Justia Class Action Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals
Gates v. Rohm & Haas Co.
Named plaintiffs are residents of a residential area of about 2000 people. Defendants, chemical companies, operated a facility one mile north of the area. Plaintiffs allege that defendants dumped wastewater into a lagoon that seeped into an aquifer where it degraded into vinyl chloride, a carcinogen. The district court denied certification of a class seeking medical monitoring for village residents exposed to airborne vinyl chloride between 1968 and 2002, and a liability-only issue class seeking compensation for property damage from the exposure. The Third Circuit affirmed. The district court acted within its discretion in finding plaintiffs would be unable to prove a concentration of vinyl chloride that would create a significant risk of contracting a serious latent disease for all class members. A single injunction or declaratory judgment could not provide relief to each member of the class, due to individual issues unrelated to the monetary nature of the claim. Each person's work, travel, and recreational habits may have affected their level of exposure. Certification of a liability-only issue class could unfairly impact defendants and absent class members.
Litman v. Cellco Partnership
This case was remanded from the U.S. Supreme Court. Appellants Keith Litman and Robert Watchel asked the Third Circuit to reverse a district court order that compelled them to arbitrate their contract dispute with Cellco Partnership (d/b/a Verizon Wireless) on an individual rather than class-wide basis. In an unpublished opinion, the Third Circuit vacated the district court order because a recent Third Circuit precedent bound the Court to conclude that class arbitration should have been available to Appellants. Verizon responded by seeking a stay of the mandate and seeking review by the Supreme Court. Having reviewed the supplemental briefing and applicable legal authority, the Third Circuit concluded that the applicable law at issue that required the availability of classwide arbitration created a scheme inconsistent with the Federal Arbitration Act. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the district court’s order compelling individual arbitration in accordance with the terms of the individual Appellants’ contracts with Verizon.
Behrend v. Comcast Corp.
Comcast‘s share of programming distribution services in the Philadelphia Designated Market Area allegedly grew from 23.9 percent in 1998 to 69.5 percent in 2007. Customers alleged violations of the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. 1 & 2, claiming that Comcast eliminated competition, raised entry barriers, maintained increased prices, and deprived subscribers of lower prices that would result from effective competition. Following a 2008 Third Circuit decision, the district court reconsidered its class certification with respect to Rule 23(b)'s predominance requirement. After taking evidence the court held that plaintiffs demonstrated that: questions of law and fact common to class members predominate; the relevant geographic market could be the Philadelphia Designated Market Area; the class could establish antitrust impact on the theory that clustering through swaps and acquisitions deterred overbuilder competition; plaintiffs' expert provided common evidence to measure damages; and the class could establish antitrust impact through common evidence. The court narrowed class-wide impact to a theory that Comcast engaged in anticompetitive clustering that deterred entry of overbuilders. The Third Circuit affirmed. Plaintiffs established by a preponderance of evidence that they would be able to prove through common evidence class-wide antitrust impact (higher cost on non-basic cable programming), and a common methodology to quantify damages on a class-wide basis.
Twp. of Lyndhurst v. Priceline.com Inc.
The Township brought a putative class action on behalf of itself and similarly situated New Jersey municipalities, alleging that defendants, companies who operate hotel booking sites online, owe unpaid hotel occupancy taxes. Defendants calculate the tax owed based on the negotiated rate paid by a defendant (wholesale rate), not the higher rate charged consumers (retail rate). Defendants pay the tax to the hotel, which remits it to the state taxing authority.The district court dismissed on grounds of prudential standing, holding that state officials have the right to enforce the statutory tax scheme. The Third Circuit affirmed. The Township is not the proper plaintiff. Authority to adopt a hotel tax is granted municipalities by N.J. Stat. 40:48F-1, but administration and collection are left to state officials.
Tristani, et al. v. Richman, et al.
This appeal involved a putative class action filed by three Pennsylvania Medicaid beneficiaries subject to the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare's (DPW) liens against future settlements or judgments. At issue was whether state agencies responsible for administering the Medicaid program have the authority to assert such liens and, if so, whether Pennsylvania's statutory framework was consistent with the Supreme Court's decision in Arkansas Department of Health and Human Services v. Ahlborn. The court examined the text, structure, history, and purpose of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. 301 et seq., and held that liens limited to medical costs were not prohibited by the anti-lien and anti-recovery provisions of the Act, 42 U.S.C. 1396p(a)-(b). Accordingly, the court upheld Pennsylvania's longstanding practice of imposing such liens. The court also held that Pennsylvania's current statutory framework, which afforded Medicaid recipients a right of appeal from the default allocation, was a permissible default apportionment scheme.
Alli v. Decker
Plaintiffs, lawful permanent residents taken into custody based on past convictions, (8 U.S.C. 1182) sought a declaratory judgment that continued detention of putative class members, without bond hearings, violated the Immigration and Nationality Act and the Due Process Clause. The District Court denied class certification and dismissed the class complaint, based on 8 U.S.C. 1252(f)(1), which precludes class actions that seek to "enjoin or restrain the operation of" several immigration statutes. The Third Circuit reversed. The word "restrain" does not encompass classwide declaratory relief.
Meyer v. CUNA Mut. Ins. Soc’y
Plaintiff purchased a credit disability insurance policy from defendant in connection with credit union financing of an automobile. Following an injury on the job, he received benefits in the form of credit union payments on the auto loan for about three years. The defendant then notified plaintiff that it would not continue to pay because he no longer met the definition of Total Disability under the policy. The district court certified a class action, found the definition of the term âTotal Disabilityâ ambiguous and construed it in favor the insured, entered an injunction that set up a claims review process for class members, then decertified the class. The Third Circuit affirmed with respect to the definition. The court vacated and remanded the rest of the judgment, holding that the court abused its discretion in issuing an injunction in which it retained jurisdiction over the class members' claims throughout the claims procedure process after the class was decertified.