Posts Tagged ‘manageability’

My partner, Casie Collignon, recently attended CLE International’s conference Class Actions: Plaintiff and Defense Perspectives in Chicago earlier this month, and she graciously agreed to share a summary of her notes.  Here they are for anyone who was unable to attend.  I’ll be attending the ABA’s 16th National Institute on Class Actions next week, so stay tuned for my notes from that conference as well.

On October 4th and 5th, esteemed panels of class action plaintiff and defense lawyers, along with multiple reputable class action administrators, gathered for panel discussions involving class action trends across the country from all perspectives. Below are just a few of the highlights from the conference:

  • Class Actions are not dead after DukesDukes may not have had the one-sided effect that everyone anticipated. Program Co-Director Francis Citera of Greenberg Traurig noted that class certification decisions after Dukes have been, despite popular opinion, very balanced.  In the federal courts since Dukes, there have been 32 cases certified, 33 denials of class certification, and 15 cases where certification was denied in part and granted in part.
  • Manageability remains key to certification – Even though the Dukes, Concepcion, and Comcast trends are on the tips of all class action practitioners’ tongues, manageability is still a top concern from all perspectives.  The Honorable William J.  Bauer of the Seventh Circuit opined about the importance of being able to be able to show the Court what a class action trial will actually look like.  This sentiment was echoed by plaintiff’s class action lawyer Kenneth Wexler of Wexler Wallace, who suggested that all plaintiffs’ class certification motions should be accompanied by an actual trial plan.  Defense attorney Sascha Henry of Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton opined  that the defense practitioner can take advantage of both the existence of a plaintiff’s trial plan or the lack of a trial plan in the manageability context.  For example, if there is no trial plan at all, the defendant can argue that the plaintiffs   have not alleged a practical way to manage the case and therefore have not met their burden of proving the manageability requirement.  Alternatively, if a plan is submitted, then the defendant has a precise manageability roadmap to attack. 
  • New settlement notice program trends – While traditional mailers and post card notices still reign supreme for claim rates, Patrick Izie of Class Action Services discussed some new media trends in class action settlements.  He opined that new media, such as QR codes, mobile device notifications, and coupon websites can have a dramatic impact on your claims rates without increased costs. And, even though the parties may not have intended their class settlements to appear on websites such as duckydeals.com, once these types of sites start listing your class action settlements, you can expect claims rates to spike.
  • Class Certification may never truly be over –   Attorney for the plaintiff in McReynolds v. Merrill Lynch, Linda Friedman of Stowell & Friedman, and class action defense lawyer Andrew Trask of McGuireWoods, both agreed that an important lesson to be learned from both the Merrill Lynch case and the recent denial of the motion to dismiss in the smaller Walmart case which is back pending in the Northern District of California, is that no ruling in the class certification context is ever truly permanent. Thus, the class action community should be on the lookout for second and even third bites at the apple with smaller proposed classes and arguments for issue class certification.

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A trial plan provides the judge with a road map for how the trial is expected to proceed.  Trial plans can be an effective pre-certification tool for both plaintiffs and defendants in class action lawsuits.  They can be as detailed or as generalized as the court requires and can cover a variety of issues, including bifurcation, the order of proceedings, which issues are to be resolved on a class-wide basis and which must be resolved individually, and what evidence will be presented at each stage of proceedings.

For defense counsel, asking the court to require the plaintiff to provide a trial plan illustrating the expected course of proceedings if the class is certified can help the defendant to persuade the court of practical manageability problems.  It may be one thing for the plaintiff to argue as an abstract matter that common issues predominate and that trial on a class-wide basis will be manageable, but having to provide a detailed description of how the case will proceed as a practical matter if the class is certified can expose weaknesses in these arguments.

On the other hand, voluntarily providing a specific trial plan can be also be an effective tool for plaintiffs in seeking class certification.  Provide a trial plan illustrating a reasonable and efficient process for resolving both common issues and any individualized issues can give even a skeptical court a level of comfort in certifying a class in the face of more abstract manageability arguments being raised by the defendant.

Trial plans have been used extensively in tobacco class action litigation both in decisions whether to certify a class and in decisions to decertify a class previously certified.  For examples, see here and here.

At least one state’s courts have held “that a trial plan is part of the rigorous analysis [c]ourts must perform . . . before ruling on class certification.'” North American Mortgage Co. v. Lee, No. 02-1050 (Tex. Dec. 17, 2004) (quoting Southwestern Refining Co. v. Bernal, 22 S.W.3d 425, 435 (Tex. 2000) (emphasis added)).  However, many state and federal courts will not by rule or on their own initiative ask for the submission of a trial plan as a matter of course in evaluating class certification.  Trial plans are not required under FRCP 23 or the similar rules of many states.

Even if a court does not require a trial plan in connection with class certification proceedings, it cannot hurt to suggest that the plaintiff be required to submit one in order to test manageability and predominance of common issues.  Ordering a trial plan is certainly something within a court’s inherent supervisory powers and its discretionary authority in managing class action proceedings under Rule 23(d).  Where manageability is suspect, forcing the issue by requiring a trial plan can help to illustrate manageability problems in a way that more generalized arguments in briefs may not make clear.

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