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Posts Tagged ‘institute’

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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This is the first in what will be six posts summarizing my notes of the six presentations at the ABA’s 16th Annual Class Actions Institute held last Thursday in Chicago.  The National Institute sets the gold standard for class action conferences, and this year was no exception.  Program Chair Daniel Karon and the rest of the organizing committee did an excellent job selecting six of the most timely and relevant topics facing class action practitioners today.  As always, the list of panelists was a veritable who’s who in the class action field.  If you ever have the opportunity to attend this annual conference, I highly recommend it.

As has become the custom at the National Institute, Columbia Law Professor John C. Coffee, Jr. kicked off this year’s program with a comprehensive and insightful summary of the year’s key developments in class action law.  This year’s presentation saw what has been a hit solo act turn into an even better duet, as Professor Coffee shared the stage with Connecticut Law Professor Alexandra Lahav.  The session was titled “Holy Cow!  This Year the Courts Said What?!” A Brief History of this Year’s Developments in Class Action Jurisprudence.  Attendees were also treated to a comprehensive, 179-page summary of the year in class actions by Professors Coffee and Lahav entitled The New Class Action Landscape: Trends and Developments in Class Certification and Related Topics.

The first part of Professor Coffee’s presentation covered each of the class action-related cases on the U.S. Supreme Court’s docket this term.  Here is a list of those cases with some of Professor Coffee’s insights:

  • Connecticut Retirement Plans & Trust Funds v. Amgen, Inc., 660 F.3d 1170 (9th Cir. 2011) – Amgen raises the question whether the plaintiff must establish the materiality of an alleged false statement at the class certification stage of a securities fraud class action.  Professor Coffee believes that this case is a close call, but whichever way it comes out, it does not threaten to end securities class action litigation as we know it.
  • Behrend v. Comcast Corporation, 655 F.3d 182 (3d Cir. 2011) – In Behrend, the Court could decide whether a trial court must perform a full Daubert analysis of expert testimony offered in support of or in opposition to class certification.  The case raises the question, at least in the antitrust context, whether the plaintiff must present a  formal damages model or whether the mere possibility of common proof is enough.
  • Symczyk v. Genesis Healthcare Corp., 656 F.3d 189 (3d Cir. 2011) – This is a wage and hour case under the FLSA, which has a different procedure than Rule 23.  FLSA claims are more accurately characterized as collective actions, rather than class action.  The issue is whether a settlement offer for the full amount of the named plaintiff’s FLSA claim can moot the claim and prevent the case from proceeding on a collective basis, a concept also known as “picking off.”   One of the arguments that has been raised is that the writ of certiorari should be dismissed as improvident granted, so it is unclear whether the Court will actually enter a substantive ruling.
  • Knowles v. The Standard Fire Insurance Company, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 130077 (W.D. Ark. December 2, 2011) – This case raises the question whether a plaintiff can plead around CAFA removal jurisdiction by stipulating to less than $5 million in damages on behalf of the putative class.  Professor Coffee felt confident in making the prediction that the defendant will win.  He points to dicta in the Court’s recent decision in Smith v. Bayer Corporation calling into question whether a plaintiff can do anything to bind the members of a putative class before it is certified.

Professor Coffee then went on to highlight some of the big developments in the lower courts from over the past year, which include:

The proper burden of proof to be applied at class certification.  The circuits are split on this issue, with some applying a preponderance of the evidence standard and others simply requiring a rigorous analysis with no particular evidentiary standard.

Treatment of expert testimony.  The federal district courts continue to resist resolving a battle of the experts at the class certification stage, but dicta from the Supreme Court in Dukes, as well as holdings by several of the circuits, are putting increasing pressure on the federal courts to perform a Daubert analysis (and the Court could resolve this issue for good in Behrend).

Class Arbitration Waivers.  Some lower courts, especially the Second Circuit, continue to carve out exceptions to the Supreme Court’s ruling favoring arbitration agreements in Concepcion.   One key issue is whether a class arbitration waiver may still be held unconscionable as a matter of federal law.  Professor Coffee quipped that the Second Circuit will only change if the Supreme Court “stuffs it down their throat.”  While unconscionability under state law is no longer a viable argument against enforcing an arbitration clause, clauses with fee-shifting provisions continue to be susceptible to attack.

Settlement Only and Limited Fund Classes.  There is a lower court trend in permitting certification in settlement classes in cases that could not be certified as class actions in contested cases, notwithstanding the Supreme Court’s opinion in Amchem Prods., Inc. v. Windsor, 521 U.S. 591, 617 (1997).  The primary justification tends to be that any individualized issues of fact in the case went to manageability, which is no longer an issue in the settlement context.   In cases where courts have found that individualized issues impact both predominance and manageability, settlement classes have continued to be rejected.

Partial Certification.   The question of issue certification has been one of the hottest trends in the federal courts in the wake of Dukes.  Professor Coffee pointed out that the resolution of whether courts allow partial certification tends to be determined whether the fact of certification creates an extortionate threat to settle the case.

Class Action Settlements.  If you read just one class certification decision this year, Professor Coffee recommends Judge Rosenthal’s memorandum opinion in In re: Heartland Payment Systems, Inc. Customer Data Security Breach Litigation, MDL No. 09-2046 (S.D. Tex. March 20, 2012), which has a well-organized, step-by-step analysis of the approval of a class action settlement.

Professor Lahav focused her remarks on what has been happening in the lower courts in response to the three key aspects of the Court’s decision in Dukes: 1) the “new commonality” requirement; 2) the rejection of the use of Rule 23(b)(2) to recover individualized money damages; and 3) the rejection of “trial by formula,” of the use of statistical sampling to solve individualized damages problems.

The “new commonality”.  Among Professor Lahav’s key observations was that in the Title VII context, there must be a policy, but if there is an identifiable policy, the courts will allow discretionary elements of that policy to be attacked.  This trend is best exemplified by Judge Posner’s decision in McReynolds v. Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith, Inc.  As many commentators predicted, Plaintiffs have had better success after Dukes by narrowing the geographic scope of discrimination claims.  This has also been true in the consumer context.  In the civil rights context, allegations of systemic constitutional violations have had success when the courts have focused on the systemic nature of the practice, but not when courts have focused on the effects of a systemic practice on the prospective class members.  In general, there has been an increasing reliance on issues classes to overcome individualized issues that might destroy commonality or predominance.

Rule 23(b)(2) and monetary damages.  The majority opinion in Dukes raised the question whether there can ever be a class with monetary damages.  None of the circuit courts have provided further guidance on when damages might be sufficiently “incidental” to still allow relief.  One area that has seen mixed results since Dukes is the area of medical monitoring class actions, where the remedy sought is medical monitoring of the possible health effects of a toxic exposure but the cost of monitoring can vary from person to person.  Professor Lahav pointed to the Third Circuit’s decision in Gates v. Rohm & Haas Co., No. 10-2108 (3d Cir., Aug. 25, 2011), as potentially supporting arguments on both sides.  Hybrid class actions, where classes are certified based on both Rule 23(b)(2) and 23(b)(3), are becoming increasingly common, especially in the Title VII context.  One unanswered question is whether damages claims are precluded if a Rule 23(b)(2) class is certified but not successful.

Statistical evidence and “trial by formula.”   Statistical evidence is still accepted in contexts where it has been accepted traditionally, e.g. civil rights, disparate impact, and antitrust cases.  It is not allowed in cases where the defendant can raise individualized defenses.  One proposed solution is, again, issues classes, but this creates a class action funding problem – How do lawyers get paid?

Professor Lahav also revisited statistical trends in class actions, focusing primarily on data compiled by the Federal Judicial Center in 2008 which analyzed the impact of the Class Action Fairness Act (“CAFA”).  She made the key point that statistical data on class action trends has been severely lacking since the FJC study, making updated empirical analysis of class action trends difficult.

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