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Pimentel v. City of Methuen

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

December 9, 2019

PATRICIA PIMENTEL, on behalf of herself and all others similarly situated; Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF METHUEN, et al., Defendants. and JONATHAN W. BLODGETT, DISTRICT ATTORNEY FOR ESSEX COUNTY, in his official capacity, Necessary Party.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER ON PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR CLASS CERTIFICATION

          F. Dennis Saylor, IV United States District Judge.

         This is a putative class action alleging civil rights violations due to the use of an incorrect Spanish-language advice-of-rights form by the Methuen Police.

         Plaintiff Patricia Pimentel was arrested for drunk driving on October 21, 2014. After she was arrested, she was given an advice-of-rights form in Spanish, her native language, which incorrectly stated her rights. Specifically, the form contained errors about the legal blood alcohol content level under Massachusetts law; the admissibility and significance of the results of a breathalyzer test; and the consequences of refusing such a test. She consented to a breathalyzer test and was prosecuted for operating under the influence of liquor (“OUI”).

         Pimentel sued the City of Methuen and state officials under federal and Massachusetts law, alleging multiple violations of her rights under the United States Constitution, federal and state civil rights acts, and state common law.

         She has now moved to certify a class pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 23. The putative class consists of “all Spanish-speaking Hispanic persons who have been arrested by the Methuen Police Department and prosecuted for OUI matters after receiving the unlawfully coercive Spanish advice of rights form.” (First Am. Class Action Compl. (Dkt. No. 52) (“First Am. Compl.”) ¶ 127). She seeks to certify a liability-only class, with individual damages trials to follow.

         The City's use of an incorrect Spanish-speaking language form-indeed, using it for many years after the mistakes in it were first brought to the City's attention-is troublesome, to say the least. Nonetheless, the requirements of Rule 23 have not been satisfied, and class treatment of the claims is not appropriate. Accordingly, and for the reasons set forth below, the motion will be denied.

         I. Background

         A. Factual Background

         The facts are set out fully in this Court's prior Memorandum and Order on Defendants' Motion to Dismiss, Pimentel v. City of Methuen, 323 F.Supp.3d 255, 262-66 (D. Mass. 2018).

         B. Procedural Background

         On October 5, 2017, Pimentel brought this action against the City of Methuen, Methuen Police Chief Joseph Solomon (in his individual and official capacities), Officers James Jajuga, Elvin Alacron, and Shawn Tardiff (in their individual capacities), and Jonathan Blodgett, the Essex County District Attorney (in his official capacity). The original complaint contained eleven counts. Defendants moved to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim and to dismiss all claims against the individual defendants on the basis of qualified immunity.

         On June 26, 2018, the Court issued its memorandum and order on defendants' motion to dismiss, granting it in part and denying it in part. See generally Pimentel, 323 F.Supp.3d 255.

         On November 20, 2018, plaintiff filed an amended complaint. The amended complaint contains nine counts. Count 1 asserts a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of Fourteenth Amendment substantive-due-process rights; Count 2 asserts a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of Fourteenth Amendment equal-protection rights; Count 3 asserts a violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981; Count 4 asserts a violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000d, by the City of Methuen; Count 5 asserts violation of the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 12, §§ 11H & 11I; Count 6 asserts a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress against the individual police defendants; Count 7 asserts a claim for negligence by the City of Methuen; Count 8 asserts a claims for negligent supervision and training by the City of Methuen; and Count 9 asserts a claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress by the City of Methuen. (First Am. Compl. ¶¶ 140-212).[1]

         The amended complaint also contains class action allegations. (Id. ¶¶ 126-139). Plaintiff “seeks to represent a certified Plaintiff class consisting of all Spanish-speaking Hispanic persons who have been arrested by the Methuen Police Department and prosecuted for OUI matters after receiving the unlawfully coercive Spanish advice of rights form.” (Id. ¶ 127). She seeks a liability-only class, with damages to be determined individually for each plaintiff. (Id.).

         On May 17, 2019, Pimentel filed the present motion to certify a class.

         II. Legal Standard

         Under Rule 23, class certification is appropriate only if “(1) the class is so numerous that joinder of all members is impracticable; (2) there are questions of law or fact common to the class; (3) the claims or defenses of the representative parties are typical of the claims or defenses of the class; and (4) the representative parties will fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(a).

         In addition, plaintiff must establish the elements for one of the types of class actions set out in Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(b). In this instance, all three of those types are relevant. Under Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(b), a class action may be maintained if:

(1) prosecuting separate actions by or against individual class members would create a risk of:
(A) inconsistent or varying adjudications with respect to individual class members that would establish incompatible standards of conduct for the party opposing the class; or
(B) adjudications with respect to individual class members that, as a practical matter, would be dispositive of the interests of the other members not parties to the individual adjudications or would substantially impair or impede their ability to protect their interests;
(2) the party opposing the class has acted or refused to act on grounds that apply generally to the class, so that final injunctive relief or corresponding declaratory relief is appropriate respecting the class as a whole; or
(3) the court finds that the questions of law or fact common to class members predominate over any questions affecting only individual members, and that a class action is superior to other available methods for fairly and efficiently adjudicating the controversy. The matters pertinent to these findings include:
(A) the class members' interests in individually controlling the prosecution or defense of separate actions;
(B) the extent and nature of any litigation concerning the controversy already begun by or against class members;
(C) the desirability or undesirability of concentrating the litigation of the claims in the ...

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