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Stuart v. State Farm Fire and Casualty Co.

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Texarkana Division

January 3, 2020

JAMES STUART and CAREDA L. HOOD, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated PLAINTIFFS


          Susan O. Hickey Chief United States District Judge

         Before the Court is Plaintiffs James Stuart and Careda L. Hood's Agreed Motion for Preliminary Approval of Class Action Settlement. (ECF No. 245). Plaintiffs, on behalf of themselves and as Representative Plaintiffs on behalf of a proposed Settlement Class, and Defendant State Farm Fire and Casualty Company, all acting by and through their respective counsel, have agreed, subject to Court approval, to settle this litigation upon the terms and conditions stated in the Stipulation of Settlement filed with the Court (the “Stipulation”). (ECF No. 245-1). On December 16, 2019, the Court held a hearing on the motion. The Court finds the matter ripe for consideration.

         Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(e), the Court must approve this class action settlement before it becomes effective. Review of a proposed class action settlement typically proceeds in two stages. “At the first stage, the parties submit the proposed settlement to the Court, which must make ‘a preliminary fairness evaluation.'” Martin v. Cargill, Inc., 295 F.R.D. 380, 383 (D. Minn. 2013) (quoting Fed. Judicial Ctr., Manual for Complex Litigation, Fourth (“MCL”), § 21.632). “If the proposed settlement is preliminarily acceptable, the Court then directs that notice be provided to absent class members, in order to afford them an opportunity to be heard on, object to, and opt out of the settlement.” Id. (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(c)(3), (e)(1), (e)(5)).

         When making a preliminary fairness evaluation, the “fair, reasonable, and adequate” standard imposed by Rule 23(e)(2) is lowered, and the Court's focus is on whether the settlement is “within the range of possible approval due to an absence of any glaring substantive or procedural deficiencies.” Schoenbaum v. E.I. Dupont De Nemours and Co., No. 4:05-cv-1108-ERW, 2009 WL 4782082, at *3 (E.D. Mo. 2009). Although proposed settlements are presumptively reasonable at the preliminary-approval stage, the Court must nonetheless “consider issues such as whether the settlement carries the hallmarks of collusive negotiation or uninformed decision-making, is unduly favorable to class representatives or certain class members, or excessively compensates attorneys.” Id. “Because there is typically no client with the motivation, knowledge, and resources to protect its own interests, the judge must adopt the role of a skeptical client and critically examine the class certification elements, the proposed settlement terms, and procedures for implementation.” MCL at § 21.61.

         Rule 23(e), as amended, does not change this fundamental inquiry, as the crux of the Court's preliminary approval evaluation is whether “giving notice [to the class] is justified by the parties' showing that the court will likely be able to: (i) approve the proposal under Rule 23(e)(2); and (ii) certify the class for purposes of judgment on the proposal.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(e)(1)(B). The Court's inquiry remains focused on “the primary procedural considerations and substantive qualities that should always matter to the decision whether to approve the proposal.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(e)(2) advisory committee's note to 2018 amendment.


         1. The Stipulation is incorporated by reference in this Order and all terms defined in the Stipulation will have the same meanings in this Order.

         2. The Stipulation and Proposed Settlement are preliminarily approved as fair, adequate, and reasonable, and Plaintiffs' motion for preliminary approval of the Proposed Settlement is hereby GRANTED in all material respects, subject to further consideration at the Final Approval Hearing.

         3. Contingent upon final approval of the Proposed Settlement, and pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23, Plaintiffs' motion for to conditionally certify the litigation Class previously certified herein for settlement purposes is hereby GRANTED. The following Settlement Class is conditionally certified for settlement purposes only:

All persons and entities that received “actual cash value” payments, directly or indirectly, from State Farm for loss or damage to a dwelling or other structure located in the State of Arkansas, such payments arising from events that occurred between May 1, 2010 and December 6, 2013, where the cost of labor was depreciated.

         Excluded from the Class are:

(1) all persons and entities that received payment from State Farm in the full amount of insurance shown on the declarations page;
(2) State Farm and its affiliates, officers, and directors;
(3) members of the judiciary and their staff to whom this action is assigned; and (4) Class Counsel.
4. James Stuart and Careda L. Hood are preliminarily appointed as representatives of the settlement Class (the “Representative Plaintiffs”), and the Court preliminarily finds that the following attorneys for Plaintiffs satisfy the adequacy requirement of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23, and appoints such counsel as counsel for the Settlement Class (“Class Counsel”):
D. Matt Keil John C. Goodson Keil & Goodson P.A. 406 Walnut St. Texarkana, AR 71854
A.F. “Tom” Thompson, III Kenneth P. “Casey” Castleberry Murphy, Thompson, Arnold, Skinner & Castleberry P.O. Box 2595 1141 E. Main St., Suite 300 Batesville, AR 72503
R. Martin Weber, Jr. Richard E. Norman Crowley Norman LLP Three Riverway, Suite 1775 Houston, TX 77056
Steven E. Vowell Taylor Law Partners 303 E. Millsap Rd. P.O. Box 8310 Fayetteville, AR 72703
Matthew L. Mustokoff Richard A. Russo, Jr.Kessler Topaz Meltzer Check LLP 280 King of Prussia ...

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