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Judge criticizes counsel seeking class status

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Don't expect one federal judge to re-examine a ruling by another jurist on the same court if you don't present any new facts or arguments on a similar case and issue.

That's the message to federal attorneys practicing in the Southern District of Indiana, as detailed in a decision Thursday from U.S. District Judge David F. Hamilton in Blanca Gomez and Joan Wagner-Barnett v. St. Vincent Health, No. 1:08-CV-0153. The judge denied a class-action certification motion involving two ex-hospital workers who allege their former employer didn't provide adequate notice of COBRA rights to more than 250 people qualified for that extended health insurance between May 2004 and January 2006.

Plaintiff attorney Ronald E. Weldy, with Weldy & Associates in Indianapolis, had filed a previous suit that Judge Sarah Evans Barker in Indianapolis ruled on in 2007, also denying the class certification and faulting the lawyer for inadequate representation of the plaintiffs. The attorney originally appealed that denial at the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, but abandoned the appeal to subsequently file this second suit about the same proposed class of former hospital employees.

"They provide no new facts or arguments in their motion for class certification; they have merely decided to emphasize the aspects of their case that they believe undermine Judge Barker's decision. If plaintiffs' counsel wanted a review of Judge Barker's decision, his proper recourse was to the Seventh Circuit," Judge Hamilton wrote. "(Her) decision was not a first draft for another district judge to expound upon after plaintiffs' counsel had an opportunity to see the flaws in his initial argument."

Citing that previous case of Brown-Pfifer v. St. Vincent Health, 2007 WL 2757264 (S.D. Ind. Sept. 20, 2007), the court detailed how Judge Barker and Magistrate Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson had previously perceived deficiencies in the proposed class counsel that included faulty discovery efforts and a failure to develop a full record.

"His questionable work in that case and his decision to relitigate the same issues in this court show a lack of regard for scarce judicial resources," Judge Hamilton wrote. "This attempt to have this court effectively overrule a colleague on the District Court on an indistinguishable record is not the best means of representing the proposed class members."

Pointing to caselaw showing that a requirement of class-certification is adequacy of representation, Judge Hamilton found that plaintiffs' counsel in this case is not adequate to represent the proposed class. Without an appropriate class counsel, certification for that proposed class must be denied.

Weldy has been certified as class counsel by a third judge in a separate COBRA notification case. Judge Hamilton wrote that he's not expressing any opinion on the lawyer's fitness to serve in that or any other case.

Indiana Lawyer couldn't immediately reach Weldy today by phone or email for his reaction to the ruling.

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