Class Action Court Decisions

Posted On: June 24, 2013 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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Class Action Defense Cases–American Express v. Italian Colors: United States Supreme Court Reverses Second Circuit Refusal To Enforce Class Action Waiver Under Federal Arbitration Act (FAA)

Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) Compels Enforcement of Class Action Waiver in Contract Even if Cost of Pursuing Federal Claim will be Prohibitively Expensive to Arbitrate U.S. Supreme Court Holds

Plaintiffs – a group of merchants who accept American Express cards – filed a putative class action against American Express alleging of the Sherman Act and seeking treble damages under the Clayton Act; the class action complaint alleged that American Express violated federal antitrust laws by “us[ing] its monopoly power in the market for charge cards to force merchants to accept credit cards at rates approximately 30% higher than the fees for competing credit cards.” American Express Co. v. Italian Colors Restaurant, __ U.S. __, __ S.Ct. __, 2013 WL 3064410, *1-2 (June 20, 2013). Plaintiffs’ contract with American Express “contains a clause that requires all disputes between the parties to be resolved by arbitration” and further provides that “[t]here shall be no right or authority for any Claims to be arbitrated on a class action basis.” Id., at *1 (citing In re American Express Merchants’ Litig., 667 F. 3d 204, 209 (2d Cir. 2012)). Accordingly, American Express moved under the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) to compel arbitration of Plaintiffs’ individual claims, id., at *2. Plaintiffs opposed dismissal of their class action complaint, submitting an expert witness declaration that estimated the cost of proving Plaintiffs’ antitrust claims could “exceed $1 million,” while the maximum recovery for any individual plaintiff would be less than $40,000. Id. The district court rejected Plaintiffs’ argument, granted the motion to compel arbitration of the individual claims and dismissed the class action complaint. Id. The Second Circuit reversed, holding that because pursuit of Plaintiffs’ antitrust claims would be prohibitively expensive if pursued individually, the class action waiver was unenforceable. Id. (citing In re American Express Merchants’ Litig., 554 F. 3d 300, 315-16 (2d Cir. 2009)). The Supreme Court reversed.

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Posted On: November 28, 2011 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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Class Action Defense Cases–KPMG v. Cocchi: Supreme Court Reiterates Requirement That State Courts Follow Concepcion And Enforce Arbitration Agreements Under The Federal Arbitration Act (FAA)

State Courts Erred in Denying Defense Motion to Compel Arbitration Under FAA (Federal Arbitration Act) because They Failed to Consider Whether Any Claims were Subject to Arbitration

Plaintiffs filed a putative class action in Florida state court against various defendants, including KPMG LLP, for damages suffered as a result of investments made with Bernard Madoff; the class action named the investment funds, the entity that managed the funds, and KPMG as auditor. KPMG LLP v. Cocchi, 565 U.S. ___ (November 7, 2011) [Slip Opn., at 1-2]. With respect to KPMG, the class action alleged negligent misrepresentation, professional malpractice, aiding and abetting a breach of fiduciary duty, and violation of Florida’s Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act (FDUTPA). Id., at 2. KPMG moved to compel arbitration under the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) on the grounds that the audit services agreement between it and the funds’ management company contained an arbitration clause. Id. The trial court denied the motion, and the state appellate court affirmed on the ground that “‘[n]one of the plaintiffs…expressly assented in any fashion to [the audit services agreement] or the arbitration provision.’” Id., at 2-3 (citation omitted). However, the state courts apparently found it sufficient to conclude that neither the FDUTPA claim nor the negligent misrepresentation claim were subject to arbitration, without analyzing whether the professional malpractice or breach of fiduciary duty claim were subject to arbitration. Id., at 3. The Supreme Court granted certiorari and reversed.

Despite its April 27, 2011 decision in AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion, 131 S.Ct. 1740 (2011), some state courts have continued to find “creative” ways to avoid its mandate. “The Federal Arbitration Act reflects an ‘emphatic federal policy in favor of arbitral dispute resolution.’” KPMG, at 3 (citations omitted, italics added). “Agreements to arbitrate that fall within the scope and coverage of the [FAA]…must be enforced in state and federal courts.” Id., at 1 (italics added). Thus, “State courts…‘have a prominent role to play as enforcers of agreements to arbitrate.’” Id. (citation omitted). And because the FAA “has been interpreted to require that if a dispute presents multiple claims, some arbitrable and some not, the former must be sent to arbitration even if this will lead to piecemeal litigation,” id. (citation omitted), “[a] court may not issue a blanket refusal to compel arbitration merely on the grounds that some of the claims could be resolved by the court without arbitration,” id. (citation omitted).

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Posted On: October 10, 2011 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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Class Action Defense Cases–Ellis v. Costco Wholesale Corp.: Ninth Circuit Vacates And Remands Class Action Certification In Gender Discrimination Labor Law Case

District Court Applied Wrong Legal Criteria in Certifying Gender Discrimination Class Action Requiring Remand for Reconsideration based on Standards Enunciated in Wal-Mart v. Dukes Ninth Circuit Holds

Plaintiffs filed a putative class action against Costco Wholesale alleging that it discriminates in its promotional practices based on gender. Ellis v. Costco Wholesale Corp., ___ F.3d ___, 2011 WL 4336668 (9th Cir. September 16, 2011) [Slip Opn., at 17693, 17697]. The class action complaint was filed after the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) dismissed a charge that Costco engaged in gender discrimination in its practice of promoting employees. The class action complaint alleges violations of Title VII, and sought to be brought on behalf “of a Title VII class of all women employed by Costco in the United States denied promotion to [assistant general managers] and/or [general managers] positions.” Id., at 17702-03. The class action “sought class-wide injunctive relief, lost pay, and compensatory and punitive damages.” Id., at 17703. Plaintiffs moved the district court to certify the lawsuit as a class action based, in part, on the declarations of three experts – a statistician, a labor economist, and a sociologist – who opined that Costco’s female employees were “promoted at a slower rate” and were “underrepresented” in management positions relative to their male peers. Id. Costco opposed class action treatment, based in part on the declarations of 200 employees and the declarations of its own experts. Id. The district court granted class certification, id., at 17703-04. The Ninth Circuit granted Costco’s request for leave to file an interlocutory appeal, and proceeded to affirm in part, vacate in part, and remand the matter for further proceedings. Id., at 17697.

Briefly, Costco operates 350 warehouses, each containing a general manager (GM), two or three assistant general managers (AGM), and three or four senior staff managers (who are themselves divided into four categories consisting of front end managers, administration managers, receiving managers, and merchandise managers). Ellis, at 17699. The company “promotes almost entirely from within its organization” and “[o]nly current Costco AGMs are eligible for GM positions.” Id. No written policy exists explaining the criteria that Costco considers in selecting employees for consideration or in making its promotion decisions. Id., at 17699-700. Among senior staff managers, however, Costco generally rotates managers among the various categories as part of its belief that this exposure trains and develops employees for future positions as AGMs and GMs. Id., at 17700.

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Posted On: October 6, 2011 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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Class Action Defense Cases–Kaltwasser v. AT&T Mobility: Federal Court Grants Motion To Compel Arbitration Under Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) Following Concepcion

Supreme Court Decision in Concepcion Compelled Granting AT&T’s Motion to Compel Arbitration of Individual Claims because FAA Preempts California Laws Barring Class Action Arbitration Waivers

Plaintiff filed a putative class action against cellular telephone service provider, AT&T Mobility, alleging violations of California’s Unfair Competition Law (UCL), False Advertising Law (FAL), Consumer Legal Remedies Act (CLRA) and breach of contract. Kaltwasser v. AT&T Mobility LLC, ___ F.Supp.2d ___, 2011 WL 4381748 (N.D.Cal. September 20, 2011) [Slip Opn., at 1-2]. According to the allegations underlying the class action complaint, plaintiff renewed his cell service with AT&T based on the company’s representations that it had the “fewest dropped calls.” Id., at 2. Because he alleges that this representation was false, plaintiff filed this lawsuit. AT&T moved to compel arbitration and to dismiss the class claims on the grounds that the service contract included an arbitration clause with a class action waiver. Id. In April 2008, the district court denied AT&T’s motion finding the class action waiver unconscionable under Discover Bank v. Superior Court, 36 Cal.4th 148 (Cal. 2005). Id., at 2-3. Plaintiff subsequently filed a motion to have his lawsuit certified as a class action; the district court delayed ruling on the motion pending the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion, 131 S.Ct. 1740 (2011). Id., at 1. Based on Concepcion, the federal court denied plaintiff’s motion and ordered his claims to be arbitrated on an individual basis. Id., at 1-2.

After providing a general discussion of the FAA and Concepcion, the district court noted Concepcion’s holding that “California’s Discover Bank rule is preempted by the FAA.” Kaltwasser, at 5 (quoting Concepcion, at 1753). Plaintiff, however, argued that Concepcion did not require reconsideration of the district court’s prior order denying AT&T’ s motion to compel arbitration because (1) “Concepcion left intact a vindication-of-rights doctrine under federal common law” permitting him to avoid arbitration “if he can show that the costs involved in proving his claims exceed the damages he can potentially recover”; (2) “Concepcion did not affect public policy principles of contract law” which hold that “‘a law established for a public reason cannot be contravened by a private agreement’”; and (3) AT&T waived its right to arbitration. Id., at 5-6. The district court disagreed.

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Posted On: October 6, 2011 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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Class Action Defense Cases–Kaltwasser v. AT&T Mobility: Federal Court Grants Motion To Compel Arbitration Under Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) Following Concepcion

Supreme Court Decision in Concepcion Compelled Granting AT&T’s Motion to Compel Arbitration of Individual Claims because FAA Preempts California Laws Barring Class Action Arbitration Waivers

Plaintiff filed a putative class action against cellular telephone service provider, AT&T Mobility, alleging violations of California’s Unfair Competition Law (UCL), False Advertising Law (FAL), Consumer Legal Remedies Act (CLRA) and breach of contract. Kaltwasser v. AT&T Mobility LLC, ___ F.Supp.2d ___, 2011 WL 4381748 (N.D.Cal. September 20, 2011) [Slip Opn., at 1-2]. According to the allegations underlying the class action complaint, plaintiff renewed his cell service with AT&T based on the company’s representations that it had the “fewest dropped calls.” Id., at 2. Because he alleges that this representation was false, plaintiff filed this lawsuit. AT&T moved to compel arbitration and to dismiss the class claims on the grounds that the service contract included an arbitration clause with a class action waiver. Id. In April 2008, the district court denied AT&T’s motion finding the class action waiver unconscionable under Discover Bank v. Superior Court, 36 Cal.4th 148 (Cal. 2005). Id., at 2-3. Plaintiff subsequently filed a motion to have his lawsuit certified as a class action; the district court delayed ruling on the motion pending the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion, 131 S.Ct. 1740 (2011). Id., at 1. Based on Concepcion, the federal court denied plaintiff’s motion and ordered his claims to be arbitrated on an individual basis. Id., at 1-2.

After providing a general discussion of the FAA and Concepcion, the district court noted Concepcion’s holding that “California’s Discover Bank rule is preempted by the FAA.” Kaltwasser, at 5 (quoting Concepcion, at 1753). Plaintiff, however, argued that Concepcion did not require reconsideration of the district court’s prior order denying AT&T’ s motion to compel arbitration because (1) “Concepcion left intact a vindication-of-rights doctrine under federal common law” permitting him to avoid arbitration “if he can show that the costs involved in proving his claims exceed the damages he can potentially recover”; (2) “Concepcion did not affect public policy principles of contract law” which hold that “‘a law established for a public reason cannot be contravened by a private agreement’”; and (3) AT&T waived its right to arbitration. Id., at 5-6. The district court disagreed.

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Posted On: October 4, 2011 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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Class Action Defense Cases–In re Community Bank: Third Circuit Court Again Reverses Approval Of Class Action Settlement Holding Wrong Legal Standard Applied To Determine Adequacy Of Representation

District Court Applied Wrong Legal Standard in Finding Named Plaintiffs and Their Counsel to be Adequate Representatives of the Proposed Class under Rule 23(a)(4) and thus Abused its Discretion in Certifying Class and Approving Nationwide Class Action Settlement Third Circuit Holds

Several putative class actions were filed against various defendants, including Community Bank of Northern Virginia (CBNV), Guarantee National Bank of Tallahassee (GNBT) and Residential Funding Corporation (RFC), arising out of “the alleged predatory lending scheme of the Shumway/Bapst Organization (‘Shumway’), a residential mortgage loan business involved in facilitating the making of high-interest, mortgage-backed loans to debt-laden homeowners.” In re Community Bank of N. Va. & Guar. Nat’l Bank of Tallahassee Second Mortgage Loan Litig., 622 F.3d 275 (3d Cir. 2010) [Slip Opn., at 10]. According to the allegations underlying the class action complaints, Shumway entered into relationships with CBNV and GNBT in order to circumvent state-law restrictions on fees that it could charge; the alleged scheme permitted Shumway to make it appear as if the fees were paid to depository institutions (which are not subject to the fee restrictions) when in reality they were being funneled to Shumway. Id. RFC allegedly aided this conspiracy by purchasing CBNV and GNBT loans on the secondary market, even though it allegedly knew that these institutions were acting as mere “straw parties” for Shumway. Id., at 11. The class actions were consolidated, see id., at 11-12, and ultimately a proposed nationwide class action settlement was reached, id., at 13. Certain members of the class objected to the proposed class action settlement, and certain class members sought leave to intervene in the consolidated class action lawsuit; the district court denied the motion to intervene and overruled the objections to the class action settlement. Id., at 9. The Third Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial of intervention, but reversed and remanded the approval of the class action settlement. Id. The district court again approved the class action settlement, and again the objectors appealed: “The Objectors contend that the failure [to make claims against the defendants under the Truth in Lending Act (TILA) and the Home Ownership and Equity Protection Act (HOEPA)] renders the named plaintiffs and class counsel inadequate class representatives.” Id. The Circuit Court again reversed.

We do not discuss in detail the Circuit Court’s 100-page opinion. In sum, the Third Circuit concluded that “by approaching the adequacy-of-representation questions on remand as though it were ruling on a motion to amend pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(c) or a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)6)[,] [the district court] applied the wrong legal standard in ruling on class certification under Rule 23.” In re Community Bank, at 9. Accordingly, the Court “reluctantly” vacated the district court order certifying the class action and approving the class action settlement, and again remanded the matter for further proceedings. Id. The Third Circuit also noted, “we continue to reject (i) the claim that the District Court abused its discretion in denying the Objectors’ renewed motion to intervene, and (ii) their renewed petition for mandamus to recuse the District Judge in this case.” Id.

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Posted On: June 21, 2011 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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Class Action Defense Cases–Wal-Mart v. Dukes: Supreme Court Reverses Class Action Certification Of Largest Labor Law Class Action In History Holding Sex Discrimination Claims Lacked Commonality

Class Action Treatment of Sex Discrimination in Promotion Claim Against Wal-Mart not Proper because Commonality Requirement not Met and because Rule 23(b)(2) Class Inappropriate given Monetary Relief Sought Supreme Court Holds

Plaintiffs filed a putative labor law class action against Wal-Mart Stores, alleging systematic discrimination against women in pay and promotion in violation of Title VII. Wal-Mart v. Dukes, 564 U.S. ___ (June 20, 2011) [Slip Opn., at 1]. The class action sought injunctive and declaratory relief, but also sought monetary damages in the form of backpay. Id. The theory underlying the class action against Wal-Mart was not that the company had “any express corporate policy against the advancement of women” but, rather, that Wal-Mart’s local managers “[exercised] discretion over pay and promotion…disproportionately in favor of men, leading to an unlawful disparate impact on female employees.” Id., at 4. As the Supreme Court explained, “The basic theory of the[] case is that a strong and uniform ‘corporate culture’ permits bias against women to infect, perhaps subconsciously, the discretionary decisionmaking of each one of Wal-Mart’s thousands of managers – thereby making every woman at the company the victim of one common discriminatory practice.” Id. The district court certified a nationwide class action against Wal-Mart consisting of approximately 1.5 million current and former female employees, id., at 1. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the class action certification order, id. The Supreme Court granted certiorari and reversed.

By way of background, the Supreme Court noted that Wal-Mart is the largest private employer in the United States, operating 4 types of retail stores (Discount Stores, Neighborhood Markets, Sam’s Clubs and Superstores) that are “divided into seven nationwide divisions, which in turn comprise 41 regions of 80 to 85 stores apiece,” each with 40-53 separate departments and anywhere 80-500 employees. Wal-Mart, at 1-2. Decisions regarding pay and promotion “are generally committed to local managers’ broad discretion, which is exercised ‘ in a largely subjective manner.’” Id., at 2, quoting 222 F.R.D. 137, 145 (N.D. Cal. 2004). With respect to the individual named plaintiffs, Betty Dukes began working for Wal-Mart in 1994 and was eventually promoted to customer service manager before being demoted all the way down to greeter due to “a series of disciplinary violations.” Id., at 3. Dukes admitted that she violated company policy, but claimed that her demotions were “retaliation for invoking internal complaint procedures and that male employees have not been disciplined for similar infractions.” Id. Christine Kwapnoski worked at Sam’s Club “for most of her adult life” and held various positions, “including a supervisory position,” but she claimed that her male manager yelled at her and other female employees (but not at men) and told her to dress better, wear makeup and “doll up.” Id. Edith Arana worked at Wal-Mart from 1995-2001, and in 2000 repeatedly asked her store manager about management training “but was brushed off.” Id. She followed internal complaint procedures and was advised to bypass her store manager and apply directly to the district manager for management training, but she elected not to do so. Id. Arana was fired in 2001 for failing to comply with the company’s timekeeping policy. Id.

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Posted On: May 5, 2011 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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Discovery Class Action Defense Cases–Starbucks v. Superior Court: California Appellate Court Reverses Discovery Order Compelling Starbucks To Identify And Disclose Names Of Possible Class Representatives

Trial Court Order Requiring Starbucks to Identify and Disclose Job Applicants with Marijuana Convictions Violates the Privacy Rights Sought to be Redressed by Putative Class Action California Appellate Court Holds

Plaintiffs filed a putative class action against Starbucks for allegedly violating California marijuana laws by asking prospective employees to disclose, on a preprinted form, whether they had suffered any marijuana convictions. Starbucks Corp. v. Superior Court, ___ Cal.App.4th ___ (Cal.App. April 25, 2011) [Slip Opn., at 2]. The class action complaint was premised on the fact that “[I]n the mid-1970s, the California Legislature reformed the state’s marijuana laws to require the ‘destruction’ by ‘permanent obliteration’ of all records of minor marijuana convictions that were more than two years old. Employers were prohibited from even asking about such convictions on their job applications, with statutory penalties of the greater of actual damages, or $200 per aggrieved applicant.” Id. The class action sought $26 million on behalf of 135,000 job applicants, alleging that Starbucks “failed to adequately advise job applicants not to disclose minor marijuana convictions more than two years old.” Id., at 2-3. During the litigation, the Court of Appeal held that the plaintiffs lacked standing to prosecute the class action “because none had any marijuana convictions to reveal.” Id., at 2 (citing Starbucks Corp. v. Superior Court (2008) 168 Cal.App.4th 1436). Accordingly, the trial court subsequently granted Starbuck’s motion for summary judgment and dismissed the named plaintiffs as class representatives. Id. However, rather than dismissing the lawsuit, the trial court ruled that plaintiffs could “file a first amended complaint to include only job applicants with marijuana convictions” as class members, and could “conduct further discovery to find a ‘suitable’ class representative.” Id. Toward that end, Starbucks was ordered “to randomly review job applications until it identifies job applicants with prior marijuana convictions” and to then disclose those names to plaintiffs’ counsel “unless they affirmatively opt out to a neutral administrator.” Id. Starbucks again sought writ review and the Court of Appeal reversed.

This case is surprisingly simple. As the Court of Appeal summarized its opinion, “By providing for the disclosure of job applicants with minor marijuana convictions, the discovery order ironically violates the very marijuana reform legislation the class action purports to enforce. We fail to understand how destroying applicants’ statutory privacy rights can serve to protect them.” Starbucks, at 2-3.

By way of background, the trial court believed plaintiffs had standing to prosecute this putative class action: “None of the plaintiffs had been convicted of a marijuana-related crime. But they contended that California law allowed any job applicant to receive a minimum statutory penalty of $200 per applicant if they filled out an improper job application.” Starbucks, at 3. The trial court agreed with plaintiffs, and found that every job applicant was entitled to receive the $200 statutory penalty “even those who never had sustained a marijuana conviction,” id. The appellate court disagreed, holding that “neither plaintiffs nor the tens of thousands of job applicants they purported to represent were entitled to recover statutory penalties where they did not have any marijuana convictions to disclose.” Id. Rather, “Only an individual with a marijuana-related conviction falls within the class of people the Legislature sought to protect.” (168 Cal.App.4th at 1449.)

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Posted On: May 4, 2011 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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Class Action Defense Cases–Mora v. Big Lots Stores: California Appellate Court Affirms Denial Of Class Action Treatment In Labor Law Misclassification Class Action Brought By Store Managers

Trial Court did not Abuse Discretion in Denying Class Action Certification of Store Manager Misclassification Claim because Individual Questions Predominate California Appellate Court Holds

Plaintiffs filed a putative class action against their former employer, Big Lots Stores, alleging violations of California’s Labor Code for failure to pay them overtime or to compensate them for missed meal and rest periods. Mora v. Big Lots Stores, Inc., ___ Cal.App.4th ___ (Cal.App. April 18, 2011) [Slip Opn., at 2]. According to the allegations underlying the class action complaint, defendant “uniformly misclassifies its store manager as exempt employees based on their job description alone rather than on consideration of actual work performed, which involves a significant amount of time on nonexempt tasks.” Id. Specifically, plaintiff’s class action complaint alleged that Big Lots operates “closeout retail stores in California, [and] has intentionally and improperly designated certain employees as ‘exempt’ store managers in order to avoid payment of overtime wages and other benefits required by [California law].” Id. Plaintiffs’ counsel moved to certify the litigation as a class action; the trial court denied the motion finding “the company does not operate its stores in a standardized manner and has no systematic practice of misclassification of managers.” Id. Plaintiffs appealed. The California Court of Appeal affirmed.

The evidence presented by both sides was substantial. Plaintiffs cited defendant’s deposition testimony to establish that Big Lots “classified all its store managers in California as falling within the ‘executive exemption’” as its basis for failing to pay them overtime or provide meal and rest breaks. Mora, at 4, Plaintiffs also submitted declarations from 44 putative class members to “demonstrate[] that the basic job duties of store managers in California are the same regardless of location and that Big Lots runs all its stores in the state in a uniform and standardized manner.” Id. These declarations also stated that “Strict compliance with corporate manuals and actions plans, which set forth state-wide policies and procedures, is required; and such compliance is ensured by district managers, who supervise all store managers.” Moreover, “training of store managers is standardized, and their job performance is evaluated on the same basis and on the same form regardless of purported store-to-store differences.” Id. The declarations “averred that store managers are primarily engaged in nonexempt activities and routinely work more than 40 hours per week,” and that they “typically spend more than 75% of their time performing the same physical labor and routine clerical tasks” as nonexempt employees. Id., at 4-5. Finally, plaintiffs submitted an expert declaration in support of their motion for class action treatment. Id., at 5-6.

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Posted On: May 3, 2011 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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Class Action Defense Cases–Madison v. Chalmette Refining: Fifth Circuit Court Reverses Class Action Certification Order For Failure Of District Court To Meaningfully Consider Trial Administration Issues

District Court Failed to Consider the Manner in which a Class Action Trial would Proceed Prior to Granting Class Action Treatment, Requiring Reversal of Class Action Certification for Abuse of Discretion Fifth Circuit Holds

Plaintiffs filed a putative class action against Chalmette Refining following the release of petroleum coke dust from the Chalmette Refinery. Madison v. Chalmette Refining, L.L.C., ___ F.3d ___ (5th Cir. April 24, 2011) [Slip Opn., at 2]. According to the allegations underlying the class action complaint, plaintiffs (a group of school children and their parent and teachers) were exposed to the petroleum coke dust while reenacting a battle at the Chalmette National Battlefield, located adjacent to the refinery. Id. The class action complaint sought damages for “personal injury, fear, anguish, discomfort, inconvenience, pain and suffering, emotional distress, psychiatric and psychological damages, evacuation, economic damages, and property damages.” Id. Consistent with Fifth Circuit authority, the district court allowed the parties to conduct pre-certification discovery relevant to the propriety of class action treatment. Id. Defense attorneys deposed the five named plaintiffs, but plaintiffs’ counsel elected not to conduct discovery. Id. Plaintiffs then sought class action certification of a Rule 23(b)(3) class, which defendant opposed. Id., at 2-3. “Over two years later, the district court held a hearing on the motion to certify the class. At the conclusion of that hearing, and without any evidence being introduced, the district court orally granted Plaintiffs’ motion.” Id., at 3. Defendant petitioned the Fifth Circuit for leave to take an interlocutory appeal, which the Fifth Circuit granted. Id. Two months later (and after the Fifth Circuit had granted defendant’s petition for interlocutory appeal), the district court issued a written order granting class certification. Id. The Circuit Court reversed.

After summarizing the requirements for class action treatment under Rule 23, see Madison, at 3-4, the Circuit Court opened its analysis at page 4 with the following observation: “Recognizing the important due process concerns of both plaintiffs and defendants inherent in the certification decision, the Supreme Court requires district courts to conduct a rigorous analysis of Rule 23 prerequisites.” The Fifth Circuit stressed that the moving party bears the burden of satisfying the requirements of Rule 23, and that the district court must take “‘a close look at the case before it is accepted as a class action.’” Id., at 4 (quoting Amchem Prods. v. Windsor, 521 U.S. 591, 613 (1997)). The lower court, however, failed to perform such an analysis. Rather, the district court found it sufficient that “there is one set of operative facts that [will] determine liability” because “Plaintiffs were either on the battlefield and exposed to the coke dust or they were not.” Id., at 6.

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Posted On: May 2, 2011 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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Class Action Defense Cases–Marlo v. United Parcel Service: Ninth Circuit Court Affirms District Court Order Decertifying Class Action In Labor Law Misclassification Case

District Court did not Abuse its Discretion in Decertifying Class Action Alleging Misclassification of Employees based on its Determination that Common Question of Law and Fact did not Exist Ninth Circuit Holds

Plaintiff filed a putative class action against his employer, United Parcel Service (UPS), alleging violations of California’s Labor Code for failure to pay him overtime or to compensate him for missed meal and rest periods. Marlo v. United Parcel Service, Inc., ___ F.3d ___ (9th Cir. April 28, 2011) [Slip Opn., at 5544]. According to the allegations underlying the class action complaint, plaintiff worked as a full-time supervisor (FTS) for UPS from 1999 to 2008, and “worked more than forty hours per week on a regular basis without taking meal or rest-period breaks, or receiving overtime compensation.” Id. Because he was an FTS, UPS classified plaintiff as exempt from California’s overtime law under the executive and administrative exemptions. Id. Plaintiff alleged that he had been misclassified, and sought and obtained an order certifying the litigation as a class action. Id. The district court subsequently granted summary judgment in favor of UPS, but the Ninth Circuit reversed finding that plaintiff “ha[d] raised material issues of fact related to whether the FTS ‘customarily and regularly exercise[] discretion and independent judgment.’” Id., at 5545 (quoting Marlo v. United Parcel Serv., Inc., 254 Fed. App’x. 568, 568 (9th Cir. 2007)). On remand, however, the district court decertified the class, finding that plaintiff “had failed to establish that common issues of law or fact predominated over individual ones” as required by Rule 23(b)(3). Id., at 5544. A juy returned a partial verdict in favor of plaintiff, finding that the executive and administrative exemptions did not apply to certain supervisorial positions plaintiff held. Id., at 5546. Both sides appealed. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the decertification order, id., at 5544.

The decertification order was based on “doubt regarding the continuing efficacy of a class action in this case.” Marlo, at 5545 (quoting Marlo v. United Parcel Serv., Inc., 251 F.R.D. 476, 480 (C.D. Cal. 2008)). In part, the district court reasoned that “the existence of a uniform policy classifying FTS as exempt is insufficient absent evidence of misclassification,” and that plaintiff “had relied heavily on a survey that was neither reliable nor representative of the class.” Id. (citations omitted). The court explained at 251 F.R.D. at 486,

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Posted On: April 28, 2011 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) Class Action Defense Cases–AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion: U.S. Supreme Court Reverses California’s Discover Bank Rule And Holds Class Action Waivers Valid And Enforceable In Arbitration Agreements

Class Action Waivers in Arbitration Agreements are Valid under Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) and California’s Discover Bank Rule, Which Found Such Waivers Unenforceable as Unconscionable Under State Law, is Preempted by the FAA Supreme Court Holds

Plaintiffs filed a putative class action in California federal court against AT&T Mobility, with whom they had cellular telephone service, alleging “false advertising and fraud by charging sales tax on phones it advertised as free.” AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion, ___ U.S. ___ (April 27, 2011) [Slip Opn., at 2-3]. According to the allegations underlying the class action complaint, plaintiffs purchased cellular telephone service from AT&T based on an advertisement for “free phones” because, even though they were not charged for the telephones, “they were charged $30.22 in sales tax based on the phones’ retail value.” Id. Defense attorneys moved to compel arbitration, id., at 3. The cellular telephone service contract required arbitration of disputes between the parties and included a class action waiver, providing that claims must be brought in a “individual capacity, and not as a plaintiff or class member in any purported class or representative proceeding.” Id., at 1. Plaintiffs opposed arbitration on the grounds that the class action waiver was unconscionable under California law. Id., at 3. Despite viewing the arbitration agreement “favorably,” the district court denied AT&T’s motion to compel arbitration because the class action waiver rendered the arbitration clause unconscionable under California law based on Discover Bank v. Superior Court, 36 Cal.4th 148 (Cal. 2005). Id. The Ninth Circuit affirmed, holding that “the Discover Bank rule was not preempted by the FAA because that rule was simply a ‘refinement of the unconscionability analysis applicable to contracts generally in California.’” Id., at 3-4 (citing Laster v. AT&T Mobility LLC, 584 F.3d 849, 857 (9th Cir. 2009). The Supreme Court granted certiorari and reversed.

The service agreement was consumer-friendly: It provided that a customer could initiate a dispute by filling out a one-page form available online, and if not resolved to the customer’s satisfaction within 30 days, the customer could initiate arbitration by filling out another form available online. If a customer commenced arbitration proceedings, the arbitration would be held “in the county in which the customer is billed” and AT&T was required to “pay all costs for nonfrivolous claims.” AT&T Mobility, at 2. (The customer could also elect to proceed in small claims court. Id.) Moreover, if the amount in dispute was less than $10,000, then the customer could elect whether the arbitration should be conducted “in person, by telephone, or based only on submissions.” Id. Additionally, “the arbitrator may award any form of individual relief, including injunctions and presumably punitive damages.” Id. AT&T was prohibited from seeking reimbursement of its attorney fees, and “in the event that a customer receives an arbitration award greater than AT&T’s last written settlement offer,” then the service agreement “requires AT&T to pay a $7,500 minimum recovery and twice the amount of the claimant’s attorney’s fees.” Id. (footnote omitted). Yet despite what appears to have been every effort to craft an arbitration clause favorable to its customer, albeit prohibiting class actions, the lower courts found the arbitration clause unconscionable and unenforceable under the Discover Bank rule. The Supreme Court reversed.

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Posted On: August 14, 2010 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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Cy Pres Class Action Defense Cases–In re American Tower: Massachusetts Federal Court Rejects Request To Distribute Class Action Settlement Cy Pres Funds To Non-Profit Organization

Distribution of Unclaimed Class Action Settlement Funds to Non-Profit Organization Unconnected to Harm Suffered by Class Members Inappropriate Massachusetts Federal Court Holds

Plaintiff filed a putative class action against American Tower Corp. alleging violations of federal securities laws and purported to be brought on behalf of “members of the public who were harmed by the securities fraud.” In re American Tower Corp. Securities Litig., 648 F.Supp.2d 223, 224-25 (D.Mass. 2010). Eventually, the parties negotiated a settlement of the class action which provided for the distribution of unclaimed funds through a cy pres fund. Id., at 224. Lead Plaintiff moved the district court for authorization to distribute the cy pres funds “to The Peggy Browning Fund, a private, nonsectarian, not-for-profit organization with 501(c)(3) tax-deductible status.” Id. The federal court denied the motion because plaintiff sought “to disburse settlement funds to a non-profit organization with little connection to the harms class members suffered,” id. Because the author has received numerous inquiries from defense and plaintiff counsel concerning the proper scope of a cy pres fund, we include this article on the district court’s ruling.

The district court noted that the proper inquiry was to “determine whether the Peggy Browning Fund is an appropriate recipient of any residual settlement funds” of the class action settlement. In re American Tower Corp., at 224. The court explained that the purpose of the use of a cy pres fund is effect a distribution of class action settlement funds “to a ‘next-best’ recipient” when it is impractical to distribute the settlement funds to the class members. Id., at 224-25 (citing In re Airline Ticket Commission Antitrust Litig., 268 F.3d 619, 626 (8th Cir.2001)). “‘In such cases, the court, guided by the parties' original purpose, directs that the unclaimed funds be distributed for the prospective benefit of the class.’” Id. (citation omitted). The federal court easily concluded, then, that the Peggy Browning Fund was “an inappropriate recipient of any unclaimed class funds.” Id. “Disbursement of unclaimed funds must have some relationship to the harm suffered by class members…. However, the Peggy Browning Fund focuses on labor issues…. Therefore, it does not appear that funds donated to the Peggy Browning Fund would benefit the class or address the harms suffered by class members.Id. (italics added). The district court therefore denied the motion, without prejudice to Lead Plaintiff renewing the request and noting that Lead Plaintiff “should, if possible, propose a national organization whose work relates to the harm suffered by class members in this case.” Id.

NOTE: The author notes that trial courts are far too willing to authorize the distribution of cy pres funds to practically any organization. In such cases, the courts appear to be more interested in punishing the defendant than in effecting a distribution of funds to the “next-best” recipient.

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Posted On: August 13, 2010 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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CAFA Class Action Defense Cases–In re Burlington Northern: Seventh Circuit Reverses Remand Of Former Class Action Holding Jurisdiction Under Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA) Determined At Time Of Removal Not After Amendment Of Complaint To Eliminate

Following Removal of Class Action to Federal Court under CAFA (Class Action Fairness Act), Plaintiffs Decision to Amend Complaint to Eliminate Class Action Allegations did not Destroy Federal Court Jurisdiction because Jurisdiction is Determined at Time of Removal and is not Affected by Subsequent Events Seventh Circuit Holds

Plaintiffs filed a putative class action in Wisconsin state court against Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Company and Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corporation alleging that defendants’ “failure to inspect and maintain a railroad trestle caused the town to flood in July 2007, damaging their property.” In re Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Co., 606 F.3d 379, 379-80 (7th Cir. 2010). Defense attorneys removed the class action to federal court under CAFA (Class Action Fairness Act); plaintiffs then amended the complaint to remove the class action allegations and the district court remanded the matter to state court on the ground that without the class action allegations federal court jurisdiction was lacking under CAFA. Id., at 379. Id. Defense attorneys sought leave to appeal the remand order; the Seventh Circuit granted the petition and reversed.

The Seventh Circuit noted that “the parties battled extensively over jurisdiction” in the district court. In re Burlington, at 380. Defense attorneys argued diversity jurisdiction existed because the joinder of the non-diverse individual employee defendants was fraudulent, but the district court found it to be tactical rather than fraudulent. Id. The district court agreed, however, that jurisdiction existed under CAFA, and denied plaintiffs’ first motion to remand. Id. Plaintiffs thereafter sought and obtained leave of court to amend the complaint to remove the class action allegations. Id. The federal court also considered the motion to amend to be “an implied motion to remand the case, which it granted.” Id. In the district court’s view, because the amended complaint did not contain any class action allegations, jurisdiction under CAFA no longer existed. Id.

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

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Cy Pres Class Action Defense Cases–In re American Tower: Massachusetts Federal Court Rejects Request To Distribute Class Action Settlement Cy Pres Funds To Non-Profit Organization

Distribution of Unclaimed Class Action Settlement Funds to Non-Profit Organization Unconnected to Harm Suffered by Class Members Inappropriate Massachusetts Federal Court Holds

Plaintiff filed a putative class action against American Tower Corp. alleging violations of federal securities laws and purported to be brought on behalf of “members of the public who were harmed by the securities fraud.” In re American Tower Corp. Securities Litig., 648 F.Supp.2d 223, 224-25 (D.Mass. 2010). Eventually, the parties negotiated a settlement of the class action which provided for the distribution of unclaimed funds through a cy pres fund. Id., at 224. Lead Plaintiff moved the district court for authorization to distribute the cy pres funds “to The Peggy Browning Fund, a private, nonsectarian, not-for-profit organization with 501(c)(3) tax-deductible status.” Id. The federal court denied the motion because plaintiff sought “to disburse settlement funds to a non-profit organization with little connection to the harms class members suffered,” id. Because the author has received numerous inquiries from defense and plaintiff counsel concerning the proper scope of a cy pres fund, we include this article on the district court’s ruling.

The district court noted that the proper inquiry was to “determine whether the Peggy Browning Fund is an appropriate recipient of any residual settlement funds” of the class action settlement. In re American Tower Corp., at 224. The court explained that the purpose of the use of a cy pres fund is effect a distribution of class action settlement funds “to a ‘next-best’ recipient” when it is impractical to distribute the settlement funds to the class members. Id., at 224-25 (citing In re Airline Ticket Commission Antitrust Litig., 268 F.3d 619, 626 (8th Cir.2001)). “‘In such cases, the court, guided by the parties' original purpose, directs that the unclaimed funds be distributed for the prospective benefit of the class.’” Id. (citation omitted). The federal court easily concluded, then, that the Peggy Browning Fund was “an inappropriate recipient of any unclaimed class funds.” Id. “Disbursement of unclaimed funds must have some relationship to the harm suffered by class members…. However, the Peggy Browning Fund focuses on labor issues…. Therefore, it does not appear that funds donated to the Peggy Browning Fund would benefit the class or address the harms suffered by class members.Id. (italics added). The district court therefore denied the motion, without prejudice to Lead Plaintiff renewing the request and noting that Lead Plaintiff “should, if possible, propose a national organization whose work relates to the harm suffered by class members in this case.” Id.

NOTE: The author notes that trial courts are far too willing to authorize the distribution of cy pres funds to practically any organization. In such cases, the courts appear to be more interested in punishing the defendant than in effecting a distribution of funds to the “next-best” recipient.

Download PDF file of In re American Tower Corp. Securities Litigation

Posted On: July 16, 2010 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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Class Action Defense Cases–In re General Mills: Judicial Panel On Multidistrict Litigation (MDL) Denies Defense Motion To Centralize Class Action Litigation

Judicial Panel Denies Defense Request for Pretrial Coordination of Class Action Lawsuits Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. — 1407, Agreeing With Objections of Class Action Plaintiffs that Alternatives to Centralization Exist to Avoid Duplicate Discovery

Four class actions were filed against General Mills – one each in California, Florida, New Jersey and Ohio – arising out of defendant’s marketing of its Yo-Plus and/or Yo-Plus Light yogurts. In re General Mills, Inc., YoPlus Yogurt Prod. Marketing & Sales Prac. Litig., ___ F.Supp.2d ___ (Jud.Pan.Mult.Lit. June 8, 2010) [Slip Opn., at 1]. Each class action sought to represent only a statewide class, id. Defense attorneys 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 Southern District of Florida; plaintiffs in each of the class actions opposed pretrial coordination. Id. While the Judicial Panel recognized that the class actions “do share some factual questions regarding General Mills’s nationwide marketing of its Yo-Plus and/or

Yo-Plus Light yogurt,” the Florida class action was “already certified as a statewide class of all persons who purchased Yo-Plus yogurt in Florida to obtain its claimed digestive benefits.” Id. Moreover, “The other three actions seek similar putative statewide classes encompassing consumers from different states. Accordingly, the certified and putative classes will likely not overlap significantly.” Id. Finally, in light of the fact that General Mills was the sole defendant, “the parties have every ability to cooperate and minimize the possibilities of duplicative discovery and/or inconsistent pretrial rulings.” Id. Accordingly, the Judicial Panel denied the motion to centralize the class actions. Id., at 2.

Download PDF file of In re General Mills, Inc., YoPlus Yogurt Prod. Marketing & Sales Prac. Litigation Transfer Order Posted In: Multidistrict Litigation, Class Action Court Decisions

Posted On: July 15, 2010 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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Class Action Defense Cases–American Honda v. Allen: Seventh Circuit Court Reverses Class Action Certification Order Holding District Court’s Daubert Analysis Inadequate And Expert Testimony Inadmissible

District Court Erred in Granting Class Action Certification because Expert Testimony Establishing Rule 23(b)(3)’s Predominance Prong was Unreliable and District Court’s Daubert Analysis Inadequate Seventh Circuit Holds

Plaintiffs filed a putative class action against American Honda and Honda of America (collectively “Honda”) alleging product defect liability concerning Honda’s Gold Wing GL1800 motorcycle; specifically, the class action complaint alleged that a design defect in the steering assembly causes the motorcycle to “wobble.” American Honda Motor Co., Inc. v. Allen, 600 F.3d 813, 814 (7th Cir. 2010). Plaintiffs moved the district court to certify the litigation as a class action under Rule 23(b)(3), relying heavily on an expert’s opinion that common issues predominate; Honda opposed class action treatment and challenged the expert opinion relied upon by plaintiffs in their motion. Id. Defense attorneys moved under Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharms., Inc., 509 U.S. 579 (1993), to strike plaintiffs’ expert report on the grounds that the expert’s “wobble decay standard was unreliable because it was not supported by empirical testing, was not developed through a recognized standard-setting procedure, was not generally accepted in the relevant scientific, technical, or professional community, and was not the product of independent research.” Id. The district court agreed to rule on the admissibility of the report prior to ruling on class certification because the report was central to the motion, id. But while the court announced “definite reservations about the reliability of [the expert’s] wobble decay standard,” it refused to exclude the report entirely “at this early stage of the proceedings.” Id., at 814-15. The district court granted class action certification, id., at 815, and Honda sought leave to appeal, id., at 814. The Seventh Circuit granted Honda’s request and reversed.

The Circuit Court explained that the issue before it was “whether the district court must conclusively rule on the admissibility of an expert opinion prior to class certification in this case because that opinion is essential to the certification decision.” American Honda, at 814. The Court summarized the expert’s “wobble decay” opinion, which was based on a standard the expert himself had devised and that he himself characterized as “reasonable.” Id. The expert opinion was important because “most of Plaintiffs' predominance arguments rest upon the theories advanced by [their expert].” Id. (quoting Allen v. Am. Honda Motor Co., 264 F.R.D. 412, 425 (N.D. Ill. 2009)). In response to Honda’s objections and following the Daubert hearing, the district court “noted that it was concerned that, among other things, [the expert’s] wobble decay standard may not be supported by empirical evidence, the standard has not been generally accepted by the engineering community, and [his] test sample of one may be inadequate to conclude that the entire fleet of GL1800s is defective.” Id., at 814-15. Nevertheless, the lower court believed it was too early in the litigation to dismiss the4 expert’s opinion in its entirety, and so it granted class action treatment without prejudice to Honda moving to exclude the expert’s opinion. Id., at 815.

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Posted On: July 14, 2010 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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CAFA Class Action Defense Cases–Moffitt v. Residential Funding: Fourth Circuit Court Affirms District Court Order Denying Remand Of Class Actions Holding CAFA Jurisdiction Existed At Time Remand Motions Filed

Even if Defendants Removed Class Actions to Federal Court Prematurely, Subsequent Class Action Complaints Filed by Plaintiffs Prior to Filing Motion for Remand Established Federal Court Jurisdiction under Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA) so District Court did not Err in Denying Motion to Remand Class Actions to State Court Fourth Circuit Holds

In 2003, three plaintiffs filed individual state court lawsuits against various defendants, including Residential Funding, “alleging violations of the Maryland Secondary Mortgage Loan Law.” Moffitt v. Residential Funding Co., LLC, ___ F.3d ___ (4th Cir. May 3, 2010) [Slip Opn., at 1, 4]. The lawsuits were dismissed in 2006 on statute of limitations grounds, “[b]ut in 2009, the Maryland Court of Appeals reversed, permitting the cases to go forward.” Id., at 4 (citation omitted). Plaintiffs’ counsel then advised the various defendants, in writing, “that plaintiffs intended to amend their individual complaints into class actions.” Id. Plaintiffs’ counsel also provided defendants with copies of the three anticipated class action complaints. Id. The draft class action lawsuits alleged that the putative class covered “thousands of members” and, though they did not pray for a specific amount in damages, the cover letter estimated that the damage suffered by each class member ranged from $20,000 to $90,000. Id. Believing that the draft complaint constituted “other paper[s]” within the meaning of 28 U.S.C. § 1446(b) and that the draft class action complaints established federal jurisdiction under the Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA), and “[f]earing that the thirty-day deadline would expire before plaintiffs actually filed the amended complaints,” defense attorneys removed the lawsuits to federal court. Id. Plaintiffs’ counsel thereafter filed the amended class action complaints in the federal court, id., at 4-5, and “defendants filed motions for leave to amend their original notices of removal in order to base removal on plaintiffs’ actual filing of the complaints,” id., at 5. Plaintiffs then moved to remand the class actions to state court, id., at 5. Plaintiffs’ counsel conceded that the amended class action complaints fell within the scope of CAFA for purposes of federal court jurisdiction, but they argued that the removals were premature because neither the letter nor the draft class action complaints constituted “other paper[s]” within the meaning of § 1446(b). Id. The district court denied the motion, id. Plaintiffs obtained leave to appeal the district court’s order, id., at 5-6, and the Fourth Circuit affirmed.

The Circuit Court began its analysis by observing that it “need not decide whether the cases were improperly removed” because even if they were “the amended complaints provided an independent basis for the district court to retain jurisdiction.” Moffitt, at 3. Plaintiffs’ “principal argument” is that federal court jurisdiction “did not exist at the time of removal,” accordingly, the motion for remand should have been granted. Id., at 6. The Fourth Circuit recognized that the removal statute requires the case be subject to federal court adjudication “at the time the removal petition is filed,” id. (citation omitted), but held that “the mere fact that a case does not meet this timing requirement is not ‘fatal to federal-court adjudication’ where jurisdictional defects are subsequently cured.” Id. (citation omitted). It was therefore unnecessary for the Court to decide whether federal court jurisdiction over the cases existed at the time defense counsel removed them to federal court, because “plaintiffs independently conferred jurisdiction on the district court by filing their amended class action complaints prior to moving to remand.” Id., at 7. The Circuit Court also reasoned, “Requiring pointless movement between state and federal court before a case is tried on the merits can…impose significant costs on both courts and litigants[,]” and “Here, it would be a waste of judicial resources to remand these cases on the basis of an antecedent violation of the removal statute now that jurisdiction has been established.” Id., at 8. Put simply, the Fourth Circuit found that “these cases would likely end up in federal court regardless of whether we ordered remands at this juncture.” Id. Thus, “considerations of judicial economy weigh against requiring such a pointless exercise and in favor of allowing this case to go forward in a federal forum where jurisdiction has been perfected.” Id. The Circuit Court therefore affirmed the district court order denying plaintiffs’ motion to remand the class actions to state court, id., at 9.

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Posted On: July 13, 2010 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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Class Action Defense Cases–Hershey v. Energy Transfer Partners: Fifth Circuit Court Affirms Dismissal Of Class Action Complaint Under Commodities Exchange Act Holding Plaintiffs Failed To Adequately Allege Specific Intent

As Matter of First Impression in Circuit, Class Action Claims under CEA (Commodities Exchange Act) Required Allegation of Specific Intent to Manipulate Natural Gas Prices at a Specific Location/for a Specific NYMEX Contract, so District Court Properly Dismissed Class Action Complaint Fifth Circuit Holds

Plaintiffs filed a putative class action against Energy Transfer Partners and its affiliates alleging that they manipulated the price of natural gas futures and options in violation of the Commodities Exchange Act (CEA). Hershey v. Energy Transfer Partners, L.P., ___ F.3d ___, 2010 WL 2510122, *1 (5th Cir. June 23, 2010). According to the allegations underlying the class action complaint, plaintiffs bought and sold natural gas futures and options on the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX), and sought “to represent a class of natural gas futures and options contracts traders.” Id. The class action alleged that defendants “manipulate[ed] the price of natural gas delivered at the Houston Ship Channel (‘HSC’) and alleged economic harm to [plaintiffs’] NYMEX natural gas futures contracts caused by that manipulation.” Id. Defense attorneys moved to dismiss the class action on the ground that the CEA required plaintiffs to allege that defendants specifically intended to manipulate NYMEX natural gas futures contracts; the district court agreed and dismissed the complaint. Id., at *1, *4. Plaintiffs appealed and the Fifth Circuit affirmed.

We do not here summarize the natural gas futures market. See Hershey, at *1-*2. The issue presented, as a matter of first impression in the Fifth Circuit, was whether defendants were correct in arguing that in order to assert a claim under the CEA plaintiffs were required “to allege that Defendants specifically intended to manipulate the price of natural gas” at a specific location (the Henry Hub) thereby satisfying the requirement under the CEA “that the manipulation be specifically directed toward the underlying commodity of the contract.” Id., at *4. And the district court was considering this defense against a backdrop of regulatory action in that defendants previously had paid $10 million to the Commodities Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) and $30 million to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to settle claims that defendants “created and then exploited price differences between the HSC and the Henry Hub, a major confluence of natural gas pipelines and the settlement price for all NYMEX natural gas futures contracts.” Id., *1, *3. Not surprisingly, plaintiffs’ class action complaint “substantially mirror[ed] the allegations in regulatory actions against Defendants by the CFTC and FERC.” Id., at *3.

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

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iPhone Class Action Defense Cases–Apple and AT&T Mobility Antitrust Litigation: California Federal Court Certifies Nationwide Class Action Against Apple And AT&T On iPhone Antitrust Claims

Class Action Complaint Against Apple and AT&T for Antitrust Violations in Connection with Sale and Marketing of iPhone Warranted Class Action Treatment California Federal Court Holds

Plaintiffs filed a putative nationwide class action against Apple and AT&T Mobility (ATTM) alleging federal antitrust violations; specifically, the class action complaint alleged “monopolization in violation of Section 2 of the Sherman Act, violation of the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, 15 U.S.C. §§ 2301, et seq., and violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1030.” In re Apple & ATTM Antitrust Litig., ___ F.Supp.3d ___ (N.D.Cal. July 8, 2010) [Slip Opn., at 1]. The district court summarized the allegations underlying the class action complaint at page 1 as follows: “Plaintiffs allege that although they were required to purchase a two-year service agreement with ATTM when they purchased their iPhones, Apple and ATTM had secretly agreed to technologically restrict voice and data service in the aftermarket for continued voice and data services for five years, i.e., after Plaintiffs’ initial two-year service period expired. Plaintiffs also allege that Apple monopolized the aftermarket for third party software applications for the iPhone, and that Apple caused the iPhone to become unusable if it detected that a customer had “unlocked” their iPhone for use with other service providers.” Defense attorneys for Apple moved for summary judgment with respect to the class action’s iPhone Operating System Version 1.1.1 claims, which the district court granted. Id., at 2. We do not here discuss that portion of the court order. Rather, as part of the same order, the district court considered plaintiffs’ motion to certify the litigation as a class action; the district court granted class action treatment to the lawsuit. Id. It is the class action certification portion of the decision that we discuss below.

Plaintiff’s class action certification motion sought to certify the litigation on behalf of a nationwide class defined as follows: “All persons who purchased or acquired an iPhone in the United States and entered into a two-year agreement with Defendant AT&T Mobility, LLC for iPhone voice and data service any time from June 29, 2007, to the present.” In re Apple, at 12-13. (The motion additionally sought certification of a sub-class defined as “All iPhone customers whose iPhones were ‘bricked’ by [Apple] at any time during the Class Period.” Id., at 13. However, the district court granted Apple’s motion for summary judgment on the “bricking” claim, so the court did not address the sub-class. Id.) The federal court noted that with respect to Rule 23(a)’s requirements for class action certification, Apple and ATTM did not contest numerosity, see id., at 13-14, nor did they contest adequacy of representation, see id., at 21-22. But defendants argued that the commonality and typicality requirements of Rule 23(a) had not been met, and that Rule 23(b) had not been met.

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