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Gonzalo Zeballos and I recently authored an article for Commercial Dispute Resolution Magazine’s “Expert Views” series entitled America’s Closing Doors.  The article examines recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions on extraterritorial jurisdiction of the federal courts, and the potential future role of the U.S. courts in international class action litigation.  Click the title above for a link to the article, and be sure to check out the other insightful expert views on international litigation issues that CDR has to offer, including several on developments in international class action law.

The Supreme Court granted certiorari earlier this week in Halliburton Co. v. Erica P. John Fund, 13-317, a second trip to the high Court for the same case.  At issue is whether the Court should overrule holding of Basic Inc. v. Levinson, which recognized the “fraud-on-the-market” theory of class wide reliance in securities fraud cases.  The Court foreshadowed its willingness to consider this issue last term when it decided Amgen Inc. v. Connecticut Retirement Plans and Trust Funds, 132 S. Ct. 2742 (2012).  Both Amgen and the Court’s earlier decision in  Erica P. John Fund v. Halliburton Co., 131 S. Ct. 2179 (2011) were victories for plaintiffs, with the Court holding in both cases that plaintiffs were not required to prove questions on the merits as a prerequisite to class certification.  However, in Amgen, Justice Alito’s concurrence as well as dissenting opinions by Justices Scalia and Thomas (joined by Justice Kennedy) all raised questions about the continued viability of the Basic decision.

At the risk of oversimplification, the “fraud-on-the market” theory is that a material misrepresentation made in connection with the sale of a publicly traded security can have an effect on the entire market, so that investors may be harmed (or benefitted) by the misrepresentation even if they did not directly rely on it, because enough investors in the market did rely on it to the point where the price was affected.  A decision by the Court that this presumption is no longer viable could seriously limit or eliminate securities fraud class actions, because without the “fraud-on-the-market” presumption, a required element of a securities fraud claim, reliance, becomes an individualized question of fact.  As a result, Halliburton becomes the first case on the Court’s 2013-14 docket that has a potential for a truly significant impact on class actions.

If you’re prosecuting or defending a class action or are interested in class action developments (and I’m not sure why on Earth you would be reading this otherwise) you’ll want to know about a great new ABA publication on the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005 (CAFA).  The Class Action Fairness Act, Law and Strategy, is a book of collected works written by experts on both sides of the bar and deftly edited by former ABA CADS Committee Chair Gregory C. Cook.  Those familiar with CADS (the Class Actions and Derivative Suits Committee of the ABA Section of Litigation) will recognize the names of many of the knowledgeable contributors.

The book covers nearly every CAFA-related topic conceivable, from the history of CAFA to the provisions expanding federal diversity jurisdiction in class actions and the provisions regulating federal class action settlements.  It can be used as a reference guide for the basic requirements of CAFA, but it also provides practical strategy tips for both plaintiffs and defendants in dealing with common and not-so-common CAFA issues.  Here is a summary of the Table of Contents:

  • Chapter 1 - Introduction and Overview
  • Chapter 2 – CAFA in Congress: The Eight-Year Struggle
  • Chapter 3 – Hey CAFA, Is that a Class Action?
  • Chapter 4 – The Amount in Controversy under CAFA: Have You Got What It Takes for Federal Court?
  • Chapter 5 – CAFA’s Numerosity Requirement, or How to Count from 1 to 100
  • Chapter 6 – Basics of MInimal Diversity in CAFA
  • Chapter 7 – Welcome to the Jungle: CAFA Exceptions
  • Chapter 8 – How CAFA Expands Federal Jurisdiction to Include Certain Mass Actions
  • Chapter 9 – Advanced Procedural and Strategic Considerations on Removal under CAFA
  • Chapter 10 – CAFA-Related Appeals
  • Chapter 11 – CAFA Settlement Provisions

Be sure to click the link on the title of the book, above, for information about how to get your copy.  If you don’t have it, chances are that your opponent will!

One question that defense practitioners often face when preparing a notice of removal under the Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA) is whether they must attach affidavits or other proof of the facts submitted in support of removal at the time the removal notice is filed, or whether the submission of proof can wait until removal jurisdiction is challenged by the plaintiff.

A removal notice is a pleading that requires factual allegations but should not require verification or proof of the facts alleged, and this is how most federal courts interpret the removal statute.  See, e.g.Meridian Security Insurance Co. v. Sadowski, 441 F.3d 536, 539-40 (7th Cir. 2006) (“If [the] allegations [by the party asserting jurisdiction] of jurisdictional facts are challenged by his adversary in any appropriate manner, he must support them by competent proof.”) (quoting McNutt v. General Motors Acceptance Corp., 298 U.S. 178, 189 (1936)).  However, some district courts have ordered remand due to a defendant’s failure to attach affidavits or other support for those allegations to the removal notice itself.  Recently, in Dart Cherokee Basin Operating Company, LLC v. Owens, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals refused to grant review of a decision by the U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas remanding a class action for this reason.  No. 13-603 (10th Cir. Sept. 17, 2013) (refusing to grant review of Owens v. Dart Cherokee Basin Operating Co., LLC, No. 12-4157-JAR (D. Kan. May 21, 2013)).  Because the votes on whether to accept review were evenly divided, the petition for review was denied.

Judge Hartz wrote a sharp dissent to the order denying review, stating “I think it is important that this court inform the district courts and the bar of this circuit that a defendant seeking removal under CAFA need only allege the jurisdictional amount in its notice of removal and must prove that amount only if the plaintiff challenges the allegation.”  Nonetheless, he recognized the reality that:

After today’s decision any diligent attorney (and one can assume that an attorney representing a defendant in a case involving at least $5 million—the threshold for removal under CAFA—would have substantial incentive to be diligent) would submit to the evidentiary burden rather than take a chance on remand to state court; if so, the issue will not arise again.

Judge Hartz went on to admonish other members of the court for not being more willing to take on issues relating to CAFA removal jurisdiction, stating that

I would add a few words about our discretionary jurisdiction to review removals under CAFA. CAFA is a newcomer to the scene and its intricacies are unfamiliar to many of us.  It will always be tempting for very busy judges to deny review of a knotty matter that requires a decision in short order.  But we have an obligation to provide clarity in this important area of the law.

Sadly, just as it is tempting for busy appellate judges to avoid having to deal with the intricacies of CAFA jurisdiction, it is tempting for many federal trial judges to look for any excuse to help clear their civil dockets by remanding removed cases.  This is of course not true of all federal trial judges, but it happens enough that the appellate courts need to step in from time to time to avoid the law from developing in a way that thwarts CAFA’s legislative purpose of expanding the availability of a federal forum to class action defendants.  However, until the appellate courts decide to heed Judge Hartz’s plea to take on more of these issues, the state of the law is likely to continue to be slanted in favor of remand whenever there is the slighest doubt.

In the meantime, as Judge Hartz points out, a diligent defense attorney in the Tenth Circuit will need to submit evidentiary support along with a removal notice.  The same is true of any other Circuit where the issue has not been resolved definitively by the Court of Appeals.  If the law of the Circuit is clear that factual information need not be attached to the removal notice, then there can be strategic and cost-saving advantages to not attaching the information.  However, if the law is not clear, then as the Dart Cherokee Basin case illustrates, a “diligent” attorney should take the safe approach and attach supporting affidavits to the removal notice.

Today, Whirlpool and Sears filed petitions for a writ of certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court asking seeking review of decisions by the Sixth and Seventh Circuits upholding certification orders in class actions alleging that design defects create a tendency for mold to develop in front-loading washing machines manufactured by the defendants.  The two lower court decisions, which were discussed in this August 23, 2013 CAB Post, are Butler v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., Nos. 11-8029, 12-8030 (7th Cir., Aug. 22, 2013) (Posner, J.) and In re Whirlpool Corp. Front‐Loading Washer Products Liability Litigation, No. 10-4188 (6th Cir. July 18, 2013).  Earlier decisions in both cases had previously been vacated and remanded for reconsideration in light of the Court’s decision in Comcast Corp. v. Behrend, and both the Sixth and Seventh Circuits reached the same conclusion on remand: that class certification was proper even though most potential class members were not actually affected by mold in their washing machines.

The issues presented for review in Sears, Roebuck & Co. v. Butler are as follows:

1. Whether the predominance requirement of Rule 23(b)(3) is satisfied by the purported “efficiency” of a class trial on one abstract issue, without considering the host of individual issues that would need to be tried to resolve liability and damages and without determining whether the aggregate of common issues predominates over the aggregate of individual issues.

2. Whether a product liability class may be certified where it is undisputed that most members did not experience the alleged defect or harm.

In Whirlpool Corp. v. Glazer the cert petition requests review of the following issues:

1. Whether the Rule 23(b)(3) predominance requirement can be satisfied when the court has not found that the aggregate of common liability issues predominates over the aggregate of individualized issues at trial and when neither injury nor damages can be proven on a classwide basis.

2. Whether a class may be certified when most members have never experienced the alleged defect and both fact of injury and damages would have to be litigated on a member-by-member basis.

Editor’s Note: The following guest post was authored by Sara Collins, contributor to the consumer finance website, NerdWallet.  The views expressed in Sara’s article are her own.  Although those of us who tend to represent defendants in consumer class actions may not agree with all of Sara’s views on the benefits of class actions, we can certainly learn something from reading a consumer advocate’s views on the subject.  The article also provides an easy-to-follow primer on how class actions work.  Many thanks to Sara for her contribution. 

Class Actions – Do They Actually Help Consumers? 

By Sara Collins

Consumers in the United States are sometimes victims of bad business behavior. These behaviors cover a huge range of bad acts, particularly in the field of securities. Class actions allow consumers to band together and fight against bad business. As such, they have a number of benefits for consumers and are quite helpful in evening the corporation versus consumer playing field.

What are Consumer Class Actions?

A consumer class action is simply a lawsuit which takes place in a federal or state court. The case is brought by one or a small handful of individuals, acting as representatives for a larger group of consumers, known as the class. Typically the case is seeking damages on behalf of the named individuals in addition to the entire class.

Why is a Consumer Class Action Necessary?

Traditionally, class actions are used to combine small-dollar claims for a large number of people. One small claim is generally too small for a cost-effective suit. Consumer class actions offer a helpful alternative, justifying the litigation expenses and immensely improving the consumer’s odds of success, particularly when it comes to larger corporations.

How do Consumer Class Actions Work?

When a class action is first brought, the court initially decides whether it is a proper class action. This is a process known as class certification. The parties then work towards a trial, though settlement negotiations can take place at any point.  If the parties decide to settle the case, the court must approve the settlement and then order notice given to class action members.

Do Class Actions Work?

They definitely do. Billions of dollars are given back to the public every year which come from consumer class actions. In most cases, the money is given directly to the victims of the suit, rather than going into the hands of the government, lawyers or other non-consumers.

What Long-Term Effects do Consumer Class Actions Cause?

Class actions help to make bad business practices unprofitable. Class actions aggregate the power of isolated consumers, allowing class actions to compete against corporate behemoths. It levels the playing field, forcing businesses to operate in honest and trustworthy ways.  Markets in other countries where class actions are not allowed often suffer from corporate abuses like stock manipulation, insider trading and other problems.

Do Lawyers Benefit Excessively From Consumer Class Actions?

One argument used by businesses to protest the prevalence of consumer class actions is to claim that the lawyers benefit excessively from the cases. In fact, attorney fees in class action cases average just between 20 and 30 percent of the amount recovered. In stark comparison, personal injury lawyers typically reap 35 to 50 percent of their case winnings. Clearly businesses are using false arguments in an attempt to eliminate class actions and thus damages sought against them.

What is the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005?

The Class Action Fairness Act of 2005 (CAFA) was enacted by Congress in order to curb abuse of class action suits in state courts. Evidence showed that many class actions were being filed which benefited the counsel, rather than the consumers. Additionally, many cases were filed in courts which showed prejudice against business defendants, a problematic issue.

CAFA was enacted to extend federal jurisdiction to these state courts in order to diminish such abuses. CAFA has had a mild success and while most benefits are for businesses, some benefits are extended to consumers. Primarily, the legislation limits the monetary benefits for the attorneys. This ensures that money won in settlements goes to the members of the class, rather than the plaintiff counsel.

Consumer class actions are needed to ensure the financial safety of consumers, particularly in the realm of securities. Class actions allow consumers to band together, combining resources in order to sue a corporation as a singular entity. In turn, all consumers reap the benefits of the settlement, helping to prevent future bad behavior from the corporation in question. Class actions undoubtedly have a positive effect on the world of consumers and it is vital they stay legal for the foreseeable future.

Sara Collins is a writer for NerdWallet, a personal finance site dedicated to helping consumers learn about new ways to save money.

One of the key questions in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Comcast Corp. v. Behrend is the extent to which damages must be susceptible to classwide calculation in order to justify class certification.  In particular, the question is as follows: When the Comcast Court held that class certification was improper because the plaintiff had failed to demonstrate that “damages are capable of measurement on a classwide basis,” did it mean that Rule 23(b)(3) certification is never proper if damages cannot be determined on a classwide basis?  If the answer to this question is yes, then consumer class actions are in trouble because it’s a rare case where classwide determination of damages is possible.  But if the answer to this question is no, then as the Comcast dissent suggested, “the opinion breaks no new ground on the standard for certifying a class action under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(b)(3).”

Yesterday, in the second of two moldy washing machine class actions that had been vacated and remanded for further consideration in light of Comcast, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals joined the Sixth Circuit in answering “no” to this question.  In Butler v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., Nos. 11-8029, 12-8030 (7th Cir., Aug. 22, 2013) (Posner, J.), the court reaffirmed its earlier decision that if common issues predominate over individualized issues in resolving the question of liability, then a class can be certified even if the question damages would require individual determinations. As usual, Judge Posner’s decision is colorful and an interesting read, even for those who disagree with the outcome.  The Sixth Circuit’s decision, which was issued last month, is In re Whirlpool Corp. Front‐Loading Washer Products Liability Litigation, No. 10-4188 (6th Cir. July 18, 2013).

In evaluating the potential broader impact of the Sixth and Seventh Circuit’s decisions, it is important to maintain a clear distinction between the question of damages and the related questions of injury and causation of damages.  Courts have long accepted that individualized damages questions do not prevent class certification, and the moldy washer decisions themselves break little new ground other than to interpret Comcast as not having altered that longstanding principle.  However, saying that individualized questions of damages can be left for a later proceeding is very different than saying that there is a good reason to certify a class when the elements necessary to prove liability itself (which typically include both the existence of injury and causation) cannot all be resolved on a classwide basis.  Individualized questions of whether a given class member has suffered any compensable injury at all or whether the allegedly wrongful conduct caused any alleged injury should still defeat predominance, and neither Sears nor Whirlpool should be read to suggest differently.  In those cases, because the plaintiffs had advanced what these courts concluded was a viable theory of common injury, the only individualized questions related to the amount of, and not the existence of, damages. See In re Whirlpool Corp., slip op. at 22 (“Because all Duet owners were injured at the point of sale upon paying a premium price for the Duets as designed, even those owners who have not experienced a mold problem are properly included within the certified class.)

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