Posted On: May 31, 2006 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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Class Action Defense Issues: 30 Day Time Limit On Removal to Federal Court - 28 U.S.C. § 1446

28 U.S.C. § 1446 - 30 day Time Limit

Class action defendants often benefit if they can remove the case to federal court if possible. CAFA (Class Action Fairness Act of 2005) was enacted to greatly expand access to federal courts in class action cases. Removal of cases to federal court generally is governed by 28 U.S.C. §1446. CAFA is discussed in a separate article.

The procedure for removal is set forth in 28 U.S.C. § 1446. As a general rule the defendant must remove the case to federal court within 30 days of receipt of the complaint or “a copy of an amended pleading, motion, order or other paper from which it may first be ascertained that the case is one which is or has become removable,” 28 U.S.C. § 1446(b). However, if the basis of removal is diversity jurisdiction, then the matter may not be removed more than one year after the lawsuit was filed. Id. Section 1446 provides in part:

(a) A defendant or defendants desiring to remove any civil action or criminal prosecution from a State court shall file in the district court of the United States for the district and division within which such action is pending a notice of removal signed pursuant to Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and containing a short and plain statement of the grounds for removal, together with a copy of all process, pleadings, and orders served upon such defendant or defendants in such action.
(b) The notice of removal of a civil action or proceeding shall be filed within thirty days after the receipt by the defendant, through service or otherwise, of a copy of the initial pleading setting forth the claim for relief upon which such action or proceeding is based, or within thirty days after the service of summons upon the defendant if such initial pleading has then been filed in court and is not required to be served on the defendant, whichever period is shorter.
If the case stated by the initial pleading is not removable, a notice of removal may be filed within thirty days after receipt by the defendant, through service or otherwise, of a copy of an amended pleading, motion, order or other paper from which it may first be ascertained that the case is one which is or has become removable, except that a case may not be removed on the basis of jurisdiction conferred by section 1332 of this title more than 1 year after commencement of the action.

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Posted On: May 30, 2006 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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Harris v. Bankers Life: Duty of Inquiry to Determine Removability to Federal Court

28 U.S.C. §1446 and Issues Related to Class Action Defense

Class action defendants often benefit if they can remove the case to federal court if possible. CAFA (Class Action Fairness Act of 2005), discussed in a separate article, was enacted to greatly expand access to federal courts in class action cases. Removal of cases to federal court generally is governed by 28 U.S.C. §1446.

As a general rule the defendant must remove the case to federal court within 30 days of receipt of the complaint or “a copy of an amended pleading, motion, order or other paper from which it may first be ascertained that the case is one which is or has become removable,” 28 U.S.C. § 1446(b) (italics added). The 30-day time limit on removal is discussed in a separate article.

This issue here discussed is whether a defendant is under a duty to inquire into the existence of jurisdictional facts. The Circuit Courts are split on this issue. This article discusses the recent Ninth Circuit opinion on the topic, Harris v. Bankers Life & Cas. Co., 425 F.3d 689 (9th Cir. 2005). Harris is important because it rejects both Moore’s Federal Practice treatise and the Tenth Circuit’s interpretation of a prior Ninth Circuit opinion, Cantrell v. Great Republic Ins. Co., 873 F.2d 1249 (9th Cir. 1989). Both Moore’s Federal Practice 3d, 107.30[3][f] at n.100 (3d ed. 2005), and Akin v. Ashland Chem. Co., 156 F.3d 1030, 1035 n.2 (10th Cir. 1998), cite to Cantrell as imposing a duty upon a defendant to investigate potential reasons for removal within the first thirty days of receiving a complaint. In Harris, the Ninth Circuit recently rejected Moore’s and Akin’s interpretation of Cantrell and clarified its holding in Cantrell.

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Posted On: May 29, 2006 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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Class Action Defense Issues: One Year Limit On Removal to Federal Court - 28 U.S.C. § 1446

28 U.S.C. § 1446 - One Year Limit on Removal

Class action defendants often benefit if they can remove the case to federal court if possible. CAFA (Class Action Fairness Act of 2005) was enacted to greatly expand access to federal courts in class action cases. Removal of cases to federal court generally is governed by 28 U.S.C. §1446. CAFA is discussed in a separate article.

The procedure for removal is set forth in 28 U.S.C. § 1446. As a general rule the defendant must remove the case to federal court within 30 days of receipt of the complaint or “a copy of an amended pleading, motion, order or other paper from which it may first be ascertained that the case is one which is or has become removable,” 28 U.S.C. § 1446(b). However, if the basis of removal is diversity jurisdiction, then the matter may not be removed more than one year after the lawsuit was filed. Id. The 30-day limit is discussed in a separate article; this article discusses the one-year limitation.

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Posted On: May 28, 2006 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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CAFA (CLASS ACTION FAIRNESS ACT OF 2005)

Class action litigation is rampant in the United States, and defending against a class action lawsuit is both expensive and time-consuming. In enacting CAFA (Class Action Fairness Act of 2005), Congress acknowledged that class actions are an important and valuable part of the legal system “when they permit the fair and efficient resolution of legitimate claims of numerous parties by allowing the claims to be aggregated into a single action against a defendant that has allegedly caused harm.” However, Congress also recognized that the abusive use of class actions has harmed the public, harmed businesses, and undermined public respect for the judicial system.

In particular, Congress was concerned that many class actions benefited plaintiffs’ counsel more than the public. “Class members often receive little or no benefit from class actions, and are sometimes harmed,” whereas “[plaintiffs’] counsel are awarded large fees, while leaving class members with coupons or other awards of little or no value.” Moreover, certain plaintiffs receive unjustifiable awards at the expense of other class members.

Congress was also concerned that by manipulation of diversity jurisdiction plaintiffs’ counsel had managed to keep cases of “national importance” in state court, and that state courts would “sometimes act[] in ways that demonstrate bias against out-of-State defendants” and enter judgments that would “impose their view of the law on other States and bind the rights of the residents of those States.”

Congress therefore enacted the Class Action Fairness Act (“CAFA”) for several purposes. When a proposed class action settlement awards coupons to class members, then CAFA requires that the federal district court expressly find that the settlement is fair, reasonable and adequate. The federal court also cannot approve such a settlement if attorney fees awarded to class counsel result in a net monetary loss to the class unless the court expressly finds that the monetary loss is substantially outweighed by nonmonetary benefits to the class. CAFA also specifies the calculation of contingent and other attorney fee awards when the proposed class action settlement involves providing coupons to class members. Finally, CAFA prohibits class settlements that give greater benefits to some class members because they are geographically nearer to the court. To ensure the fairness of proposed class settlements, CAFA requires that notice of proposed settlements be served on the appropriate State and Federal officials, and forbids the court from approving such settlements less than 90 das after service of such notice.

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Posted On: May 27, 2006 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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Indictment of Class Action Law Firm and Lawyer Fuels Debate on Prosecution of Corporations

Class action plaintiff firm Milberg Weiss Bershad & Schulman LLP and two of the firm’s top partners, David Bershad and Steven Schulman, were indicted in mid-May 2006 for paying millions of dollars in kickbacks to clients to serve as plaintiffs. Brooke Masters of The Washington Post reports that the case breaks a familiar trend of corporate defendants cooperating with government prosecutors “such as Computer Associates International Inc., accounting firm KPMG LLP and drugmaker Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., agreeing not to press criminal charges in exchange for sweeping management changes, large financial penalties and help putting individual employees behind bars.”

Masters reports that simply indicted the firm could run it out of business, and explains why the indictment has reopened the debate on whether the Justice Department should indict companies and the basis for concerns that the indictment may have been politically motivated.

Regardless of the motivation for the indictment, if the allegations are true then the firm’s conduct was illegal and the practice had to be stopped. More details may be found in Brooke Masters’ article, “A Law Firm Under Pressure,” printed May 25, 2006, in The Washington Post.

Posted On: May 27, 2006 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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New Allegations Surface Regarding Indicted Class Action Law Firm and Lawyer

Class action plaintiff firm Milberg Weiss Bershad & Schulman LLP and two of the firm’s top partners, David Bershad and Steven Schulman, were indicted in mid-May 2006 for paying millions of dollars in kickbacks to clients to serve as plaintiffs. Lynnley Browning of the New York Times reports that one of the lead plaintiffs in the class action against accounting firm KPMG claims “that he was offered a financial incentive to serve as plaintiff.”

Settlements in class action cases require court approval, and a proposed $153 million settlement in the KPMG action was to be heard by the federal judge on May 26, 2006. For more information, please see Lynnley Browning’s article, “Plaintiff Says Incentives Were Offered in KPMG Case,” printed May 26, 2006, in The New York Times.

Posted On: May 26, 2006 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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Class Action Defense Cases--Evans v. Walter Industries: Plaintiff Bears Burden Under Class Action Fairness Act of 2005 (CAFA) Of Establishing Local Controversy Exception To Removal of Class Action

CAFA (Class Action Fairness Act of 2005) Places Burden of Proof on Plaintiff to Establish Local Controversy Exception to Removal Eleventh Circuit Holds

CAFA contains several provisions that still require judicial interpretation. On May 22, 2006, the Eleventh Circuit considered as a matter of first impression for any Circuit Court of Appeals “the specific question of which party should bear the burden of proof on CAFA’s local controversy exception.” Evans v. Walter Industries, Inc., 449 F.3d 1159, 1164 (11th Cir. 2006). Evans "hold[s] that the plaintiffs bear the burden of proving the local controversy exception," id., at 1165 (italics added). The Court noted that this "places the burden on the party most capable of bearing it" because "plaintiffs have defined the class and have better access to information about the scope and composition of the plaintiff class." Id., at 1164 n.3.

The Eleventh Circuit analyzed the evidence presented to the district court and found it wholly inadequate to establish a local controversy. See Evans, at 1164-68. The court rejected the purported showing that two-thirds of the plaintiff class are Alabama citizens, and rejected further that the token Alabama corporation was a "significant defendant" within the meaning of CAFA. In so doing, Evans appears to have adopted (or at the least to have applied) the test "that a class seeks 'significant relief' against a defendant when the relief sought against that defendant is a significant portion of the entire relief sought by the class." Id., at 1167 (citations omitted).

NOTE: The Eleventh Circuit expressly noted that its opinion concerns only the local controversy exception in 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d)(4)(A), and does not reach the question of the local controversy exception in 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d)(4)(B). Evans, at 1163 n.2.

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Posted On: May 25, 2006 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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Class Action Fairness Act - Special CAFA Rules for Appealability of Remand Orders Lawyers Should Know

When defending against a class action, it is important to understand that special rules apply under Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA) concerning the appealability of remand orders. Whether a federal district court order remanding an action to state court may be reviewed on appeal is important to any defendant, but special rules apply if the action has been removed to federal court under the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005. Because the focus of this article is on appellate review of district orders granting motions to remand a lawsuit to state court a case removed under CAFA, removal and remand are not discussed here; discussions of each may be found in separate articles, as is a discussion concerning appellate review of remand orders in non-CAFA cases.

Put simply, appellate review is available for remand orders in cases governed by the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005. Under CAFA, Congress expressly provided that “notwithstanding section 1447(d), a court of appeals may accept an appeal from an order of a district court granting or denying a motion to remand a class action to the State court from which it was removed if application is made to the court of appeals not less than 7 days after entry of the order.” 28 U.S.C. § 1453(c)(1). A defendant must be wary, however, of the quick fuse on filing its notice of appeal: by its terms, the 7-day time limit runs from “entry of the order,” rather than from “notice of entry of the order.”

CAFA also provides for expedited appellate review of remand orders: “If the court of appeals accepts an appeal under paragraph (1), the court shall complete all action on such appeal, including rendering judgment, not later than 60 days after the date on which such appeal was filed, unless an extension is granted under paragraph (3).” 28 U.S.C. § 1453(c)(2) (italics added). The extensions are limited to either (1) “any period of time” agreed upon by all parties, 28 U.S.C. § 1453(c)(3)(A), or (2) no more than 10 days, 28 U.S.C. § 1453(c)(3)(B). If the Circuit Court fails to rule within the statutory time period, then the appeal is deemed denied. 28 U.S.C. § 1453(c)(4).

Posted On: May 24, 2006 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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Considerations Regarding Removal to Federal Court: Defense Of Class Action Claims Alleging RESPA Violations Part III

Part III Considerations Regarding Removal to Federal Court

A lender that must defend itself against a class action alleging violations of RESPA may benefit from removing the case to federal court. A defendant may remove a case to federal court if there is any “separate and independent” claim subject to federal question jurisdiction: “A federal court has removal jurisdiction if the plaintiff's claims are either exclusively federal or there is a separate and independent federal question. 28 U.S.C. § 1441. In order for a defendant to remove, the federal claims must appear on the face of plaintiff's well-pleaded complaint. Tingey v. Pixley-Richards West, Inc., 953 F.2d 1124, 1129 (9th Cir. 1992).” Lyons v. Alaska Teamsters Emplr. Serv. Corp., 188 F.3d 1170, 1171 (9th Cir. 1999). A separate article considers removal under CAFA (Class Action Fairness Act of 2005).

In federal court, Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure governs class actions. Federal courts examine the numerosity, commonality, and typicality of the plaintiff’s claims. The courts also consider whether separate lawsuits would create a risk of inconsistent adjudications that would require the defendant comply with incompatible directions. In state court, however, California Code of Civil Procedure section 382 governs class actions. The “community of interest” requirement for class certification in state court consists of three factors: (1) predominant common questions of law or fact; (2) class representatives with claims or defenses typical of the class; and (3) class representatives who can adequately represent the class. While the standards may appear to be substantively identical, they are quite different in practice. In my opinion, the federal law governing class actions is much better developed than California state law. It is also my opinion that a corporate defendant is well served to remove a case to federal court whenever possible.

Once removed, the federal court may, in its discretion, adjudicate the entire case, including state claims that could not be adjudicated under the federal court’s original jurisdiction. 28 U.S.C. § 1441(c). Removal is proper even if the plaintiff’ federal claim is meritless, see Barraclough v. ADP Auto. Claims Services, 818 F. Supp. 1310, 1312 (N.D. Cal. 1993), and removal is proper even if the relief the plaintiff seeks is unavailable under the federal claim, see Caterpillar Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 391, n.4 (1987).

With respect to RESPA claims, RESPA requires a lender to provide a HUD-1 or HUD-1A settlement statement to “clearly itemize all charges imposed upon the Borrower,” and that this settlement statement is required by 12 U.S.C. § 2603(a). A lender is required also to provide borrowers with “a Good Faith Estimate” (the “GFE”) to include “estimates of the amounts or ranges of all settlement costs likely to be incurred at the closing,” and the GFE is required by 12 U.S.C. § 2604(c) and Regulation X, 24 C.F.R. section 3500.7(a). Thus, if the Complaint alleges that the lender surprised borrowers with additional closing costs, then the basis of the lawsuit is an alleged violation of federal law: if the lender had disclosed properly all closing costs as required by RESPA and Regulation X, then the plaintiff would not have been injured.

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Posted On: May 23, 2006 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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Federal Court versus State Court Jurisdiction: Defense Of Class Action Claims Alleging RESPA Violations Part II

Defending Class Action Claims Alleging RESPA Violations

Part II Federal Court versus State Court Jurisdiction

Even though RESPA is a federal statute, many class action lawsuits against lenders alleging RESPA violations are filed in state court. Defending class action RESPA claims requires a careful analysis of the specific statute(s) at issue, as this will dictate whether the action may be removed to federal court. While RESPA grants concurrent jurisdiction to state courts as to certain matters, Congress expressly limited concurrent jurisdiction to those sections of RESPA governed only by sections 2605, 2607 and 2608. 12 U.S.C. § 2614. Otherwise, federal jurisdiction is exclusive.

That Congress afforded state courts concurrent jurisdiction only over certain portions of RESPA and retained exclusive federal court jurisdiction over the balance of RESPA is not unique. For example, as the Ninth Circuit has held, “Bankruptcy courts have exclusive jurisdiction over nondischargeability actions brought pursuant to 11 U.S.C. § 523(a)(2), (4), (6) and (15),” Rein v. Providian Fin. Corp., 270 F.3d 895, 904 (9th Cir. 2001) (citations omitted) (italics added), but “Bankruptcy courts and state courts have concurrent jurisdiction over all [other] nondischargeability actions,” id., at n.15 (italics added). “For example, there is concurrent state and federal jurisdiction over § 523(a)(5) nondischargeability actions,” id., at 904 n.15 (citations omitted) (italics added), but a creditor could not seek relief from stay and pursue in state court a nondischargeability claim “with regard to its § 523(a)(2) claims because state courts lack jurisdiction to adjudicate § 523(a)(2) actions,” id., at 904 (italics added).

Plaintiffs’ alleged violations of 12 U.S.C. sections 2603 and 2604 must be heard in federal court because state courts lack jurisdiction to consider them. To hold otherwise would be to conclude that Congress idly specified limitations in 12 U.S.C. § 2614 on the scope of concurrent jurisdiction when it intended that no such limitations exist.

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Posted On: May 22, 2006 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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Overview of Statute and Summary of Jurisdiction: Defense Of Class Action Claims Alleging RESPA Violations Part I

Defending Class Action Claims Alleging RESPA Violations

Part I Overview of Statute and Summary of Jurisdiction

Many lenders have had to defend themselves against class actions alleging violations of RESPA. In simplest terms, the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (“RESPA”), 12 U.S.C. sections 2601 et seq., and Regulation X (24 C.F.R. sections 3500 et seq.) governs disclosures to borrowers of the closing costs associated with residential loan transactions. RESPA is a “consumer protection” statute, enacted in 1974 to protect borrowers whose loans will be secured by a mortgage against one-to-four family residential property. It serves two main purposes. First, it serves to educate the consumer-borrower about the costs of settlement services (that is, the costs associated with borrowing money). Second, it serves to eliminate “unearned fees,” such as kickbacks or referral fees, as such fees increase the cost of the loan to the borrower.

RESPA requires that both mortgage brokers and lenders make certain disclosures to borrowers at the time the borrower applies for the loan. Specifically, RESPA requires a lender to provide a HUD-1 or HUD-1A settlement statement to “clearly itemize all charges imposed upon the borrower,” 12 U.S.C. § 2603(a). The HUD-1 Settlement Statement itemizes for the borrower the actual settlement costs of the loan transaction. A lender is required also to provide borrowers with “a Good Faith Estimate” (the “GFE”) to include “a good faith estimate of the amount or range of charges for specific settlement services the borrower is likely to incur” at the closing, 12 U.S.C. § 2604(c) and 24 C.F.R. § 3500.7(a). (Other RESPA requirements are discussed in a separate article.)

Federal courts have original jurisdiction in cases involving RESPA violations, see Dominguez v. Alliance Mtg. Co., 226 F. Supp. 2d 907, 914 (N.D. Ill. 2002), and RESPA claims are properly subject to removal, Sicinski v. Reliance Funding Corp., 461 F. Supp. 649, 650-51 (S.D. N.Y. 1978). Unfortunately, case law discussing state versus federal court jurisdiction over RESPA claims often glosses over critical statutory differences enacted by Congress. More specifically, while Congress provided for concurrent state and federal jurisdiction over certain portions of REPSA, federal courts have exclusive jurisdiction over other RESPA violations. 12 U.S.C. § 2614.

For example, the requirement that consumers be timely and accurately informed of the closing costs associated with residential loans is based on federal law. “The Congress finds that significant reforms in the real estate settlement process are needed to insure that consumers throughout the Nation are provided with greater and more timely information on the nature and costs of the settlement process and are protected from unnecessarily high settlement charges caused by certain abusive practices that have developed in some areas of the country.” 12 U.S.C. § 2601(a).

In order to redress these concerns, RESPA requires a lender to provide a HUD-1 or HUD-1A settlement statement to “clearly itemize all charges imposed upon the borrower,” 12 U.S.C. § 2603(a). Federal law further requires a lender to provide borrowers with “a Good Faith Estimate” (the “GFE”) that includes “a good faith estimate of the amount or range of charges for specific settlement services the borrower is likely to incur” at the closing, 12 U.S.C. § 2604(c) and 24 C.F.R. § 3500.7(a). The failure to timely or accurately disclose to a borrower the closing costs likely to be incurred in connection with a residential loan transaction violates RESPA.

RESPA requires a lender to provide a HUD-1 or HUD-1A settlement statement to “clearly itemize all charges imposed upon the Borrower,” and that this settlement statement is required by 12 U.S.C. § 2603(a). A lender is required also to provide borrowers with “a Good Faith Estimate” (the “GFE”) to include “estimates of the amounts or ranges of all settlement costs likely to be incurred at the closing,” and the GFE is required by 12 U.S.C. § 2604(c) and Regulation X, 24 C.F.R. section 3500.7(a).

Thus, if, for example, a plaintiff alleges that the lender surprised borrowers with unexpected closing costs, or otherwise failed to disclose certain closing costs not expressly referenced in a HUD-1 or HUD-1A, then the action is based exclusively on federal law. Put simply, under such circumstances, the bottom line is that if the lender had disclosed properly all closing costs as required by RESPA and Regulation X, then the plaintiff would not have been injured. Such a claim, then, is derived entirely from alleged violations of federal law viz., RESPA and Regulation X.

It is well settled that RESPA claims are subject to removal. Sicinski v. Reliance Funding Corp., 461 F. Supp. 649, 650-51 (S.D. N.Y. 1978). Indeed, federal courts have original jurisdiction in cases involving alleged RESPA violations. See Dominguez v. Alliance, 226 F.Supp. 2d at 914 (“Our jurisdiction . . . was predicated on the federal RESPA claims. . . . Having disposed of all claims over which we had original jurisdiction, we decline to exercise our supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining state law claim.” (Italics added.)). Accord Ploog v. Homeside Lending, Inc.¸ 209 F. Supp. 2d 863, 867 (N.D. Ill. 2002) (RESPA claim “only claim over which the Court has original jurisdiction”); DeLeon v. Beneficial Const. Co., 998 F. Supp. 859, 867 (N.D. Ill. 1998).

A lender must be careful to analyze whether the plaintiff’s right to relief depends on the resolution of a substantial, disputed federal question such as whether the lender allegedly violated RESPA and Regulation X. If the Complaint does not advance independent state law claims but, rather, posits theories that are wholly derivative of federal law, then removal may be proper. Moreover, lenders must remember that Congress did not grant concurrent jurisdiction to state courts for all alleged RESPA violations, and must analyze whether jurisdiction over the claims in a complaint is exclusively federal.

Posted On: May 21, 2006 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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Class Action Firm Indicted for Paying Kickbacks to Clients to Serve as Plaintiffs

Class action plaintiff firm Milberg Weiss Bershad & Schulman LLP learned on May 18, 2006, that it had been indicted by federal prosecutors in Los Angeles for paying more than $11 million in kickbacks to clients to serve as plaintiffs. The 102-page, 20-count criminal indictment also names two of the firm’s top partners, David Bershad and Steven Schulman. Nathan Koppel and Peter Lattman of the Wall Street Journal reported on the fallout from the indictment, including “the Ohio attorney general firing the powerhouse law firm as counsel in a class-action case.”

Koppel and Lattman report that the indictment alleges the firm “made the alleged kickbacks to gain a strategic edge in the pitched competition to be lead counsel in class actions.” The problem is simple, and concisely framed by the Wall Street Journal: “It is illegal for lead plaintiffs to receive more in compensation than other members of a class.”

The article explains that this could be just the beginning of the end: “Many legal experts say a torrent of challenges to the firm’s role as counsel in class-action cases could threaten the firm’s existence.” The potential fallout from the indictment is thoroughly discussed in Koppel’s and Lattman’s article, “Milberg Dealt Blow as Indictment Fallout Grows,” printed May 20, 2006, in The Wall Street Journal.

Posted On: May 20, 2006 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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Hardy v. Regions Mortgage Class Action Defense Case: Eleventh Circuit Holds No Private Right Of Action Under RESPA

District Court Properly Granted Defense Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings in Class Action Because no Private Right of Action Exists Under Federal Real Estate Settlement Practices Act (RESPA) Eleventh Circuit Holds

On May 26, 2006, the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed a judgment entered on a motion for judgment on the pleadings in a putative class action alleging RESPA (Real Estate Settlement Practices Act) violations on the ground that no private right of action exists under Section 10 of RESPA. Hardy v. Regions Mortgage, Inc., ___ F.3d ___, 2006 WL 1452666 (11th Cir. 2006). Separate articles discuss various issues presented by claims under RESPA.

In Hardy, plaintiffs refinanced their home with Regions Mortgage in 1996 and later received from Cendant Corporation about a “Shoppers Advantage” program that, for $5 a month, entitled plaintiffs to discounts from certain retailers. Plaintiffs joined the program and authorized Regions to add the $5 monthly charge to their mortgage payment. Time passed, and plaintiffs forgot about the Shoppers Advantage program. In 2003, however, they noticed that the $5 monthly fee “had been paid out of their escrow account but was not listed on their mortgage statements.” Plaintiffs filed a putative class action alleging that Regions had violated RESPA by failing to include the $5 fee on their escrow account statement, and had conspired with Cendant to violate RESPA. The district court granted judgment on the pleadings because the complaint alleged a violation of Section 10 of RESPA, for which no private right of action exists, rather than Section 6 of RESPA, which provides for certain private rights of action.

The Eleventh Circuit affirmed. The Hardy court explained that Section6 of RESPA requires that federally related mortgage lenders disclose that “the loan may be assigned, sold or transferred” during its life, and provides for a private right of action for noncompliance. Section 10 of RESPA, however, requires lenders to “provide annual escrow account statements that clearly itemize ‘the amount of the borrower’s current monthly payment . . . the total amount paid out of the escrow account during the period for taxes, insurance premiums, and other charges . . ., and the balance in the escrow account at the conclusion of the period.’” However, Congress did not provide for private rights of action for noncompliance; rather, “the Secretary shall assess . . . a civil penalty” instead. Because plaintiffs alleged a violation of Section 10 of RESPA, and because there is no private right of action under Section 10, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the judgment.

NOTE: Because it was unnecessary, the Eleventh Circuit did not discuss the fact that Congress did not afford private rights of action for every conceivable alleged violation of Section 6.

Download PDF of Hardy v. Regions Mortgage, Inc.

Posted On: May 19, 2006 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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Class Action Defense Cases–Buckeye Check Cashing v. Cardegna

Arbitration Agreements: Who Decides Legality of Arbitration Clause?

On February 21, 2006, the United States Supreme Court addressed “whether a court or an arbitrator should consider the claim that a contract containing an arbitration provision is void for illegality.” Buckeye Check Cashing, Inc. v. Cardegna, 546 U.S. ___, 126 S.Ct. 1204, 1207 (2006). Plaintiffs filed a putative class action alleging that the interest rates in various deferred-payment transactions with Buckeye Check Cashing “in which they received cash in exchange for a personal check in the amount of the cash plus a finance charge” were usurious. Plaintiffs also alleged that the Deferred Deposit and Disclosure Agreement (“Agreement”) violated Florida lending and consumer-protection statutes. Id.

The Agreement contained an arbitration clause. Nonetheless, the trial court denied Buckeye’s motion to compel arbitration, “holding that a court rather than an arbitrator should resolve a claim that a contract is illegal and void ab initio.” The Florida appellate court reversed on the ground that plaintiffs challenged the Agreement in its entirety, not the arbitration clause alone, so “the agreement to arbitrate was enforceable, and the question of the contract’s legality should go to the arbitrator.” The Florida Supreme Court in turn reversed the appellate court, and the United States Supreme Court granted certiorari. Buckeye, at 1207.

The Supreme Court observed that there is a strong policy in favor of arbitration, and that Congress enacted the Federal Arbitration Act to “overcome judicial resistance to arbitration.” Buckeye, at 1207. The Court explained that legal challenges to arbitration provisions fall into two general categories: (1) a specific challenge to the arbitration clause itself; and (2) a challenge to the legality of the contract as a whole. The Buckeye complaint falls into the second category.

The Supreme Court reviewed prior opinions and enunciated three broad propositions: “First, as a matter of substantive federal arbitration law, an arbitration provision is severable from the remainder of the contract. Second, unless the challenge is to the arbitration clause itself, the issue of the contract’s validity is considered by the arbitrator in the first instance. Third, this arbitration law applies in state as well as federal courts.” Buckeye, at 1209 (italics added). To hold otherwise, the Court concluded, would create the possibility that the trial court may “deny effect to an arbitration provision in a contract that the court later finds to be perfectly enforceable.” Id., at 1210.

Apparently concerned with remaining “judicial resistance to arbitration,” the Supreme Court summarized its decision in very broad terms: “We reaffirm today that, regardless of whether the challenge is brought in federal or state court, a challenge to the validity of the contract as a whole, and not specifically to the arbitration clause, must go to the arbitrator.” Buckeye, at 1210.

NOTE: The Supreme Court expressly reserved the question of whether a court or an arbitrator should resolve “the issue of whether any agreement between the alleged obligor and obligee was ever concluded.” Buckeye, at 1208 n.1.

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Posted On: May 18, 2006 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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En Banc Denied in Amalgamated Transit v. Laidlaw Transit -- Class Action Defense Cases

CAFA (Class Action Fairness Act of 2005) Requires That Appeal From Grant Or Denial of Motion to Remand Must Be Made Within 7 Days Ninth Circuit Holds

On May 22, 2006, the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit refused to reconsider en banc its decision in Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1309 v. Laidlaw Transit Serv., Inc., 435 F.3d 1140 (9th Cir. 2006). However, six justices dissented from the denial of rehearing en banc, and severely criticized as an “abuse of our judicial power” the decision to read “less” as “more.” The dissent is authored by Circuit Judge Bybee, and joined in by Judges Kozinski, O’Scannlain, Rymer, Callahan and Bea.

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Posted On: May 18, 2006 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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Amalgamated Transit Union v. Laidlaw Transit -- Class Action Defense Cases

CAFA (Class Action Fairness Act of 2005) Requires Appeal From Grant or Denial of Motion to Remand Be Made Within 7 Court Days Ninth Circuit Holds

On January 26, 2006, the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit denied a motion to dismiss as untimely an appeal under CAFA (Class Action Fairness Act of 2005) from a district court order denying a motion to remand a putative class action to state court. Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1309 v. Laidlaw Transit Serv., Inc., 435 F.3d 1140 (9th Cir. 2006). Specifically, the Ninth Circuit held that "the petition for permission to take an appeal must be filed not more than seven court days after the district court's order." Id., at 1141.

The underlying action was filed in San Diego Superior Court in April 2005, and removed to federal court in June 2005. Plaintiffs moved to remand the matter to state court; the district court denied the motion on October 4, 2005, and the order thereon was entered October 5, 2005. Plaintiffs filed a notice of appeal therefrom on October 11, 2005.

On November 9, 2005, a defendant moved to dismiss the appeal. While the opinion addresses several issues, we focus here on the Ninth Circuit's interpretation of CAFA's provision for appeal of district court orders granting or denying motions for remand. 28 U.S.C. S 1453(c)(1) literally provides that review must be sought "not less than 7 days after entry of the order" (italics added). As the Court observed,

The Tenth Circuit in Pritchett v. Office Depot, Inc., 420 F.3d 1090, 1093 n.2 (10th Cir. 2005), concluded that the statute contains a "typographical error," and the word "less" should be "more," thereby avoiding "a result demonstrably at odds with the intentions of its drafters."

Amalgamated Transit, at 1145 (citations omitted).

The Ninth Circuit agreed, concluding that the legislative history reveals an intent "to create a time limit for appeal, specifically to require that the party seeking to appeal do so not more than seven days after the district court's order." 435 F.3d at 1146 (citations omitted, italics in original).

The Ninth Circuit thus joined the Tenth Circuit in "striking a word passed on by both Houses of Congress and approved by the President, and replacing it with a word of the exact opposite meaning." 435 F.3d at 1146.

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Posted On: May 17, 2006 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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Class Action Defense Issues: Certification of Class Actions Numerosity Requirement Under Rule 23(a)(1)

Defending Class Actions: Certification Under Rule 23 – Part II

The Numerosity Requirement of Rule 23(a)(1)

In defending a class action, the single most important motion facing a defendant is the plaintiff’s motion to certify a class. Rule 23(a) requires that the plaintiff demonstrate numerosity, commonality and typicality, and that the class members will be adequately represented, and must additionally demonstrate that the action satisfies Rule23(b). The class action requirements of Rule 23 are mandatory. Thus, class certification requires that the prospective class representative satisfy the elements set forth in Rule 23(a), as well as the elements of Rule 23(b) (discussed in a separate article) be met. General Telephone Co. of Southwest v. Falcon, 457 U.S. 152, 102 S.Ct. 2364 (1982) (reversing class certification for failure to analyze Rule 23 requirements). This article discusses the numerosity requirement of Rule 23(a).

Rule 23(a)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that a class action may not be maintained unless “the class is so numerous that joinder of all members is impracticable.” It has been said that numerosity and commonality “form the core of the class-action concept.” Newberg on Class Actions, “Prerequisites for Maintaining a Class Action,” §3:13, p.316. However, no bright line or threshold exists at which the numerosity requirement is met. Each circumstance must be examined on a case-by-case basis. General Telephone Co. v. E.E.O.C., 446 U.S. 318, 330, 100 S.Ct. 1698 (1980).

There are, of course, the obvious cases. See e.g., Georgine v. Amchem Products, Inc., 83 F.3d 610, 626 n.11 (3rd Cir. 1996), aff’d, Amchem Products, Inc. v. Windsor, 521 U.S. 591, 117 S.Ct. 2231 (1997) (“This class, which may stretch into the millions, easily satisfies the numerosity requirement.”); In re General Motors Corp. Pick-Up Truck Fuel Tank Products Liability Litigation, 55 F.3d 768, 800 (3rd Cir. 1995), cert. denied, General Motors Corp. v. French, 516 U.S. 824, 116 S.Ct. 88 (1995) (“The numerosity requirement of Rule 23(a) is plainly satisfied in this action encompassing nearly six million truck owners.”); Ballard v. Equifax Check Services, Inc., 186 F.R.D. 589, 594 (E.D. Cal.1999) (class of “approximately 1.4 million California residents” satisfied numerosity).

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Posted On: May 16, 2006 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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In re Briscoe: MDL (Multidistrict Litigation) And Class Action Defense Cases

District Court Denial of Motion to Remand MDL Actions Involving Opt-Out Class Members Following Class Action Settlement Agreement Does Not Warrant Writ of Mandamus (Mandate) Because Appellate Review Will Provide Adequate Relief, and District Court Ruling on Fraudulent Joinder Upheld Because Statute of Limitations Had Run on Non-diverse Defendants, Third Circuit Holds

Fraudulent joinder is discussed in separate articles which explain a plaintiff may not join a party-defendant for purposes of defeating federal court jurisdiction. MDL (Multidistrict Litigation) topics also are discussed in separate articles which explain that the Judicial Panel for Multidistrict Litigation may transfer litigation pending in multiple courts to a single district court for pretrial proceedings. The MDL cases must be remanded prior to trial, and it is incumbent upon a party to the MDL litigation to file a motion for such remand. On May 15, 2006, in a case brought by individuals who had opted out of a class action settlement agreement, the Third Circuit refused to grant a petition for writ of mandamus to review a district court order denying remand on the grounds that appellate review would be adequate, and the Third Circuit affirmed the district court's ruling that non-diverse parties had been fraudulently joined to defeat federal court jurisdiction. In re Briscoe, 448 F.3d 201 (3d Cir. 2006).

The underlying has a tortured background. In 1997, Wyeth withdrew two diet drugs from the market - and 18,000 lawsuits followed. The Judicial Panel for Multidistrict Litigation consolidated the actions and transferred them to the Eastern District of Pennsylvania (MDL-1203). After four separate trips to the Third Circuit that "set forth various facets of the background to MDL-1203 and its class action settlement agreement," the class action settlement was consummated. Briscoe, at 206. More than 14,000 additional lawsuits followed, brought by 30,000-35,000 individuals who had opted out of the class action settlement. The group of 127 lawsuits at issue in Briscoe had been filed in Texas state court between November 2002 and August 2003, had included as named defendants the individual doctors that had prescribed the diet drugs, and had not alleged any federal law claims. Id., at 208-09. Wyeth removed the cases to federal court and the MDL Judicial Panel transferred the cases to the docket of MDL-1203. Id., at 209.

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Posted On: May 16, 2006 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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Class Action Defense Issues: Certification of Class Actions Commonality Requirement Under Rule 23(a)(2)

Defending Class Actions: Certification Under Rule 23 – Part II

The Commonality Requirement of Rule 23(a)(2)

In defending a class action, the single most important motion facing a defendant is the plaintiff’s motion to certify a class. Rule 23(a) requires that the plaintiff demonstrate numerosity, commonality and typicality, and that the class members will be adequately represented, and must additionally demonstrate that the action satisfies Rule23(b). The class action requirements of Rule 23 are mandatory. Thus, class certification requires that the prospective class representative satisfy the elements set forth in Rule 23(a), as well as the elements of Rule 23(b) (discussed in a separate article) be met. General Telephone Co. of Southwest v. Falcon, 457 U.S. 152, 102 S.Ct. 2364 (1982) (reversing class certification for failure to analyze Rule 23 requirements). This article discusses the commonality requirement of Rule 23(a).

Rule 23(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that a class action may not be maintained unless “there are questions of law or fact common to the class.” It has been said that numerosity and commonality “form the core of the class-action concept.” Newberg on Class Actions, “Prerequisites for Maintaining a Class Action,” §3:13, p.316. As the Third Circuit noted, "‘commonality’ like ‘numerosity’ evaluates the sufficiency of the class itself, and ‘typicality’ like ‘adequacy of representation’ evaluates the sufficiency of the named plaintiff." Hassine v. Jeffes, 846 F.2d 169, 176 n.4 (3d Cir.1988).

“Rule 23 does not require that the representative plaintiff have endured precisely the same injuries that have been sustained by the class members, only that the harm complained of be common to the class, and that the named plaintiff demonstrate a personal interest or ‘threat of injury . . . [that] is “real and immediate,” not “conjectural” or “hypothetical.”’” Hassine, at 177 (quoting O'Shea v. Littleton, 414 U.S. 488, 494, 94 S.Ct. 669 (1974). Thus, in Georgine, supra, the Third Circuit held that “commonality” did not exist because “this class is a hodgepodge of factually as well as legally different plaintiffs.” Georgine v. Amchem Products, 83 F.3d at 632.

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Posted On: May 15, 2006 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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Class Action Defense Issues: Certification of Class Actions Typicality Requirement Under Rule 23(a)(3)

Defending Class Actions: Certification Under Rule 23 – Part II

The Typicality Requirement of Rule 23(a)(3)

In defending a class action, the single most important motion facing a defendant is the plaintiff’s motion to certify a class. Rule 23(a) requires that the plaintiff demonstrate numerosity, commonality and typicality, and that the class members will be adequately represented, and must additionally demonstrate that the action satisfies Rule23(b). The class action requirements of Rule 23 are mandatory. Thus, class certification requires that the prospective class representative satisfy the elements set forth in Rule 23(a), as well as the elements of Rule 23(b) (discussed in a separate article) be met. General Telephone Co. of Southwest v. Falcon, 457 U.S. 152, 102 S.Ct. 2364 (1982) (reversing class certification for failure to analyze Rule 23 requirements). This article discusses the typicality requirement of Rule 23(a).

Rule 23(a)(3) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that a class action may not be maintained unless “the claims or defenses of the representative parties are typical of the claims or defenses of the class.” Unlike numerosity and commonality, which focus on the characteristics of the class, typicality and adequacy of representation (discussed separately) focus on the characteristics of the plaintiff representative of the class. Hassine v. Jeffes, 846 F.2d 169, 176 n.4 (3rd Cir.1988); Newberg on Class Actions, “Prerequisites for Maintaining a Class Action,” §3:13, pp.316-17 (4th ed. 2002).

“The typicality criterion focuses on whether there exists a relationship between the plaintiff’s claims and the claims alleged on behalf of the class.” Newberg, at 317 (citing General Telephone Co. of Southwest v. Falcon, 457 U.S. 147, 102 S.Ct. 2364 (1982)). Newberg also states that “typicality of claims seeks to assure that the interests of the representative are aligned with the common questions affecting the class,” id., at 319 (footnote omitted).

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Posted On: May 15, 2006 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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Class Action Defense Cases--Prime Care of Northeast Kansas v. Humana Insurance: Tenth Circuit Rules On Removal Of Class Action Under CAFA (Class Action Fairness Act)

CAFA (Class Action Fairness Act of 2005) Allows Removal of Suit Filed Prior to CAFA’s Effective Date by Defendant Added to Suit by Amendment After CAFA’s Effective Date Tenth Circuit Holds

On May 12, 2006, the Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit considered as a matter of first impression the question of “whether CAFA permits the removal of a class action filed before the Act’s effective date if the removing defendant was first added by amendment after the effective date.” Prime Care of Northeast Kansas, LLC v. Humana Ins. Co., 447 F.3d 1284, 1285 (10th Cir. 2006). The district court had concluded that CAFA did not apply in such cases and remanded the matter to state court. The Tenth Circuit reversed, vacating the district court’s remand order and remanding the action to federal court.

The Tenth Circuit recognized that courts that have considered post-CAFA amendments to the operative pleading have reached one of three competing conclusions. In brief, those courts “have held that such amendments either (1) do not affect the pre-CAFA commencement date of the case; (2) affect the commencement date only if they do not relate back; or (3) affect the commencement date if they do not relate back or if they add new defendants to the case.” Prime Care, at 1286. The Court “adopt[ed] the second position.” Id. Specifically, “whether a post-CAFA amendment triggers a substantive right to removal under CAFA by the affected parties depends on whether the amendment relates back to the pre-CAFA pleading that is being amended.” Id., at 1289

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Posted On: May 14, 2006 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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Class Action Defense Issues: Certification of Class Actions Adequate Representation Requirement Under Rule 23(a)(4)

Defending Class Actions: Certification Under Rule 23 – Part II

The Adequate Representation Requirement of Rule 23(a)(4)

In defending a class action, the single most important motion facing a defendant is the plaintiff’s motion to certify a class. Rule 23(a) requires that the plaintiff demonstrate numerosity, commonality and typicality, and that the class members will be adequately represented, and must additionally demonstrate that the action satisfies Rule23(b). The class action requirements of Rule 23 are mandatory. Thus, class certification requires that the prospective class representative satisfy the elements set forth in Rule 23(a), as well as the elements of Rule 23(b) (discussed in a separate article) be met. General Telephone Co. of Southwest v. Falcon, 457 U.S. 152, 102 S.Ct. 2364 (1982) (reversing class certification for failure to analyze Rule 23 requirements). This article discusses the adequate representation requirement of Rule 23(a).

Rule 23(a)(4) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that a class action may not be maintained unless “the representative parties will fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class.” At the end of this article, we briefly discuss issues of the criminal record and/or credibility of the proposed class representative, and the effect on class certification. In brief, such issues may be relevant because unlike numerosity and commonality, which focus on the characteristics of the class, typicality and adequacy of representation focus on the characteristics of the plaintiff representative of the class. Hassine v. Jeffes, 846 F.2d 169, 176 n.4 (3d Cir.1988); Newberg on Class Actions, “Prerequisites for Maintaining a Class Action,” §3:13, pp.316-17 (4th ed. 2002).

On the other hand, this test focuses generally but not exclusively on the adequacy of counsel for the represented class, rather than the adequacy of the plaintiff representatives. In fact, the Eleventh Circuit recently summarized the four elements required for class certification under Rule 23(a) as “numerosity, commonality, typicality, and adequacy of counsel.” Hines v. Widnall, 334 F.3d 1253. 1255-56 (11th Cir. 2003) (italics added).

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Posted On: May 13, 2006 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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CAFA (Class Action Fairness Act of 2005) and Rule 23 - A General Overview

CAFA (Class Action Fairness Act of 2005) and Rule 23 - A General Overview for the Class Action Defense Lawyer

Class action litigation is rampant, and all too often class action lawsuits cause more injury than the wrong they sought to redress. These actions seem driven by a desire to maximize attorney fees rather than to serve the public. A 1995 House Conference Report, for example, enumerated ways in which abusive class actions have hurt the U. S. economy. See, H.R.Rep. No. 104-369, p. 31 (1995). These concerns led to sweeping reforms in federal securities law class actions through the enactment of SLUSA (Securities Litigation Uniform Standards Act) in 1998. Abuse of class action lawsuits also led to the enactment of CAFA (Class Action Fairness Act of 2005).

Class actions may serve an important function. The preamble to CAFA (Class Action Fairness Act of 2005) states, “Class-action lawsuits are an important and valuable part of the legal system when they permit the fair and efficient resolution of legitimate claims of numerous parties by allowing the claims to be aggregated into a single action against a defendant that has allegedly caused harm.”

In federal court, class actions are governed by Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The procedure for filing a class action is simple enough; the difficulty arises when one seeks to certify the class.

A lawsuit is filed with one or more plaintiffs purporting to bring the action on behalf of a putative class. (This is not to suggest that the court may only approve a plaintiff-class. On the contrary, it is possible to seek certification of a defendant class. See e.g., ASARCO Inc. v. Kadish, 490 U.S. 605, 610, 109 S.Ct. 2037, 2041 (1989) (noting that trial court certified the case as a defendant class action); Phillips Petroleum Co. v. Shutts, 472 U.S. 797, 812 n.3, 105 S.Ct. 2965, 2974 (1985) (noting that opinion “is limited to those class actions which seek to bind known plaintiffs concerning claims wholly or predominately for money judgments”and “[does not] address class actions where the jurisdiction is asserted against a defendant class.” It is far more common, however, for a suit to seek certification of a plaintiff class.)

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Posted On: May 12, 2006 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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Brief Overview of Class Action Issues Under SLUSA (Securities Litigation Uniform Standards Act) For The Defense Lawyer

SLUSA (Securities Litigation Uniform Standards Act) was enacted by Congress in 1998 to affect sweeping changes to federal securities laws class actions. SLUSA addresses numerous federal securities laws class actions issues including pleading, class representation, discovery, liability, attorney fee awards, expenses and more. SLUSA also sought to pre-empt state law securities class action litigation, but the Circuit Courts disagreed on the breadth of that pre-emption.

In Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith, Inc. v. Dabit, __ U.S. ___, 126 S.Ct. 1503 (2006), the United States Supreme Court issued its opinion. This opinion addresses whether the Securities Litigation Uniform Standards Act (SLUSA) “only pre-empts state-law class-action claims brought by plaintiffs who have a private remedy under federal law,” as the Second Circuit held in Dabit v. Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith, Inc., 395 F.3d 25 (2005), or whether SLUSA “also pre-empts state-law class-action claims for which federal law provides no private remedy,” as the Seventh Circuit held in Kircher v. Putnam Funds Trust, 403 F.3d 478 (7th Cir. 2005). The Supreme Court agreed with the Seventh Circuit, holding that SLUSA's pre-emption provision was intended to be read broadly, and pre-empted state-law class-action claims brought not only by purchasers and sellers of securities, but also by holders of securities. As so read, SLUSA pre-empted state-law claims alleging the fraudulent manipulation of stock prices.

As the Supreme Court observed,

Title I of the Securities Litigation Uniform Standards Act of 1998 (SLUSA) provides that “[n]o covered class action” based on state law and alleging “a misrepresentation or omission of a material fact in connection with the purchase or sale of a covered security” “may be maintained in any State or Federal court by any private party.” § 101(b), 112 Stat. 3227 (codified at 15 U.S.C. § 78bb(f)(1)(A)).

Merrill Lynch v. Dabit, 126 S.Ct. at 1506-07.

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Posted On: May 11, 2006 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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California Misappropriation/Misuse of Trade Secrets

California Law on Enjoining a Former Employee from Competing Unfairly

In a misguided effort to catch up to a competitor, a business may hire a competitor’s key employees for the purpose of using the trade secret information known to the employee. Or, an employee may quit and go into competition with the former employer, using the confidential, proprietary and trade secret information learned while on the job. Whether characterized as misappropriation or theft of trade secrets, or as unfair competition, the bottom line is that such conduct represents an unfair business practice that can be enjoined under California law.

In a separate article, we explored the enforceability of non-compete agreements in California in light of the statutory prohibition against such agreements set forth in Business & Professions Code section 16600. We noted there that broad exceptions exist to the statutory prohibition, centering around an employer’s legitimate need to protect confidential and proprietary information. We address here the quantum of proof required to enjoin a former employee from using trade secrets in the service of a competitor.

We first address the validity of the “inevitable discovery” rule in California. The inevitable disclosure doctrine permits an employer to enjoin a former employee from working for a competitor “by demonstrating the employee’s new job duties will inevitably cause the employee to rely upon knowledge of the former employer’s trade secrets.” Whyte v. Schlage Lock Co., 101 Cal.App.4th 1443, 1446 (2002). Prior to Whyte, “[n]o published California decision ha[d] accepted or rejected the inevitable disclosure doctrine.” Id. Whyte unambiguously rejected it. Id., at 1447. Thus, California court decisions upholding non-compete agreements have not done so based on the inevitable discovery rule.

However, these decisions have not always required actual proof of use, either. It may be sufficient if the company can demonstrate the actual “threat” that confidential information will be used by the former employee to benefit a competitor.

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Posted On: May 10, 2006 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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Defense and Prevention of Class Action Claims Alleging Labor Law Violations

Labor law class action claims are on the rise. Congress and the courts have noted with dismay the widespread abuse of class actions. For example, in the House Conference Report accompanying what later became the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (PSLRA), 109 Stat. 737 (codified at 15 U.S.C. §§ 77z-1 and 78u-4), Congress explained that class actions were hurting “the entire U.S. economy.” H.R.Rep. No. 104-369, p. 31 (1995). The House Conference Report identified widespread abuse, including frivolous lawsuits, burdensome discovery requests (aimed at extorting settlements), targeting deep-pocket defendants, and “manipulation by class action lawyers of the clients whom they purportedly represent.” Id. Perhaps nowhere is this abuse more prevalent than in the meteoric rise of class actions alleging labor law violations.

In the litigious society we live in, the knee-jerk reaction of individuals who are fired for valid grounds such as theft, incompetence, disruptive behavior, etc. is a lawsuit back against the company for alleged labor law violations. This vehicle provides the means for the disgruntled employee to exact his or her “pound of flesh.” Unfortunately, all too often the employee simple desire to exact vengeance is manipulated by plaintiff’s counsel into a purported class action, “identifying” patterns of abuse that exist only in the imagination of plaintiff’s counsel.

This is not to suggest, of course, that an employer can do no wrong. Certainly if a company is violating state or federal labor laws, litigation is an appropriate vehicle to rectify such deficiencies. Not all such class actions are frivolous: as with every profession and every field, there are many honest and talented attorneys who devote their energies to carefully investigating “facts” reported to them by prospective clients, and to filing class actions that seek to redress what they in good faith believe to be a pattern and practice of employee abuse. If personal experience is any guide, however, these attorneys represent the minority of those who file class actions.

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Posted On: May 9, 2006 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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California Law on the Validity of Non-Compete Agreements

Scope of California Business & Professions Code Section 16600

As businesses increasingly seek to hire the key employees of their competitors, the differences in state laws concerning non-compete agreements and protection of trade secrets has become more important. In California, the general rule is that non-compete agreements are unenforceable. That statement, however, is an oversimplification. In fact, non-compete agreements are enforceable in California under the right circumstances.

California Business and Professions Code section 16600 provides that "every contract by which anyone is restrained from engaging in a lawful profession, trade, or business of any kind is to that extent void." The California Supreme Court has held that that “[t]his section invalidates provisions in employment contracts prohibiting an employee from working for a competitor after completion of his employment or imposing a penalty if he does so [citations], unless they are necessary to protect the employer's trade secrets [citation]. Muggill v. Reuben H. Donnelley Corp., 62 Cal.2d 239, 242 (1965) (italics added). (California’s Uniform Trade Secrets Act may be found at Civil Code section 3426.1.)

Despite the sweeping language utilized by some courts, the exception to the statutory prohibition against non-compete agreements is actually read expansively. In fact, several cases hold that the “trade secret” exception encompasses any act that may be considered “unfair competition.” Thus, one appellate court recently held that Section 16600 “prohibits the enforcement of [a] noncompete clause except as is necessary to protect trade secrets,” Metro Traffic Control, Inc. v. Shadow Traffic Network, 22 Cal.App.4th 853, 860 (1994) (citing Muggill, 62 Cal.2d at 242), but then explained:

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Posted On: May 7, 2006 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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Class Action Defense Cases--Patterson v. Dean Morris: Fifth Circuit Rules On "Commencement Of Action" Under Federal Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA)

CAFA (Class Action Fairness Act of 2005) Determination of “Commencement” of Action Turns on State Law Fifth Circuit Holds

On May 3, 2006, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Patterson v. Dean Morris, L.L.P., ___ F.3d ___, 2006 WL 1156388 (5th Cir. 2006), where it considered whether an action that had been filed on February 17, 2005 (prior to CAFA’s February 18, 2005 effective date), but the filing fees not paid until February 22, 2005, could be removed to federal court under CAFA (Class Action Fairness Act of 2005). Slip Opn., at 6-7. The district court remanded the consolidated actions finding that CAFA did not apply, and the Fifth Circuit affirmed. Id., at 6. The Fifth Circuit’s analysis turned entirely upon state law, determining when Louisiana would deem the action to have been “commenced.” In so analyzing the case, the Court joined several sister circuits in relying upon state law to determine when an action has “commenced” under CAFA.

Louisiana law permits a party to fax-file a complaint, provided that the filing fee be paid within 5 days thereof, together with a $5 “transmission fee.” If a plaintiff fails to pay the required filing fee and transmission fee, then the fax filing “shall have no force or effect.” Slip Opn., at 7 (citations omitted). In Patterson, plaintiffs paid the court $3,039 on February 22. However, on May 12 plaintiffs learned that they owed the court an additional $2,145 in fees, which they did not pay until June 14. Defendants urged that the late payment took the action outside of the Louisiana statute’s five-day deadline, so the effective date of the commencement of the lawsuit was after the effective date of CAFA. Slip Opn., at 7.

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Posted On: May 7, 2006 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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Class Action Fairness Act of 2005 (CAFA): Text for the Class Action Defense Lawyer

PUBLIC LAW 109 2|FEB. 18, 2005

109th Congress

119 STAT. 4

An Act

To amend the procedures that apply to consideration of interstate class actions to assure fairer outcomes for class members and defendants, and for other purposes.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,

28 USC § 1 note

SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE; REFERENCE; TABLE OF CONTENTS.

(a) SHORT TITLE.|This Act may be cited as the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005.

(b) REFERENCE.|Whenever in this Act reference is made to an amendment to, or repeal of, a section or other provision, the reference shall be considered to be made to a section or other provision of title 28, United States Code.

(c) TABLE OF CONTENTS.|The table of contents for this Act is as follows:

Sec. 1. Short title; reference; table of contents.
Sec. 2. Findings and purposes.
Sec. 3. Consumer class action bill of rights and improved procedures for interstate class actions.
Sec. 4. Federal district court jurisdiction for interstate class actions.
Sec. 5. Removal of interstate class actions to Federal district court.
Sec. 6. Report on class action settlements.
Sec. 7. Enactment of Judicial Conference recommendations.
Sec. 8. Rulemaking authority of Supreme Court and Judicial Conference.
Sec. 9. Effective date.

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Posted On: May 6, 2006 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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Rule 23. Class Actions - Defense of Class Action Issues

Defending Against Class Actions

In defending against class actions, the single most important motion facing a defendant is the plaintiff’s motion to certify a class. In federal court, Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure governs class actions. The class action requirements of Rule 23 are mandatory. Class Rule 23(a) requires that the plaintiff demonstrate numerosity, commonality and typicality, and that the class members will be adequately represented, and must additionally demonstrate that the action satisfies Rule23(b). Separate articles discuss the elements of the Rule 23(a) and Rule 23(b). For the convenience of the reader, we set forth the full text of Rule 23 below.

Rule 23. Class Actions

(a) Prerequisites to a Class Action. One or more members of a class may sue or be sued as representative parties on behalf of all only if (1) the class is so numerous that joinder of all members is impracticable, (2) there are questions of law or fact common to the class, (3) the claims or defenses of the representative parties are typical of the claims or defenses of the class, and (4) the representative parties will fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class.

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Posted On: May 4, 2006 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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Class Action Defense Issues: Removal of Class Actions - 28 U.S.C. 1453

Defending Against Class Actions – Removal

In defending against class actions, it will often benefit a defendant to remove the case to federal court whenever possible. CAFA (Class Action Fairness Act of 2005) greatly expands removal jurisdiction of the federal courts pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1453. The removal procedure for non-class action cases is set forth in 28 U.S.C. § 1441. Various issues concerning CAFA, removal and remand are discussed in separate articles. For the convenience of the reader, we set forth the full text of Section 1453 below.

28 U.S.C. § 1453. Removal of Class Actions

(a) Definitions.–In this section, the terms "class", "class action", "class certification order", and "class member" shall have the meanings given such terms under section 1332(d)(1).
(b) In general.–A class action may be removed to a district court of the United States in accordance with section 1446 (except that the 1-year limitation under section 1446(b) shall not apply), without regard to whether any defendant is a citizen of the State in which the action is brought, except that such action may be removed by any defendant without the consent of all defendants.

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Posted On: May 3, 2006 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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Class Action Defense Issues: Procedure after Removing a Case from State Court to Federal Court - 28 U.S.C. 1447

Defending Against Class Actions – Removal

In defending against class actions, it will often benefit a defendant to remove the case to federal court whenever possible. Plaintiffs invariably seek to remand the action to state court. Thus, once a class action has been removed to federal court, it can be expected that plaintiff’s counsel will file a motion to remand the matter to state court. The general procedure for remand is set forth in 28 U.S.C. § 1447. Various issues concerning CAFA, removal and remand are discussed in separate articles. For the convenience of the reader, we set forth the full text of Section 1447 below.

28 U.S.C. 1447. Remand

§ 1447. Procedure after removal generally
(a) In any case removed from a State court, the district court may issue all necessary orders and process to bring before it all proper parties whether served by process issued by the State court or otherwise.
(b) It may require the removing party to file with its clerk copies of all records and proceedings in such State court or may cause the same to be brought before it by writ of certiorari issued to such State court.
(c) A motion to remand the case on the basis of any defect other than lack of subject matter jurisdiction must be made within 30 days after the filing of the notice of removal under section 1446(a). If at any time before final judgment it appears that the district court lacks subject matter jurisdiction, the case shall be remanded. An order remanding the case may require payment of just costs and any actual expenses, including attorney fees, incurred as a result of the removal. A certified copy of the order of remand shall be mailed by the clerk to the clerk of the State court. The State court may thereupon proceed with such case.
(d) An order remanding a case to the State court from which it was removed is not reviewable on appeal or otherwise, except that an order remanding a case to the State court from which it was removed pursuant to section 1443 of this title shall be reviewable by appeal or otherwise.
(e) If after removal the plaintiff seeks to join additional defendants whose joinder would destroy subject matter jurisdiction, the court may deny joinder, or permit joinder and remand the action to the State court.

Posted On: May 2, 2006 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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Class Action Defense Issues: Procedure for Removing a Case from State Court to Federal Court - 28 U.S.C. 1446

Defending Against Class Actions – Removal

In defending against class actions, it will often benefit a defendant to remove the case to federal court whenever possible. CAFA (Class Action Fairness Act of 2005) was enacted by Congress to expand federal court jurisdiction over class actions, but the general procedure for removal is set forth in 28 U.S.C. § 1446. Various issues concerning CAFA, removal and remand are discussed in separate articles. For the convenience of the reader, we set forth the full text of Section 1446 below.

28 U.S.C. 1446. Removal

§ 1446. Procedure for removal
(a) A defendant or defendants desiring to remove any civil action or criminal prosecution from a State court shall file in the district court of the United States for the district and division within which such action is pending a notice of removal signed pursuant to Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and containing a short and plain statement of the grounds for removal, together with a copy of all process, pleadings, and orders served upon such defendant or defendants in such action.
(b) The notice of removal of a civil action or proceeding shall be filed within thirty days after the receipt by the defendant, through service or otherwise, of a copy of the initial pleading setting forth the claim for relief upon which such action or proceeding is based, or within thirty days after the service of summons upon the defendant if such initial pleading has then been filed in court and is not required to be served on the defendant, whichever period is shorter.

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Posted On: May 1, 2006 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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Class Action Defense Issues: Removing a Case from State Court to Federal Court - 28 U.S.C. 1441

Defending Against Class Actions – Removal

In defending against class actions, it will often benefit a defendant to remove the case to federal court whenever possible. The general procedure for removal is set forth in 28 U.S.C. § 1441. CAFA (Class Action Fairness Act of 2005) contains new removal rules specifically applicable to class actions. Various issues concerning CAFA, removal and remand are discussed in separate articles. For the convenience of the reader, we set forth the full text of Section 1441 below.

28 U.S.C. 1441. Removal

§ 1441. Actions removable generally
(a) Except as otherwise expressly provided by Act of Congress, any civil action brought in a State court of which the district courts of the United States have original jurisdiction, may be removed by the defendant or the defendants, to the district court of the United States for the district and division embracing the place where such action is pending. For purposes of removal under this chapter, the citizenship of defendants sued under fictitious names shall be disregarded.

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