The Supreme Court on Tuesday heard oral argument in Tyson Foods, Inc. v. Bouaphakeo, No. 14-1146, a case that has been closely watched for its potential to narrow the circumstances in which a class action may be certified under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23 and a collective action for unpaid wages certified under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). We previously described this case in prior blog posts. One of us attended the argument, and the other closely reviewed the transcript (pdf). Our combined reaction: The anticipated decision in this case may focus on an FLSA issue and, if so, then it seems unlikely to mark a sea change in the rules governing Rule 23 class actions.
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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.
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A plaintiff hopes to represent a class to pursue two sets of wage-and-hour claims but runs into headwinds in the district court.  First, one set of claims disappears because his legal theory doesn’t withstand a motion to dismiss.  Then class certification is denied on what was left.  After that, the defendant— invoking Rule 68 of

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.

In Duran v. U.S. Bank N.A. (pdf), the California Supreme Court recently addressed an important question in the context of state-court class actions: Can plaintiffs invoke statistical sampling in an attempt to prove class-wide liability and overcome the presence of individual questions that ordinarily would defeat class certification?

The court’s answer to that question is a mixed bag for business. The court firmly rejected the haphazard approach to sampling used by the trial court in the lawsuit against U.S. Bank. But the court left open the troubling possibility that sampling might be used in support of class certification in the future.
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The Supreme Court makes its biggest headlines when it wades into the biggest issues of the day. But the Supreme Court also maintains a substantial docket of seemingly small—but ultimately important—technical questions.

In recent years, the Court has been particularly interested in defining precisely when an hourly employee is on and off the clock. For

Some observers of California wage-and-hour class actions contended that the Brinker v. Superior Court—a key decision we have discussed in the past—had sounded the death knell for class certification in those cases. of California wage and hour class actions. Not so fast, according to the California Courts of Appeal, which have, in four

Former interns used to get revenge against their employers by writing tell-all blog posts and memoirs. Now, they’re lending their names to plaintiffs’ lawyers, who then file wage-and-hour class or collective actions alleging that interns must be paid like hourly employees.

The unpaid internship is among the hottest areas in wage-and-hour litigation. Two of the

A California appellate court weighed in last week with another effort to circumvent the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion. In Franco v. Arakelian Enterprises, Inc. (pdf), a panel of the Court of Appeal in Los Angeles affirmed an order refusing to enforce an employee’s agreement to arbitrate disputes with his employer, holding that Concepcion does not abrogate the California Supreme Court’s decision in Gentry v. Superior Court.

Gentry held that a court could refuse to enforce a provision requiring individual arbitration of a claim involving “unwaivable statutory rights”—which include all wage-and-hour claims—if the court determines that (1) the complaint alleged a systematic denial of overtime pay (as any class action complaint would), (2) a class action is “likely to be a significantly more effective practical means of vindicating the rights of the affected employees” than individual arbitration would be, and (3) disallowing a class action “will likely lead to a less comprehensive enforcement of overtime laws” for the allegedly affected employees (i.e., absent class members). That is, under Gentry, a court could refuse to enforce an agreement to arbitrate individually whenever it believes that the absent class members in a putative wage-and-hour class action would collectively be more likely to recover than they would be if each employee had to comply with her agreement and arbitrate any complaint she might have.

The panel concluded that Gentry was not preempted by Concepcion, which the panel took to apply only to categorical prohibitions on class actions. In reaching that conclusion, the panel relied heavily on plaintiff-friendly law review articles, and reasoned that the Supreme Court’s opinion earlier this year in Marmet summarily reversing an explicitly categorical exception to arbitration supported limiting the reach of Concepcion to similar categorical prohibitions.

The panel concluded that Gentry was not such a categorical prohibition. But it is difficult to see how Gentry—which purported to clarify the California Supreme Court’s earlier Discover Bank decision—imposes a less categorical rule than Discover Bank, which applied to consumer class actions alleging systematically deceptive conduct producing damages in amounts too small to make individual actions likely (and which was overruled by Concepcion). Gentry says, in essence, that individual arbitration cannot be compelled whenever the court concludes on balance that the class device will make it more likely that plaintiffs’ lawyers will bring more claims on behalf of a greater number of employees. It is hard to imagine any wage-and-hour class action in which the plaintiffs’ lawyers would not allege “systematic” violations of the wage-and-hour laws, or would not contend that class actions are “significantly more effective” than individual arbitration.


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