United States District Court, D. Massachusetts
RACHELLE BAKER and JASON DITTMANN, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs,
EQUITY RESIDENTIAL MANAGEMENT, L.L.C., and EQR-WALDEN PARK, LLC, Defendants.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
Patti B. Saris Chief United States District Judge.
Rachelle Baker and Jason Dittmann bring this class action
lawsuit against the owner and manager of their former
apartment complex (“Walden Park”), Defendants
Equity Residential Management, L.L.C. and EQR-Walden Park,
LLC (collectively, “Equity”). They claim Equity
failed to provide adequate heat and hot water systems and
undertook an unnecessarily disruptive construction project to
attempt to fix the systems. On behalf of other tenants in the
apartment complex, they allege that Equity breached the
implied covenant of quiet enjoyment and implied warranty of
habitability, was unjustly enriched, and violated Mass. Gen.
Laws ch. 93A. Before Equity removed the case to federal
court, the state court certified two classes. Equity moves to
decertify these classes for failure to satisfy Federal Rule
of Civil Procedure 23(b)(3)'s predominance requirement.
Equity also moves for summary judgment on the quiet enjoyment
and Chapter 93A claims.
hearing, the Court ALLOWS IN PART
and DENIES IN PART Equity's
motion to decertify (Docket No. 36) and
DENIES Equity's motion for
summary judgment (Docket No. 38).
following facts are undisputed unless otherwise indicated.
Walden Park's Heat and Hot Water
in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Walden Park consists of two
adjacent buildings (205 Walden Street and 225 Walden Street)
with 231 apartments of different sizes and layouts. Equity
purchased Walden Park, which was about fifty years old at the
time, in late 2011. When it purchased Walden Park, Equity
prepared a capital improvement plan of maintenance projects
it anticipated completing over a ten-year period. The plan
included replacing valves in each apartment to better control
the flow of heat and hot water.
and Dittman rented Apartment 1L at 225 Walden Street from
April 2011 (a few months before Equity purchased the complex)
until March 2016. While they lived at Walden Park, they
experienced repeated heat and hot water outages. Between
November 2011 and March 2014, they notified Equity at least
eighteen times of an issue with heat or hot water. Equity
responded to only some of their complaints. Baker and Dittman
also made a number of complaints to the Cambridge housing
inspector. Because of the heat and hot water issues, they
used a space heater provided by Equity for at least a year
starting in the fall of 2013 and warmed water on the stove to
use to bathe. They never withheld rent, but they managed to
negotiate their rent to stay the same each time they renewed
their annual lease. They did not move out despite the heat
and hot water problems because of the proximity of the
apartment to Dittman's work and the expense of moving.
heat and hot water problems were not limited to Baker and
Dittmann's apartment. Between November 2011 and March
2014, Equity received hundreds of complaints from other
Walden Park tenants about insufficient heat and hot water.
Equity was also cited by the Cambridge housing inspector for
failing to provide adequate heat and hot water on at least
“Admitted Outages” of Heat and/or Hot
forty-six days between April 12, 2012 and April 24, 2014,
Equity sent emails to the Walden Park tenants about
building-wide utility issues. Twenty-seven of these
“admitted outages” concerned issues in both
Walden Park buildings, while nineteen involved only 225
Walden Street. These emails referenced many different types
of outages. Some outages involved both heat and hot water,
others just one or the other (or water more generally).
Equity's own maintenance projects caused some of the
outages, while others were attributable to failing equipment,
emergencies, or factors beyond Equity's control (such as
city utility work or a tenant accidentally flipping a switch
outside the boiler room). Some emails provided notice of a
day-long outage, others of a brief outage. Some explained
that an outage may occur, others that an outage already
occurred. In one June 2012 email, Equity acknowledged it had
shut off the heat in anticipation of the summer but agreed to
turn it back on due to the unseasonably cold weather.
undertook three major maintenance projects at Walden Park.
First, from April 2012 through May 2013, Equity converted the
boilers from oil to natural gas (the “Conversion
Project”). Equity notified its tenants that this
project would reduce heat and hot water outages, but an
Equity employee testified that the purpose of the project was
to save money.
receiving a number of complaints about the heat during the
winter of 2012-2013, Equity commissioned a report from R.W.
Sullivan on Walden Park's heating systems. R.W. Sullivan
provided Equity with its recommendations for improving the
systems on May 13, 2013. Equity immediately began maintenance
work to implement some of R.W. Sullivan's
recommendations, which continued until the fall (the
“Heat System Modification Project”).
3, 2014, Equity notified the Walden Park tenants that it was
starting a project the following week to replace leaking heat
pipe risers in every apartment to improve the heating
systems. This “Riser Replacement Project”
involved replacing two pipes in the walls of each apartment,
but the exact nature of the construction depended on the
layout of the apartment. The email explained that contractors
would have to open the wall in one or two corners of each
apartment to access the pipes and that tenants would have to
move their furniture away from these corners. The work would
take place in each apartment over five to seven
nonconsecutive days. Equity informed the tenants that it
would not be able to tell them in advance when the
contractors would be working in each apartment. The Riser
Replacement Project lasted until September.
the Riser Replacement Project, a number of tenants contacted
Equity about the construction. Some asked about the schedule
or requested that contractors finish up quickly or not enter
an apartment on a certain day. Others made a wide variety of
complaints about the construction. See Dkt. No. 75-3
at 29 (complaining that the contractors twice left his air
conditioning unit on after finishing work in his apartment);
id. at 42-43 (explaining that the contractors left
her apartment dirty multiple times, locked her out, and
interfered with her infant's sleeping schedule);
id. at 74 (mentioning the thick layer of dust,
exposed nails, cracked baseboards, and cockroaches in her
attorneys, who had filed this lawsuit the year prior,
contacted Equity about these disruptions. After urging from
the state court, Equity agreed to provide a two-week window
for each apartment during which the construction would occur,
address reasonable objections from tenants to the timeframe
provided, and give ongoing construction updates. Plaintiffs
allege that Equity did not fulfill these promises.
filed suit against Equity in Middlesex Superior Court on
August 15, 2013 on behalf of a class of Walden Park tenants.
The complaint raises five causes of action: willful and
intentional violation of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 186, § 14
(Count I), breach of the implied covenant of quiet enjoyment
(Count II), breach of the implied warranty of habitability
(Count III), unjust enrichment (Count IV), and violation of
Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 93A, §§ 2, 9 (Count V). Equity
removed the case to federal court on the basis of diversity
jurisdiction under the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005
(“CAFA”). On Plaintiffs' motion, the court
(Collings, J.) remanded the case to state court for failure
to satisfy CAFA's $5 million amount-in-controversy
requirement. See Baker v. Equity Residential Mgmt.,
L.L.C., 996 F.Supp.2d 1, 8 (D. Mass. 2014).
state court, Equity moved for partial summary judgment. On
August 5, 2016, the state court granted Equity summary
judgment on Count I because Equity's communication with
its tenants when there were problems belied the notion that
its failure to provide heat and hot water was willful or
intentional. The state court rejected Equity's argument
that Baker and Dittmann could not recover for breach of the
implied warranty of habitability because they did not
withhold rent. Finally, while the state court recognized that
Baker and Dittmann could not receive a double recovery via
their unjust enrichment claim, they could continue to pursue
this claim as an alternative theory of relief.
moved for class certification under Massachusetts Rule of
Civil Procedure 23 after the close of fact discovery. On June
27, 2017, the state court certified the following two
Conversion Class: “all persons who were
tenants occupying either building during the Conversion
Project (May 1, 2012 through May 30, 2013), the Heating
System Modification Project (July 1, 2013 through December
31, 2013), and/or the Riser Replacement Project (July 7, 2014
through September 30, 2014)”; and Admitted Outage
Class: “all persons who were tenants in either
building on any of the 27 dates for which [Equity has]
admitted outages, and all persons who were tenants in 225
Walden Street on any of the 19 dates for which [Equity has]
admitted outages in that building only.”
Dkt. No. 1-4 at 3-4, 9. The court held that Walden Park's
231 apartment units met the numerosity requirement and that
the classes satisfied commonality because all the alleged
outages affected at least one of the buildings in its
entirety. Plaintiffs were typical and adequate class
representatives because they were standard occupants of
Walden Park and able and willing to represent their fellow
tenants. As to predominance and superiority, the court noted
that class members may have suffered individualized damages
but that liability was based on common questions. For the
same reasons, the court certified the classes for their
Chapter 93A claim.
30, 2018, Plaintiffs produced an expert report alleging
classwide damages of up to $10 million. Based on this report,
Equity removed the case to federal court under CAFA for the
second time on June 5, 2018. Plaintiffs moved to remand on
the basis of untimeliness, arguing that Equity could have
figured out that damages exceeded $5 million before receiving
their expert report. Baker v. Equity Residential Mgmt.,
L.L.C., 318 F.Supp.3d 440, 441-42 (D. Mass. 2018). This
Court denied the motion to remand. Id. at 442.
filed two motions after the close of expert discovery. Equity
seeks decertification of the classes and summary judgment on
Count II (implied ...