Can you have a class action if you can’t figure out who’s in the proposed class? According to many in the plaintiffs’ bar, the answer is “yes.” But as we have discussed in prior blog posts, there is an emerging consensus to the contrary. Most courts agree that plaintiffs in consumer class actions have

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

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

Some academics and commentators have been reading the tea leaves in Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes (pdf) and AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion (pdf) as spelling doom for consumer and employment class actions. That’s overwrought; Dukes rejected an extremely adventuresome application of the class action rules by the Ninth Circuit, and Concepcion merely reminded courts that they can’t get around the Federal Arbitration Act by insisting that arbitration agreements permit expensive aspects of judicial litigation that are completely alien to arbitration in its traditional form. The continuing flood of class action filings is proof that the spigot hasn’t been shut off. But companies should pay attention to where the plaintiffs’ bar thinks they should move next if filing class actions stops being a viable business model.

In a recent article—After Class: Aggregate Litigation in the Wake of AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion (pdf), 79 U. Chi. L. Rev. 623 (2012)—law professor Myriam Gilles and plaintiffs’ lawyer Gary Friedman shine the spotlight on state attorneys general:

In our view, the “private attorney general” role assumed by class action lawyers over the past several decades should give way to a world in which state attorneys general make broad use of their parens patriae authority—far greater use than they have in the past—to represent the interests of their citizens in the very consumer, antitrust, wage-and-hour, and other cases that have long provided the staple of class action practice.

And to tackle complex cases, we would hope to see underfunded AG offices making use of the lawyers who have acquired expertise in originating, investigating, and prosecuting class actions, as well as financing them.

The linchpin of this strategy is, of course, the money. If a state AG can’t give the deputized class action lawyers a big chunk of the money recovered for citizens, the model falls apart. Of course, money was one of the main problems with the biggest experiment with deputizing private lawyers as state AGs—the states’ lawsuits against the tobacco industry. Then-Texas AG Dan Morales was sentenced to four years in prison for attempting to steer millions of dollars from the proceeds of the tobacco settlement to a Houston lawyer.

So what should businesses do if they face one of these parens patriae lawsuits from a faux “acting AG”? Here are a few thoughts:
Continue Reading

The Second Circuit’s recent decision in Hecht v. United Collection Bureau, Inc., No. 11-1327 (2d Cir. Aug. 17, 2012), should sound alarm bells for any business that attempts to settle a class action.  The takeaway from the decision is to make sure that  notice of the settlement to absent class members is adequate. Under some circumstances, a single notice in the USA Today won’t cut it. And if it doesn’t, the release in the settlement won’t be worth the paper it’s printed on, and other plaintiffs will be free to bring the exact same class action against you.
Continue Reading