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Richey v. Matanuska-Susitna Borough

United States District Court, D. Alaska

April 7, 2015

Andrea Richey, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
Matanuska-Susitna Borough, Defendant.

ORDER AND OPINION [Re: Motion At Docket 21]

JOHN W. SEDWICK, Senior District Judge.

I. MOTION PRESENTED

At docket 21 plaintiffs Andrea Richey, et al. (collectively, "plaintiffs") move for class certification on each of their claims against Defendant Matanuska-Susitna Borough ("the Borough") pursuant to Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The Borough opposes at docket 36. Plaintiffs reply at docket 41. Oral argument was not requested and would not assist the court.

II. BACKGROUND

The State of Alaska's ("the State's") Public Employees Retirement System ("PERS") provides retirement, disability, and death benefits to certain public employees.[1] The Borough entered into a contractual agreement with the State to participate in PERS in 1968 ("the Participation Agreement").[2] Plaintiffs allege that this contract requires the Borough to enroll its employees in PERS once "the employee [is] employed by [the Borough] in a qualified position, receive[s] PERS-eligible compensation, and [is] eligible to make PERS contributions."[3]

Plaintiffs and the putative class members are former and current Borough employees. They refer to themselves as "disfavored personnel, " meaning that they are "permanent part-time and/or permanent full-time [Borough] employees denied PERS benefits."[4] Plaintiffs assert that they are actually PERS-eligible because they (1) "either initially and/or routinely" worked sufficient hours per week (15 hours per week for part-time employees and 30 hours per week for full-time employees); and (2) worked an unspecified "sufficient" amount of hours per annum "during many, most and/or all years" of employment.[5]

Plaintiffs filed their complaint in state court in January 2013 and moved for class certification before discovery had been conducted. The Alaska Superior Court denied their motion, ruling that plaintiffs failed to "provide information to establish each of the requirements for class certification."[6] The denial was issued without prejudice to plaintiffs' ability to renew their motion after completion of discovery. Before renewing their motion, plaintiffs amended their complaint to add a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim. This led the Borough to remove the case to federal court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a).[7]

Plaintiffs, in their First Amended Complaint ("Complaint"), claim that the Borough's decision to exclude "disfavored personnel" from PERS is a breach of the Borough's fiduciary duty (Claim 2); a violation of Article XII, section 7 of the Alaska Constitution (Claim 4); a violation of plaintiffs' rights under "express and implied contractual commitments" (Claim 5); a violation of plaintiffs' rights under "the laws and Constitutions of the United States and the State of Alaska, " including the right to equal protection of the law (Claim 6); and a violation of AS 23.10.045 (Claim 7). The Complaint also seeks declaratory relief and an injunction requiring the Borough to enroll plaintiffs in PERS retroactively (Claim 3).[8] Plaintiffs seek class certification on each of their claims.

III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

A party seeking class certification bears the burden of satisfying Rule 23(a)'s four requirements: (1) numerosity; (2) commonality; (3) typicality; and (4) adequacy of representation.[9] Additionally, the party must satisfy at least one of the requirements of Rule 23(b), which defines the three different types of class actions. Although the decision to grant or deny class certification is within the trial court's discretion, [10] the court must undertake a "rigorous analysis" to determine whether the party seeking class certification has done more than plead compliance with Rule 23, but instead has affirmatively demonstrated his or her compliance with the Rule.[11] IV. DISCUSSION

Plaintiffs argue that their claims satisfy all four Rule 23(a) requirements and each claim is suitable for class treatment under either Rule 23(b)(1) or (2). The Borough contends that plaintiffs' claims satisfy neither Rule 23(a) nor (b) and argues that plaintiffs have failed to demonstrate the existence of an identifiable class. Because the proposed class definition lacks sufficient definitiveness and because plaintiffs have not demonstrated compliance with Rule 23(a)'s requirements, plaintiffs' motion is denied.[12]

A. Plaintiffs Have Not Demonstrated The Existence of an Identifiable and Ascertainable Class

Plaintiffs concede that, [13] "[i]n addition to the explicit requirements of Rule 23, an implied prerequisite to class certification is that the class must be sufficiently definite; the party seeking certification must demonstrate that an identifiable and ascertainable class exists."[14] This requirement exists to ensure that the court will be able to determine whether an individual is a class member bound by the judgment.[15] Although plaintiffs need not identify each class member before certification, plaintiffs must demonstrate that it is administratively feasible to ascertain the class by reference to objective criteria.[16] "Administrative feasibility means that identifying class members is a manageable process that does not require much, if any, individual factual inquiry."[17]

The Borough argues that plaintiffs' class definition is "exceedingly complicated" because it "contains seven discrete subparts"[18] and that the class is insufficiently definite for two reasons. First, the Borough argues that the court will be required to perform individualized inquiries to determine whether particular individuals (1) "were at all times provided all equipment, tools, clothing, [and] supplies necessary to the performance of their duties"[19] and (2) "routinely" worked sufficient hours.[20] Second, the Borough argues that, by defining the class as including only Borough employees who were incorrectly excluded from PERS, the class is an impermissible "fail-safe class." Fail-safe class definitions earn that title because they require the court to determine the merits ...


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