Federal judge approves $2.65 million settlement in case against PHA dating back to 1997

By Jon Campisi | Jun 11, 2013

A federal judge in Philadelphia has approved a $2.65 million settlement in a case in which

plaintiffs in a class action dating back to the mid-1990s alleged the defendants violated a consent decree arising from the original settlement in the litigation.

The case has a long history, dating back to the spring of 1997, when a woman named Jackie McDowell, a tenant in Philadelphia’s public housing system, filed a class action suit against the Philadelphia Housing Authority alleging that the agency deprived her and other class members of their federal rights by failing to take rising gas rates into consideration with regard to the gas utility allowances she and the other tenants were entitled to receive under the United States Housing Act.

The record shows that class certification was granted through a May 22, 1997 court order, and that the case was settled via a stipulation and consent decree the following January.

The settlement agreement that was approved late last month by U.S. District Judge Mitchell S. Goldberg, of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, establishes a fund in the amount of $2,650,000 to be distributed among 5,642 class members, and also provides for attorneys fees for plaintiffs’ counsel in the amount of $730,000.

The court granted the parties’ joint motion for preliminary approval of the proposed settlement back on Jan. 28 of this year.

The plaintiffs had alleged that the PHA violated the earlier consent decree when it failed to factor rising gas prices into the gas utility allowances given to the public housing tenants for the periods of July 1, 1999 through Dec. 21, 2002, and Oct. 31, 2005 through Nov. 30, 2006, the record shows.

Attorney Harris T. Bock was appointed as master and given the authority to make reports and recommendations concerning the identification of class members and the calculation and payment of compensation by the defendants, according to Goldberg’s May 24 memorandum and order.

The record shows that the parties began extensive negotiations in the spring of 2011, both independently and with the assistance of U.S. Magistrate Judge Felipe Restrepo.

In his memorandum approving the settlement, Goldberg praised the parties for coming to an agreement over the dispute, writing that the proposed settlement was “fair, reasonable and adequate.”

“The settlement reflects good faith, arms-length negotiations between the parties as to the reasonable valuation of Plaintiffs’ claims and the attorneys’ fees expended,” Goldberg wrote.

Goldberg also praised both Magistrate Judge Restrepo for helping to guide settlement negotiations, and the plaintiffs’ lawyers, who are staff members at Community Legal Services, which aids low-income residents with legal matters.

According to the court docket in the case, the CLS attorneys who worked on the case, and who are expected to receive the counsel fees, are identified as follows: George Gould, Michael Donahue, Paul A. Brooks, Rachel Garland, and Roxane L. Crowley.

“The settlement fund is adequate and will provide recovery for all of the class members without delay or the risk of an adverse determination,” Goldberg wrote.

The judge noted that none of the plaintiffs objected to the settlement.

This latest settlement comes more than 16 years after the litigation was first initiated by McDowell and her co-plaintiffs.

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