Articles Posted in Certification of Class Actions

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Bankruptcy Court had Jurisdiction to Certify Debtor-Class Action Against Wells Fargo but Prerequisites for Class Action Certification under Rule 23(b) were not Satisfied, Particularly with Respect to Damages Fifth Circuit Holds

The three named plaintiffs in this action (Judy Wilborn, Karlton and Monica Flournoy, and Judy Martin) filed Chapter 13 bankruptcy petitions in Texas. In re Wilborn, ___ F.3d ___ (5th Cir. June 18, 2010) [Slip Opn., at 1-2]. According to the allegations underlying the class action complaint, plaintiffs have home loans that are held or serviced by Wells Fargo Bank, and they allege that the Bank “charged, or charged and collected, unreasonable and unapproved post-petition professional fees and costs during the pendency of their bankruptcies.” Id., at 2. The fees and costs challenged by the class action – which “include such things as bankruptcy attorneys’ fees, recording fees, notification fees, title search fees, document fees, and property inspection fees” – are permitted under each plaintiff’s loan documents. Id. Nonetheless, plaintiffs’ class action complaint accused the Bank of engaging in a pattern and practice of charging such fees in violation of bankruptcy laws on the theory that “Wells Fargo’s failure to disclose these fees to the bankruptcy court interferes with their ability to complete their Chapter 13 reorganization plans and emerge from bankruptcy having cured all arrearages.” Id. Plaintiffs also object to the fact that these fees and costs continued to accumulate during the pendency of the bankruptcy even though Wells Fargo received distributions from the Chapter 13 Trustee in accord with the individual bankruptcy plans. Id. The class action complaint acknowledged that the Bank charged plaintiffs fees that it had incurred both prior to and after confirmation of the bankruptcy plans, that the fees ranged from $1200 to $4000, and that in some instances at least a portion of the fees were approved by the bankruptcy court. Id., at 3. Plaintiffs moved the bankruptcy court to certify their complaint as a class action; the bankruptcy court granted the motion, certifying a class that consisted of more than 1200 members. Id., at 3-4. The bankruptcy court certified its class action certification order for direct appeal to the Fifth Circuit, and Wells Fargo also petitioned the Circuit Court for permission to appeal the certification order. Id., at 4. The Fifth Circuit granted the Bank’s petition for an interlocutory appeal and reversed the class action certification order. The Court concluded that “a bankruptcy judge may certify a class of debtors under appropriate circumstances but that the proposed class in this case does not satisfy the requirements of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23 and Federal Bankruptcy Rule of Procedure 7023.” Id., at 2.

The Fifth Circuit explained that the appeal presented two issues: “The questions at issue are whether a bankruptcy judge may certify a class action comprised of debtor-plaintiffs, and if so, whether the class certification in this case was proper.” In re Wilborn, at 1-2. Wells Fargo first challenged whether the bankruptcy court had jurisdiction to enter the class certification order, id., at 4. While the Circuit Court recognized that “there has been disagreement among courts as to whether a bankruptcy judge may certify a class action of debtors,” id., at 8, it had no difficulty in holding that the bankruptcy court had jurisdiction over the putative class action, see id., at 4-9. The central issue on appeal, then, was whether the prerequisites for class certification under Rule 23 had been met. Id., at 9.

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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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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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Labor Law Class Action Alleging Wal-Mart Discriminates Against Female Employees in Violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 Properly Certified As Nationwide Class Action by District Court Ninth Circuit Holds

Plaintiffs filed a class action against Wal-Mart alleging violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; specifically, the class action complaint alleged that Wal-Mart discriminates against its female employees. Dukes v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., ___ F.3d ___ (9th Cir. April 26, 2010) [Slip Opn., at 6137, 6146]. According to the allegations underlying the class action complaint (originally filed in 2004), Wal-Mart discriminated against women employees in violation of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act because “women employed in Wal-Mart stores: (1) are paid less than men in comparable positions, despite having higher performance ratings and greater seniority; and (2) receive fewer—and wait longer for—promotions to in-store management positions than men.” Id., at 6147. The class action complaint sought to represent a nationwide class on the grounds “that Wal-Mart’s strong, centralized structure fosters or facilitates gender stereotyping and discrimination, that the policies and practices underlying this discriminatory treatment are consistent throughout Wal-Mart stores, and that this discrimination is common to all women who work or have worked in Wal-Mart stores.” Id. The proposed class included “women employed in a range of Wal-Mart positions, from part-time entry-level hourly employees to salaried managers.” Id. Plaintiffs’ counsel moved the district court to certify the litigation as a class action, defined as “All women employed at any Wal-Mart domestic retail store at any time since December 26, 1998 who have been or may be subjected to Wal-Mart’s challenged pay and management track promotions policies and practices.” Id., at 6148. Defense attorneys opposed class certification and stressed that the proposed class would consist of as many as 1.5 million current and former employees who worked at 3,400 stores in 41 regions. Id., at 6148 and n.3. The district court granted the motion and certified the litigation as a class action, id., at 6146-47. The Ninth Circuit affirmed. The Circuit Court opinion is quite lengthy, so we simply “hit the highlights” in this article. Defense attorneys may contact the author of the Blog for a more detailed discussion of the case.

The Ninth Circuit spent a considerable amount of time discussing the standard governing district court consideration of class certification under Rule 23 and clarified the “proper standard of Rule 23 adjudication.” See Dukes, at 6149-83. This analysis includes a discussion, and rejection, of the dissent’s “significant proof” standard. See id., at 6177-83. The Circuit Court then turned to the merits of the Rule 23 analysis, beginning with Rule 23(a)(1)’s numerosity requirement, which was not contested given the enormous size of the class. Id., at 6185. The Court also found that Wal-Mart had not waived its right to object to Rule 23(a)(3)’s typicality requirement, see id., at 6209-10, but concluded that the district court did not err in finding that the named-plaintiffs’ claims were sufficiently typical of those of the class: “Even though individual employees in different stores with different managers may have received different levels of pay or may have been denied promotion or promoted at different rates, because the discrimination they claim to have suffered occurred through alleged common practices—e.g., excessively subjective decision making in a corporate culture of uniformity and gender stereotyping—the district court did not abuse its discretion by finding that their claims are sufficiently typical to satisfy Rule 23(a)(3).” Id., at 6210. Moreover, “because all female employees faced the same alleged discrimination, the lack of a class representative for each management category does not undermine Plaintiffs’ certification goal.” Id., at 6211. And the Ninth Circuit found no difficulty in finding that the adequacy of representation test in Rule 23(a)(4) had been met. Id., at 6212.

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District Court Erred in Dismissing Class Action Based on New York law Barring Class Actions that Seek Penalties or Statutory Damages because the Statute is Incompatible with Rule 23’s Mandate Allowing Class Action Certification if Requirements are Met Supreme Court Holds

Plaintiff, a medical care provider, filed a class action in New York federal court against Allstate Insurance; the class action complaint alleged that plaintiff provided medical care to an Allstate insured and accepted an assignment of the insured’s rights to benefits of her Allstate policy, and that Allstate paid benefits under the policy “but not on time, and it refused to pay the statutory interest that accrued on the overdue benefits (at two percent per month).” Shady Grove Orthopedic Associates, P.A. v. Allstate Ins. Co., ___ U.S. ___, 130 S.Ct.1431, 2010 WL 1222272, *3 (March 31, 2010). (The class action asserted federal court jurisdiction under the Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA), id. n.3.) According to the allegations underlying the class action complaint, “Allstate routinely refuses to pay interest on overdue benefits” so plaintiff “sought relief on behalf of itself and a class of all others to whom Allstate owes interest.” Id. Defense attorneys moved to dismiss the class action for lack of jurisdiction on the grounds that New York law, § 901(b), prohibits class actions which seek only to recover “penalties” as damages. Id. Defense attorneys moved to dismiss the class action complaint, id. The district court granted the motion, concluding that statutory interest constituted a “penalty” under § 901(b), and dismissed the class action. See 466 F.Supp.2d 467 (2006). On appeal, the Second Circuit held that no conflict existed between § 901(b) and Rule 23 because they address different issues; accordingly, the Circuit Court affirmed the dismissal of the class action. See 549 F.3d 137 (2008). The Supreme Court granted certiorari and, in a sharply divided decision, reversed.

The Supreme Court explained, “New York law prohibits class actions in suits seeking penalties or statutory minimum damages.” Shady Grove, at *3 and n.1 (citing N.Y. Civ. Prac. Law Ann. § 901(b) (West 2006) [“Unless a statute creating or imposing a penalty, or a minimum measure of recovery specifically authorizes the recovery thereof in a class action, an action to recover a penalty, or minimum measure of recovery created or imposed by statute may not be maintained as a class action.”]). The issue before the Court was “whether this precludes a federal district court sitting in diversity from entertaining a class action under [Rule 23].” Id. The High Court explained the framework for its analysis as follows: “We must first determine whether Rule 23 answers the question in dispute…. If it does, it governs-New York’s law notwithstanding-unless it exceeds statutory authorization or Congress’s rulemaking power…. We do not wade into Erie‘s murky waters unless the federal rule is inapplicable or invalid….” Id., at *4 (citations omitted).

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District Court Denial of Class Action Certification on Grounds that Individuals Issues will Predominate over Common Issues Contradicted by Defense Arguments on Appeal that it will Raise Common Challenges in Individual Lawsuits First Circuit Holds

Plaintiffs filed a class action against Bouchard Transportation arising out of an oil spill in Buzzards Bay in southeastern Massachusetts; the class action complaint alleged Massachusetts state law claims for “strict liability for damage to real property on the owner of a vessel from which oil has spilled” and for “negligent discharge of petroleum,” and a common law claim for nuisance. Gintis v. Bouchard Transp. Co., ___ F.3d ___ (1st Cir. February 23, 2010) [Slip Opn., at 2, 3]. According to the allegations underlying the class action complaint, in 2003 a fuel barge owned and operated by defendant strayed off course in Buzzards Bay and struck a reef, spilling 98,000 barrels of oil and contaminating 90 miles of the shore. Id., at 2. Defendants engaged in government-supervised cleanup operations that were completed in October 2006, id., at 2-3, Plaintiffs owned “residential waterfront property on the bay,” id., at 2. Plaintiffs moved the district court to certify the litigation as a class action; the district court denied class action treatment concluding that individual issues would predominate. Id., at 3-4. Specifically, the district court observed that defendant “has not conceded liability to any individual plaintiffs, that on the public nuisance claim plaintiffs must show both unreasonable interference and special injury to each claimant, and that plaintiffs must establish compensatory damages specific to each piece of property.” Id., at 4. The First Circuit reversed.

The Circuit Court noted that the district court’s class action certification determination had “relied heavily on the denial of class certification in Church v. General Electric Co., 138 F. Supp. 2d 169 (D. Mass. 2001), which had stressed that recovery for contamination of land downstream from a point of toxic discharge into a river would require parcel-by-parcel determinations as to injury and damages.” Gintis, at 4. The First Circuit concluded, however, that Church “does not support a general rule that pollution torts charged against a single defendant escape class treatment on the ground that the requirements to show injury, cause and compensatory amount must be sustainable as to specific plaintiffs.” Id., at 5. On the contrary, “If that were the law, the point of the Rule 23(b)(3) provision for class treatment would be blunted beyond utility, as every plaintiff must show specific entitlement to recovery, and still Rule 23 has to be read to authorize class actions in some set of cases where seriatim litigation would promise such modest recoveries as to be economically impracticable.” Id. (citation omitted). The Circuit Court also observed that several cases “in the same genre go the other way.” Id., at 5-6 (citations omitted).

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District Court Erred in Denying Class Action Certification Motion in Class Action Alleging Violations of Hawaii’s Deceptive Practice Act because Hawaii Case Law Establishes that Individualized Reliance need not be Shown so Common Questions Predominated over Individual Questions Ninth Circuit Holds

Plaintiff filed a putative class action against Midland National Life Insurance Company alleging violations of Hawaii’s Deceptive Practices Act; specifically, the class action complaint alleged that the brochures prepared by Midland to market annuities to senior citizens violated Hawaii law. Yokoyama v. Midland National Life Ins. Co., ___ F.3d ___ (9th Cir. February 8, 2010) [Slip Opn., at 2127, 2130]. (Similar class actions had been filed against Midland, but this class action was exempted by the order of the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation which centralized the other class actions in the Central District of California “, because this action has been narrowly tailored to rely only on Hawaii law.” Id., at 2130-31.) Plaintiff moved the district court to certify the litigation as a class action; defense attorneys opposed class action treatment on the ground, inter alia, that plaintiff failed to establish the predominance and superiority requirements for a Rule 23(b)(3) class. Id., at 2131. “The district court denied class certification, holding that in order to succeed under the Hawaii Act, each plaintiff would have to show subjective, individualized reliance on deceptive practices within the circumstances of each plaintiff’s purchase of the annuity.” Id. (citing Yokoyama v. Midland Nat’l Life Ins. Co., 243 F.R.D. 400 (D. Haw. 2007)). Plaintiffs appealed the denial of class action certification, id. The Ninth Circuit reversed.

The Ninth Circuit began its analysis with the following observation: “The dispositive issue is…whether Hawaii’s Deceptive Practices Act requires a showing of individualized reliance.” Yokoyama, at 2131. The district court concluded that common issues did not predominate because of the individual inquiries inherent in determining reliance: “The district court refused to certify a class in this case because it determined that Hawaii’s consumer protection laws require individualized reliance showings. Believing that the plaintiffs’ claims would ‘require inspection of whether the class members individually relied on Midland’s misstatements,’ the district court concluded that class issues do not predominate over issues affecting individual members.” See id., at 2138. In so ruling, the district court misinterpreted Hawaii law. The Ninth Circuit explained that, under Hawaii law, individual proof of reliance was unnecessary. “The Hawaii Supreme Court has considered the issue of whether the statute requires actual, i.e., subjective reliance. It has said that the dispositive issue is whether the allegedly deceptive practice is “likely to mislead consumers acting reasonably under the circumstances.” [Citation.] “[A]ctual deception need not be shown, the capacity to deceive is sufficient.” [Citation.] This is an objective test, and therefore actual reliance need not be established. Accordingly, there is no reason to look at the circumstances of each individual purchase in this case, because the allegations of the complaint are narrowly focused on allegedly deceptive provisions of Midland’s own marketing brochures, and the fact-finder need only determine whether those brochures were capable of misleading a reasonable consumer.” Id., at 2131. See also, id., at 2136-38. More specifically, the Circuit Court explained, “These plaintiffs base their lawsuit only on what Midland did not disclose to them in its forms. The jury will not have to determine whether each plaintiff subjectively relied on the omissions, but will instead have to determine only whether those omissions were likely to deceive a reasonable person. This does not involve an individualized inquiry.” Id., at 2138-39. The Ninth Circuit held, therefore, that the district court abused its discretion in denying class action treatment because its decision was premised on a legal error. Id.

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In Case Removed to Federal Court under Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA), District Court Erred in Remanding Class Action Complaint to State Court Following Denial of Class Action Treatment because Jurisdiction is Generally Determined at Time Complaint is Filed and Class Action Allegations were not Frivolous Seventh Circuit Holds

Plaintiff filed a putative class action in Illinois state court against Learjet alleging breach of warranty and product liability claims; the class action complaint sought to represent all purchasers of Learjets “who had received the same warranty from the manufacturer that [plaintiff] had received.” Cunningham Charter Corp. v. Learjet, Inc., 592 F.3d 805 (7th Cir. 2010) [Slip Opn., at 1]. Defense attorneys removed the class action to federal court under CAFA (the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005), id., at 1-2. Plaintiff then moved the district court to certify two classes, but the court denied class action treatment “on the ground that neither proposed class satisfied the criteria for certification set forth in Rule 23.” Id., at 2. The federal court then ruled that the denial of the class action certification motion removed federal court jurisdiction under CAFA and remanded the complaint to state court. Id. Defendant petitioned the Seventh Circuit for leave to appeal the remand order; the Circuit Court granted the petition “to resolve an issue under the Class Action Fairness Act that this court has not heretofore had to resolve.” Id. The Circuit Court reversed.

The Seventh Circuit explained that CAFA creates federal court diversity jurisdiction in cases of minimal diversity; that is, “over certain class actions in which at least one member of the class is a citizen of a different state from any defendant (that is, in which diversity may not be complete).” Learjet, at 2. CAFA expressly applies “to any class action [within the Act’s scope] before or after the entry of a class certification order.” Id. (quoting § 1332(d)(8)). The Circuit Court explained that CAFA implies an “expectation” of class certification in that a district court should remand a putative class action to state court if “it would have been certain from the outset of the litigation that no class could be certified.” Id., at 3. On the other hand, “jurisdiction attaches when a suit is filed as a class action, and that invariably precedes certification.” Id. The Circuit Court concluded, therefore, “All that section 1332(d)(1)(C) means is that a suit filed as a class action cannot be maintained as one without an order certifying the class. That needn’t imply that unless the class is certified the court loses jurisdiction of the case.” Id.

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Class Action under California’s Unfair Competition Law (UCL) and Consumer Legal Remedies Act (CLRA) Arising out of Merck’s Manufacture and Marketing of Vioxx Properly Denied Class Action Certification because Evidence Supported Trial Court’s Conclusion that Individual Issues Predominate Over Common Issues California Appellate Court Holds

Plaintiffs filed a putative class action in California state court against Merck arising out of its manufacture and marketing of Vioxx, which Merck pulled from the market in September 2004 after a study revealed an increased risk of cardiovascular problems associated with the drug; specifically, the class action complaint alleged causes of action for violations of California’s Unfair Competition Law (UCL) and Consumer Legal Remedies Act (CLRA) and alleging unjust enrichment. In re Vioxx Class Cases, 180 Cal.App.4th 116, 103 Cal.Rptr.3d 83, 87-88 (Cal.App. December 15, 2009). According to the allegations underlying the class action complaint, plaintiffs did not “suffer[] any adverse effects from taking Vioxx” but, they alleged, Merck was liable for false advertising and for marketing a drug that was “less safe than other, less expensive, pain relievers.” Id., at 87; see also id., at 89-90. Plaintiffs moved the trial court to certify the litigation as a class action, id., at 90; defense attorneys opposed class action treatment on the grounds that individual issues would predominate over questions common to the putative class and that the claims of the named representatives were not typical. Id., at 91-92. The trial court agreed with Merck and denied class action certification. Id., at 92-93. In part, the trial court found that the named plaintiffs (who were individuals) “did not possess claims typical of prescription drug benefit providers,” id., at 88. The California Court of Appeal affirmed, rejecting plaintiffs’ claim that reversal was compelled by the Supreme Court’s decision in In re Tobacco II Cases, 46 Cal.4th 298 (Cal. 2009), which issued after the trial court order denying class action treatment.

The appellate court observed that “trial courts are ideally situated to evaluate the efficiencies and practicalities of permitting group action, [and so] they are afforded great discretion in granting or denying certification.” In re Vioxx, at 93 (quoting In re Tobacco II, at 311). In California, “in the absence of other error, a trial court ruling supported by substantial evidence generally will not be disturbed ‘unless (1) improper criteria were used [citation]; or (2) erroneous legal assumptions were made [citation].’” In re Tobacco II, at 311. Particularly here, where the trial court considered thousands of pages of documents in determining the propriety of class action treatment, the appellate court will not substitute its decision for the trial court’s with respect to the inferences to be drawn from the evidence. In re Vioxx, at 94 (citation omitted).

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Class Action Complaint Challenging Microsoft’s “Windows Genuine Advantage” Software could be Amended to Withdraw Class Action Allegations Provided Plaintiffs Dismiss All Class Claims and Provided Plaintiffs Reimburse Microsoft the Attorney Fees Reasonably Incurred in Opposing Plaintiffs’ Class Action Certification Motion before Plaintiffs Voluntarily Withdrew that Motion Washington Federal Court Holds

In April 2009, plaintiffs filed a putative class action against Microsoft in Washington federal court alleging, in the second amended class action complaint, “claims for unjust enrichment, breach of End User License Agreement (‘EULA’) contracts, violation of Washington’s Consumer Protection Act, and trespass to chattels, nuisance and interference with property” arising out of “Microsoft’s distribution of Windows Genuine Advantage (‘WGA’) software.” Johnson v. Microsoft Corp., ___ F.Supp. 2d ___ (W.D.Wash. January 15, 2010) [Slip Opn., at 1-2.] In September 2008, plaintiffs filed a motion requesting that the district court certify the litigation as a class action; however, in November 2009, plaintiffs withdrew their class action certification motion and “indicated an intent to withdraw class allegations.” Id., at 2. Plaintiffs thereafter moved to file a third amended class action complaint “that would eliminate most (but not all) class allegations, add a new cause of action and related allegations, and specify injunctive relief sought.” Id. Defense attorneys opposed the motion with one exception: Microsoft did not oppose the motion to the extent it sought to withdraw class action claims, provided that plaintiffs did not seek to “re-inject them at a later point in the proceeding.” Id. In addition, defense attorneys requested permission “to file a fee petition for the expenses incurred as a result of defending against Plaintiffs’ class-certification motion,” id. The district court granted the motion in part and denied the motion in part.

The district court began by noting the well-settled rule that leave to amend is “generally allowed absent bad faith, undue delay, futility, or prejudice to the opposing party.” Johnson, at 2 (citing Eminence Capital, L.L.C. v. Aspeon, Inc., 316 F.3d 1048, 1051-52 (9th Cir. 2003)). Nonetheless, the federal court denied plaintiffs’ request to add claims (and allegations in support of claims) for fraudulent misrepresentation, negligent misrepresentation and fraudulent concealment because defense attorneys opposed these amendments and plaintiffs agreed to withdraw them. Id., at 2-3. Similarly, Microsoft opposed plaintiffs’ request to seek additional forms of injunctive relief, and plaintiffs agreed to withdraw those proposed amendments. Id., at 3. Accordingly, the district court denied that portion of plaintiffs’ motion, id. For our purposes, the most important aspect of the district court’s order concerns the class action allegations, to which we now turn.

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