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Murphy v. Wheelock

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

July 26, 2019

Tenner Murphy, by his guardians Kay and Richard Murphy; Marrie Bottelson; Dionne Swanson; and on behalf of others similarly situated, Plaintiffs,
Pam Wheelock[1] in her capacity as Commissioner of The Minnesota Department of Human Services, Defendant.

          Joseph W. Anthony, Esq., Peter McElligott, Esq., and Steven M. Pincus, Esq., Anthony Ostlund Baer & Louwagie PA; Laura Farley, Esq., and Steven Andrew Smith, Esq., Nicholas Kaster PLLP; Barnett I. Rosenfeld, Esq., and Justin H. Perl, Esq., Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid; Eren Ernest Sutherland, Esq., Justin M. Page, Esq., and Steven C. Schmidt, Esq., Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid, Minnesota Disability Law Center, counsel for Plaintiffs.

          Aaron Winter, Brandon L. Boese, Janine Wetzel Kimble, and Scott H. Ikeda, Assistant Attorneys General, Minnesota Attorney General's Office, counsel for Defendant.

          Pari McGarraugh, Esq., and Samuel D. Orbovich, Esq., Fredrikson & Byron, counsel for amicus ARRM.




         This matter is before the Court on Defendant's Motion to Decertify the Class (Doc. No. 418). For the reasons set forth below, the Court denies Defendant's motion.


         The Court previously detailed the background of this case in its May 18, 2017 Memorandum Opinion and Order, (Doc. No. 54), and the Court only briefly summarizes the facts here.[2] In short, Plaintiffs are individuals with disabilities and Medicaid recipients who receive Home and Community Based Disability Waivers (“Disability Waivers”) from the State of Minnesota under the direction of Defendant Pam Wheelock (“Defendant”), Acting Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Human Services (“DHS”). Plaintiffs reside in Community Residential Setting (“CRS”) facilities- otherwise known as corporate adult foster care-and wish to access various individualized housing services available under the Disability Waivers to pursue more integrated housing options. Plaintiffs assert that their current living situations isolate and segregate them from their communities in violation of federal law. To access the services they seek in a timely manner and with proper due process, Plaintiffs seek declaratory and injunctive relief to reform Defendant's administration of the Disability Waiver programs. The Court supplements the relevant facts as needed, below.

         On September 29, 2017, the Court granted Plaintiffs' Motion for Class Certification, certifying the following class: “All individuals age 18 and older who are eligible for and have received a Disability Waiver, live in a licensed Community Residential Setting, and have not been given the choice and opportunity to reside in the most integrated residential setting appropriate to their needs.” (Doc. No. 99 (“Cert. Order”) at 35.) Defendant now argues that the Class should be decertified because discovery has shown that: (1) the Named Plaintiffs are not adequate class representatives; (2) Plaintiffs lack sufficient evidence to meet the numerosity requirement; (3) Named Plaintiffs' claims are neither common nor typical of the class; and (4) Plaintiffs' claims cannot be remedied by a single injunction. (Doc. No. 421 (“Decertify”) at 2.) Defendant also challenges Class member standing. (Id. at 33-34.) Plaintiffs oppose decertification. (Doc. No. 582 (“Opp. to Decertify”).)


         I. Legal Standard

         Once a class is certified pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23, the court retains a continuing duty to assure the propriety of certification. See Hervey v. City of Little Rock, 787 F.2d 1223, 1227 (8th Cir. 1986). In addition, “[a]n order that grants or denies class certification may be altered or amended before final judgment.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(c)(1)(C). Whether to decertify a class is within the district court's discretion. See Webb v. Exxon Mobil Corp., 856 F.3d 1150, 1157 (8th Cir. 2017). A decision to decertify a class should arise based on changed circumstances that were not present when the class was certified. Karsjens v. Piper, 336 F.Supp.3d 974, 988 (D. Minn. 2018) (citing William B. Rubenstein, Newberg on Class Actions § 7:34 (5th ed. 2018 Update).)

         The Court certified the Plaintiff Class on September 29, 2017 pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(b)(2), concluding that the Class “comprises a cohesive group of similarly situated individuals receiving Disability Waivers and residing in CRS facilities whose circumstances are impacted by Defendant's actions and inactions with respect to the class as a whole.” (Cert. Order at 34.) The Court observed that the Named Plaintiffs “assert injuries that are common to and typical of those alleged on behalf of the proposed class” and that the Named Plaintiffs and the proposed class “would all benefit from the remedies they seek in the form of a more consistent and equitable distribution of resources statewide.” (Id. at 30-31.) The Court further observed that while Plaintiffs seek individualized services in order to obtain individualized housing options, they do not seek individualized injunctive relief for each class member; rather, “Plaintiffs seek final relief that would enable them to access individualized housing services and integrated residential settings through improvements to Defendant's administration of the Disability Waivers.” (Id. at 34.)

         Defendant contends that “in light of changed circumstances not present when the class was certified, including additional information exchanged during discovery that this Court could not consider when it certified the class, ” the Court should decertify the Class. (Decertify at 2.) Specifically, Defendant argues that the Named Plaintiffs are no longer adequate Class representatives, the Class no longer satisfies the numerosity requirements, Plaintiffs cannot show that their claims are common or typical to the Class, relief cannot be granted through a single injunction, and Class members lack standing. The Court addressed many of the same arguments in its Order certifying the Class and finds that Defendant has failed to present changed circumstances such that its original analysis no longer applies. Karsjens, 336 F.Supp.3d at 988. The Court also finds that the Class is defined in such a way that all members within it have standing.

         A. Adequate Representation (Rule 23(a)(4))

         Defendant first argues that the Named Plaintiffs are no longer adequate Class representatives because two have moved into individualized and integrated homes, and a third has interests that differ from other Class members. (Decertify at 4-6.)

         Plaintiffs argue that Defendant's focus on the present, individual circumstances of the Named Plaintiffs “is an attempt to bypass the Class-wide problems timely raised and the systemic relief sought by the Named Plaintiffs when moving for certification.” (Opp. to Decertify at 19.) Plaintiffs contend that once the Class was certified, the claims that the Named Plaintiffs brought on behalf ...

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