Over the past few years, a number of plaintiffs’ lawyers have attempted—with some success—to circumvent the “mass action” provisions in the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005 (“CAFA”), which allow defendants to remove to federal court certain cases raising “claims of 100 or more persons that are proposed to be tried jointly.” 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d)(11)(B)(i).  Although these lawyers represent 100-plus clients with substantively identical claims, they subdivide their mass actions into multiple parallel cases, often with just under 100 plaintiffs each.  And to avoid the “proposed to be tried jointly” language of CAFA, they remain coy about—or
Continue Reading En Banc Ninth Circuit Permits Removal Under CAFA of a Subdivided Mass Action

We previously wrote about the Third Circuit’s decision in Carrera v. Bayer Corp., which reversed a district court’s class-certification order because there was no reliable way to ascertain class membership—indeed, no way to identify who was a member of the class aside from a class member’s own say-so. Last week, the full Third Circuit denied (pdf) the plaintiff’s request to rehear the case en banc over the dissent of four judges. The clear message of Carrera is that when plaintiffs file class actions that have no hope of compensating class members for alleged wrongs because the class members can’t be found, courts should refuse to let these actions proceed.

As we discuss below, the denial of rehearing is significant in itself, given the concerted efforts by Carrera and his amici to draw attention to the case. But what might be most significant about this latest set of opinions is what even the dissenting judges did not say.

Continue Reading Third Circuit Rejects Effort At End Run Around The Ascertainability Requirement

In recent years, one of the hottest types of collective actions against employers under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) is what is commonly called a “donning and doffing claim”—a lawsuit for unpaid wages for time employees spent changing clothes for work, such as putting on uniforms, safety gear, and the like. In a recent decision, Sandifer v. United States Steel Corp. (pdf), No. 12-417, the Supreme Court unanimously clarified the rules for these collective actions.

One of the major fights in donning and doffing suits is over the meaning of a key provision of the FLSA that exempts employers from having to compensate employees for off-the-clock “time spent in changing clothes … at the beginning or end of each workday” (29 U.S.C. § 203(o)) if a collective bargaining agreement so provides. Many agreements do exactly that.

Nonetheless, parties have litigated for years over what activities are exempt under Section 203(o). The plaintiffs’ bar typically takes a very narrow view of what constitutes “changing clothes” under the statute. The Court’s decision today takes a far more practical view of the statute. Sandifer makes clear that time spent donning or doffing protective gear that is (1) designed and used to cover the body and (2) commonly regarded as an article of dress—including hard hats, protective jackets, and protective coverings for the arms and legs—is exempt if the employees’ collective bargaining agreement so provides. In addition, minimal time spent putting on or removing other protective gear (such as safety glasses and earplugs) during this time is likewise exempt. Sandifer is therefore likely to reduce the number of circumstances that would allow plaintiffs to succeed in bringing donning-and-doffing lawsuits under the FLSA.

We provide more details about the decision in Sandifer after the jump.

Continue Reading Do Employers Have To Pay Unionized Workers For Time Spent Donning and Doffing Safety Gear? Supreme Court Says No.

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

We’ve blogged before about plaintiffs’ attempts to circumvent the “mass action” provisions in the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005 (“CAFA”), which  allow defendants to remove to federal court certain cases raising “claims of 100 or more persons that are proposed to be tried jointly.” 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d)(11)(B)(i). To evade removal, creative plaintiffs’ lawyers have subdivided their mass actions into parallel cases of fewer than 100 persons each. Some courts have gone along with the charade. See, e.g., Scimone v. Carnival Corp., No. 13-12291 (11th Cir. July 1, 2013); Abrahamsen v. ConocoPhillips, Co., 503 F. App’x 157, 160 (3d Cir. 2012); Anderson v. Bayer Corp., 610 F.3d 390, 392 (7th Cir. 2010); Tanoh v. Dow Chem. Co., 561 F.3d 945, 950-51 (9th Cir. 2009).

The fight over removal in these gerrymandered mass actions often boils down to one key question:  whether the parallel cases are “proposed to be tried jointly.”  If so, CAFA permits removal.

Recognizing this point, the plaintiffs in these cases frequently remain coy about—or outright deny—an intent to try the parallel mass actions jointly.  But they often go right up to the edge, urging the same state trial court to resolve threshold issues in the cases together—or even simply to consolidate the state-court actions outright. Then, these plaintiffs say, CAFA’s mass-action removal provision doesn’t apply because they say that they have had the claims “consolidated or coordinated solely for pretrial proceedings.” 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d)(11)(B)(ii)(IV) (emphasis added).

But not all courts are falling for this effort to elevate form over substance.

Continue Reading Will the En Banc Ninth Circuit Clarify When a Subdivided Mass Action Can Be Removed Under CAFA?

We recently noted that the Ninth Circuit had granted a Rule 23(f) petition in Chen v. Allstate Insurance Co.—on the issue whether a named plaintiff can refuse an offer of judgment for full relief and persist in litigating a class action—and was expected to issue a briefing schedule soon. Leaving aside the substance of the case, there is nothing unusual about the practice the Ninth Circuit followed in Chen. That is standard operating procedure virtually everywhere, although in a few rare instances courts of appeals have ordered briefing and argument on both the Rule 23(f) petition and the
Continue Reading The Seventh Circuit’s Unique Approach To Handling Rule 23(f) Petitions

Today, Mayer Brown filed a pair of certiorari petitions that challenge efforts by two federal appellate courts to narrow the Supreme Court’s recent class-action decisions in Comcast Corp. v. Behrend and Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes to tickets good for a single ride only. The Supreme Court previously remanded both cases for reconsideration after Comcast, but both courts of appeals reinstated their decisions. The certiorari petitions explain why those decisions are wrong: both putative class actions are beset by individual liability and damages questions and are filled with uninjured class members.

In one case, Sears, Roebuck and Co. v.
Continue Reading Mayer Brown Files Cert Petitions In Front-Loading Washer Cases

From a practitioner’s standpoint, one of my five least-favorite recent developments in federal class-action practice is the explosion in the number of premature motions for class certification that would-be class representatives file.

I understand the motivation behind these motions—often filed along with the initial complaint. Of course, they are not seriously intended to induce a ruling on class certification; to the contrary, they expressly request that the issue be tabled until the completion of discovery. The real reason that plaintiffs’ counsel file these motions is that they want to preclude the defendant from mooting the putative class action by making
Continue Reading Judges Irked At Placeholder Class-Certification Motions Too

Before the Supreme Court’s decision last Term in Genesis Healthcare Corp. v. Symczyk, 133 S. Ct. 1523 (2013), the Ninth Circuit had held that a named plaintiff can continue to pursue a putative class action even after the defendant has extended that plaintiff an offer of judgment for the full individual relief sought in the complaint, including reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs. See Pitts v. Terrible Herbst, Inc., 653 F.3d 1081 (9th Cir. 2011). In a case that bears watching, a federal district judge in California recently certified for interlocutory review the question whether Pitts’s mootness holding remains good law. See Chen v. Allstate Ins. Co., No. 4:13-cv-00685-PJH (N.D. Cal. July 31, 2013).
Continue Reading Will the Ninth Circuit Revisit the Issue of Whether an Offer of Judgment to the Named Plaintiff Can Moot a Class Action?

The Class Action Fairness Act of 2005 (“CAFA”) provides that defendants may remove certain mass actions—cases that are proposed to be tried jointly—so long as the aggregate amount at stake is at least $5 million and there are 100 or more plaintiffs in the case. 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d)(11). But what if plaintiffs’ counsel try to avoid removal by splitting up a 100-plaintiff mass action into two smaller mass actions?

That was the situation facing Carnival. After a cruise ship ran aground off the coast of Italy, plaintiffs’ lawyers filed a mass action in state court on behalf of
Continue Reading Can Plaintiffs Gerrymander Mass Actions to Avoid Federal Jurisdiction?