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Posts Tagged ‘civil rights class action’

As 2010 winds down, it’s time to review the key developments in class action law.  It was an especially busy year for the federal courts, and in particular the U.S. Supreme Court, on issues impacting class action practice.  Here, in chronological order, are 10 key developments from the year that was:

  1. January 5 – In In re Baycol Products Litigation, the Eighth Circuit follows the Seventh Circuit’s lead in upholding the right of a federal court to enjoin a putative statewide class action from proceeding where a federal court had already denied class certification in a case involving substantially similar claims.  (See CAB entries dated January 7 and January 12).
  2. February 23 – In a decision that will impact many class actions removed under the Class Action Fairness Act, the Supreme Court adopts the “nerve center test” as the standard for determining corporate citizenship, in Hertz Corp. v. Friend.  (See CAB entry dated March 2)
  3. March 31 – The Supreme Court holds that states may not regulate the types of claims that may be filed as class actions in the federal courts, in Shady Grove Orthopedic Associates, P.A. v. Allstate Insurance Co.  (See CAB entry dated April 8)
  4. April 7 – In American Honda Motor Co. v. Allen, the Seventh Circuit holds that a trial court must rule on challenges to the admissibility of expert testimony relevant to class certification before deciding whether a class may be certified.  (See CAB entry dated May 4)
  5. April 26 – The Ninth Circuit issues its decision in Dukes v. Wal-mart Stores, Inc., adopting rigorous class certification standards similar to those previously adopted by the Second Circuit in In re IPO Securities Litigation, 471 F.3d 24 (2d Cir. 2006), but nonetheless certifying under FRCP 23(b)(2), what has been called the largest employment discrimination class action in history.
  6. April 27 – The Supreme Court seemingly puts an end, for all practical purposes, to the concept of class arbitration by holding that a defendant could not be compelled to defend an arbitration on a class basis where the arbitration clause did not expressly provide for class arbitration, in Stolt-Nielsen S.A. v. Animalfeeds Int’l Corp.  (See CAB entry dated May 11).
  7. June 24 – In Morrison v. National Australia Bank, the Supreme Court deals a fatal blow to “foreign-cubed” class actions, holding that § 10(b) of the Securities and Exchange Act of 1934 does not allow for fraud claims involving transactions on foreign exchanges that occurred outside the United States. (See case summary at SCOTUS blog).
  8. July 19, October 20 – An Eleventh Circuit panel issues a controversial decision in Cappuccitti v. DirecTV, Inc., severely restricting CAFA removal jurisdiction to cases where the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000 with respect to at least one class member, but later reverses itself in an October 15 opinion.  (See Guest Post from Eric Jon Taylor and Jon Chally at CAFA Law Blog for more on the first decision and this October 20 CAB entry on the second decision).
  9. November 9 – Supreme Court hears oral argument in AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion, in which the Court considers whether the Federal Arbitration Act preempts state law holding a class arbitration waiver unconscionable.  (See CAB fsummary of oral argument dated November 17).
  10. December 6 – Supreme Court grants certiorari in Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes, to decide the issue of whether a claim for monetary relief can be certified under FRCP 23(b)(2).  (See CAB entry dated December 7).

Just considering the cases still awaiting ruling before the Supreme Court, 2011 promises to be another exciting year in the world of class actions.  Happy New Year to all!

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The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral argument Monday in a Horne v. Flores, a case that originated as a class action against the State of Arizona for insufficient funding of education for non-native-English speaking students.  For a report on the oral argument, see this AP article

The case is interesting from a variety of perspectives, but perhaps most interesting is that it pits different officials from the same state against each other.  The petitioners include the Superintendent of Public Instruction and the Speaker of the state’s House of Representatives.  Along with the original class representatives, the respondents include the State of Arizona and the Arizona State Board of Education.

The appeal arises from the denial of a Rule 60(b) motion for relief from a series of previous orders from a federal court following a finding that the state’s programs for educating students who do not speak English proficiently violated the Equal Educational Opportunity Act (EEOA). 

The appeal raises complex questions of federalism, standing, and separation of powers.  Petitioners argue, among other things, that the federal court’s continued supervision and attempts to require compliance with previous orders must be reconsidered in light of the existence of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) and a recent state enactment that increased funding for English language programs.  The Speaker of the House and President of the Senate intervened “as presiding officers of their respective legislative bodies,” which had enacted the state English language funding law found by the federal district court to be inadequate to comply with its earlier judgments. For links to the briefs filed by the various parties, see the ABA’s website:

http://www.abanet.org/publiced/preview/briefs/april09.shtml#08294

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According to Tricia Bishop of the Baltimore Sun, a U.S. District Court Judge has certified a class of people who allegedly have been subject to being detained and strip-searched by officials in Baltimore’s Central Booking and Intake Center.  Bishop quotes the attorney for the class, William Claiborne, as saying that the decision means “everything” to arrestees because of the difficulties facing any given individual in convincing a jury that he or she is telling the truth about the allegedly unconstitutional strip searches: 

It’s difficult for an individual to persuade a jury that he’s telling the truth, [but] when you have 50 or 60 or 100,000 people coming in, it changes the balance, it really changes the balance of power.  It’s like having a union.

In other words, more than just giving the powerless the financial resources to take on powerful government interests, pursuing civil rights relief as a class action may also serve to bolster the credibility of the witnesses whose testimony is necessary to prove the underlying claims.

See the link below for the Baltimore Sun article:

http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/local/baltimore_city/bal-md.classaction23mar23,0,4747739.story

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