Bedbug-Affected Residents Can File Class Action Lawsuit
Facts: A group of residents of a Section 8 site claimed that the site manager didn’t do enough to protect them from bedbugs. Current and former residents of the site asked the court to certify a class based on the PHA’s allegedly inadequate response to a years-long bedbug infestation.
The Section 8 site is a 155-unit apartment building. Of the 428 head of household residents who lived at the site between 2011 and August 2018, about 230 had at least one documented positive bedbug inspection or treatment for bedbugs in their unit when they were living in it; the remaining 198 or so did not. A January 2011 building-wide inspection revealed that 34 of the site’s 155 units were infested at that time. Another building-wide inspection in 2014 revealed that 37 units were infested at that time.
The PHA first became aware of the bedbug infestation in 2010 or 2011. Between November 2011 and August 2017, the PHA procured roughly 489 professional bedbug inspections and 878 treatments at a cost of at least $116,822. From 2011 to 2018, 146 units were treated for bedbugs on at least one occasion. Sixty percent of the units treated received more than five treatments.
The residents alleged that the PHA systemically failed to prevent and respond to the infestation, and the scope and duration of the infestation lends some support to that argument. Specifically, the residents contended that the PHA: (1) didn’t conduct bedbug inspections frequently enough; (2) used conventional rather than heat treatment; (3) didn’t conduct “cloverleaf” inspections whereby the four units surrounding an infested unit are also inspected or treated; (4) didn’t adequately treat common areas; (5) didn’t use effective prophylactic measures; (6) didn’t conduct recommended follow-up treatments; and (7) otherwise didn’t promptly respond to the infestation using effective eradication techniques.
The residents also claimed that the site employees suppressed tenant communications about the infestation and tried to conceal from them information about the full extent of the infestation. The PHA handed out bedbug notices, hung bedbug posters, and held seminars to educate its residents on how to limit the spread of bedbugs. But the residents contended that wasn’t enough to adequately inform them about the infestation. For example, one resident claimed that no PHA employee told her about the bedbug infestation at the site when she moved in, and another resident claimed the PHA didn’t disclose the extent of the infestation to her through educational meetings or otherwise.
The residents contended that the PHA’s inadequate response to the bedbug infestation endangered residents and contributed to the creation of an unlivable environment. Residents reported that the infestation caused them to develop skin conditions and suffer from symptoms of anxiety, sleeplessness, and post-traumatic stress. They sued on the theories of willful violations of constitutional rights and federal health and safety regulations, statutory deceptive acts and practices, unjust enrichment, breach of the warranty of habitability, breach of contract, and premises liability.
Ruling: An Illinois district court granted the residents’ request for class certification.
Reasoning: In a class action lawsuit, an attorney representing certain named class members litigates on behalf of other class members, who may become bound by the outcome of the litigation process. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure, Rule 23(a) provides that an action requires four conditions to qualify for class treatment: (1) the class must be so numerous that joinder of all members is impracticable; (2) there must be questions of law or fact common to the class; (3) the claims of the representative parties must be typical of the claims of the class; and (4) the representative parties will fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class.
Here, the court found that the class members or residents were exposed to a shared, pervasive risk of harm because of deficiencies in the PHA’s prevention and eradication measures. According to the court, their claims presented common, foundational questions of fact and law that are best resolved by class litigation.
- Phillips v. Waukegan Housing Authority, April 2019