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Residents of Royal View Manor v. The Des Moines Municipal Housing Agency

Court of Appeals of Iowa

July 6, 2017

RESIDENTS OF ROYAL VIEW MANOR by and through JEANETTE MCDOWELL, et. al., Plaintiffs-Appellees,
v.
THE DES MOINES MUNICIPAL HOUSING AGENCY d/b/a ROYAL VIEW MANOR, Defendant-Appellant.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Jeffrey D. Farrell, Judge.

         The Des Moines Municipal Housing Agency appeals the district court order certifying a class action.

          Eric G. Hoch, Kevin J. Driscoll and Kellen B. Bubach of Finley Law Firm, P.C., Des Moines, and Gregory R. Brown and Joseph G. Gamble of Duncan, Green, Brown & Langeness, P.C., Des Moines, for appellant.

          Steven P. Wandro and Kara M. Simons of Wandro & Associates, P.C., Des Moines, and Jeffrey M. Lipman of Lipman Law Firm, P.C., Clive, for appellees.

          Heard by Vogel, P.J., and Doyle and McDonald, JJ.

          DOYLE, Judge.

         Fifty-five tenants of Royal View Manor filed a lawsuit on their own behalf and on behalf of those persons similarly situated alleging the Des Moines Municipal Housing Agency (DMMHA) breached warranties of habitability by failing to properly remedy a bed bug infestation in the apartment building. The DMMHA alleges the district court erred in certifying the class action because the plaintiffs failed to prove joinder of all class members is impractical and individual issues predominate over class questions. Because the district court properly exercised its discretion in certifying the class action, we affirm.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

         Royal View Manor is an eight-story, two-hundred-unit, apartment building in Des Moines. It is owned and operated by the DMHAA, which provides housing for low- and moderate-income individuals. The DMMHA has an income limit for those who reside in its buildings and rents are income-based.

         In 2010, the DMMHA learned of a bed bug infestation at Royal View Manor. It retained a pest-control firm to treat the infestation in individual apartment units based on resident complaints. In June 2010, the DMMHA changed to a preventative program, eventually retaining Preferred Pest Control to investigate each apartment quarterly and treat any infestation detected through a combination of heat and chemical treatments. Preferred Pest Control made other recommendations for controlling the spread of bed bugs through the building, and the DMMHA implemented some of those recommendations.

         The district court summarized the evidence regarding the extent of the bed bug infestation at Royal View Manor:

When Preferred [Pest Control] completed its first full inspection at Royal View [Manor] in 2010, it detected bed bugs in forty-four apartments, which is twenty-two percent of the apartments. The [DMMHA] and Preferred [Pest Control] set a goal of getting to ten percent. The documents show some limited success for different periods of time. For example, Preferred [Pest Control]'s records show it detected bed bugs in thirteen apartments during the spring quarter of 2013. However, Royal View [Manor] has never met its goal of ten percent in a lasting sense. For example, bed bugs were detected in twenty-seven apartments in 2011, thirty-one apartments in the fall of 2012, forty-four apartments in the winter of 2013, and thirty-six apartments in the summer of 2014. In June of 2015, bed bugs were detected in seventy-two out of 183 apartments. . . .
The bed bug detections were not confined to the same apartments as prior detections. For example, from September of 2010 to April of 2015, bed bugs were detected in apartment 214 on five different occasions. However, bed bugs were not detected in some apartments (such as 202 and 201) for the first time until 2014 and 2015. As a result, there has been a cumulative effect resulting in a large majority of the apartments at Royal View [Manor] having been detected to have bed bugs on at least one occasion over the period from 2010 to 2015.

         In October 2014, fifty-five current and former residents of Royal View Manor filed a petition against the DMMHA alleging it had breached express, implied, and statutory warranties of habitability. The plaintiffs sought class certification for "[a]ll tenants of Royal View Manor who were subject to infestation of bed bugs from at least the date of 2007 to present, " estimating the class could include between 300 and 600 residents. They also ...


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