Justia Class Action Opinion Summaries
Johnson v. NPAS Solutions, LLC
The Eleventh Circuit held that the district court, in approving the class action settlement underlying this appeal, repeated several errors that have become commonplace in everyday class action practice. First, the district court violated the plain terms of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(h) by setting a schedule that required class members to file any objection to the settlement—including any objection pertaining to attorneys' fees—more than two weeks before class counsel had filed their fee petition. However, on the record, the district court's error was harmless. Second, the district court ignored on-point Supreme Court precedent by awarding the class representative a $6,000 incentive payment as acknowledgement of his role in prosecuting the case on behalf of the class members.Finally, in approving class counsel's fee request, overruling objections, and approving the parties' settlement, the district court made no findings or conclusions that might facilitate appellate review. Rather, the district court offered only rote, boilerplate pronouncements ("approved," "overturned," etc.). Therefore, the district court violated the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and the court's precedents requiring courts to explain their class-related decisions. Accordingly, the court reversed in part, vacated in part, and remanded for the district court to adequately explain its fee award to class counsel, its denial of the interested party's objections, and its approval of the settlement. View "Johnson v. NPAS Solutions, LLC" on Justia Law
CGC Holding Company v. Hutchens
The class’s version of events painted the Hutchenses as cunning con artists who "puppeteered" a advance-fee loan scam from afar. Defendants Sandy Hutchens, Tanya Hutchens, and Jennifer Hutchens, a three-member family who purportedly orchestrated a loan scam, challenged a district court’s rulings to avoid paying all or part of the judgment against them brought pursuant to a class action suit. The Tenth Circuit concluded almost all of those challenges failed, including their challenges to the jury’s verdict, class certification, proximate causation, and the application of the equitable unclean hands defense. However, the Court agreed with the Hutchenses’ position on the district court’s imposition of a constructive trust on some real property allegedly bought with the swindled fees. The Court therefore affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded to the district court for entry of a revised judgment. View "CGC Holding Company v. Hutchens" on Justia Law
Hargrove v. Sleepys LLC
The plaintiffs, who performed mattress deliveries for Sleepy's, signed Independent Driver Agreements, providing that the relationship was “non-exclusive.” Some drivers signed on their own behalf; others signed on behalf of their corporate entity (carrier). Individual drivers were required to form business entities, even if the business consisted of one driver and one truck. Sleepy’s did not pay wages to a carrier’s owners or workers. It paid each carrier for all the deliveries the carrier performed. An employee misclassification suit, seeking class certification, alleged that Sleepy’s misclassified the individual drivers as independent contractors and violated New Jersey law by making certain deductions and failing to pay overtime.The Third Circuit reversed the denial of certification of a proposed class of drivers who performed Sleepy's deliveries on a full-time basis using one truck. In addition to the Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23 class action requirements, the Third Circuit requires that a Rule 23(b)(3) class be “currently and readily ascertainable.” Plaintiffs must show that the class is defined with reference to objective criteria and there is a reliable and administratively feasible mechanism for determining whether putative class members fall within the definition. The district court essentially demanded that the plaintiffs identify the class members at the certification stage and focused on gaps in Sleepy's records. Where an employer’s lack of records makes it more difficult to ascertain members of an otherwise objectively verifiable class, the employees who make up that class should not bear the cost of the employer’s faulty record-keeping. View "Hargrove v. Sleepys LLC" on Justia Law
Cisneros v. Petland, Inc.
After plaintiff bought a puppy from Petland and the puppy died a week later, plaintiff filed suit under the civil provisions contained in the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), alleging that the puppy's death was the result of a nationwide racketeering conspiracy. Plaintiff alleged that defendants are involved in a conspiracy to sell sick puppies for premium prices and engaged in a campaign of obfuscation after the sale to aid Petland in avoiding its warranties.The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's RICO complaint for failure to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). The court held that the complaint failed to plead facts that plausibly support the inference that defendants shared a common purpose to commit the massive fraud she alleges. Furthermore, plaintiff has failed to allege with particularity that each defendant engaged in a pattern of racketeering activity. The court also held that plaintiff adequately alleged in her complaint that the Class Action Fairness Act vested the district court with original jurisdiction over her Georgia RICO claim. Therefore, the court vacated the portion of the district court's order declining to exercise supplemental jurisdiction and remanded with instructions to dismiss plaintiff's state-law RICO claim with prejudice. View "Cisneros v. Petland, Inc." on Justia Law
Burnett v. Pagliacci Pizza, Inc.
Pagliacci Pizza hired Steven Burnett as a delivery driver. Steven Burnett attended a mandatory new employee orientation at a local Pagliacci Pizza. During the orientation, Pagliacci gave Burnett multiple forms and told him to sign them so that he could start working. One of the forms that Burnett signed was a one-page “Employee Relationship Agreement” (ERA). The ERA mentioned nothing about arbitration of disputes. Pagliacci’s “Mandatory Arbitration Policy” (MAP) was printed in Pagliacci’s employee handbook, “Little Book of Answers,” a 23-page booklet in which Pagliacci’s MAP appeared on page 18. The MAP was not listed in the handbook’s table of contents, and page 18 fell within the “Mutual Fairness Benefits” section. Burnett was given a copy of Little Book of Answers during his orientation and told to read it at home. Consistent with that instruction, the ERA contained a section entitled “Rules and Policies.” Delivery drivers like Burnett filed a class action alleging wage and hour claims against Pagliacci Pizza. At issue on interlocutory review was whether the trial court sustainably denied the employer’s motion to compel arbitration. The Court of Appeals affirmed, determining that the mandatory arbitration policy contained in the employee handbook, which was provided to the named plaintiff after he signed the employment relationship agreement, was procedurally and substantively unconscionable and, thus, unenforceable. The Washington Supreme Court held that the MAP at issue in this case was indeed unenforceable because no arbitration agreement was formed when the employee signed the employment agreement when he had no notice of the arbitration provision contained in the employee handbook. The Court also held that in light of the noted circumstances, even if an arbitration contract existed, it was procedurally unconscionable and unenforceable. Furthermore, the Court held the same arbitration provision was substantively unconscionable because its one-sided terms and limitation provisions would bar any claim by the terminated employee here, an overly harsh result. Accordingly, the trial court’s order denying the employer’s motion to compel arbitration was affirmed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Burnett v. Pagliacci Pizza, Inc." on Justia Law
Liberian Community Ass’n v. Lamont
Plaintiffs filed suit challenging the quarantine decisions of certain Connecticut state officials in response to an Ebola epidemic in West Africa. On appeal, plaintiffs challenged the district court's denial of their motion for class certification and dismissing their suit for lack of standing and based on qualified immunity. Plaintiffs primarily argue that they suffered actual or imminent injuries that create standing to seek prospective relief to avert allegedly unconstitutional future quarantines; clearly established law required that any quarantine imposed be medically necessary and comport with certain procedural safeguards; and their class is sufficiently numerous to merit certification.The Second Circuit affirmed and held that the district court properly deemed plaintiffs' injuries too speculative to support standing. In this case, plaintiffs failed to plead a sufficient likelihood that, under the revised policy, any of them faces a substantial risk of suffering a future injury. The court also held that the law surrounding quarantines was not clearly established such that a state official may be held liable for the actions taken here. The court did not reach the class certification issue because it is mooted by the court's conclusion as to standing. Accordingly, the court remanded with instructions to amend the judgment to clarify that the state law claims were dismissed without prejudice. View "Liberian Community Ass'n v. Lamont" on Justia Law
Robinson v. Southern Counties Oil Co.
Robinson worked as a truck driver for Southern in 2015-2017. In 2018, after filing a notice with the California Labor Workforce Development Agency, he filed suit under the Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA) (Lab. Code 2698), alleging that Southern denied Robinson and other employees meal and rest breaks, and, as a result, failed to pay timely wages, furnish complete and accurate wage statements, and pay all wages due upon termination.The San Diego County Superior Court subsequently approved a settlement in a class action that sought individual damages and civil penalties under PAGA for the same alleged Labor Code violations (Gutierrez), which covered all persons employed by Southern in certain jobs, 2013-2018. Robinson and three other employees opted out of the class settlement. Robinson amended the allegations of his complaint to represent Southern employees who opted out of the Gutierrez settlement and persons who were employed by Southern from January 27, 2018, to the present. The court of appeal affirmed the dismissal of the case. Robinson is barred from bringing a PAGA action asserting the same claims that were settled in Gutierrez and lacks standing to bring a representative action on behalf of employees employed during the time period when he was no longer employed by Southern. View "Robinson v. Southern Counties Oil Co." on Justia Law
Vicki Linneman v. Vita-Mix Corp.
Some Vita-Mix blenders contained tiny flecks of polytetrafluoroethylene, a substance commonly used in kitchen appliances and used in the blenders' seals. Normal wear-and-tear caused tiny pieces to rub off from the seal into the blender container. Blender owners filed this class action. The parties entered into a settlement for two classes of plaintiffs: a household class and a commercial class. Household class members could request either a $70 gift card or a replacement blade assembly. Commercial class members could request only a replacement blade assembly. The court preliminarily approved this settlement.The court calculated attorneys' fees by multiplying the hours class counsel reasonably worked on the case by a reasonable hourly rate, resulting in an award of about $2.2 million. Based on the purportedly exceptional nature of the litigation, the court enhanced that figure by 75% for a final award of about $4 million, plus post-judgment interest.The Sixth Circuit vacated. The district court correctly used the lodestar method of calculation and correctly interpreted the settlement agreement but erred when it determined the billing rates based on class counsel’s affidavits. A lawyer seeking fees has the burden to show the reasonableness of his billing rate with something in addition to the attorney’s own affidavits” The district court abused its discretion when it used an upward multiplier, without addressing a crucial question: whether this case involves “rare and exceptional circumstances.” The court upheld the award of post-judgment interest. View "Vicki Linneman v. Vita-Mix Corp." on Justia Law
Attias v. CareFirst, Inc.
Plaintiffs filed suit against CareFirst after hackers allegedly stole sensitive customer information from the health insurer's data system, alleging tort, contract, and statutory claims. The district court dismissed all claims of five plaintiffs and most claims of two plaintiffs. At issue was whether the district court permissibly certified the dismissed claims under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(b), so as to make the dismissal order final and immediately appealable.The DC Circuit held that it lacked appellate jurisdiction over the certified claims of the Tringlers and of the other plaintiffs. Under basic principles of claim preclusion, the court explained that the Tringlers could not have litigated to judgment one action involving the claims still pending before the district court and another involving the claims already dismissed. Under Tolson v. United States, 732 F.2d 998, 1001–03 (D.C. Cir. 1984), they likewise cannot sever the latter claims for an immediate appeal under Rule 54(b). In regard to the non-Tringler claims, the court stated that it is unclear whether the district court would have certified these claims for immediate appeal had it properly declined to certify the claims of the Tringlers. Therefore, the court cannot determine whether the district court would have certified only the non-Tringler claims, much less whether it could have come up with a permissible justification for doing so. View "Attias v. CareFirst, Inc." on Justia Law
Frank v. Target Corp.
Named plaintiffs filed a putative class action in Illinois, alleging that defendants made false claims about dietary supplements. The parties negotiated a settlement. Over the objection of class member Frank, the district court approved it. The Seventh Circuit reversed. In 2015, the parties submitted “the Pearson II settlement.” Three class members objected to the Pearson II settlement.Nunez had filed his own putative class action against the defendants in California. After the Seventh Circuit vacated the first Pearson settlement, Nunez wanted to represent a Pearson subclass. The Pearson parties refused to include Nunez’s counsel in their negotiations. Nunez objected to the Pearson II settlement. The district court approved it. All three objectors appealed, then dismissed their appeals. Frank moved for disgorgement of any payments made to objectors in exchange for those dismissals. Discovery showed that the objectors had received side payments in exchange for dismissing their appeals. The district court denied disgorgement.The Seventh Circuit reversed. The district court had the equitable power to order the settling objectors to disgorge for the benefit of the class the proceeds of their private settlements. “Falsely flying the class’s colors, these three objectors extracted $130,000 in what economists would call rents from the litigation process simply by showing up and objecting" to the settlement.” Settling an objection that asserts the class’s rights in return for a private payment to the objector is inequitable and disgorgement is the most appropriate remedy. Those objectors are, in essence, “not paid for anything they owned.” View "Frank v. Target Corp." on Justia Law