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West v. Manson

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

September 7, 2017

VALERIE WEST, ET AL.
v.
COMMISSIONER JOHN R. MANSON, ET AL.

          RULING ON JOINT MOTION FOR FINAL APPROVAL OF SETTLEMENT AGREEMENT AND ORDER

          HOLLY B. FITZSIMMONS, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(e), the parties, including the plaintiff classes of women who are or who in the future will be confined in Connecticut's correctional institution for women and the plaintiff class of children of these women (hereinafter “plaintiffs”) and the Defendant Commissioner of the Department of Correction (“DOC”), jointly move for the final approval of the Stipulation preliminarily approved by the Court on July 5, 2017. For the reasons that follow, the parties' Joint Motion for Final Approval of Settlement Agreement [Doc. #538] is GRANTED.

         BACKGROUND

         The 1989 Consent Decree This action was filed in 1983 as a class action pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 23. A consent decree, entered on October 13, 1988, and approved by the Court on January 9, 1989, included a provision on page 66, Section IX, paragraph 2 stating in part:

         “Defendants shall provide for a full-time attorney to represent CCIN inmates in family matters, such as divorces, child custody, DCYS proceedings, and other civil matters. This attorney shall be present at CCIN at least one day or its equivalent per week.” [Doc. #175 at 66, §IX, ¶2].

         Motion to Terminate On March 31, 2017, Defendant Commissioner of Correction filed a Motion to Terminate Prospective Injunctive Relief [Doc. #491], seeking to terminate Section IX, paragraph 2 of the 1989 consent decree, pursuant to the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), 18 U.S.C. §3626(b)(2).

         Settlement Agreement On June 30, 2017, the parties entered into a private settlement agreement whereby plaintiffs agreed not to oppose defendant's pending motion to terminate and defendant agreed to certain steps to make family law information available to DOC inmates, through family law seminars and access to CTLawhelp.org materials. [Doc. #538 ¶3(a); Doc. #520-1 ¶(1)]. “As consideration for the plaintiffs' relinquishment of their rights to oppose the motion, the defendant shall, as set forth in this Agreement, arrange for provision on a gender neutral basis of civil legal assistance to [] inmates incarcerated in correctional institutions....”[1] [Doc. #520-1 ¶(1)(a-c)].

         Counsel for the parties jointly moved the Court, pursuant to Rule 23(e) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, for preliminary approval of the proposed Stipulation, for a hearing, and for authorization of notice of the hearing to be provided to members of the plaintiff class on June 30, 2017. [Doc. #520].

         On July 5, 2017, the Court preliminarily approved the proposed Stipulation and set a hearing pursuant to Rule 23(e) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for the purpose of determining whether the proposed Stipulation is fair, reasonable, and adequate. Notice of Proposed Settlement of Class Action Regarding Court Access in Family Matters was issued to the plaintiff class. A fairness hearing was held on August 2, 2017, which offered any objector an opportunity to be heard. [Doc. ##523, 524, 525, 538].[2]

         Class Members The Consent Judgment, approved and adopted on January 9, 1989, identifies the plaintiff class as follows,

The provisions of this Consent Judgment resolve the existing disputes and issues in the above-entitled case between the plaintiffs, individually and those similarly situated as present and future inmates confined at The Connecticut Correctional Institution at Niantic [(“CCIN”)], and the defendants, all of whom are officials and employees of the Connecticut Department of Corrections, and Department of Children and Youth Services.

[Doc. #175 §I (“General Provisions”), ¶1]. Section I, paragraph 7(d) further states “‘Inmate' shall mean the plaintiff class comprised of women who are or in the future will be confined in the Connecticut Correctional institution at Niantic whether in pretrial or sentenced status.”

         APPROVAL OF THE SETTLEMENT AGREEMENT

         The Court hereby grants the Motion for Final Approval in accordance with the terms set forth in the Settlement Agreement.

         Rule 23(e) requires court approval for a class action settlement to insure that it is procedurally and substantively “fair, reasonable and adequate.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(e). Approval of a settlement under Rule 23 will only be disturbed upon a “clear showing” of abuse of discretion. D'Amato v. Deutsche Bank, 236 F.3d 78, 85 (2d Cir. 2001) (quoting City of Detroit v. Grinnell Corp., 495 F.2d 448, 463 (2d Cir. 1974), (citations omitted), abrogated on other grounds by Goldberger v. Integrated Res., Inc., 209 F.3d 43 (2d Cir. 2000)).

         To determine procedural fairness, courts examine the “negotiating process leading to the settlement.” Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Visa U.S.A. Inc., 396 F.3d 96, 116 (2d Cir. 2005); D'Amato, 236 F.3d at 85 (citation omitted)(“The District Court determines a settlement's fairness by examining the negotiating process leading up to the settlement as well as the settlement's substantive terms.”).

         To determine substantive fairness, courts consider the nine factors set forth in City of Detroit v. Grinnell Corp.,

(1) the complexity, expense and likely duration of the litigation; (2) the reaction of the class to the settlement; (3) the stage of the proceedings and the amount of discovery completed; (4) the risks of establishing liability; (5) the risks of establishing damages; (6) the risks of maintaining the class action through the trial; (7) the ability of the defendants to withstand a greater judgment; (8) the range of reasonableness of the settlement fund in light of the best possible recovery; (9) the range of reasonableness of the settlement fund to a possible recovery in light of all the attendant risks of litigation.

495 F.2d 448, 463 (2d Cir. 1974), (citations omitted), abrogated on other grounds by Goldberger v. Integrated Res., Inc., 209 ...


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