Justia Class Action Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
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DirecTV and Dish Network (“Defendants”) provide video services in part through the Internet. The City of Creve Coeur filed this class action in Missouri state court on behalf of local government authorities, seeking a declaratory judgment that Defendants are liable under the Video Services Providers Act (“VSPA”) and implementing local ordinances, plus injunctive relief, an accounting of unpaid fees, and damages. Defendants removed the action based on diversity jurisdiction and the Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA). After the state court entered an interlocutory order declaring that VSPA payments are fees, rather than taxes, DirecTV filed a second notice of removal, arguing this order established the required federal jurisdiction. The district court granted Creve Coeur’s motion to remand.   The Eleventh Circuit affirmed on different grounds. The court explained that the district court’s remand order plainly stated that the remand was based on comity principles as articulated in Levin, not on “state-tax based comity concerns.” Comity as a basis to remand was raised and fully argued in the first remand proceeding. Federal courts have long precluded two bites at this apple. Second, the Supreme Court in Levin emphatically stated that the century-old comity doctrine is not limited to the state-tax-interference concerns that later led Congress to enact the TIA. Third, the state court’s December 2020 Order addressed, preliminarily, only the VSPA fee-or-tax issue under state law. It did not address the broader considerations comity addresses. The state court order in no way overruled or undermined the basis for the district court’s first remand order. Therefore, DirecTV failed to establish the essential basis for a second removal. View "City of Creve Coeur v. DirecTV LLC" on Justia Law

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General Motors (“GM”) installed Generation IV 5.3 Liter V8 Vortec 5300 LC9 engines (“Gen IV engine”) in seven different GMC and Chevrolet trucks and SUVs in model years 2010 to 2014 (the “affected vehicles”). In 2016, representatives from various States filed a putative class action alleging that the affected vehicles contain a defect that causes excess oil consumption and other engine damage (the “oil consumption defect”). Plaintiffs appealed only the dismissal of their Missouri Merchandising Practice Act (MMPA) claim, stating that “the sole issue presented on appeal is whether the district court improperly applied the concept of puffery to  their deceptive omissions claims under the MMPA.”   The Eighth Circuit reversed the dismissal of the MMPA claims. The court concluded that advertising “puffery” does not affect an MMPA claim based on omission of a material fact, at least in this case, and the court agreed that Plaintiffs’ Class Action Complaint alleges sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state an omissions claim to relief that is plausible on its face. View "Michael Tucker v. General Motors LLC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a home-delivery subscriber to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch daily newspaper (the “Post-Dispatch”), filed a putative class action for damages against the owner and publisher of the Post-Dispatch in state court alleging that Defendants “double-billed” him for “overlapping days.” Defendants removed the case to federal court under the Class Action Fairness Act, alleging that Plaintiff is seeking aggregate class-wide damages for the applicable five-year statute of limitations period that exceed $5,000,000. Plaintiff filed a First Amended Class Action Complaint alleging six claims for relief under Missouri law. The district court granted summary judgment dismissing all claims.   On appeal, Plaintiff argued the district court erred in granting summary judgment dismissing his breach of contract and MMPA claims because there are genuine issues of material fact “whether overlaps cost subscribers money” and whether Defendants’ billing practices violate the MMPA because “overlaps are incorrect and wrong.”   The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that it might be evidence that Defendants made minor billing errors in Plaintiff’s individual subscriber account, but that claim was not pleaded. The district court did not err in granting Defendants summary judgment dismissing the claims Plaintiff asserted despite his belated raising of this unpleaded contract claim. Further, the court explained that Plaintiff failed to controvert Defendants’ evidence showing that DISCUS properly deducts from a subscriber’s payment-in-advance the applicable rate charged as each newspaper is delivered. Thus, because Plaintiff cannot establish the ascertainable loss element of an MMPA claim, the court held that it need not address his additional argument that the Post-Dispatch’s billing practices are unfair or unethical. View "Steven Goldsmith v. Lee Enterprises" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff bought a laptop with a manufacturer’s warranty from Target. He filed a class action on behalf of “all citizens of Arkansas who purchased one or more products from Target that cost over $15 and that were subject to a written warranty.” His theory was that Target violated the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act’s Pre-Sale Availability Rule by refusing to make the written warranties reasonably available, either by posting them in “close proximity to” products or placing signs nearby informing customers that they could access them upon request. Target filed a notice of removal based on the jurisdictional thresholds in the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005. The district court the class action against Target Corporation to Arkansas state court.   The Eighth Circuit vacated the remand order and return the case to the district court for further consideration. The court explained that the district court applied the wrong legal standard. The district court refused to acknowledge the possibility that Target’s sales figures for laptops, televisions and other accessories might have been enough to “plausibly allege” that the case is worth more than $5 million. The district court then compounded its error by focusing exclusively on the two declarations that accompanied Target’s notice of removal. The court wrote that the district court’s failure to consider Target’s lead compliance consultant’s declaration, Target’s central piece of evidence in opposing remand, “effectively denied” the company “the opportunity . . . to establish [its] claim of federal jurisdiction.” View "Robert Leflar v. Target Corporation" on Justia Law

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The Arkansas Video Service Act of 2013 (VSA) establishes a statewide franchising scheme for authorizing video service providers to provide services in political subdivisions within the state. Netflix and Hulu were already providing online video streaming services prior to the passage of the VSA; they have not applied for certificates of franchise authority. The City of Ashdown, Arkansas, filed a putative class action against Netflix and Hulu in 2020, seeking both a declaration that they must comply with the VSA and damages for their failure to pay the required fee. The district court granted Netflix and Hulu’s motions to dismiss, concluding, among other things, that the VSA does not give Ashdown a right of action to bring this suit. Ashdown appealed, arguing that the district court misinterpreted the VSA.   The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court held that the fact that the VSA does not “prevent” a party from exercising a right does not, itself, confer a right. This provision is more logically read to preserve existing rights of action. The reference to “other laws” in the section title supports this conclusion. Further, the court wrote that the VSA does not establish such a “high duty of care” for video service providers, nor does it signal a strong public policy of protecting municipalities. Thus, the court concluded that recognizing a right of action would circumvent the intent of the VSA. View "City of Ashdown, Arkansas v. Netflix, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff saw Cognium, a “nutraceutical” manufactured by Natrol, on sale. Cognium, according to Natrol’s advertising, improves memory and concentration. Its packaging stated that Cognium is “powered by Cera-Q, a natural protein from silkworm cocoons,” and can improve “Memory Recall Efficiency” by 90% when taken twice daily for four weeks. The box claimed that “nine clinical studies in adults, seniors and children showed statistically significant improvements in memory and cognition in 4 weeks or less when taken as directed.”   Plaintiff filed a putative class action complaint against Natrol, seeking damages for herself and establishment of a National Class and Missouri Consumer Subclass. Plaintiff alleged that, prior to her purchases of Cognium, two of the nine clinical studies noted on its packaging had been retracted, including one for “data fabrication and falsification.”   With Plaintiff’s individual claims dismissed, the court determined the sole named plaintiff could not represent the purported class and dismissed the entire action. On appeal, Plaintiff argued the district court erred in granting summary judgment dismissing her MMPA and unjust enrichment claims.   The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that here Plaintiff purchased a product that expressly stated on the label it was “not intended to” do what she stated she purchased it for, serve as a substitute treatment for her prescription medication. Thus, for Plaintiff the actual value of the Cognium she purchased, and the value of Cognium without Natrol’s alleged marketing misrepresentations was “zero.” The benefit of the bargain rule does not apply in this situation, so Plaintiff cannot prove that she suffered ascertainable loss “as a result of” Natrol’s unlawful practice. View "Christine Vitello v. Natrol, LLC" on Justia Law

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Principal Life Insurance Company (Principal) offers a product called the Principal Fixed Income Option (PFIO), a stable value contract, to employer-sponsored 401(k) plans. Plaintiff on behalf of himself and a class of plan participants who deposited money into the PFIO, sued Principal under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), claiming that it (1) breached its fiduciary duty of loyalty by setting a low-interest rate for participants and (2) engaged in a prohibited transaction by using the PFIO contract to make money for itself. The district court granted summary judgment to Principal after concluding that it was not a fiduciary. The Eighth Circuit reversed, holding that Principal was a fiduciary. On remand, the district court entered judgment in favor of Principal on both claims after a bench trial. Plaintiff challenges the court’s judgment.   The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court agreed with the district court that Principal and the participants share an interest because a guaranteed CCR that is too high threatens the long-term sustainability of the guarantees of the PFIO, which is detrimental to the interest of the participants. The question then becomes whether the court clearly erred by finding that Principal set the CCR in the participants’ interests. The court held that the district court did not clearly err by finding that the deducts were reasonable and set by Principal in the participants’ interest of paying a reasonable amount for the PFIO’s administration.  Finally, the court affirmed the district court’s judgment in favor of Principal on the prohibited transaction claim because it is exempted from liability for receiving reasonable compensation. View "Frederick Rozo v. Principal Life Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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This class action arises out of claims by commercial truck drivers who assert that they were not paid proper amounts while working for Werner Enterprises, Inc., and Drivers Management, LLC, (collectively Defendants) as part of Defendants’ Student Driver Program. In a previous appeal, we considered Defendants’ challenge to a jury verdict in favor of Philip Petrone and others (collectively, Plaintiffs) on some of Plaintiffs’ claims, concluding that the district court erred in amending the scheduling order to allow Plaintiffs to submit an expert report past the disclosure deadline without good cause.   Because the expert evidence was integral to the jury’s verdict, the Eighth Circuit determined that this error was not harmless, and vacated the judgment. The case returned to the court after the district court, on remand, entered judgment in favor of Defendants. The court then vacated the judgment. The court explained that read in its entirety, the decision left the door open for the district court to consider how to proceed in light of the Circuit Court’s ruling that the district court should not have granted the motion to amend the scheduling order. The court explained that its mandate thus did not direct the district court to affirmatively find in Defendants’ favor, and their suggestion to the contrary is without merit.   Finally, while the district court properly determined that Plaintiffs could not present evidence of damages through summary evidence pursuant to Rule 1006, it failed to conduct an analysis pursuant to Rule 37(c)(1) and failed to address Plaintiffs’ request for appointment of an expert pursuant to Rule 706. View "Philip Petrone v. Werner Enterprises, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court’s approval of a settlement between Defendant Monsanto and Plaintiffs. The court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in concluding the notice to the class was sufficient or in concluding that payment to class members of 50% of the average weighted retail price of the items they purchased fully compensated the class members.    Plaintiffs filed suit pleading multiple claims arising out of the allegedly deceptive labeling of Roundup products manufactured by Monsanto. The parties agreed to a total Common Fund. They agreed that Monsanto would not object to Plaintiffs’ counsel seeking 25% of that amount as an attorney’s fee. Class members who filed claims were to receive 10% of the average retail price for the product(s) they bought, and any remaining funds after the costs of administration would be distributed cy pres. The parties executed a Second Corrected Class Action Settlement Agreement that made four changes to the initial agreement.   Appellant, a party injured by Roundup, made three objections to the settlement, all of which she renewed on appeal. First, she argued that the district court should have (1) required the parties to take additional steps to identify additional class members and (2) increased the pro-rata portion of the Common Fund up to 100% of the weighted average retail price. The court held the district court did not abuse its discretion in concluding that notice to the class was sufficient in light of the comprehensive notice plan and the estimated results from the claims administrator.Further, the court wrote that cy pres distribution of residual funds pursuant to the settlement agreement neither constitutes speech by any individual class member nor infringes on their First Amendment rights. View "Lisa Jones v. Anna St. John" on Justia Law

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Victoria’s Secret Stores, LLC and Victoria’s Secret Direct, LLC (collectively “Victoria’s Secret”) appealed an order of the district court remanding the putative class action to state court. Victoria’s Secret removed the action to the federal district court under the Class Action Fairness Act, 28 U.S.C. Section 1332(d)(2). Plaintiff moved to remand the case to state court, arguing that Victoria’s Secret failed to show that the amount in controversy exceeds $5 million.   The Eighth Circuit accepted the appeal under 28 U.S.C. Section 1453(c)(1), and affirmed. The court explained that when a plaintiff contests the amount in controversy after removal, the party seeking to remove under the Class Action Fairness Act must establish the amount in controversy by a preponderance of the evidence. Here, the parties debate whether the amount in controversy should be measured only from the plaintiffs’ perspective—i.e., the aggregate value of the claims to the class members—or whether a district court may determine the amount from either party’s point of view, and thus may consider the amount from the defendant’s perspective—i.e., the total potential cost to the defendant if the plaintiffs prevail. The company presented no data or other evidence to support a reasonable inference that the number of class members who would become repeat purchasers is likely to be sufficient to generate at least $1.7 million in disputed tax. Without a non-speculative basis to infer that the requested injunction would bring the amount in controversy between these parties over $5 million, the district court properly concluded that it lacked jurisdiction. View "Abraham Lizama v. Victoria's Secret Stores, LLC" on Justia Law