In keeping with the time-honored tradition of end-of-the-year top 10 lists, I’ve assembled my annual list of the top 10 most significant class action developments below. Whether these are actually the top 10 most significant decisions over the past year may be subject to reasonable debate, so please feel free to add your own favorites in the comments section.
1. Certiorari denied in “moldy washer” cases - In my view, the single biggest development impacting class action practice over the past year was the Court’s decision not to take on the question of “issue certification” presented in the Sears and Whirlpool “moldy washer” cases. This non-decision opens the door for significant litigation over whether isolated issues should be certified for class treatment even where significant individual litigation would be necessary following resolution of the class wide issues.
2. Judge Posner’s class action settlement decisions – Judge Posner wins the award for the jurist having the single biggest impact on class action practice in 2014. In addition to the Supreme Court declining to take on review of his decision in one of the “moldy washer” cases, Butler v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., Judge Posner authored two significant (and harshly worded) decisions discussing the standards for evaluating the fairness of class action settlements, including Eubank v. Pella Corp., Nos. 13-2091, -2133, 2136, -2162, 2202 (7th Cir., June 2, 2014), and Redman v. RadioShack Corp., case number 14‐1470, 14‐1471 and 14‐1658 (7th Cir., Sept. 19, 2014). These decisions are emblematic of a more general trend in the courts of subjecting class action settlements, especially coupon settlements, to ever-greater scrutiny.
3. Basic framework remains largely unchanged after Halliburton II – One of only three Supreme Court decisions of significance on class action issues this past year, the Court largely maintained the status quo in declining to overrule the framework for evaluating “fraud on the market” theory of reliance in securities class actions.
4. Whirlpool trial ends with victory for the defendant – Not long after the Supreme Court declined review, the first of the “issue” class cases went to trial against Whirlpool. The trial ended in a defense verdict, although as I wrote in October, I’m not sure that’s necessarily a good thing for defendants in the long-term.
5. Court clarifies removal pleading standards in Dart Cherokee Basin Operating Co. v. Owens – In one of the Roberts Court’s most helpful class-action-related decisions, at least from a practical standpoint, the majority removed barriers to corporate defendants’ ability to remove cases under the Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA), clarifying that jurisdictional facts need only be pled, not supported by evidence, in the notice of removal.
6. California Supreme Court issues significant decision on the use of statistical evidence to support class certification – An individual state court decision has to be pretty significant to make my annual top 10 list, but I think Duran v. U.S. Bank National Association fits the bill. The decision is one of the most comprehensive to date in addressing the potential pitfalls of reliance on statistics as a proxy for common, class wide proof.
7. Supreme Court holds in AU Optronics that consumer actions brought by state attorneys general are not “mass actions” subject to the Class Action Fairness Act – It’s probably a misnomer to call AU Optronics a “class action” case, since the issue presented was whether actions brought by state AGs on behalf of consumers were “mass actions.” But because the case involved interpretation of CAFA, it makes this year’s list.
8. International class and collective action litigation continues to expand – Class, collective, and multi-party actions continue to expand outside of the United States and Canada. Examples included France joining the list of Civil Law jurisdictions in Europe to enact a “class action” law, and a group action in Austria, joined by more than 25,000 litigants, challenging Facebook privacy policies.
9. Data breach class actions proliferate – High profile data breaches and hacking incidents made news, and resulted in class actions, in 2014. From a rash of payment card breaches impacting customers of large retailers like Target and Home Depot to the more recent Sony hacking incident, data breach class action litigation shows no signs of slowing down any time soon.
10. Supreme Court grants, then dismisses, certiorari in Public Employees’ Retirement System of Mississippi, v. IndyMac MBS, avoiding a high court ruling on the question of whether statute of repose can be tolled for absent class members under the American Pipe tolling doctrine. In what has become a trend of the past year, this is yet another missed opportunity for the Supreme Court to address a class action issues of significance.