parens patriae, to protect the rights of their tribal members; and ROCHELLE WALKING EAGLE, MADONNA PAPPAN, and LISA YOUNG, individually and on behalf of all other persons similarly situated, Plaintiffs,
v.
LUANN VAN HUNNIK; MARK VARGO; HON. JEFF DAVIS; and KIM MALSAM-RYSDON, in their official capacities, Defendants.

ORDER GRANTING CLASS CERTIFICATION

JEFFREY L. VIKEN, Chief District Judge.

INTRODUCTION

Pending before the court is a motion for class certification filed by plaintiffs. (Docket 24). Plaintiffs seek to certify this suit as a class action pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(a) and (b)(2). Id . Defendants oppose the motion. (Dockets 28, 29, & 30). For the reasons stated below, the court grants plaintiffs' motion for class certification.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Plaintiffs Oglala Sioux Tribe, Rosebud Sioux Tribe, Rochelle Walking Eagle, Madonna Pappan, and Lisa Young filed a complaint against defendants Luann Van Hunnik, Mark Vargo, Hon. Jeff Davis, and Kim Malsam-Rysdon in their official capacities. (Docket 1). The complaint asserts defendants' policies, practices and procedures relating to the removal of Native American children from their homes during 48-hour hearings violate the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause and the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). Id . Specifically, plaintiffs contend defendants' "policies, practices, and customs... (1) remov[e] Indian children from their homes without affording them, their parents, or their tribe a timely and adequate hearing as required by the Due Process Clause, (2) remov[e] Indian children from their homes without affording them, their parents, or their tribe a timely and adequate hearing as required by the Indian Child Welfare Act, and (3) remov[e] Indian children from their homes without affording them, their parents, or their tribe a timely and adequate hearing and then coerce the parents into waiving their rights under the Due Process Clause and Indian Child Welfare Act to such a hearing." Id. at p. 3.

DISCUSSION

In a class action, "[o]ne or more members of a class may sue or be sued as representative parties on behalf of all members[.]" Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(a). A court may certify a class action only if all of the following requirements are met:

(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.

Id. The four prerequisites for class certification can be referred to as (1) numerosity, (2) commonality, (3) typicality, and (4) adequacy of representation. Paxton v. Union National Bank , 688 F.2d 552, 559 (8th Cir. 1982). "An action may be maintained as a class action only if all four prerequisites of Rule 23(a) are satisfied and, in addition, one of the three subsections of Rule 23(b) is met." Pickett v. IBP , 197 F.R.D. 510, 513 (M.D. Al. 2000).

"When determining whether to grant class certification, the question is not whether the plaintiffs will ultimately prevail on the merits, but rather whether the plaintiffs have met the requirements of Rule 23(a)." Perez-Benites v. Candy Brand, LLC , 267 F.R.D. 242, 246 (W.D. Ark. 2010) (citing Eisen v. Carlisle and Jacquelin , 417 U.S. 156, 178 (1974)).

As the party seeking class certification, plaintiffs bear the burden of demonstrating all prerequisites of Rule 23 are met. Amchem Prods., Inc. v. Windsor , 521 U.S. 591, 614 (1997). The district court has broad discretion to decide whether certification is appropriate, and its decision will be reversed only for abuse of discretion. Rattray v. Woodbury County, IA , 614 F.3d 831, 835 (8th Cir. 2010).

Defendants initially argue plaintiffs' motion for class certification is premature and the definition of the class is overly broad, vague and ambiguous. (Docket 28 at pp. 2-5). Defendants also argue plaintiffs do not meet the Rule 23 requirements for class certification. Id. at pp. 5-13.

1. Whether plaintiffs' motion is premature

Defendants argue plaintiffs' motion for class certification is premature because "[t]here are a number of jurisdictional requirements which have not been met" as discussed in their motions to dismiss. (Docket 28 at p. 2). The court entered its order denying defendants' motions to dismiss so this argument is moot. Defendants also contend plaintiffs' motion is "premature because discovery has not yet occurred" and argue "the Court does not have the materials necessary to determine whether Plaintiffs have met their burden under Rule 23." Id. at pp. 2-3. Defendants suggest it is "disingenuous of Plaintiffs[] to simultaneously claim both that expedited discovery is necessary to prove their claims, and that they have met their burden for class certification, under Rule 23, on a bare record."[1] Id. at p. 3 (emphasis in original).

Under Rule 23(c)(1)(A), certification of class should be done "[a]t an early practicable time after a person sues or is sued as a class representative." Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(c)(1)(A). The Supreme Court recognized Rule 23 class certification may be "plain enough from the pleadings to determine whether the interests of the absent parties are fairly encompassed within the named plaintiff's claim." Gen. Tel. Co. of Sw. v. Falcon , 457 U.S. 147, 160 (1982). The pleadings contain sufficient information for this court to determine whether class certification is appropriate in this case. See In re Hartford Sales Practices Litig. , 192 F.R.D. 592, 602 n. 9 (D. Minn. 1999) (noting "pleadings alone can conclusively show that the requirements of Rule 23 have been satisfied."); Fogie v. Rent-A-Car , 867 F.Supp. 1398, 1402 (D. Minn. 1993) (finding class certification appropriate based on the "pleadings and a few affidavits regarding the Rule 23(a) ...


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