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Posts Tagged ‘Class Action Trends’

I attended the National Institute on Class Actions in Las Vegas last week, and it was probably the best one yet, considering the powerhouse lineup of speakers and excellent topics.  This year’s event also marked the 20th anniversary of the Institute, and the 50th anniversary of the introduction of the modern class action rule in 1966.  I’ve tried to include a short summary of some of the highlights of each of the presentations below.  For more on what you missed, click here for the full program brochure.

Class Actions 101, 201, and 301

As has become a tradition in recent years, the conference kicked off with Yoga, along with a series of class action training sessions for attorneys and judges new to the practice area.  As in past years, the training portion of the program was led by class action expert Drew McGuinness and Program Chair Dan Karon, with help this year from Lauren Guth Barnes and E. Colin Thompson.  In addition to the basic Class Actions 101 course and the advanced Class Actions 201 course, new this year was Class Actions 301, taught by Karon, which covered legal writing tips for class action lawyers.

“Viva Review!” The Past Year in Class-Action Action.

Instructors: Professor John C. Coffee, Jr., Professor Alexandra D. Lahav

The main program kicked off with what has become an annual tradition at the Institute.  Class action scholars John Coffee and Alexandra Lahav gave their annual rundown on the key developments in the courts on class action issues over the past year and their predictions for where class actions are headed in the coming year.  One highlight for me was Lahav’s summary of divergent rulings on the question of ascertainability, which continues to be an area of uncertainty and controversy in the lower courts.

“From Mirage to Immense.” The Genesis, Creation, and Evolution of Rule 23.

Host: Daniel R. Karon

Guest: Professor Arthur R. Miller

What better way to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the modern formulation of Rule 23 than to hear the story of the 1966 amendment by someone who actually helped draft it.  Titan of American civil procedure, Professor Arthur Miller, gave a colorful history of the development of Rule 23, including entertaining stories about how a small group of now-well-known attorneys and academics, including Miller, Ben Kaplan, Archibald Cox, and Charles Alan Wright, came together in the mid-1960s to develop the innovations that gave us the class action rule we know today.  A highlight was the story of how Miller used a manual typewriter to memorialize what ultimately became 23(b)(3) while in the back seat of Kaplan’s car on a ferry ride to the Kaplans’ summer home in Martha’s Vineyard.  A neighboring car mistook the sound of the typewriter as a sign that the boat was sinking.

“Winning Big or Crapping Out.” Class-Action Ethics from a Real-Life Perspective.

Host: Melissa H. Maxman

Guests: Honorable Gene E.K. Pratter, Professor Joshua P. Davis, Thomas G. Wilkinson, Jr.

This panel examined a series of hypotheticals raising ethics issues, specifically how the courts sometimes treat ethics issues differently when they arise in the class action context.  Among the colorful examples was the situation in which a plaintiffs’ class action attorney has a consensual sexual relationship with a woman who he later discovers is an absent class member.

“A Winning Hand or a Flop?” After 50 Years, Are Class Actions Still Legit?

Host:  E. Michelle Drake

Guests:  Michelle K. Fischer, Professor Richard D. Freer, Patrick J. Ivie, Jocelyn Larkin

In this presentation, a diverse group of plaintiffs’ and defense attorneys, a public interest attorney, settlement administrator, and an academic discussed common criticisms of modern class actions and insights into future trends. I was particularly interested to hear the panelists views on the viability of claims-made settlements and the benefits and criticisms of using electronic and other non-traditional notice in settlement adminstration.

“Behind the Curtain.” Examining Class Actions from the In-House Perspective.

Host: Sabrina H. Strong

Guests: Jennifer Bechet, Karin F.R. Moore, Ken K. Patel, Robert E. Bailey

This presentation offered insights from a panel of in-house attorneys whose companies face class action lawsuits. I thought one of the key points, reinforced in different ways by several panelists and consistent with my own experience, is that the threat of class actions doesn’t ordinarily have a deterrent effect on corporate business practices because most companies aren’t looking to intentionally harm their customers.

“Pit Boss Powwow.” Exactly What Is the MDL Judge College and How Does It Work?

Host: Vincent J. Esades

Guests: Honorable Barbara J. Rothstein, Honorable Jack Zouhary, Honorable J. Frederick Motz Sure

A behind-the-scenes treat, this panel of federal judges offered insights into how judges are selected and trained to preside over multi-district litigation proceedings. I thought it was notable that in recent years, practitioners have been brought in to speak at the annual training program to offer a practitioner’s perspective about what works and what doesn’t in complex MDL proceedings.

“Hitting the Jackpot!” A One-on-One Class-Action Conversation with Judge Richard Posner.

Host: Daniel R. Karon

Guest: Honorable Richard A. Posner

In one of the highlights of the Institute this year (along with Professor Miller’s presentation), Judge Richard Posner sat down via teleconference for an interview with Dan Karon.  Judge Posner’s remarks were filled with unique insights and a few zingers including his comment that class action settlements are “an invitation to shenanigans” where, in his view, the class is at the mercy of the plaintiffs’ attorneys, and the Defendants interested in getting off as lightly as they can, so the judiciary has an important role in scrutinizing the terms.  He also talked about his process for reaching a decision in a case.  He considers the case as a problem to be solved in general terms, comes up with a practical solution to that problem that makes sense, and then evaluates whether there is anything in the law that “blocks” that solution.  At one point he quipped, “I don’t get a lot out of Rule 23,” preferring instead to consider the Rules of Civil Procedure in general terms and reaching a holistic judgment.

“Small Wagers, Big Results.” How the Supreme Court’s Tyson Foods Decision Could Affect Your Practice.

Host: Andrew J. McGuinness

Guests: Honorable Terrence G. Berg, Eric Grannon, James Langenfeld, Ph.D., Paul Novak, Joseph M. Sellers

This panel presentation on expert witnesses and statistical sampling was highlighted by a mock oral argument of a class certification proceeding in which the plaintiff sought to introduce statistical sampling evidence in an antitrust case.  The argument offered a practical way of evaluating how issues presented by the Supreme Court’s decision in Tyson Foods might play out in a context other than wage and hour employment litigation.

“Into the Stratosphere or Simply a Circus Circus?” After Fifty Years, What’s Class Actions’ Future?

Host: Fred B. Burnside

Guests: Professor Brian T. Fitzpatrick, Professor Robert H. Klonoff, Arthur H. Bryant, William Donovan, Jr.

A fitting end to an outstanding program, this panel of top class action scholars and practitioners offered insights into the current state of class actions and what might be in store in the near future.  Here are some highlights on the predictions offered by the panelists: 1) class actions are not going away; 2) the continued growth of mass commerce will continue to spawn class action litigation; 3) Justice Scalia’s death will have a significant impact on class action jurisprudence going forward and the judiciary is likely to get less friendly to defendants in the short-term; 4) technology will make a big difference for the better in managing class action litigation; 5) defendants will continue to come up with creative, far-reaching ways of limiting class actions; 6) plaintiffs’ attorneys will continue to bring class actions when a) they think they can make money and/or b) they think they will advance the public good; 7) there will be some good class actions and some horrible ones; 8) look out for states to pass new consumer protection laws similar to the New Jersey New Jersey Truth-in-Consumer Contract, Warranty and Notice Act (TCCWNA); 9) the TCPA and all-natural litigation booms will continue in the near future; 10) The CFPB will broadly define consumer finance services; 11) more class actions will go to trial; 12) what happens with the enforceability of arbitration clauses will have a big impact on the viability of many categories of class actions in the future; 13) look for more class actions in the federal courts in New York state.

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I’m pleased to announce that the BakerHostetler Class Action Defense Team has just released its 2012 Year-end Review of Class Actions, a joint project with the firm’s Employment Class Actions, Antitrust, and Data Privacy practice teams.  See below for a synopsis of the project.  Click the link above to access a copy of the report itself:

We are pleased to share with you the BakerHostetler 2012 Year-end Review of Class Actions, which offers a summary of some of the key developments in class action litigation during the past year. Class action litigation continues to persist in all areas of civil litigation despite the Supreme Court’s 2011 decisions in AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion and in Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes, which were seen by many commentators as marking the beginning of the end of class actions as we know them. But while the Supreme Court’s 2011 decisions have had a significant impact on class action litigation, they have not brought about its demise and are not likely to do so anytime soon. In the last two years, we’ve seen landmark decisions and the addition of important judicial gloss to those decisions. 2013 will be no different as the Supreme Court is set to weigh in on a series of key cases this spring.

We hope you find this Review a useful tool as you move forward into the new year. This comprehensive analysis of last year’s developments in class action procedure and jurisdiction, as well as developments by subject matter will hopefully provide context and insight as you look ahead to 2013’s expected trends in class action law, including the proliferation of privacy class action litigation and class action litigation relating to the LIBOR rate-fixing scandal.

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For those readers who may be dissatisfied with my somewhat uneven coverage of all things class action lately, here’s a reminder about a great source for the latest in class action news and trends: the ABA’s Class Actions and Derivative Suits (CADS) Committee Group Page on LinkedIn.  CADS membership is free to all ABA Section of Litigation members.  Participation in the LinkedIn group is a benefit to all CADS members.  For more information on how to join CADS, click here.  For the LinkedIn Group, click here

Some highlights of the content available on the LinkedIn page:

  • A summary of the recent oral argument before the United States Supreme Court in Standard Fire Insurance Co. v. Knowles
  • Coverage of a recent 7th Circuit decision discussing whether misconduct by putative class counsel requires denial of class certification.
  • Links to articles authored by members in other publications or blogs.
  • Announcements about upcoming CADS events.

And much more…

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Those of you who have been following my summaries of the 16th Annual Class Action Institute will be pleased to know that the paper of the past year’s class action developments prepared for the conference by Professors Alexandra D. Lahav and John C. Coffee, Jr. is available for free download at SSRN.  Click here for a link to the paper, entitled The New Class Action Landscape: Trends and Developments in Class Certification and Related Topics.  I highly recommend the paper for anyone who is looking for a comprehensive summary of all of the past year’s class action developments.  

For a summary of Professor Coffee’s and Professor Lahav’s oral presentations at the conference, see this October 31 CAB post.  Stay tuned for my summaries of the final two sessions at the conference…

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In a recent post entitled Concepcion a Year Later, Are Consumer Class Actions Dead Yet?, I invited readers to offer their perspectives on trends in the enforceability of class arbitration waivers now that a year after the Concepcion decision.  In response, Jessie Kokrda Kamens at the Bloomberg BNA Class Action Litigation Report send me a copy of her recent article, Post-Concepcion, Plaintiffs Chalk Up Few Victories, Look to Government for Relief.  Kamens offers the perspectives of several leading class action practitioners on how the law on class arbitration waivers has developed in the lower courts since Concepcion, as well as their predictions on how the law will develop into the future.  Among the observations made in the article:

  • Although class arbitration waivers were upheld in 76 cases, plaintiffs were successful in invalidating arbitration clauses in several key cases, mostly on various federal law grounds.
  • Use of “consumer-friendly” provisions, such as the one at issue in Concepcion that provided for monetary incentives for individuals to pursue arbitration, makes it much more likely that an arbitration clause will be upheld.
  • Observers are eagerly awaiting several federal and state regulatory and legislative developments that may impact the enforceability of class arbitration waivers, including the results of a study being conducted by the federal Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection (CFPB) pursuant to Dodd-Frank about the impact of arbitration clauses on consumer financial products, several bills being considered by Congress, and a bill being considered in the California legislature that would render void contracts that contain class action waivers.

Thanks to Bloomberg BNA (www.bna.com) for granting permission to post a copy of the article on this site.  For those of you who are not subscribers, I highly recommend the Bloomberg BNA Class Action Litigation Report.  It is one of the most comprehensive and reliable sources of class action cases and trends available.

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This is the sixth and final installment of a multi-part post summarizing last week’s 5th Annual Conference on the Globalization of Class Actions and Mass Litigation.  Click these links to see the summaries for Session 1, Session 2, Session 3, Session 4, and Session 5.

Paths to (Mass) Justice

To wrap up the conference, Dr. Sam Muller, Director, Hague Institute for the Internationalization of Law, led an all-star panel of academics, lawyers, and industry executives in a discussion about where we are heading over the next five years in global class, collective, and mass litigation.  The panel included program co-organizer Professor Deborah Hensler, international plaintiffs’ lawyer extraordinaire Michael Hausfeld (who more than ably filled in for Professor Hodges), Mr. Robert W. Hammesfahr, Managing Director Claims & Liabilities, Swiss Reinsurance Company Ltd., Mr. Richard Murray, The Geneva Association, Special Advisor on Liability and Legal Affairs and Liability Dynamics Consulting LLC, Mr. Daniel Girard, Partner Girard Gibbs LLP, and Mr. Martijn van Maanen, Partner BarentsKrans.

This is the only presentation not framed by a particular case study.  However, the panel did focus on a common question, what are we likely to be discussing at the 10th annual conference on the globalization of class actions?

Dr. Muller began the discussion with some general themes and questions that both summed up the conference generally and framed the last panel’s discussion.  They included:

  • Whether the internationalization of class action law will continue;
  • Whether we will see an increasing divide between public and private mechanisms for the enforcement of collective interests;
  • What will be the impact of social media and changes in mass communication?
  • Is globalization and the development of systems of collective redress driving changes to the legal profession or the legal profession driving changes to mechanisms for collective redress?

Pointing to the example of the development of competition law in the EU, Hausfeld remarked that changes in policy are happening on their own but that they are not happening quickly.  He argued that it is up to the legal profession to change policy through practice; in other words, through litigation brought by counsel and through court decisions.  Hausfeld also made a key observation based on a recurring theme throughout the conference: the engine of change in the development of private enforcement mechanisms is, at least in the near future, likely to come from large corporations and institutional investors, rather than from consumers or popular political pressure.

Hensler predicted that the future will be more of the same.  The development of collective enforcement mechanisms will not go away because the scale of commerce drives the scale of mass harms, and globalization is increasing the scale of commerce.  Moreover, citizens are more likely than ever to want redress for injuries.  In modern societies, people are no longer willing to blame God for their misfortunes.  Hensler predicted that the transformation into a truly international system of collective redress will take 25 years, not 5 years.

 Hammesfahr was optimistic about change.  He noted that “where there’s a vacuum, the law will fill it,” and that therefore, the growing need for systems of collective redress will require reforms in even those countries that are most politically resistant to change.  There has to be a remedy for harms, and the younger generation will not accept delays in avenues to redress in the same way as previous generations.  However, he also predicted that Europe will find its own solutions for the problem of mass harm without copying the U.S. model of class actions. 

Murray observed that what was discussed in the 2011 conference as being a practical reality was foreseen during the first global class actions conference in 2007, but was still being debated.  For example, 5 years ago in Europe, people were saying that “we don’t do that here,” but now, Europe has begun to recognize the need for private enforcement mechanisms for collective harms.  Murray made a variety of other observations and predictions, including

  • There has been a significant growth in the scale and economic consequences in things that require aggregation.
  • There has been a change in the nature of litigation globally.  It used to be unique, to be avoided.  In the past few years, we have become compensation driven rather than fault driven. 
  • In the future, litigation will be investment driven rather than party driven, and there will be a transformation of litigation funding to litigation ownership.  Litigation will become an investment of choice.
  • There will be more climate change and catastrophe-related litigation in the coming years.  There will be a convergence of liability and reparations processes, a socialization of the humanitarian loss compensation system.  This will be driven by huge need for redress, combined with someone to blame for mass harm.

Girard was more pessimistic about significant developments in global collective redress, based in large part on events in the United States over the past several years.  

He divided aggregated litigation into 2 types of cases:

  1. “Train wrecks” – cases with a very high public profile, and a clear sense of public injustice.  This, he said, “is good work if you can get it.” 
  2. Private regulatory actions – i.e., mass lawsuits based on a private right of action that challenge conduct not widely recognized as being wrong.  This category would include many current class actions in the United States, such as those involving alleged deceptive trade practices and dangerous products.

While policymakers will almost certainly agree on the need for collective redress in the first category of cases, the second category is quite a bit more challenging, and there is a greater potential for abuse.  The resolution of cases in category 2 is quite a bit different than the deal brokering that goes on in category 1.

Girard pointed out how the recent trend in the United States has been to restrict class actions.  But, he went on, plaintiffs’ lawyers are nothing if not creative and persistent.  In the end, he predicted that we will see things swing back into an equilibrium, since “the law will tend toward justice.”  However, he admitted that we may have seen the end of the fully empowered private attorney general in the United States.

Girard concluded with a word of wisdom for policymakers in Europe.  As you are being urged toward a system like the American system, he said, keep in mind that lighter regulatory framework was intended to come with it a strong right of private enforcement.

Van Maanen was much more positive about change.  Using competition law as an example, he said that in the past, the it was economical for defendants to form cartels.  Now, however, corporations are taking on the role of ally with plaintiffs.  This will drive a push toward private enforcement in Europe.  He noted that there is some level of competition between European countries in the development of systems of collective redress.  For example, he observed that with its resistance to collective action legislation, the UK has fallen behind the Netherlands in recent years.  He concluded with the observation that a challenge for policymakers will be in developing a system that will make it more profitable for corporations to comply with the law.

In the Q&A session, the panelists were asked whether we are moving toward coordination or competition between jurisdictions, and if so, are we going to a race to the bottom or a race to the top?  In Hensler’s opinion, we are in a period of competition.  In the short term, there is an incentive to maintain a system of multiple forum choices.  Murray agreed, and commented that “we will do the right thing after we try everything else.” Girard returned to the theme that the United States is a microcosm of the world.  He pointed to example of the so-called reverse auction process discussed by Judge Vaughan Walker earlier in the conference and pointed out how competition helped to reduce attorney’s fee abuse.

Other topics addressed in the Q&A included the role of social justice.  Hensler commented that social media will have an effect on litigation, as it did during the recent Arab Spring movement.  Hammesfahr discussed the potential impact of social justice movements with respect to catastrophic events claims.  He observed that if the civil justice lawyers are going to have a role, they will have to look at transaction costs and efficiencies.

A final, and perhaps fitting, point (unfortunately, I did not note which panelist made it) had to do with the different way that European law is developing in comparison to the system of class actions in the United States.  In Europe, the prevailing view has been to consider anything but the “American horror story.”  In developing systems of collective redress, European systems haven’t built on the U.S. system, they’ve rejected it, but they are working toward a completely different system intended to solve some of the same problems.

In closing out this series of posts, I want to reiterate how impressed I was with both the content and organization of the conference.  The organizers say that they are uncertain whether this will continue to be an annual event going forward, but I hope that the demand will convince them otherwise.

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The award-winning U.S. Supreme Court blog SCOTUSblog is presenting a symposium on recent Supreme Court developments in the area of class actions that you won’t want to miss.  Click here for an introduction to the symposium and here to see a list of the various contributions as they are released. I’m extremely honored to be listed among the other fine contributors to the series.

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