United States District Court, N.D. Georgia, Atlanta Division
MELANIE K., LARRY WESTON, TAMARA J., and DANNY GENTRY, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Plaintiff,
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 Preliminarily Approve the Stipulation and Order of Settlement  (the "Motion").
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  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 6, 2015, the Parties filed their Consent Motion to Certify the Class for Settlement Purposes  ("Consent Motion to Certify Class"), in which the parties agreed 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 ] ("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. On March 23, 2015, the Parties filed their Proposed Consent Order , requesting that the Court preliminarily approve the settlement between the Parties, and to approve the Notice to be sent to the proposed settlement class members.
On March 23, 2015, the Court granted the Parties Consent Motion to Certify Class and Plaintiff's Motion to Appoint Class Counsel. (March 23, 2015, Order ). The Court certified the Settlement Class as:
All Georgia residents who, since January 1, 2013, have applied, are applying, or will apply for Food Stamps through a completed initial 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.
On March 24, 2015, the Court held a telephone conference (the "March 24th Conference") to discuss the Parties proposed Notice and preliminary approval of the proposed settlement. At the March 24th Conference, the Court approved the Parties' Notice, subject to the changes discussed at the March 24th Conference. The Court also ordered the Parties to file a motion seeking preliminary approval of the settlement.
On April 1, 2015, the Parties filed their Motion, seeking approval of their proposed Stipulation and Order of Settlement  (the "Settlement"). The Parties assert that the Settlement was the product of arm's-length negotiation over a period of many months, and that the Settlement is fair, reasonable, and adequate, providing significant immediate and long-term benefit to the settlement class.
A. Legal Standard
Under Rule 23(e) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a class-action settlement may be approved if the settlement is "fair, reasonable, and adequate." Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(e)(2). "Approval is generally a two-step process in which a preliminary determination on the fairness, reasonableness, and adequacy of the proposed settlement terms' is reached. Holman v. Student Loan Xpress, Inc., No. 8:08-CV-305-T23MAP, 2009 WL 4015573, at *4 (M.D. Fla. Nov. 19, 2009) (quoting David F. Herr, Annotated Manual for Complex Litigation § 21.632 (4th ed. 2008)). "The factors considered are (1) the influence of fraud or collusion on the parties' reaching a settlement, (2) the likelihood of success at trial, ' (3) the range of possible recovery, ' (4) the complexity, expense[, ] and duration of litigation, ' (5) the ...