Justia Class Action Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
Shane Group, Inc. v. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Mich.
Blue Cross controls more than 60% of the Michigan commercial health insurance market; its patients are more profitable for hospitals than are patients insured by Medicare or Medicaid. BC enjoys “extraordinary market power.” The Justice Department (DOJ) claimed that BC used that power to require MFN agreements: BC would raise its reimbursement rates for services, if a hospital agreed to charge other commercial insurers rates at least as high as charged to BC. BC obtained MFN agreements with 40 hospitals and MFN-plus agreements with 22 hospital systems. Under MFN-plus, the greater the spread between BC's rates and the minimum rates for other insurers, the higher the rates that BC would pay. Class actions, (consolidated) followed the government’s complaint, alleging damages of more than $13.7 billion, and seeking treble damages under the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C 15. In 2013, Michigan banned MFN clauses; DOJ dismissed its suit. During discovery in the private actions, plaintiffs hired an antitrust expert, Leitzinger. BC moved to exclude Leitzinger’s report and testimony. Materials relating to that motion and to class certification were filed under seal, although the report does not discuss patient information. BC agreed to pay $30 million, about one-quarter of Leitzinger's estimate, into a settlement fund and not to oppose requests for fees, costs, and named-plaintiff “incentive awards,” within specified limits. After these deductions, $14,661,560 would be allocated among three-to-seven-million class members. Class members who sought to examine the court record or the bases for the settlement found that most key documents were heavily redacted or sealed. The court approved the settlement and denied the objecting class members’ motion to intervene. The Seventh Circuit vacated, stating that the court compounded its error in sealing the documents when it approved the settlement without meaningful scrutiny of its fairness to unnamed class members . View "Shane Group, Inc. v. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Mich." on Justia Law
Montgomery v. Kraft Foods Global, Inc.
Montgomery bought a Tassimo, a single-cup coffee brewer manufactured by Kraft Foods, expecting it to brew Starbucks coffee. After the purchase she struggled to find Starbucks T-Discs—single-cup coffee pods compatible with the brewer. The Starbucks T-Disc supply eventually disappeared as Kraft’s business relationship with Starbucks soured. Montgomery sued Kraft and Starbucks on behalf of a class for violations of various Michigan laws. After dismissing several claims and denying class certification on the rest, the district court entered judgment in Montgomery’s favor when she accepted defendants’ joint offer of judgment under FRCP 68. Montgomery appealed the dismissal of her breach of express and implied warranty claims, the denial of class certification on her consumer-protection claims, and the attorney’s fees awarded as part of the Rule 68 settlement (about 3% of what she had requested). The Sixth Circuit affirmed, noting that Montgomery did not purchase the item directly from defendants, for purposes of express warranty, and did not allege that the coffee maker was unfit for its ordinary purpose. View "Montgomery v. Kraft Foods Global, Inc." on Justia Law
Gascho v. Global Fitness Holdings, LLC
Consumer class actions against Global, on behalf of individuals who purchased gym memberships, alleged improper fees, unfair sales practices, lack of disclosures, improper bank account deductions, and improper handling of contract cancellations. The cases claimed breach of contract, unjust enrichment, fraud, and violation of state consumer protection laws. Objectors challenged a settlement, claiming it was unfair under FRCP 23(e); that class counsel’s fees were disproportionate to claims paid; that the settlement unnecessarily required a claims process; and that the settlement contained a “clear-sailing” agreement from Global not to oppose any application for $2.39 million for costs and fees or less and a “kicker” clause, providing that if the court awarded less than $2.39 million, that amount would constitute full satisfaction of Global’s obligation for costs and fees. Some further argued that the settlement failed to provide adequate compensation for Kentucky state-law claims and for plaintiffs who had signed an early, more favorable version of the contract. The district court approved the settlement based on a magistrate judge’s 80-page Report and Recommendation, which addressed each objection. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Though some courts disfavor clear sailing agreements and kicker clauses, their inclusion alone does not show that the court abused its discretion in approving the settlement. View "Gascho v. Global Fitness Holdings, LLC" on Justia Law
Graiser v. Visionworks of America, Inc.
Graiser, an Ohio citizen, saw a “Buy One, Get One Free” eyeglasses advertisement at the Beachwood, location of Visionworks, a Texas eye-care corporation operating in more than 30 states. According to Graiser, a Visionworks salesperson quoted Graiser “a price of $409.93 for eyeglasses, with a second eyeglasses ‘free.’” Alternatively, the salesperson told Graiser that he could purchase a single pair of eyeglasses for $245.95. Graiser filed a purported class action in state court, alleging violation of the Ohio Consumer Sales Practices Act. Visionworks removed the case under the Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA), 28 U.S.C. 1332(d), claiming that the amount in controversy recently surpassed CAFA’s jurisdictional threshold of $5,000,000. Graiser successfully moved to remand, arguing that removal was untimely under the 30-day period in 28 U.S.C. 1446(b)(3). The Sixth Circuit vacated and remanded, holding that section 1446(b)’s 30-day window for removal under CAFA is triggered when the defendant receives a document from the plaintiff from which it can first be ascertained that the case is removable under CAFA. The presence of CAFA jurisdiction provides defendants with a new window for removability, even if the case was originally removable under a different theory of federal jurisdiction. View "Graiser v. Visionworks of America, Inc." on Justia Law
Lutz v. Huntington Bancshares, Inc.
Plaintiffs filed a class-action suit against their former employer, Huntington Bank, alleging that the Bank failed to pay overtime compensation as required by the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. 201-219. Plaintiffs moved to conditionally certify a class of all current and former employees whose primary job duty consisted of “underwriting,” or “providing [Huntington’s] credit products to customers after reviewing and evaluating the loan applications against [the Bank’s] credit standards and guidelines that governed when to provide those credit products to those customers.” The court certified a smaller class of underwriters. The court found, and the Sixth Circuit affirmed, that those who worked with residential-loan products are administrative employees and not entitled to overtime pay. Their job duties related to the general business operations of the Bank, and they exercised discretion and independent judgment when performing those duties. View "Lutz v. Huntington Bancshares, Inc." on Justia Law
Monroe v. FTS USA, LLC
Plaintiffs brought suit under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) against their employer, FTS, a cable-television business for which the plaintiffs work or worked as cable technicians. The district court certified the case as an FLSA collective action, allowing 293 other technicians to opt in. FTS Technicians are paid pursuant to a piece-rate compensation plan; each assigned job is worth a set amount of pay, regardless of the amount of time it takes to complete the job. FTS Technicians are paid by applying a .5 multiplier to their regular rate for overtime hours. They allege that FTS implemented a company-wide time-shaving policy that required its employees to systematically underreport their overtime hours. Technicians either began working before their recorded start times, recorded lunch breaks they did not take, or continued working after their recorded end time. Technicians also presented documentary evidence and testimony showing that FTS’s time-shaving policy originated with FTS’s corporate office. A jury returned verdicts in favor of the class, which the district court upheld before calculating and awarding damages. The Sixth Circuit affirmed certification of the case as a collective action and a finding that sufficient evidence supports the verdicts, but reversed the calculation of damages. View "Monroe v. FTS USA, LLC" on Justia Law
Baatz v. Columbia Gas Transmission, LLC
Columbia stores natural gas in Medina Field, a naturally-occurring system of porous underground rock, pumping gas into the Field during summer, during low demand, and withdrawing it during winter. Medina is among 14 Ohio gas storage fields used by Columbia. Columbia received a federal Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity, 15 U.S.C. 717f, and was required to compensate those who own part of the Field by contractual agreement or eminent domain. The owners allege that Columbia stored gas for an indeterminate time without offering compensation and then offered $250 per lot. Each Medina owner rejected this offer. Columbia did not bring eminent domain proceedings. Other Ohio landowners accused Columbia of similar behavior and filed the Wilson class action in the Southern District of Ohio, including the Medina owners within the putative class. The Medina owners filed suit in the Northern District. Both actions claim trespass and unjust enrichment under Ohio law, and inverse condemnation under the Natural Gas Act. The Wilson suit also seeks damages for “native” natural gas Columbia takes when it withdraws its own gas. Columbia filed a counterclaim in Wilson, seeking to exercise eminent domain over every member of the putative class and join the Medina owners. The Northern District applied the first-to-file rule and dismissed. The Sixth Circuit reversed. The rule does apply, but dismissal was an abuse of discretion given jurisdictional and procedural hurdles to having the Medina claims heard in Wilson. View "Baatz v. Columbia Gas Transmission, LLC" on Justia Law
Durand v. Hanover Ins. Group, Inc.
In 2007, Durand filed an Employee Retirement Income Security Act, 29 U.S.C. 1001–1461 (ERISA) class action against her former employer and the pension plan it sponsors, challenging the projection rate used by the Plan to calculate the lump-sum payment Durand elected to receive after ending her employment at the Company in 2003. The Plan then used a 401(k)-style investment menu to determine the interest earned by members’ hypothetical accounts. Durand alleged that it impermissibly used the 30-year Treasury bond rate instead of the projected rate of return on her investment selections in the “whipsaw” calculation required under pre-2006 law. The Sixth CIrcuit reversed dismissal for failure to exhaust administrative remedies. Defendants then answered the complaint and raised defenses, including that the claims of putative class members “who received lump-sum distributions after December 31, 2003” were barred due to an amendment to the Plan that took effect after that date. Plaintiffs argued that the 2004 Amendment was an illegal reduction or “cutback” in benefits. The Sixth Circuit affirmed that the “cutback” claims were time-barred and did not relate back to the “whipsaw” claim asserted in the original class complaint. View "Durand v. Hanover Ins. Group, Inc." on Justia Law
Merrick v. Diageo Americas Supply, Inc.
Diageo distills and ages whiskey in Louisville, resulting in tons of ethanol emissions. Ethanol vapor wafts onto nearby property where the ethanol combines with condensation to propagate whiskey fungus. Ethanol emissions are regulated under the Clean Air Act, 42 U.S.C. 7401. Plaintiffs complained to the air pollution control district, which issued a Notice of Violation, finding that Diageo caused and allowed the emission of an air pollutant which crossed its property line causing an injury and nuisance to nearby neighborhoods and the public. Diageo disputed that its operations violated any district regulation. Plaintiffs filed a class action complaint, seeking damages for negligence, nuisance, and trespass, and an injunction. The district court concluded that state common law tort claims were not preempted by the Clean Air Act;” dismissed plaintiffs’ negligence claim on the ground that plaintiffs had not pled facts sufficient to establish that Diageo owed them a duty of care, or that Diageo had breached that duty; and declined to dismiss the remaining causes of action, concluding that plaintiffs had alleged facts sufficient to establish nuisance and trespass. On interlocutory appeal, the Sixth Circuit affirmed, based on the Act’s text, the Act’s structure and history, and relevant Supreme Court precedents. View "Merrick v. Diageo Americas Supply, Inc." on Justia Law