Posted On: June 30, 2010 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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FLSA Class Action Defense Cases–Luiken v. Domino's Pizza: Minnesota Federal Court Grants Conditional Class Action Treatment To Nationwide Labor Law Class Action Alleging Failure To Pay Minimum Wage To Delivery Drivers

Nationwide Class Action (excluding California and New York) Alleging Domino’s Systematically Underpaid Delivery Drivers in Violation of Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) Entitled to Conditional Class Action Certification because Evidence Submitted by Plaintiffs Met Minimal Burden Required at First Stage of FLSA Proceedings Minnesota Federal Court Holds

Plaintiffs filed a putative class action against their employer, Domino’s Pizza, alleging violations of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA); specifically, the class action complaint alleged that Domino’s failed to pay its pizza delivery drivers minimum wage. Luiken v. Domino’s Pizza, LLC, ___ F.Supp.2d ___ (D. Minn. June 21, 2010) [Slip Opn., at 1-3]. According to the allegations underlying the class action, Domino’s failed to reimburse its delivery drivers for all automobile expenses incurred in the course of their employment, id., at 4. The class action sought to represent a nationwide class, except for delivery drivers in California and New York. Id., at 2. Plaintiffs moved the district court to certify the litigation as a class action, id., at 1. Defense attorneys opposed class action treatment, arguing that class members were not “similarly situated” because of “highly individualized fact-specific determinations taking into account driver-specific factors such as type of car, routes, and total mileage” and because “reimbursements vary by geographic region.” Id., at 2. Noting the difference between class action certification motions under Rule 23 and conditional class certification under the FLSA (technically, certification of a “collective action”), the district court granted plaintiffs’ motion.

The federal court explained that class action certification under the FLSA is a two-part process, and that in determining whether to conditionally certify a class (the first step in the process), the court determines whether plaintiffs have established “a colorable basis that the putative class members are the victims of a single decision, policy, or plan.” Luiken, at 4 (citation omitted). Here, plaintiffs argued that Domino’s employed “a single policy which systematically under-reimbursed them for automobile expenses incurred in the course of their employment” and, accordingly, they were “paid below the federal minimum wage.” Id. In brief, plaintiffs argued that Domino’s used a uniform set of assumptions in determining reimbursement rates, and that those assumptions were uniformly unfair. Id. Defense attorneys countered that individual issues, including the base wages paid each driver, defeat class certification. Id., at 5. Domino’s additionally argued that at least some drivers were paid more than the federal minimum wage, and plaintiffs conceded that subclasses may be necessary due to differences in base pay. Id., at 5 n.5.

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Posted On: June 29, 2010 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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CAFA Class Action Defense Cases–Lincoln National Life v. Bezich: Seventh Circuit Court Dismisses Appeal For Lack Of Jurisdiction Holding Variable Life Insurance Policy Was A "Security" Within Meaning Of Exception To CAFA Jurisdiction

District Court Properly Remanded Class Action to State Court on Ground that Variable Life Insurance Policy Constituted a “Security” Within the Meaning of Exception to Federal Court Jurisdiction under CAFA (Class Action Fairness Act) Seventh Circuit Holds

Plaintiff filed a putative class action against the issuer of his life insurance policy, Lincoln National Life Insurance, alleging that it breached the terms of certain of its variable life insurance policies. Lincoln Nat’l Life Ins. Co. v. Bezich, ___ F.3d ___ (7th Cir. June 25, 2010) [Slip Opn., at 1]. According to the allegations underlying the class action complaint, “Each month, Lincoln deducts cost-of-insurance charges from the accounts of its policyholders…[that] are not determined based on expected mortality, as promised by the policy.” Id., at 1-2. Defense attorneys removed the class action to federal court, asserting jurisdiction under the Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA), id., at 2. However, the district court remanded the class action to state court on the ground that CAFA provides an exception for class actions “that solely involves a claim . . . that relates to the rights, duties (including fiduciary duties), and obligations relating to or created by or pursuant to any security (as defined under section 2(a)(1) of the Securities Act of 1933 (15 U.S.C. 77b(a)(1)) and the regulations issued thereunder).” Id. (citing § 1332(d)(9)(C)). Defendant filed a petition with the Seventh Circuit seeking permission to appeal the district court’s remand order. Id., at 1-2. Lincoln National Life argued “that its petition raises a ‘novel and important issue’ under CAFA: ‘whether contract claims grounded in the traditional insurance features of variable life insurance policies, as opposed to those related to their security features, qualify under the securities exception to CAFA.’” Id., at 2. Because the Seventh Circuit agreed with the district court’s conclusion that § 1332(d)(9)(C) required remand, it dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction. Id.

The Circuit Court explained that Lincoln allowed the holders of single variable life insurance policies to “allocate money between a General Account, which accumulates value from premium payments, and a Separate Account, an investment account whose value varies depending on the performance of the investments selected.” Bezich, at 2-3. The policyholder may place 100% of his or her funds in either the General or Separate Account, or may split the funds between the accounts in any percentage they desire. Id., at 3. “The Separate Account is registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission as a unit investment trust under the Investment Company Act of 1940,” id. (citation omitted). The class action challenges the insurance charges deducted from both the General and Separate Account based on the percentage of funds in each account. Id. Defense attorneys argued that the appeal should be accepted because “no court of appeals has ever considered the application of CAFA to this type of variable life insurance policy.” Id.

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Posted On: June 28, 2010 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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Class Action Defense Cases–Donovan v. Philip Morris: Massachusetts Federal Court Certifies Class Action Seeking Medical Monitoring For Lung Cancer Of 20-Year Marlboro Smokers

Class Action Against Tobacco Company Alleging Unfair Trade Practices and Breach of Implied Warranty and Seeking Medical Monitoring for Lung Cancer on Behalf of Class of Smokers who have not been Diagnosed with Lung Cancer and who are Asymptomatic Warranted Class Action Certification under both Rule 23(b)(2) and (b)(3) Massachusetts Federal Court Holds

Plaintiffs filed a putative class action against Philip Morris alleging “unfair or deceptive” trade practices in violation of Massachusetts state law, breach of implied warranty, and negligence; specifically, the class action complaint “allege[d] that Philip Morris designed, marketed, and sold Marlboro cigarettes that delivered an excessive and dangerous level of carcinogens.” Donovan v. Philip Morris USA, Inc., ___ F.Supp.2d ___ (D.Mass. June 24, 2010) [Slip Opn., at 1]. According to the allegations underlying the class action complaint, “plaintiffs have no apparent symptoms of lung cancer, and as such, are not seeking damages.” Id. Thus, this class action “diverges from a typical tobacco suit,” id. Instead of seeking damages, the class action sought to compel Philip Morris to pay for medical monitoring – “that is, regular screenings to determine whether they have early signs of the disease” based on the argument that “if [class members] do eventually develop lung cancer, these screenings will increase their likelihood of survival almost six-fold.” Id., at 1-2. Plaintiffs sought certification of a class action “on behalf of Massachusetts residents, age fifty and older, who have smoked Marlboro cigarettes for at least twenty pack-years.” Id., at 1. Further, “No class member may be diagnosed with lung cancer or be under a physician’s care for suspected lung cancer, and all must have smoked Marlboro cigarettes within the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.” Id., at 2. Defense attorneys opposed class action treatment. In a 56-page order, the district court granted plaintiffs’ motion for class action certification.

In analyzing whether to grant class action treatment, the district court noted that “the motion was not easily resolved because it raised threshold issues of Massachusetts products liability law.” Donovan, at 2. First, the class action certification motion presented a set of issues tied to “the unusual remedy plaintiffs seek, a supervised medical monitoring program using Low-Dose Computed Tomography (‘LDCT’) scans.” Id. Plaintiffs argued that unlike x-rays, which could only detect lung cancer “when it had reached an advanced stage,” the new LDCT-scanning technology allowed for much earlier detection “significantly increasing survival rates from about fifteen percent to eighty-five percent.” Id. (Plaintiffs argued that monetary damages would not adequately compensate class members for the cost of medical monitoring, id., at 3.) Second, the class action certification motion presented the question of whether the named plaintiffs had standing to prosecute the class action because “[b]y definition, plaintiffs who seek medical monitoring to determine whether they have cancer are asymptomatic.” Id. And third, the class action presents a “novel issue [that] pertains to the timing of plaintiffs’ claims and the related issue of claim preclusion.” Id. “Typically, toxic tort exposure cases put the plaintiffs on the horns of a dilemma. If they bring a claim when they are aware of their exposure – assuming the standing issues are resolved – they take the risk that they cannot recover if they develop cancer in the future under the ‘single controversy rule.’ If they wait until they develop cancer to bring a claim, the statute of limitations will have expired because they knew of the risks at an earlier time.” Id. Here, plaintiffs argued that this dilemma was avoided because “The statute of limitations should run from the date that plaintiffs develop subcellular changes that substantially increase their risk of cancer and where that increase triggers a medically-accepted form of screening.” Id., at 4.

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Posted On: June 26, 2010 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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New Labor Law Class Action Filings Return To Post-50% Levels And Retain Top Spot Of New Class Action Lawsuits Filed In California State And Federal Courts

As a resource to California class action defense attorneys, we provide weekly, unofficial summaries of the legal categories for new class action lawsuits filed in California state and federal courts in the Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose, Sacramento, San Diego, San Mateo, Oakland/Alameda and Orange County areas. We include only those categories that include 10% or more of the class action filings during the relevant timeframe. This report covers the time period from June 18 - 24, 2010, during which time only 39 new class actions were filed in these California state and federal courts. While labor law class actions generally top the list by a wide margin -- often accounting for more than half of the new class action filings in any particular week -- for the past weeks new labor law class actions accounted for less than 50% of the total number of new class actions filed. This past week, however, class actions involving employment-related claims against exceeded 50% with 21 new filings (54%). The only other category to break the 10% threshold involved class actions alleging violations of California's Unfair Competition Law (UCL), which includes false advertising with 11 new filings (representing 28% of the total number of new class actions filed).

Posted On: June 25, 2010 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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Credit Card Interest Rate Class Action Defense Cases–In re Capital One: Judicial Panel On Multidistrict Litigation (MDL) Grants Plaintiff Motion To Centralize Class Action Litigation But Selects Northern District Of Georgia As Transferee Court

Judicial Panel Grants Plaintiff Request for Pretrial Coordination of Class Action Lawsuits Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. — 1407, Over Objection of Common Class Action Defendants, but Transfers Class Actions to Northern District of Georgia

Two class actions – one in the Georgia and one in Virginia – were filed against Capital One Financial and its wholly-owned subsidiary, Capital One Bank (USA) based on the claim that Capital One “unilaterally increased interest rates on customers’ credit card accounts without notice.” In re Capital One Bank Credit Card Interest Rate Hike Litig., ___ F.Supp.2d ___ (Jud.Pan.Mult.Lit. June 11, 2010) [Slip Opn., at 1]. Two additional class actions – one in California and another one in Georgia – were treated as potential tag-along cases, id., at 1 n.1. Attorneys for the Virginia class action plaintiffs filed a motion with the Judicial Panel for Multidistrict Litigation (MDL) requesting centralization of the class actions pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1407 in the Eastern District of Virginia, where their class action was pending. Id., at 1. Plaintiffs in the Northern District of Georgia class action supported the motion, id. Capital One opposed centralization of the class actions, or requested that the Judicial Panel delay ruling on the motion until the Georgia district court had ruled on the dispositive motions pending before it, Id. Specifically, defense attorneys had filed motions for summary judgment in each of the Georgia class actions, id., at 1-2. Alternatively, Capital One requested centralization in the Northern District of Georgia, id., at 1. The Judicial Panel granted the motion to centralize the class action lawsuits, rejecting defendants’ request to await decisions on the Georgia summary judgment motions because one had been filed only recently and because the California class action suggested that multidistrict litigation would still remain irrespective of the Georgia federal court’s rulings. Id., at 2. The Judicial Panel agreed, however, that the Northern District of Georgia was the appropriate transferee court because “[t]he first-filed actions are pending [there]” and because in one of those cases “discovery has begun and a motion for summary judgment is pending.” Id. Accordingly, the Panel transferred all class actions pending outside of Georgia to that district. Id.

Download PDF file of In re Capital One Bank Credit Card Interest Rate Hike Litigation Transfer Order

Posted On: June 23, 2010 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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FACTA Class Action Defense Cases–Ehrheart v. Verizon Wireless: Third Circuit Court Reinstates Preliminary Approval Of Class Action Settlement Holding Passage Of Clarification Act Did Not Allow Defendant To Withdraw From Settlement Agreement

Verizon’s Decision to Enter into Proposed Class Action Settlement of Class Action Alleging Violation of FACTA (Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act) while Clarification Act was Pending before Congress did not Allow Verizon to Back Out of Settlement After Passage of Clarification Act Third Circuit Holds

Plaintiffs filed two putative class actions against Verizon Wireless, one in Pennsylvania and one in Tennessee, alleging that it violated the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA), which prohibits merchants in credit or debit card transactions from providing consumers at point of sale with a printed receipt that displays more than the last five digits of the card or its expiration date; specifically, the class action complaint alleged that plaintiffs received a receipt that contained the expiration date of their credit or debit card. Ehrheart v. Verizon Wireless, ___ F.3d ___ (3d Cir. June 15, 2010) [Slip Opn., at 3; Dissenting Opn., at 7-8]. The parties entered into a proposed class action settlement; at the time, the Credit and Debit Card Receipt Clarification Act of 2007 (the Clarification Act) was pending before Congress, and if it passed then plaintiffs’ claims would fail as a matter of law because the Clarification Act insulated merchants from liability for claims based solely on the failure to redact expiration dates during the time period that subsumed plaintiffs’ claims. Slip Opn., at 3-4. The parties moved the district court for preliminary approval of the proposed class action settlement, which the district court granted on April 22, 2008. Id., at 4. The Clarification Act was signed into law on June 22, 2008, and six days later Verizon filed a motion to vacate the approval of the class action settlement. Id. The district court granted Verizon’s motion, and subsequently granted Verizon’s motion for judgment on the pleadings. Id. In vacating its approval of the class action settlement, the district court explained that the Clarification Act applied to any lawsuit that was not yet final and so it applied to the instant class action lawsuit because the proposed class action settlement had not yet received final approval. Dissenting Opn., at 12. “Because Congress eliminated the plaintiffs’ cause of action, the District Court reasoned, it had to vacate its preliminary approval of the Settlement Agreement.” Id. In the district court’s view, “no class action settlement can be fair, adequate or reasonable when Congress has determined that such relief is unfair and unreasonable.” Id., at 13. Plaintiffs appealed, and the Third Circuit reversed.

The Third Circuit explained that “the District Court lost sight of three important points” in granting Verizon’s motion to vacate preliminary approval of the class action settlement: “First, there is a restricted, tightly focused role that Rule 23 prescribes for district courts, requiring them to act as fiduciaries for the absent class members, but that does not vest them with broad powers to intrude upon the parties’ bargain. Second, a strong public policy exists, which is particularly muscular in class action suits, favoring settlement of disputes, finality of judgments and the termination of litigation. Third, our jurisprudence holds that changes in the law after a settlement is reached do not provide ground for rescission of the settlement.” Ehrheart, at 5 (footnote omitted).

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Posted On: June 19, 2010 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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New Class Action Lawsuits Asserting Employment-Related Claims Remain Below Normal, But Labor Law Class Action Filings Continue To Hold Top Spot Of New Class Action Lawsuits Filed In California State And Federal Courts

To assist class action defense attorneys anticipate the types of claims against which they will have to defend in California, we provide weekly, unofficial summaries of the legal categories for new class action lawsuits filed in California state and federal courts in the Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose, Sacramento, San Diego, San Mateo, Oakland/Alameda and Orange County areas. We include only those categories that include 10% or more of the class action filings during the relevant timeframe. This report covers the time period from June 11 - 17, 2010, during which time only 37 new class actions were filed in these California state and federal courts. Labor law class actions often account for more than half of the new class action filings in any particular week -- but during this reporting period only 18 new labor law class actions were filed, representing a relatively low 49% of the total number of new class actions filed. The only other categories that managed to break the 10% threshold were class actions alleging violations of California's Unfair Competition Law (UCL), which includes false advertising claims, with 7 new filings (representing 19% of the total number of new class actions filed) and class actions alleging violations of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, with 5 new filings (representing 14% of the total number of new class actions filed).

Posted On: June 12, 2010 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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Labor Law Class Action Filings Continue Hold Top Spot Of New Class Action Lawsuits Filed In California State And Federal Courts

As a resource to California class action defense attorneys, we provide weekly, unofficial summaries of the legal categories for new class action lawsuits filed in California state and federal courts in the Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose, Sacramento, San Diego, San Mateo, Oakland/Alameda and Orange County areas. We include only those categories that include 10% or more of the class action filings during the relevant timeframe. This report covers the time period from June 4 - 10, 2010, during which time 49 new class actions were filed in these California state and federal courts. While labor law class actions generally top the list by a wide margin -- often accounting for more than half of the new class action filings in any particular week -- this past week only 20 new labor law class actions were filed, representing a relatively low 41% of the total number of new class actions filed. The only other categories that managed to break the 10% threshold were class actions alleging violations of California's Unfair Competition Law (UCL), which includes false advertising claims, and class actions against Toyota arising out of alleged product defects, each with 6 new filings (representing 12% of the total number of new class actions filed).