We have repeatedly discussed in this space the ongoing debate among the federal courts about ascertainability—a red-hot topic in class action litigation these days. (For a more detailed look at our views on the ascertainability doctrine, see the amicus brief (pdf) that we filed on behalf of the National Association of Manufacturers in support of a pending cert petition.) That topic—and the debate among the lower courts—shows no sign of slowing down, as evidenced by new decisions issued by the Second, Sixth, and Third Circuits over the past two months. The central takeaway from these decisions is that while ascertainability is not a panacea for defendants facing consumer class actions, the doctrine (or variations on the ascertainability theme) should help defeat class actions in many circuits when class members cannot be identified without individualized inquiries.

Continue Reading Making sense of the cascade of appellate decisions on ascertainability

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

330px-Supreme_Court_Front_DuskThe Supreme Court will decide before the end of this Term whether to hear any or all of four important cases that raise recurring questions of class action law that have sharply divided the lower courts. These cases address questions that we have blogged about before (e.g., here and here): whether a class full of uninjured members may be certified, and whether plaintiffs may rely on experts and statistics to gloss over individualized differences among class members in order to prove their class claims and damages. These questions strike at the heart of what it means to be a “class,” because class actions generally must be litigated using common evidence to show that each class member has been harmed.
Continue Reading Supreme Court To Decide Whether To Hear Four High-Stakes Cases Asking When A Suit May Be Litigated As A Class Action

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

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

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 federal courts of appeals continue to scrutinize class-action settlements closely when the direct benefits to class members are overshadowed by the attorneys’ fees that flow to plaintiffs’ counsel. The most recent example is Greenberg v. Procter & Gamble Co. (pdf), No. 11-4156 (6th Cir. Aug. 2, 2013). In its decision, the Sixth Circuit provided guidance to practitioners regarding the fee awards and incentive payments to named plaintiffs.
Continue Reading Sixth Circuit Rejects Class Settlement Over Excessive Payments to Class Counsel and Named Plaintiffs

A quick tip to employers facing class actions brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)—don’t forget about the EEOC’s statutory duty to investigate the claim before filing suit.

Before the EEOC may file a lawsuit, an employee must have made a timely charge of discrimination of which the EEOC timely notified the employer and the EEOC must have investigated the charge, determined that there was reasonable cause to sue, and attempted conciliation with the employer. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(b), (e).

Courts generally have rejected attempts by employers to call into question the sufficiency of the EEOC’s pre-suit investigation.
Continue Reading Court Allows Employer Discovery Into Whether EEOC Actually Investigated Before Filing Discrimination Suit

The Fourth Circuit recently weighed in on a technical question involving the process for removing a case against multiple defendants to federal court—namely, whether every defendant must actually sign the notice of removal. The Fourth Circuit concluded that “[w]e can see no policy reason why removal in a multiple-defendant case cannot be accomplished by the filing of one paper signed by at least one attorney, representing that all defendants have consented to the removal.” Mayo v. Bd. of Educ., Nos. 11-1816, 11-2037 (4th Cir. Apr. 11, 2013).

The Fourth Circuit is correct. That said, at least some courts are
Continue Reading Fourth Circuit Nixes Requirement that All Defendants Physically Sign Notice of Removal To Federal Court

The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (“FLSA”) permits an employee to file a “collective action” for damages against an employer individually and on behalf of other “similarly situated” employees who later choose to join the lawsuit. 29 U.S.C. § 216(b). In Genesis Healthcare Corp. v. Symczyk, before any other employee had opted to join the suit, the defendant made an offer of judgment to the named plaintiff for the full relief sought by her individual claims. Today, the Supreme Court held—by a 5-4 vote—that the district court had properly dismissed the FLSA collective action for lack of
Continue Reading Supreme Court Holds that Plaintiff Whose Individual Claims Were Mooted by an Offer of Judgment Lacks Standing to Maintain FLSA Collective Action