The D.C. Circuit recently deepened a circuit split over whether district courts may certify a “fail-safe” class. In In re White, 64 F.4th 302 (D.C. Cir. 2023),the D.C. Circuit agreed that fail-safe classes are generally improper, but rejected the views of other circuits that categorically forbid such classes . Instead of what it described as an “extra-textual” limitation on class certification, the D.C. Circuit held that the existing requirements of Rule 23 (and a district court’s discretion to alter proposed class definitions) should be used to prevent certification of fail-safe classes.Continue Reading D.C. Circuit rejects freestanding rule against “fail-safe” classes
Can you have a class action if class members can’t reliably be found? That question is at the heart of the debate over ascertainability—one that has divided the federal courts. Earlier this week, the Ninth Circuit weighed in, holding in Briseno v. ConAgra Foods, Inc. (pdf) that plaintiffs need not demonstrate “an administratively feasible way to identify class members [as] a prerequisite to class certification.”
That conclusion is disappointing.Continue Reading Ninth Circuit rejects meaningful ascertainability requirement for class certification, cementing deep circuit split
We’ve often argued that when the principal rationale for approving a low-value class settlement is that the claims are weak, that is a signal that the case should not have been filed as a class action in the first place. The Second Circuit recently reached that exact conclusion when considering a proposed class settlement in a Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) case, holding that the putative class couldn’t be certified and that the FDCPA claims should be dismissed.
Continue Reading Second Circuit holds that class action seeking “meaningless” relief shouldn’t be certified
The “ascertainability” requirement for class certification is a crucial safeguard for both defendants and absent class members. There is some debate about its origin: some courts have held that it is implicit in Rule 23 that class members must be readily identifiable; others find ascertainability to be rooted in Rule 23(a)(1)’s numerosity mandate or Rule 23(b)(3)’s requirement that a class action be superior to other methods for resolving the controversy. Either way, courts agree that a class is ascertainable only if the class definition is sufficiently definite to make it administratively feasible for the court to determine by reference to objective criteria whether a particular person is a member of the putative class.
In two recent opinions—Hayes v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (pdf), 2013 WL 3957757 (3d Cir. Aug. 2, 2013), and Carrera v. Bayer Corp., 2013 WL 4437225 (3d Cir. Aug. 21, 2013)—the Third Circuit vacated class certification orders because the plaintiffs hadn’t met their burden of proving that class members were ascertainable. These decisions are a goldmine for class action defendants: They provide great examples of the ascertainability requirement in action.Continue Reading Third Circuit Rulings Give Teeth to Ascertainability Requirement for Class Certification
Congress and state legislatures have enacted many statutes that provide for minimum statutory damages recoveries that are far in excess of the actual damages most individuals will suffer. A prominent example is the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), which offers $500 per violation of the statute, trebled to $1500 for willful violations. The idea is that offering such damages will create incentives for individual plaintiffs to pursue such claims in court when actual damages are minimal or difficult to measure. But the numbers can quickly add up when such statutory damages claims are aggregated as part of a putative class…
Continue Reading Is There New Hope for Challenging Aggregated Statutory Damages?
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), which regulates the conduct of debt collectors, authorizes plaintiffs suing over violations to recover statutory damages of up to $1,000. Because these amounts can rapidly add up to exorbitant numbers in a class action for very minor, technical violations, Congress capped the total amount of statutory damages that may be sought for the absent class members in a class action at the lesser of $500,000 or 1 percent of the debt collector’s net worth. 15 U.S.C. § 1692k(a)(2)(B).
Now imagine that you’re a plaintiff’s lawyer who has stumbled across what appears to…
Continue Reading Can Plaintiffs Evade The FDCPA’s Cap on Total Statutory Damages in a Class Action by Filing Multiple, Gerrymandered Class Actions?
The requirement that the named plaintiff must be an adequate class representative is not often the basis for denying class certification. But a recent decision from the Northern District of Illinois in a false-advertising class action illustrates the importance of taking discovery on facts that are relevant to the adequacy standard.
In Lipton v. Chattem, Inc., the district court denied class certification in a case alleging that purchasers of a weight-loss product, Dexatrim, had been deceived because the label did not disclose that its ingredients included hexavalent chromium, which allegedly can cause serious health problems. The court held that …
Continue Reading Lipton v. Chattem, Inc.: Federal District Court Denies Certification On Adequacy Grounds
The case is a hybrid collective action under the Fair Labor Standards Act (pdf) and opt-out Rule 23(b)(3) class action asserting state-law wage-and-hour claims. The plaintiffs—a group of home satellite-dish installers who were paid by the job rather than by the hour—sued their employer for allegedly failing to ensure that they were paid the federal minimum wage and time-and-a-half for overtime work. The district court initially certified the collective and class actions, but decertified…
Continue Reading Seventh Circuit: A “Shapeless, Free-Wheeling” Trial Plan Is Grounds for Decertifying Class
The answer is a resounding “no,” says Judge Cormac Carney of the Central District of California in a recent significant decision in litigation over the third generation Toyota Prius and 2010 Lexus HS250h vehicles (In re Toyota Motor Corp. Hybrid Brake Mktg., Sales Practices & Prods. Liab. Litig. (pdf), No. SAML 10-2172-CJC (C.D. Cal. Jan. 9, 2013).
Judge Carney is presiding over a multidistrict litigation (consolidating five class actions) against Toyota, in which the plaintiffs allege that a defect in the Prius’s anti-lock brake system (“ABS”) causes increased stopping time and distance when a driver hits the brakes.
Tomorrow, the Supreme Court will hear argument in United States v. Bormes, a case that apparently has not captured the attention of most class action practitioners. That’s understandable: The question presented (pdf) is “whether the Little Tucker Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1346(a)(2), waives the sovereign immunity of the United States with respect to damages actions for violations of the Fair Credit Reporting Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1681 et seq.” But the impetus for the federal government’s request for immunity—the enormous liability generated by aggregating statutory damages in a FCRA class action—is one that routinely affects businesses targeted by similar class actions. Businesses therefore should stay tuned to see what, if anything, the Court might say about the concerns that result from piling up large amounts of potential statutory damages in class actions.
Continue Reading Federal Government Acknowledges Undue Risk of Potentially Massive Liability from Class Actions for Statutory Damages Under the Federal Credit Reporting Act, but Proposes a Solution Good for One Defendant Only