Justia Class Action Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Business Law
Klick v. Cenikor Foundation
The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reviewed a case involving the Cenikor Foundation, a nonprofit drug rehabilitation center. The foundation had been sued by a group of its rehabilitation patients for alleged violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The patients contended that they were effectively employees of the foundation, as they were required to work as part of their treatment program without receiving monetary compensation. The foundation contested the lawsuit and appealed a district court's decision to certify the case as a collective action under the FLSA.The Court of Appeals found that the district court had applied the incorrect legal standard in determining whether the patients were employees under the FLSA. Specifically, the court should have applied a test to determine who was the primary beneficiary of the work relationship, rather than a test typically used to distinguish employees from independent contractors.The appellate court remanded the case back to the district court to apply this primary beneficiary test and to consider the foundation's defense that any benefits provided to the patients offset any requirement to pay them a wage. The court emphasized that the question of whether the foundation's patients were employees under the FLSA was a threshold issue that needed to be resolved before the case could proceed as a collective action. View "Klick v. Cenikor Foundation" on Justia Law
Chicoine v. Wellmark, Inc.
In this case, three chiropractors and their respective business entities sued Wellmark, Iowa’s largest health insurer and claims administrator, alleging that the company violated Iowa antitrust laws through its Administrative Service Agreements with over 400 Iowa employers who self-fund healthcare benefits for their employees. The chiropractors argued that without these agreements, the self-funded employers would compete independently for chiropractic services, resulting in higher profits for chiropractors. The chiropractors filed a motion to certify a class of approximately 1,300 Iowa chiropractors. However, the Supreme Court of Iowa affirmed the district court's decision to deny class certification, concluding that the chiropractors failed to meet the predominance requirement for class certification as they could not prove the threshold issue of antitrust injury on a classwide basis. The court found that proving whether individual chiropractors would be better or worse off without Wellmark’s agreements would require numerous mini-trials, and thus, individual questions predominated over common questions. Additionally, the court applied the doctrine of judicial estoppel to prevent the chiropractors from belatedly reviving a different liability theory that they had previously abandoned to avoid a motion to dismiss. View "Chicoine v. Wellmark, Inc." on Justia Law
Kasiotis v. N.Y. Black Car Operators’ Inj. Comp. Fund, Inc.
Plaintiff Joseph Kasiotis filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of himself and other similarly situated New York consumers against the New York Black Car Operators’ Injury Compensation Fund, Inc. (the “Fund”). The lawsuit alleged that the Fund improperly collected a surcharge on noncash tips paid by passengers to drivers providing livery or “black car” services from January 2000 until February 1, 2021. The United States District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled in favor of Kasiotis and the class, granting summary judgment on the unjust enrichment claim. On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held that the Fund was statutorily permitted to collect a surcharge on noncash tips. The court's ruling was based on Article 6-F of the New York Executive Law, which unambiguously authorizes the Fund to impose a surcharge on noncash tips paid in connection with covered black car services. As such, the Second Circuit Court reversed the district court's order granting summary judgment in favor of Kasiotis and the class, and remanded the case with instructions to dismiss the unjust enrichment claim. View "Kasiotis v. N.Y. Black Car Operators' Inj. Comp. Fund, Inc." on Justia Law
DOMINGUEZ V. BETTER MORTGAGE CORPORATION
In this case, the plaintiff, Lorenzo Dominguez, who was a former employee of Better Mortgage Corporation, alleged that the company violated federal and state wage-and-hour laws, primarily by failing to pay overtime to him and other mortgage underwriters. Upon being sued, Better Mortgage attempted to reduce the size of the potential class and collective action by persuading employees to agree not to join any collective or class action and to settle their claims individually. The district court found that Better Mortgage's communications were misleading and coercive. As such, the court nullified the new employment agreements, release agreements, and ordered the company to communicate with current and former employees about wage-and-hour issues only in writing and with prior approval.The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s order imposing a communication restriction on Better Mortgage, considering the company's appeal timely due to a motion to reconsider the restriction, thus tolling the time to file the notice of appeal. The appellate court held that it had jurisdiction to review the communication restriction and found it both justified and tailored to the situation created by the employer’s misleading and coercive communications. However, the appellate court dismissed for lack of jurisdiction the employer’s appeal from the district court’s order nullifying agreements between the employer and current and former employees. The appellate court found that it lacked jurisdiction to consider the merits of the nullification order because the issue was raised in an interlocutory appeal and did not fit any exception that would allow for review. View "DOMINGUEZ V. BETTER MORTGAGE CORPORATION" on Justia Law
Tyngsboro Sports II Solar, LLC v. National Grid USA Service Co., Inc.
In this dispute, two renewable-energy generating companies, Tyngsboro Sports II Solar, LLC and 201 Oak Pembroke Solar LLC, appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit after their class-action lawsuit was dismissed by the District Court for the District of Massachusetts due to lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. The plaintiffs had a longstanding disagreement with defendants, utility companies National Grid USA Service Company, Inc. and Massachusetts Electric Company, over certain tax-related fees charged to them. The plaintiffs sought redress in federal court after unsuccessful petitions to state authorities.The plaintiffs argued that the district court had jurisdiction due to the case's connection to federal tax law, however, the appellate court disagreed, stating that the plaintiffs' complaint did not bring any claim that arose under federal law. The plaintiffs had brought forth four claims against National Grid, including a request for declaratory relief, a state-law claim for a breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, a state-law claim for restitution and unjust enrichment, and a state-law claim for violating a statutory requirement that public utilities assess only just and reasonable charges.The appellate court affirmed the district court's dismissal of the case, finding that the plaintiffs could not establish federal-question jurisdiction simply by asserting a state-law claim to which there was a federal defense. The court noted that the state-law claims did not necessarily raise a federal issue, and to the extent that one did, the issue was not substantial. As such, the court concluded that the district court lacked jurisdiction over the claims. View "Tyngsboro Sports II Solar, LLC v. National Grid USA Service Co., Inc." on Justia Law
Villarroel v. Recology
This case revolves around the filed rate doctrine and its applicability in instances where rates approved by a municipal board are questioned. The plaintiffs, a group of customers, sued Recology, a waste management company, alleging that the company violated the Unfair Competition Law and other laws by bribing a city official to facilitate the approval of Recology’s application for increased refuse collection rates. The trial court ruled in favor of Recology, holding that the claims were barred by the filed rate doctrine. The Court of Appeal of the State of California First Appellate District Division Three reversed the decision, stating that the California version of the filed rate doctrine does not bar this action because the purposes underlying the doctrine – “nondiscrimination” and “nonjusticiability” strands – are not implicated by plaintiffs’ claims. The court also concluded that the judgment in the prior law enforcement action does not pose a res judicata bar to this putative class action. The court remanded the case for the trial court’s consideration of Recology’s remaining challenges in the first instance. View "Villarroel v. Recology" on Justia Law
Sepanossian v. Nat. Ready Mix Co.
Gary Sepanossian, dba G.S. Construction (Sepanossian), individually and as class representative, filed a class action against National Ready Mix Concrete Co., Inc. (Ready Mix), alleging Ready Mix charged its customers an “energy” fee and an “environmental” fee “wholly untethered to any actual cost for ‘energy’ or ‘environmental’ issues” that Ready Mix instead “recognize[s] as profit.” The complaint alleges causes of action for (1) violation of California’s Unfair Competition Law (UCL) under the fraudulent and unfair business practices prongs; (2) breach of contract; and (3) “unjust enrichment.” After Ready Mix answered the complaint, Sepanossian filed a motion for class certification. The trial court granted class certification but expressed doubts about Sepanossian’s legal claims and invited the parties to present a motion for judgment on the pleadings to address the merits before class notice. The parties agreed to do so, and Ready Mix subsequently filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings, which the trial court granted on the UCL and unjust enrichment causes of action. The Second Appellate District reversed because Sepanossian alleged facts sufficient to state a cause of action under the UCL but affirmed dismissal of the unjust enrichment cause of action. The court explained that here, Ready Mix customers cannot buy concrete from it while avoiding being charged energy and environmental fees. On a motion for judgment on the pleadings, the court wrote that it must accept as true Sepanossian’s allegation the fees were unavoidable for customers who wished to purchase concrete from Ready Mix. View "Sepanossian v. Nat. Ready Mix Co." on Justia Law
Krasner v. Cedar Realty Trust, Inc.
Plaintiff filed a putative shareholder class action complaint in New York State Supreme Court, alleging Maryland state law claims on behalf of himself and all similarly situated preferred stockholders of Cedar Realty Trust, Inc. (“Cedar”), a New York-based corporation incorporated in Maryland, following its August 2022 merger with Wheeler Real Estate Investment Trusts, Inc. (“Wheeler”) (collectively, “Defendants”). The complaint alleged Cedar and its leadership breached fiduciary duties owed to, and a contract with, shareholders such as Plaintiff and that Wheeler both aided and abetted the breach and tortiously interfered with the relevant contract. The Defendants collectively removed the case, invoking federal jurisdiction under the Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA), but the district court remanded the case to state court after Krasner argued that an exception to CAFA jurisdiction applied to his claims. The Second Circuit dismissed Defendants’ appeal and concluded that the “securities-related” exception applies. The court explained that here, the securities created a relationship between Cedar and Plaintiff that gave rise to fiduciary duties on the part of Cedar and the potential for additional claims against those parties who aid and abet Cedar’s breach of those duties. Thus, the aiding and abetting claim—and by the same logic, the tortious interference with contract claim—“seek enforcement of a right that arises from an appropriate instrument.” As such, the securities-related exception applies, and the district court properly remanded the case to state court. View "Krasner v. Cedar Realty Trust, Inc." on Justia Law
Campbell v. Davidson
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court granting summary judgment for Defendants and denying relief in this class action, holding that the district court did not err.In 2014, over two-thirds of the members of the Try County Telephone Association, Inc., a Wyoming cooperative utility providing telecommunication services on a non-profit basis, voted to sell the Cooperative, including its for-profit subsidiaries, to entities owned by Neil Schlenker. Schlenker converted the Cooperative into a for-profit corporation (TCT). After the sale, Class Representatives filed a class action lawsuit against TCT, Schlenker and his entities, and others, alleging fraud conversion and other claims and requesting that the sale be set aside. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Defendants. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court did nor err in granting summary judgment on all claims. View "Campbell v. Davidson" on Justia Law
Dzielak v. Whirlpool Corp
Since 1992, the Energy Star Program has set energy efficiency standards for categories of products and permitted approved products to bear the Energy Star logo. Three models of Whirlpool top-loading clothes washers were approved to display that logo and did so from 2009-2010. Under one method of measurement, those machines did not meet the Program’s energy- and water-efficiency standards; the washers did satisfy the Program’s standards under another measurement technique, which the Program previously endorsed. Program guidance from July 2010 disapproved of that method.Consumers in several states who had purchased those models commenced a putative class action against Whirlpool and retailers that sold those machines, alleging breach of express warranty and violations of state consumer protection statutes based on the allegedly wrongful display of the Energy Star logo. The district court certified a class action against Whirlpool but declined to certify a class against the retailers. At summary judgment, the court rejected all remaining claims.The Third Circuit affirmed, finding no genuine dispute of material fact. The plaintiffs did not demonstrate that the models were unfit for their intended purpose. A reasonable jury could not find that the retailer defendants were unjustly enriched from selling the washers. Without evidence of a false or misleading statement attributable to Whirlpool or the retailers, the state consumer protection claims failed. View "Dzielak v. Whirlpool Corp" on Justia Law