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Reynolds v. Alabama Department of Transportation

United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division

March 15, 2017

JOHNNY REYNOLDS, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
ALABAMA DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Myron H. Thompson UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Defendants Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) and State Personnel Department and the proposed “Certified Intervenor Contempt Relief Settlement Class” filed a joint motion to certify the settlement class pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 23. By that motion, the parties seek preliminary approval of the proposed settlement agreement (attached as Exhibit A) and conditional or provisional certification of the settlement class, whose members are specifically identified as the 213 individual intervenors with remaining Article 15 claims (identified in doc. no. 9087-4). The parties further request that the court: (1) appoint Honorable Raymond P. Fitzpatrick as class counsel for the settlement class; (2) appoint Class Action Administrators as the settlement administrators for the Rule 23(b)(2) settlement class; (3) approve the proposed Notice of Proposed Settlement and Right to Object (as modified by the court; attached as Exhibit B); and (4) schedule a final fairness hearing for the proposed settlement. Based on the entire record before the court, the court finds as follows.

         First, the court finds that the proposed settlement agreement should be preliminarily approved, that notice should be provided to the interested persons, and that a fairness hearing should be conducted.

         The court further finds it appropriate to certify provisionally a Rule 23(b)(2) injunctive-relief settlement class composed of:

“The remaining 213 non-black members of the Intervenor Contempt Relief Settlement Class, who are those individual intervenors with remaining Article 15 claims identified in doc. no. 9087-4. More specifically, it is the individual intervenors who: (a) Were identified by defendants as entitled to reclassification based on April 1994 duties (see exhibit nos. DX2184 and DX2188 from January 1998 hearing; see also, doc. no. 8843, n.3);
(b) Were employed by ALDOT after the May 29, 2001, Fairness Hearing;
(c) Currently are employed by ALDOT or were employed by ALDOT before 2007;
(d) Have been identified as having potentially valid claims for individual contempt relief for potential lost pay occurring after May 29, 2001, arising from defendants’ alleged failure to timely implement the reclassifications required by Article 15 of the 1994 Consent Decree; and
(e) Were not in a higher classification than their proposed reclassification position as of May 29, 2001. Individual intervenor class members meeting such criteria are listed on doc. no. 9087-4.”

         For reasons to be articulated in a final decision regarding whether to approve the settlement, the court preliminarily finds that the settlement class meets the requirements of Rule 23(a)--numerosity, commonality, typicality, and adequacy of representation--as well as the requirement of Rule 23(b)(2) that the issues involved “apply generally to the class,” such that “relief is appropriate respecting the class as a whole.” Rule 23(b)(2) contemplates class cases seeking equitable injunctive or declaratory relief, but monetary relief does not conflict with the limitations of the Rule when it is not in the nature of a claim for damages, but rather is an integral part of the statutory equitable remedy, to be determined through the exercise of the court’s discretion. The court finds that the remaining 213 non-black members of the Intervenor Contempt Relief Settlement Class seek “make whole” equitable remedies appropriate for relief under Rule 23(b)(2). The court preliminarily finds that Honorable Raymond P. Fitzpatrick can capably serve as and should be appointed class counsel, based on the factors outlined in Rule 23(g).

         The court finds that the notice form attached as Exhibit B to this memorandum opinion and order, the process for distributing and collecting these forms outlined below, and the process for gathering objections or commentary--together with the fairness hearing described below--collectively constitute sufficient notice of and opportunity to be heard on the proposed settlement agreement as due process and Rule 23(e) require.

         It is therefore ORDERED that the joint motion for preliminary approval of settlement agreement (doc. no. 9191) is granted as follows:

(1) The proposed settlement agreement (doc. no. 9191-2) is preliminarily approved; final approval will be subject to a hearing and review by this court of any objections to or comments about the agreement’s terms submitted by class members.
(2) An injunctive-relief settlement class, defined as “the remaining 213 non-black members of the Intervenor Contempt Relief Settlement Class, that is, those individual intervenors with remaining Article 15 claims identified in doc. no. 9087-4,” is provisionally ...

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