Justia Class Action Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in U.S. Supreme Court
Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins
Spokeo operates a “people search engine,” which searches a wide spectrum of databases to gather and provide personal information about individuals to various users, including prospective employers. After Robins discovered that his Spokeo-generated profile contained inaccurate information, he filed a class-action complaint alleging that the company willfully failed to comply with the Fair Credit Reporting Act of 1970, 15 U.S.C. 1681e(b). The district court dismissed. The Ninth Circuit reversed, reasoning that Robins’ “personal interests in the handling of his credit information are individualized.” The Supreme Court vacated. A plaintiff invoking federal jurisdiction bears the burden of establishing the “irreducible constitutional minimum” of standing by demonstrating an injury in fact, fairly traceable to the defendant’s challenged conduct, likely to be redressed by a favorable judicial decision. A plaintiff must show that he suffered “an invasion of a legally protected interest” that is “concrete and particularized” and “actual or imminent, not conjectural or hypothetical.” The Ninth Circuit’ focused on particularization: the requirement that an injury “affect the plaintiff in a personal and individual way,” but an injury in fact must be both concrete and particularized. Concreteness requires an injury to actually exist; a plaintiff does not automatically satisfy the injury-in-fact requirement whenever a statute grants a right and purports to authorize a suit to vindicate it. The violation of a statutory procedural right granted can be sufficient in some circumstances to constitute injury in fact, so that a plaintiff need not allege additional harm beyond the one identified by Congress. The Court did not rule on the correctness of the Ninth Circuit’s ultimate conclusion, but stated that Robins cannot satisfy Article III by alleging a bare procedural violation. View "Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins" on Justia Law
Tyson Foods, Inc. v. Bouaphakeo
Tyson employees working in the kill, cut, and retrim departments of an Iowa pork processing plant are required them to wear protective gear. The exact composition of the gear depends on the tasks a worker performs on a given day. Tyson compensated some, but not all, employees for donning and doffing, and did not record the time each employee spent on those activities. Employees sued under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and an Iowa wage law. They sought certification of their state claims as a class action under FRCP 23 and of their FLSA claims as a “collective action,” 29 U.S.C. 216. The court concluded that common questions, such as whether donning and doffing were compensable, were susceptible to classwide resolution even if not all of the workers wore the same gear. To show that they each worked more than 40 hours a week, inclusive of time spent donning and doffing, the employees primarily relied on a study performed by an industrial relations expert, Dr. Mericle. He conducted videotaped observations analyzing how long various donning and doffing activities took, averaged the time, and produced an estimate of 18 minutes a day for the cut and retrim departments and 21.25 minutes for the kill department. These estimates were added to the timesheets of each employee. The jury awarded about $2.9 million. The Eighth Circuit and Supreme Court affirmed. The most significant question common to the class is whether donning and doffing is compensable under FLSA. Because a representative sample may be the only feasible way to establish liability, it cannot be deemed improper merely because the claim was brought on behalf of a class. Each class member could have relied on the Mericle sample to establish liability had each brought an individual action. View "Tyson Foods, Inc. v. Bouaphakeo" on Justia Law
Campbell-Ewald v. Gomez
The Navy contracted with Campbell to develop a recruiting campaign that included text messages to young adults who had “opted in” to receipt of solicitations on topics that included Navy service. Campbell’s subcontractor generated a list of cellular phone numbers for consenting 18- to 24-year-olds and transmitted the Navy’s message to more than 100,000 recipients, including Gomez, age 40, who claims that he did not "opt in" and was not in the targeted age group. Gomez filed a class action under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), 47 U.S.C. 227(b)(1)(A)(iii), which prohibits “using any automatic dialing system” to send text messages to cellular telephones, absent prior express consent, and seeking treble statutory damages for a willful violation. Before the deadline for a motion for class certification, Campbell proposed to settle Gomez’s individual claim and filed an FRCP 68 offer of judgment, which Gomez did not accept. The district court granted Campbell summary judgment, finding that Campbell acquired the Navy’s sovereign immunity from suit. The Ninth Circuit reversed, holding that Gomez’s case remained live but that Campbell was not entitled to derivative sovereign immunity. The Supreme Court affirmed. An unaccepted offer of judgment does not moot a case. Campbell’s settlement bid and offer of judgment, once rejected, had no continuing efficacy; the parties remained adverse. A federal contractor may be shielded from liability unless it exceeded its authority or authority was not validly conferred; the Navy authorized Campbell to send text messages only to individuals who had “opted in.” View "Campbell-Ewald v. Gomez" on Justia Law
DIRECTV, Inc. v. Imburgia
DIRECTV and its customers entered into service agreements that included a binding arbitration provision with a class-arbitration waiver. It specified that the entire arbitration provision was unenforceable if the “law of your state” made class-arbitration waivers unenforceable. The agreement also declared that the arbitration clause was governed by the Federal Arbitration Act, 9 U.S.C. 2. After California customers entered into the agreement, the Supreme Court held that California’s rule invalidating class-arbitration waivers was preempted by the Federal Act. When California customers sued, the trial court denied DIRECTV’s request to order the matter to arbitration. The California Court of Appeal affirmed, finding the entire arbitration provision unenforceable under the agreement because the parties were free to refer in the contract to California law as it would have been absent federal preemption. The U.S. Supreme Court reversed. The California court’s interpretation does not place arbitration contracts “on equal footing with all other contracts,” as required by the Act. California courts would not interpret contracts other than arbitration contracts the same way. The language the court used to frame the issue focused only on arbitration. View "DIRECTV, Inc. v. Imburgia" on Justia Law
Halliburton Co. v. Erica P. John Fund, Inc.
Investors can recover damages in a private securities fraud action only with proof that they relied on misrepresentation in deciding to buy or sell stock. The Supreme Court held, in "Basic," that the requirement could be met by invoking a presumption that the price of stock traded in an efficient market reflects all public, material information, including material misrepresentations; a defendant can rebut the presumption by showing that the alleged misrepresentation did not actually affect the stock price. EPJ filed a putative class action, alleging misrepresentations designed to inflate Halliburton’s stock price, in violation of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and SEC Rule 10b–5. The Supreme Court vacated denial of class certification, concluding that securities fraud plaintiffs need not prove causal connection between the alleged misrepresentations and their economic losses at the class certification stage. On remand, Halliburton argued that certification was nonetheless inappropriate because it had shown that alleged misrepresentations had not affected stock price. Without that presumption, investors would have to prove reliance on an individual basis, so that individual issues would predominate over common ones and class certification was inappropriate under FRCP 23(b)(3). The district court certified the class. The Fifth Circuit affirmed. The Supreme Court vacated and remanded, while declining to reject the Basic presumption.The Court rejected arguments that “a robust view of market efficiency” is no longer tenable in light of evidence that material, public information often is not quickly incorporated into stock prices and that investors do not invest in reliance on the integrity of market price. Congress could alter Basic’s presumption, given recent decisions construing Rule 10b–5 claims, but has not done so, although it has responded to other concerns. The Basic doctrine includes two presumptions: if a plaintiff shows that the misrepresentation was public and material and that the stock traded in a generally efficient market, there is a presumption that the misrepresentation affected price. If the plaintiff also shows that he purchased stock at market price during the relevant period, there is a presumption that he purchased in reliance on the misrepresentation. Requiring plaintiffs to prove price impact directly would take away the first presumption. Defendants, however, must have an opportunity to rebut the presumption of reliance before class certification with evidence of lack of price impact. That a misrepresentation has price impact is Basic’s fundamental premise and has everything to do with predominance. If reliance is to be shown by that presumption, the publicity and market efficiency prerequisites must be proved before certification. Because indirect evidence of price impact will be before the court at the class certification stage in any event, there is no reason to artificially limit the inquiry at that stage by excluding direct evidence of price impact. View "Halliburton Co. v. Erica P. John Fund, Inc." on Justia Law
Chadbourne & Parke LLP v. Troice
The Securities Litigation Uniform Standards Act of 1998, 15 U.S.C. 78bb(f)(1), forbids large securities class actions “based upon the statutory or common law of any State” in which plaintiffs allege “a misrepresentation or omission of a material fact in connection with the purchase or sale of a covered security,” and defines “covered security” to include only securities traded on a national exchange. Plaintiffs filed civil class actions under state law, contending that defendants helped Stanford and his companies perpetrate a Ponzi scheme by falsely representing that uncovered securities (certificates of deposit in Stanford Bank) were backed by covered securities. The district court dismissed, reasoning that, for purposes of the Act, the Bank’s misrepresentation that its holdings in covered securities made investments in its uncovered securities more secure provided the requisite “connection” between the state-law actions and transactions in covered securities. The Fifth Circuit reversed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the Act does not preclude the state-law class action. The Court noted the Act’s basic focus on transactions in covered, not uncovered, securities, and that use of the phrase “material fact in connection with the purchase or sale” suggests a connection that matters. A connection matters where the misrepresentation makes a significant difference to someone’s decision to purchase or to sell a covered security, not an uncovered one; the “someone” making that decision must be a party other than the fraudster. The Act and the underlying Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and the Securities Act of 1933, are intended to protect investor confidence in the securities markets, not to protect persons whose connection with the statutorily defined securities is more remote than buying or selling. A broader interpretation of “connection” would interfere with state efforts to provide remedies for ordinary state-law frauds. This interpretation does not curtail the Securities and Exchange Commission’s enforcement powers under 15 U S.C. 78c(a)(10). The SEC brought successful actions against Stanford and his associates, based on the Bank’s fraudulent sales of certificates of deposit. View "Chadbourne & Parke LLP v. Troice" on Justia Law
Mississippi ex rel. Hood v. AU Optronics Corp.
The Class Action Fairness Act of 2005 (CAFA) lowers diversity jurisdiction requirements in class actions and in mass actions, i.e., civil actions “in which monetary relief claims of 100 or more persons are proposed to be tried jointly on the ground that the plaintiffs’ claims involve common questions of law or fact,” 28 U.S.C. 1332(d)(11)(B)(i). Mississippi sued LCD manufacturers in state court, alleging violations of state law and seeking restitution for LCD purchases made by itself and its citizens. Following removal, the district court held that the suit qualified as a mass action, but remanded to state court on the ground that it fell within CAFA’s “general public” exception, section 1332(d)(11)(B)(ii)(III). The Fifth Circuit reversed. The Supreme Court reversed. Because Mississippi is the only named plaintiff, the suit does not constitute a mass action under CAFA. The phrase “100 or more persons” does not encompass unnamed persons who are real parties in interest to claims brought by named plaintiffs. The Court stated that it is difficult to imagine how the “claims of 100 or more” unnamed individuals could be “proposed to be tried jointly on the ground that the...claims” of some completely different group of named plaintiffs “involve common questions of law or fact.” Had Congress wanted CAFA to authorize removal of representative actions brought by states as sole plaintiffs, it would have done so through the class action provision, not the mass action provision. View "Mississippi ex rel. Hood v. AU Optronics Corp." on Justia Law
Am. Express Co. v. Italian Colors Rest.
An agreement between American Express and merchants who accept American Express cards, requires that all of their disputes be resolved by arbitration and provides that there “shall be no right or authority for any Claims to be arbitrated on a class action basis.” The merchants filed a class action, claiming that American Express violated section 1 of the Sherman Act and seeking treble damages under section 4 of the Clayton Act. The district court dismissed. The Second Circuit reversed, holding that the class action waiver was unenforceable and that arbitration could not proceed because of prohibitive costs. The Circuit upheld its reversal on remand in light of a Supreme Court holding that a party may not be compelled to submit to class arbitration absent an agreement to do so. The Supreme Court reversed. The FAA reflects an overarching principle that arbitration is a matter of contract and does not permit courts to invalidate a contractual waiver of class arbitration on the ground that the plaintiff’s cost of individually arbitrating a federal statutory claim exceeds the potential recovery. Courts must rigorously enforce arbitration agreements even for claims alleging violation of a federal statute, unless the FAA mandate has been overridden by a contrary congressional command. No contrary congressional command requires rejection of this waiver. Federal antitrust laws do not guarantee an affordable procedural path to the vindication of every claim or indicate an intention to preclude waiver of class-action procedures. The fact that it is not worth the expense involved in proving a statutory remedy does not constitute the elimination of the right to pursue that remedy. View "Am. Express Co. v. Italian Colors Rest." on Justia Law
Genesis HealthCare Corp. v. Symczyk
Plaintiff sued under the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA) on behalf of herself and “other employees similarly situated,” 29 U. S. C. 216(b). She ignored an offer of judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 68. The district court, finding that no other individuals had joined her suit and that the Rule 68 offer fully satisfied her claim, dismissed for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. The Third Circuit reversed, reasoning that allowing defendants to “pick off” named plaintiffs before certification with calculated Rule 68 offers would frustrate the goals of collective actions. The Supreme Court reversed. Because plaintiff had no personal interest in representing putative, unnamed claimants, nor any other continuing interest that would preserve her suit from mootness, her suit was appropriately dismissed. The Court assumed, without deciding, that the offer mooted her individual claim. Plaintiff had not yet moved for “conditional certification” when her claim became moot, nor had the court anticipatorily ruled on any such request. The Court noted that a putative class acquires an independent legal status once it is certified under Rule 23, but, under the FLSA, “conditional certification” does not produce a class with an independent legal status, or join additional parties to the action. View "Genesis HealthCare Corp. v. Symczyk" on Justia Law
Comcast Corp. v. Behrend
Comcast and its subsidiaries allegedly “cluster” cable television operations within a region by swapping their systems outside the region for competitor systems inside the region. Plaintiffs filed a class-action antitrust suit, claiming that Comcast’s strategy lessens competition and leads to supra-competitive prices. The district court required them to show that the antitrust impact of the violation could be proved at trial through evidence common to the class and that damages were measurable on a classwide basis through a “common methodology.” The court accepted only one of four proposed theories of antitrust impact: that Comcast’s actions lessened competition from “overbuilders,” i.e., companies that build competing networks in areas where an incumbent cable company already operates. It certified the class, finding that the damages from overbuilder deterrence could be calculated on a classwide basis, even though plaintiffs’ expert acknowledged that his regression model did not isolate damages resulting from any one of the theories. In affirming, the Third Circuit refused to consider Comcast’s argument that the model failed to attribute damages to overbuilder deterrence because doing so would require reaching the merits of claims at the class certification stage. The Supreme Court reversed: the class action was improperly certified under Rule 23(b)(3). The Third Circuit deviated from precedent in refusing to entertain arguments against a damages model that bore on the propriety of class certification. Under the proper standard for evaluating certification, plaintiffs’ model falls far short of establishing that damages can be measured classwide. The figure plaintiffs’ expert used was calculated assuming the validity of all four theories of antitrust impact initially advanced. Because the model cannot bridge the differences between supra-competitive prices in general and supra¬competitive prices attributable to overbuilder deterrence, Rule 23(b)(3) cannot authorize treating subscribers in the Philadelphia cluster as members of a single class. View "Comcast Corp. v. Behrend" on Justia Law