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Lea Family Partnership Ltd. v. City of Temple Terrace

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Tampa Division

September 19, 2017

LEA FAMILY PARTNERSHIP Ltd., a Florida Limited Partnership, on behalf of itself and others similarly situated Plaintiff,
CITY OF TEMPLE TERRACE, FLORIDA, and LEN VALENTI, in his official capacity as “Housing Compliance Officer” and individually, Defendant.



         THIS CAUSE comes before the Court upon Plaintiff's Motion for Class Certification (Dkt. 37), Defendant's Response in Opposition (Dkt. 38), and Plaintiff's Reply (Dkt. 41). The Court, having reviewed the motion, response, and being otherwise advised in the premises, concludes that the Motion should be denied.


         The root of Lea Family Partnership's (“Plaintiff”) lawsuit is that the City of Temple Terrace's Rental Housing Program (“the Program”) is unconstitutional. The Program requires that dwelling owners complete a permit application before leasing their units. The application states that “[b]y applying for a permit, the property owner consents to the periodic inspections of the dwelling unit for violations of the minimum housing code and other related codes at any reasonable time. . . .” Temple Terrace, Fla., Housing Code art. 5, div. 2, § 8-133(a) (2012). Failure to complete the application precludes owners from leasing their units.[1] Thus, Plaintiff argues, the Program “coerces” consent to inspections from owners who wish to lease their dwellings.

         Plaintiff owns and rents at least six dwellings in the City of Temple Terrace (“the City”). (Dkt. 26, p.7). Plaintiff alleges that at least three of its dwellings were inspected by the City one or more times, and that Plaintiff did not voluntarily and knowingly consent to any of the inspections. (Dkt. 26, p.8). Plaintiff alleges that it has paid a total of at least $3, 800 in application fees to the City since the Program began. (Dkt. 37, p.7).

         In Plaintiff's Motion, Plaintiff claims that the City has “coerced” consent from potentially thousands of people by requiring all owners interested in leasing their dwellings to submit the requisite application that provides consent to inspect the dwellings. (Dkt. 37, p. 11). Plaintiff moves to certify the following class under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23:

“All owners of residential dwellings located within the City of Temple Terrace: (i) whose dwelling was subject to the City's Rental Housing Ordinance Program; (ii) who submitted an initial application for the City's Rental Housing Ordinance Program at any time during the Class Period for such dwelling; (iii) who paid an initial fee to the City of Temple Terrace with their Rental Housing Ordinance Program application; and, (iv) whose dwelling was unoccupied at the time of the initial inspection performed by the City.”

(Dkt. 23, p. 7-8).

         To define its class, Plaintiff relies on records from the City's computer software programs used to record information associated with the Program: ZOLL and SunGard NaviLine. See (Dkt. 37, p. 5). These programs record information such as unit owners and addresses, the amount paid for a permit application, whether an inspection has taken place, and other information. See (Dkt. 37, p. 5; Dkt. 37-3, p. 65-73).


         A district court is vested with broad discretion in determining whether to certify a class. Washington v. Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., 959 F.2d 1566, 1569 (11th Cir. 1992). For a district court to certify a class action, the party seeking to maintain the class action must affirmatively demonstrate its compliance with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes, 564 U.S. 338, 345-46 (2011). As a threshold issue, Plaintiff must demonstrate that the proposed class is “adequately defined and clearly ascertainable.”[2] Little v. T-Mobile USA, Inc., 691 F.3d 1302, 1304 (11th Cir. 2012). Assuming the class is ascertainable, Plaintiff must then prove Rule 23(a)'s prerequisites to class certification: (1) the class must be “so numerous that joinder of all members is impracticable” (“numerosity”); (2) there must be “questions of fact or law common to the class” (“commonality”); (3) “the claims or defenses of the representative parties must be typical of the claims or defenses of the class” (“typicality”); and (4) the named representative must “fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class” (“adequacy of representation”). See Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(a).

         After meeting the requirements of Rule 23(a), the party must satisfy through evidentiary proof at least one of the provisions of Rule 23(b). See Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(b). Therefore, courts may have to “probe behind the pleadings before coming to rest on the certification question.” Comcast Corp. v. Behrend, 569 U.S. 27, 33 (2013) (citing to Fed.R.Civ.P. 23). Only after a “rigorous analysis” and a determination that the movant has satisfied Rule 23's prerequisites may the court properly certify the class. Id. Accordingly, the court's analysis will frequently “overlap with the merits of the plaintiff's underlying claim [because] class determination generally involves considerations that are enmeshed in the factual and the legal issues comprising the plaintiff's cause of action.” Id.


         The Court's analysis below discusses ascertainability and numerosity, the two elements of Rule 23 that Plaintiff cannot ...

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