Final Court Order, Martinez v Astrue, CASE NO. 08-CV-4735 CW

The Honorable Claudia A. Wilken, United States District Court Judge











SUTRYNOWICZ, on behalf of themselves  )        INTERVENE, FINALLY

and all others similarly situated,                     )       APPROVING SETTLEMENT OF

                                                                        )       CLASS ACTION,   AND

                                    Plaintiffs,                    )       DIRECTING ENTRY OF FINAL

                                                                        )       JUDGMENT


            vs.                                                        )


MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, Commissioner of    )

Social Security, in his official capacity,          )

Defendant.                                                      )













            WHEREAS, Plaintiffs filed this class action on October 15, 2008, and filed their First Amended Complaint on December 12, 2008.


            WHEREAS, this lawsuit challenges the operation and application of a policy of


the Social  Security Administration as inconsistent with the federal statutes and agency regulations governing the Old Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (“OASDI”),Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”), and Special Veterans Benefits(“SVB”) programs, see 42 U.S.C. §§ 402(x)(1)(A)(iv) (OASDI), 42 U.S.C. § 1004(a)(2) (SVB), 42 U.S.C. § 1382(e)(4)(A)(SSI); see also 20 C.F.R. § 416.1339(b); id. § 408.810(b);

            WHEREAS, counsel for Plaintiffs and counsel for the Commissioner of Social Security have reached agreement on the terms of a class-wide settlement of this action, which settlement encompasses the substantial modification of SSA policies pertaining to the OASDI, SSI, and SVB programs, as well as prospective and retroactive relief to individuals affected by the challenged policies, see Stipulation of Settlement (Dkt. No. 161);

            WHEREAS, on August 11, 2009, the Court granted Plaintiffs’ Motion for  Preliminary Approval of Class Action Settlement, Class Certification, and Appointment of Class Counsel, and Directing Class Notice and Setting Final Fairness Hearing;

            WHEREAS, the Court set a deadline of September 10, 2009, for any objections to the proposed Stipulation of Settlement to be filed and also set a Final Fairness Hearing for  September 24, 2009;

            WHEREAS, no Class Member has timely filed an objection with the Court;

            WHEREAS, the County of Santa Clara (the “County”) filed “preliminary”

objections to the proposed settlement on September 10, 2009, and filed “final” objections to the proposed settlement on September 17, 2009 (collectively, the “CountyObjections”);

            WHEREAS, concurrent with the filing of its preliminary objections, the County also filed a motion to intervene in this action;

            NOW, THEREFORE, having carefully considered the written submissions of the parties, Class Members and Others, including the County, and all oral argument presented at the Final Fairness Hearing, the Court hereby FINDS and ORDERS as follows:

1.          Motion to Intervene.  The County’s motion to intervene is DENIED.  First, the County’s motion to intervene is untimely.  Intervention at the posted-settlement stage of proceedings is disfavored, especially where, as here, implementation of the settlement agreement is already underway.  Second, in this case, post-settlement intervention would cause great prejudice to the parties, and especially to the members of the settlement class, who are particularly vulnerable and whose need for prompt relief is especially great.  Third, the County has made an insufficient showing to justify the untimeliness of its proposed intervention.   Orange County v. Air California, 799 F.2d 535, 537 (9th Cir. 1986); Aleut Corp. v. Tyonek Native Corp., 725 F.2d 527, 530 (9th  Cir. 1984); Alaniz v. Tillie Lewis Foods, 572 F.2d 657, 659 (9th Cir. 1978).  Furthermore, the County has failed to show any “direct, non-contingent, substantial and legally protectable” interest in the “subject of the litigation.”  Fed. R. Civ. P. 24(a)(2); Dilks v. Aloha Airlines, Inc., 642 F.2d 1155, 1157 (9th Cir. 1981).  The County’s only plausible direct interest in the settlement is its putative claim to reimbursement of “interim assistance” provided to the proposed settlement class, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1383(g), and nothing in the Stipulation of Settlement would impair or impede this interest.  Van de Kamp v. Tahoe Reg. Planning Agency, 792 F.2d 779, 781-82 (9th Cir. 1986); Westlands Water Dist. v. United States, 700 f.2d 561, 563 (9th Cir. 1983).  To the contrary, the Stipulation of Settlement affirmatively protects this interest.  See Stipulation of Settlement art 2.5.  Nonetheless, the Court has considered the objections of the County as the view of a friend of the Court.

2.          Objections to Settlement.  The CountyObjections are hereby DISMISSED.  Because the County’s motion to intervene is denied, and because the County is not a member of the proposed settlement class, the County lacks standing to object to the proposed Stipulation of Settlement.  Under Rule 23(e), the County is not entitled to submit objections.  Gould  v. Alleco, Inc.,  883 F.2d 281, 284 (4th Cir. 1989); San Francisco NAACP v. San Francisco Unified Sch. Dist.,  59 F.Supp.2d 1021, 1032-33 (N.D. Cal. 1999).

3.         To the extent that the County has standing to object to the proposed

 Stipulation of Settlement, its objections are without merit.  These objections therefore would be, and hereby are, OVERRULED.  To begin,  the County does not object to the proposed Stipulation of Settlement on the basis that the Stipulation of  Settlement is unfair, unreasonable,  or inadequate to the members of the settlement class.  Further, the County’s proposed modifications to the settlement agreement are not permissible under the Rules of Federal Procedure, which hold that a proposed settlement “must stand or fall in its entirety” and cannot be revised or edited piecemeal by the Court.  Hanlon v. Chrysler Corp., 150 F.3d 1011, 1026 (9th Cir. 1998); Office for Justice v. The Civil Serv. Comm’n of San Francisco, 688 F.2d 615, 628 (9th Cir. 1982).  Finally, even if the Court could adapt the Stipulation of Settlement to meet the County’s substantive objections, such objections to the proposed Stipulation of Settlement are not well-taken, for the reasons set forth in greater detail below.  (Defendant did make representations on the record responsive to the County’s procedural suggestions.)

4.                  Final Approval of Settlement Agreement.  The Court finds that the terms

of the parties’ Stipulation of  Settlement are fair, reasonable, and adequate.  Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(e).  Specifically, the Court finds that the SSA’s agreement to amend the challenged  policy constitutes substantial and immediate prospective relief that has benefited and will benefit the Settlement Class.  The Court further finds that the direct relief provided the vast majority of the Settlement Class—including (a) reinstatement of class members’ benefits denied or suspended on or after January 1, 2007, insofar as the denial or suspension was premised on the application of the challenged policy, as explained in the Stipulation of Settlement, and (b) the elimination  of outstanding overpayment balances based on the application of the challenged  policy with the availability of a protective filing date of April 1, 2009, for class members whose benefits were denied or suspended between January 1, 2000, and December 31, 2006, and are not in pay status as of April 1, 2009, based on the application of the challenged policy, as explained in the Stipulation of Settlement­—is a reasonable compromise of claims in light of the complexity and risk of further litigation.  Therefore, pursuant to Rule 23(e), the parties’ Stipulation of Settlement is hereby finally APPROVED.

5.     Certification of Final Settlement Class.  As described in its order granting preliminary approval to the Stipulation of Settlement, and having found nothing in any  submitted objections that would disturb these previous findings, the Court reiterates and holds as follows: (a) that the members of the proposed settlement class are sufficiently numerous—with tens of  thousands of individuals who could be entitled to relief under the claims asserted through this action—that the joinder of all such individuals as plaintiffs in this action would be impracticable; (b) that there are questions of law common to the proposed class, including the lawfulness of certain  policies adopted by the Social Security Administration in its administration of OASDI, SSI, and SVB federal benefits programs; (c) that the claims of the named plaintiffs, or class representatives, are typical of the claims of the proposed settlement class; and (d) that the class representatives are capable of fairly and adequately protecting the interests of the proposed settlement class.  The Court further finds that the Social Security Administration has administered and applied the challenged Policy in a manner that applies generally to the proposed settlement class.  Therefore, the Court concludes that certification of the proposed class is appropriate under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(b)(2), and for purposes of final judgment as described in greater detail below, the following class of plaintiffs (hereinafter “Settlement Class”) is hereby CERTIFIED:

All persons whose SSI, SVB, or OASDI benefits have been suspended or denied, or who have been notified of a proposed suspension or denial of such benefits, for “fleeing to avoid prosecution or custody or confinement after conviction” for a felony or who are not permitted to serve as Representative Payees for SSI, SVB or OASDI benefits for “fleeing to avoid prosecution or custody or confinement after conviction” for a felony.  The class shall not include, and this settlement shall not apply to, any individual who has received a final federal court disposition regarding payment or nonpayment of benefits due to fugitive felon status.


6.   Notice. The Court holds that the form of notice provided to

the class constitutes the best notice practicable under the circumstance and shall constitute due and sufficient notice to the Settlement Class of the pendency of the Action, certification of the Settlement Class, the terms of the Settlement Agreement, and the Finial Approval Hearing.  The Court’s conclusions regarding the sufficiency of the notice provided to the class are reinforced by the substantial press coverage that this class has received.  In addition, the Court has reviewed

28 U.S.C. § 1715 and determined that the notice provisions in Section 1715(b) do not apply to the Defendant in this case because the Defendant is a Federal official.  28 U.S.C. § 1715(f).  Thus, the Court concludes that nothing in Section 1715 precludes the Court from entering this Order at this time.  In short, the Court finds that the form of notice provided to class members satisfies the requirements of federal law and that further and other forms of notice to the Settlements Class are not necessary.

7.    Confirmation of Class Counsel.  The Court finds that Plaintiffs’ counsel  have provided and will continue to provide representation that is adequate to protest the interests of the Settlement Class.  Specifically, the Court finds that Plaintiffs’ counsel have identified and investigated potential claims, have vigorously prosecuted the lawsuit thus far, and have committed substantial resources to their representation of the Settlement Class.  Further,  Plaintiffs’ counsel possess knowledge and expertise sufficient to represent the interests of the Settlement Class in an action regarding the rights of beneficiaries under federal entitlement and benefits programs, including the application of the policy challenged in this lawsuit.  Therefore,  pursuant to Rule 23(c)(1) and Rule 23(g), the Court’s previous appointment of the National Senior Citizens Law Center; the law firm of Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP; the Urban Justice Center; the Legal Aid Society of San Mateo County; and Disability Rights California (hereinafter “Class Counsel”) as counsel for the Settlement Class is hereby CONFIRMED.

                        8.     Final Judgment.  The Court directs entry of Final Judgment, dismissing this action with prejudice, pursuant to the terms of the Stipulation and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(a)(1)(ii).  For purposes of the final judgment, the Settlement Class shall be defined as set forth above in Paragraph 6.  The Final Judgment shall incorporate and be subject to the terms of the Stipulation of Settlement, including but not limited to the terms set forth in art. IX. The Clerk shall enter judgment and close the file.

                        9.     Award of Fees.  The Court hereby approves the award of attorneys’ fees as the parties have proposed in the Stipulation of Settlement, art. XV.

                        10.    Continuing Jurisdiction.  The Court will retain jurisdiction over this matter for the limited purposes as set forth in the Stipulation of Settlement, art. X.


                        IT IS SO ORDERED.


DATE:      September 24, 2009                      _______________________________

                                                                        The Honorable Claudia A. Wilken

                                                                        United States District Court Judge