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Melanie K. v. Horton

United States District Court, N.D. Georgia, Atlanta Division

March 23, 2015

MELANIE K., LARRY WESTON, TAMARA J., and DANNY GENTRY, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs,
v.
KEITH HORTON, in his official capacity as the Commissioner for the Georgia Department of Human Services, Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER

WILLIAM S. DUFFEY, Jr., District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on the Parties' Consent Motion to Certify the Class for Settlement Purposes [50] ("Consent Motion to Certify Class") and Plaintiffs' Motion to Appoint Class Counsel [51] ("Motion to Appoint Class Counsel"). Also before the Court are Plaintiffs' Motion for Class Certification [2] ("Motion for Class Certification") and Motion to Amend Motion for Class Certification Regarding Additional Class Counsel [36] ("Motion to Amend").

I. BACKGROUND

This is a class action brought by four named representatives, Melanie K., Larry Weston, Tamara J. and Danny Gentry (the "Plaintiffs") on their behalf and on behalf of a class of similarly situated people. The Complaint alleges that Defendant Keith Horton, Commissioner for the Georgia Department of Human Services ("DHS"), failed to provide Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program ("SNAP") benefits ("Food Stamps") to eligible households who filed initial, or renewal, applications within the time required by federal law. Plaintiffs claim the failure to timely provide benefits resulted from policies and practices at DHS that (1) unlawfully denied applicants the opportunity to comply with application procedures resulting in denial of their applications, and (2) unlawfully delayed processing of applications resulting in eligibility decisions being made after federally required time limits. The Complaint [1] alleges further that Defendant failed to send notices denying applications, including to renew, without providing adequate notice of the specific reason for the denial.

On March 1, 2014, Plaintiffs filed their Motion for Class Certification, seeking certification of "all Georgia residents who since January 1, 2013 have applied, are applying, or will apply for Food Stamps through an initial and/or renewal application." In their motion, Plaintiffs also sought appointment of the National Center for Law and Economic Justice ("NCLEJ"), and David Webster, as class counsel. Defendant did not object to Plaintiffs' counsel representing the class if the Court certifies the class. ([15] at 19 n.3).

On August 1, 2014, the parties filed their Motion to Amend [36] in which the parties agreed that DLA Piper be appointed as additional class counsel if the Court grants Plaintiffs' motion to certify the class.

On March 6, 2015, the parties filed their Consent Motion to Certify Class proposed, in which the parties agree to certify the following Settlement Class:

All Georgia residents who, since January 1, 2013, have applied, are applying, or will apply for Food Stamps through a completed initial and/or renewal application and whose applications or renewals have not been or will not be timely processed in accordance with the requirements of the Food Stamp Act and its implementing regulations.

(Consent Motion to Certify Class at 3-4). Plaintiffs also filed their Motion to Appoint Class Counsel, seeking an order appointing David Webster, National Center for Law and Economic Justice ("NCLEJ"), specifically attorneys Marc Cohan, Mary R. Mannix and Petra T. Tasheff (collectively, the "NCLEJ Lawyers"), and DLA Piper attorney Mark E. Grantham, as Co-Class Counsel.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Appointment of Class Counsel

Rule 23(g) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that "a court that certifies a class must appoint class counsel." Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(g)(1). Class counsel "must fairly and adequately represent the interests of the class" and, in appointing class counsel, the Court must consider:

(i) the work counsel has done in identifying or investigating potential claims in the action;
(ii) counsel's experience in handling class actions, other complex litigation, and the types of claims asserted in the action;
(iii) counsel's knowledge of the applicable law; and
(iv) the resources that counsel will commit to representing the class

Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(g)(1)(A)(i)-(iv), (2), (4). The Court applies these criteria to the counsel requested to be ...


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