United States District Court, D. Maine
YVONNE R. RICHARDSON, by her Conservator Barbara Carlin, and the MAINE POOLED DISABILITY TRUST, on its own behalf and on behalf of its current and future participating beneficiaries over age 64, and on behalf of all other similarly situated individuals, Plaintiffs,
RICKER HAMILTON, in his official Capacity as Acting Commissioner of the MAINE DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES, Defendant.
INTERIM ORDER ON MOTION TO DISMISS
A. WOODCOCK, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Medicaid beneficiary and a pooled disability trust bring this
action seeking injunctive and declaratory relief against the
Commissioner of the Maine Department of Health and Human
Services (MDHHS), alleging improper treatment of deposits
into pooled special needs trusts for purposes of benefits
eligibility determinations in violation of the Medicaid Act,
42 U.S.C. §§ 1396 et seq. The Medicaid
beneficiary deposited the proceeds of the sale of her former
home in the trust. MDHHS treated this asset transfer as one
that did not give the beneficiary equal value, and, as a
result, MDHHS notified the Medicaid beneficiary that it would
temporarily suspend certain benefits as a penalty. The
beneficiary administratively appealed, and MDHHS continued
her benefits given the pending appeal. The Commissioner moves
to dismiss the Plaintiffs' claims on the ground that the
Medicaid Act requires MDHHS to treat such asset transfers in
the manner that it does.
Court informs the parties of its intentions with respect to
the timing of class certification. The Court identifies one
threshold matter the parties have not thoroughly addressed
and others the parties have not addressed at all. The Court
orders that the counsel be prepared to address these issues
at the oral argument tentatively set for February 8, 2018.
Although the Court is not requiring the parties to file
supplementary memoranda, the Court offers the parties the
opportunity to submit simultaneous supplemental memoranda on
Timing of Class Certification
outset, the Court informs the parties of its intentions with
respect to class certification timing. The Maine Pooled
Disability Trust (MPDT) and Ms. Richardson brought this suit
as a putative class action. Under Rule 23(c)(1)(A), when a
plaintiff sues as a representative of a class, the court must
“[a]t an early practicable time” determine by
order whether to certify the action as a class action.
Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(c)(1)(A). It is “‘well-settled
that, absent prejudice to the plaintiff, a court may decide a
defendant's [dispositive motion] in a putative class
action before taking up the issue of class
certification.'” Good v. Altria Group,
Inc., 231 F.R.D. 446, 447 (D. Me. 2005) (granting motion
to stay) (quoting Evans v. Taco Bell Corp., No.
04-CV- 103-JD, 2005 WL 2333841, at *4 n.6, 2005 U.S. Dist.
LEXIS 20997, at *11 n. 6 (D.N.H. Sept. 23, 2005)); see
also Sanchez v. Triple-S Mgmt., Corp., 492 F.3d 1 (1st
Cir. 2007) (affirming district court grant of summary
judgment prior to class certification). Here, no prejudice to
either MPDT, Ms. Richardson, or the putative class members is
apparent, and MPDT and Ms. Richardson has not objected to
having the motion to dismiss decided before class
consequence of the pre-certification nature of the matter,
for the purposes of assessing the pending motion to dismiss,
“the potential claims of putative class members other
than the named plaintiff are simply not before the
court.” Evans, No. 04-CV-103-JD, 2005 WL
2333841, at *4, 2005 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 20997, at *11.
Therefore, in reviewing the motion, the Court wonders about
the parties' positions as to whether the Court should
treat MPDT and Ms. Richardson's claims as being brought
solely by MPDT and Ms. Richardson. Id.; see also
Rutan v. Republican Party of Ill., 868 F.2d 943, 947
(7th Cir. 1989) (“Because no class of plaintiffs or
defendants were certified, only the named plaintiffs and
named defendants are before this court”), rev'd
in part on other grounds, 497 U.S. 62 (1990)).
Issues Partially Addressed
observes that Ms. Richardson's claims may not be ripe
“given the pending administrative action (which could
result in reversal of the penalty)” and that even if
the matter is ripe, “it might be appropriate for the
Court to abstain from adjudicating Ms. Richardson's
claims.” Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss at 6, n.6
(ECF No. 7). It concedes that justiciability issues as
regards Ms. Richardson's claim might not apply to the
claims of the MPDT or to the class action claims of persons
similarly situated to Ms. Richardson, should the Court
certify a class. Id. MDHHS does not, however, argue
that the lawsuit as a whole is not justiciable. Id.
Plaintiffs “agree that the class nature of the claim
likely overcomes any challenge to ripeness or justiciability,
” and they argue that judicial economy considerations
cut against dismissal on unripeness grounds. Pls.'
Opp'n to Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss and Request for Oral
Argument at 1, n.1 (ECF No. 8). The Court intends to
discuss this issue with the parties. In addition, the Court
would appreciate an update as to the status report of Ms.
Richardson's administrative appeal.
Issues Not Addressed
no party raises the issue of standing, the Court must satisfy
itself that MPDT has constitutional standing to sue. See
Pagan v. Calderon, 448 F.3d 16, 26 (1st Cir. 2006)
(“[a] federal court must satisfy itself as to its
jurisdiction, including a plaintiff's Article III
standing to sue, before addressing his particular claims,
regardless of whether the litigants have raised the issue of
standing”). This requirement is rooted in Article
III's “case-or-controversy” limitation on the
federal courts' jurisdiction. Nat. Res. Council of
Me. v. Int'l Paper Co., 424 F.Supp.2d 235, 243 n.10
(D. Me. 2006) (citing Friends of the Earth, Inc. v.
Laidlaw Envtl. Servs. (TOC), Inc., 528 U.S. 167, 180
(2000)); Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, 136 S.Ct. 1540,
1547 (2016). “There is no question that an association
may have standing in its own right to seek judicial relief
from injury to itself and to vindicate whatever rights and
immunities the association itself may enjoy.” Warth
v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 511 (1975). An association may,
in addition or instead, have standing to bring suit on behalf
of its members. See Hunt v. Wash. State Apple Advertising
Comm'n, 432 U.S. 333, 342-43 (1977).
issue, the Court is particularly interested in what-if
any-injury MPDT might have suffered. The allegations in the
Complaint and the briefing provide little detail about the
MPDT itself or how the MDHHS action has impacted it as an
entity (as opposed to impacts upon its beneficiaries).