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
Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(b)(3), a court may certify a suit for damages as a class action when “there are questions of law or fact common to the class” that “predominate over any questions affecting only individual members.” Similar certification standards apply when a plaintiff seeks to certify a collective action under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Yesterday, in its highly anticipated decision in Tyson Foods, Inc. v. Bouaphakeo (pdf), the Supreme Court affirmed the certification of an FLSA collective action where the evidence tying class members together was a study of a representative sample of similarly situated workers.
Continue Reading Supreme Court affirms certification of FLSA collective action in Tyson Foods, Inc. v. Bouaphakeo
The Eighth Circuit recently issued a decision reversing class certification for lack of commonality.
In Smith v. ConocoPhillips Pipe Line Co., the Eighth Circuit considered a class action proceeding on a nuisance theory against the owner of a pipeline. The plaintiffs, who owned property near the pipeline and were suing on behalf of a class of landowners, contended that the pipeline was a nuisance because they feared environmental contamination. After the district court certified the class, the Eighth Circuit granted a petition for review and reversed.
The Eighth Circuit explained that without evidence of contamination, “the putative class fear…
Continue Reading Eighth Circuit Decertifies Environmental Nuisance Class Action Alleging “Fear of Contamination” Without More
Today, the Supreme Court granted review in what may be a major decision on the standards for class certification, Tyson Foods, Inc. v. Bouaphakeo, No. 14-1146.
Continue Reading Supreme Court to Revisit Class-Certification Standards in Tyson Foods, Inc. v. Bouaphakeo
There seem to be two prevailing conceptions of class actions. In one view, a class action is a way of determining many similar claims at once by evaluating common evidence that reliably establishes liability (and lays a ground work for efficiently calculating damages) for each class member. That is, the class device produces the same results as individual actions would, but more efficiently. In the other view—one we consider misguided—a “class” of plaintiffs complaining about similar conduct can have their claims determined through statistical sampling even if no common evidence will provide a common answer to common factual or legal questions. Instead, this theory holds, the results of mini-trials can simply be extrapolated to the entire class, even if individual results would vary widely.
Last week, the Ninth Circuit took a step deeper into the second camp in Jimenez v. Allstate Insurance Co. (pdf), delivering a ringing endorsement of statistical sampling as a way to establish liability as well as damages.
Sometimes it’s hard to know who’s in a class without substantial individualized inquiries. Can a court certify a class of persons with allegedly similar injuries by pigeonholing the question of class membership as a question of damages to be determined later? Not so fast, the Fourth Circuit held in EQT Production Co. v. Adair (pdf). A class that is not ascertainable ex ante is not a class at all.
And the Fourth Circuit also decided another question that has led to different answers from different courts. When the rule of law proposed by plaintiffs would permit a controlling question to…
Continue Reading Fourth Circuit puts teeth into ascertainability, commonality, and predominance requirements for class certification
Suppose that you’re a trial court considering a motion for class certification. And suppose that the parties present you with two competing statutory interpretations. One legal standard permits the case to be adjudicated with common evidence. And the other standard would require individualized inquiries. What should you do? Should you decide what the law is and then see whether the putative class claims can be tried in a single trial?
The surprising answer of the California Court of Appeal is in Hall v. Rite Aid Corp. (pdf) is “No.” Hall appears to conclude that commonality and predominance need not be…
Continue Reading California Court Says No Need To Resolve Disputes Over Substantive Law In Evaluating Whether Class Can Be Certified
At its conference on January 10, the Supreme Court can get serious about fixing consumer class actions. The Justices should take up that challenge, because it will consider two certiorari petitions that seek review of class certifications—involving alleged “moldy odors” in high-tech front loading washing machines—that are prime examples of what has gone wrong with the lower federal courts’ application of Rule 23. We’re somewhat biased: along with our partner Steve Shapiro and our co-counsel at Wheeler Trigg, we represent the petitioners in Whirlpool Corporation v. Glazer, No. 13-431, and Sears, Roebuck & Co. v. Butler, No.
Continue Reading Two Washer Cases Provide the Supreme Court with Its Best Opportunity Since Wal-Mart v. Dukes to Make Sense of Class-Certification Standards
Here’s the situation: You’re facing a class action in federal court in which the plaintiffs define the putative class so broadly as to encompass many people who weren’t injured by the alleged wrongdoing. For example, consider a false-advertising class action on behalf of “all purchasers” of a product that the vast majority of purchasers would have used without any problem whatsoever, meaning that the alleged rarely occurring (or entirely hypothetical) defect that the defendant failed to disclose makes no difference to them. What’s the best way to attack this weakness in the complaint?
One option would be to characterize the…
Continue Reading Do the Plaintiffs Lack Standing or Are Their Claims Simply Meritless—or Both?
We’ve been blogging about the Second Circuit’s decision in NECA-IBEW Health & Welfare Fund v. Goldman Sachs (pdf), which held that a named plaintiff in a securities fraud suit might have standing in some situations to assert class action claims regarding securities that he or she never purchased. Yesterday, the Supreme Court denied (pdf) Goldman’s petition for certiorari (pdf) in that case. We’ll continue reporting on the aftermath of the Second Circuit’s decision.
In the meantime, defendants facing these sorts of claims should remember that the Second Circuit’s novel standing test requires that the claims regarding the unpurchased securities raise…
Continue Reading Supreme Court Denies Review In NECA-IBEW Case