Justia Class Action Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
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The case involves a group of former detainees at the Medium Security Institution (MSI) in St. Louis, who alleged that they were subjected to inhumane conditions in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. They sought to represent classes of pre-trial and post-conviction detainees, asserting that both categories of detainees were subjected to poor physical conditions and inadequate operations. After the district court denied their first motion to certify, the plaintiffs returned with new proposed classes and renewed their motion. The district court granted the renewed motion, and the City of St. Louis appealed.The district court had initially denied the plaintiffs' motion to certify four classes, citing the open-ended class periods and the City's undisputed improvements to conditions at MSI over time. However, the court suggested that a more focused claim covering a more discrete time period and a more uniform class might be appropriate for class certification. In response, the plaintiffs filed a renewed motion for class certification, proposing four new, more narrowly defined classes. The district court granted the renewed motion, certifying the four new classes.The City of St. Louis appealed the district court's decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, challenging both the decision to certify the classes and several of its procedural aspects. The appellate court reversed the certification of the classes and remanded the case for further proceedings. The court found that the district court had abused its discretion in certifying the classes, as the classes were not "sufficiently cohesive to warrant adjudication by representation." The court also found that the district court had erred in describing the standard for liability and had failed to conduct a rigorous analysis of the requirements for class certification. View "Cody v. City of St. Louis" on Justia Law

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Yasmin Varela filed a class action lawsuit against State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company (State Farm) after a car accident. Varela's insurance policy with State Farm entitled her to the "actual cash value" of her totaled car. However, she alleged that State Farm improperly adjusted the value of her car based on a "typical negotiation" deduction, which was not defined or mentioned in the policy. Varela claimed this deduction was arbitrary, did not reflect market realities, and was not authorized by Minnesota law. She sued State Farm for breach of contract, breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, unjust enrichment, and violation of the Minnesota Consumer Fraud Act (MCFA).State Farm moved to dismiss the complaint, arguing that Varela's claims were subject to mandatory, binding arbitration under the Minnesota No-Fault Automobile Insurance Act (No-Fault Act). The district court granted State Farm's motion in part, agreeing that Varela's claims for breach of contract, breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and unjust enrichment fell within the No-Fault Act's mandatory arbitration provision. However, the court found that Varela's MCFA claim did not seek the type of relief addressed by the No-Fault Act and was neither time-barred nor improperly pleaded, and thus denied State Farm's motion to dismiss this claim.State Farm appealed, arguing that Varela's MCFA claim was subject to mandatory arbitration and should have been dismissed. However, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction. The court found that State Farm did not invoke the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) in its motion to dismiss and did not file a motion to compel arbitration. The court concluded that the district court's order turned entirely on a question of state law, and the policy contained no arbitration provision for the district court to "compel." Therefore, State Farm failed to establish the court's jurisdiction over the interlocutory appeal. View "Varela v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a retail customer, brought a putative class action under the Class Action Fairness Act against clothing retailers The Gap, Inc. and its wholly-owned subsidiary, Old Navy, LLC (“Defendants”). Plaintiff alleged that she purchased numerous products at Old Navy stores and online at discount prices that were deceptively advertised because Defendants did not sell a substantial quantity of these products at the advertised “regular” prices prior to selling them at the advertised “sale” prices. She sought class-wide compensatory damages under the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act (“MMPA”). The district court granted Defendants’ motion to dismiss Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint with prejudice, Plaintiff appealed, arguing that she plausibly pleaded ascertainable loss under Missouri’s benefit-of-the-bargain rule.   The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court agreed with the district court’s decision to “join a growing number of courts in finding that complaints based solely on a plaintiff’s disappointment over not receiving an advertised discount at the time of purchase have not suffered an ascertainable loss.” Further, the court wrote that Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint also alleged that the actual fair market value of some of the products she purchased “may have even been less than the discounted prices that she paid.” This theory of ascertainable loss does not depend on Defendants’ comparison pricing for the value represented component of the benefit-of-the-bargain rule. Plausible allegations of such immediate injury would satisfy an MMPA plaintiff’s burden to show an ascertainable loss. However, these allegations are based solely on information and belief, which are generally insufficient under Rule 9(b). View "Jill Hennessey v. The Gap, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a former employee, sued on behalf of herself and similarly situated employees, claiming that St. Luke’s violated the Fair Labor Standards Act’s (“FLSA”) overtime provisions by failing to fully compensate employees for work performed. She also brought an unjust-enrichment claim under state law. The district court certified two classes with different lookback periods: (1) an FLSA collective comprised of employees who worked for St. Luke’s between September 2016 and September 2018, 1 and (2) an unjust-enrichment class comprised of all employees who worked for St. Luke’s in Missouri between April 2012 and September 2018. Houston also asserted individual claims, one under the Missouri Minimum Wage Law, and one for breach of her employment contract. The district court granted summary judgment to St. Luke’s on all claims.   The Eighth Circuit vacated and remanded. The court explained that Plaintiff has raised a genuine dispute that the rounding policy does not average out over time. The court explained that no matter how one slices the data, most employees and the employees as a whole fared worse under the rounding policy than had they been paid according to their exact time worked. Here, the rounding policy did both. It resulted in lost time for nearly two-thirds of employees, and those employees lost more time than was gained by their coworkers who benefited from rounding. The court concluded that the employees have raised a genuine dispute that the rounding policy, as applied, did not average out over time. The district court, therefore, erred in granting summary judgment on the FLSA and Missouri wage claims. View "Torri Houston v. St. Luke's Health System, Inc." on Justia Law

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Alliance Pipeline L.P. (“Alliance”) entered into contracts with four states (“State Agreements”) as well as contracts with individual landowners in order to build a natural gas pipeline. The contracts with landowners provide easements for the pipeline right-of-way. In 2018, some landowners on the pipeline right-of-way filed a class-action lawsuit against Alliance. After the class was certified, Alliance moved to compel arbitration for the approximately 73 percent of plaintiffs whose easements contain arbitration provisions. Alliance appealed, arguing the district court erred by not sending all issues to arbitration for the plaintiffs whose easements contain arbitration provisions.   The Eighth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part. The court explained that the district court that the damages issues are subject to arbitration for the plaintiffs whose easements contain an arbitration provision. Plaintiffs make two arguments against sending any issues to arbitration: (1) Plaintiffs’ claims cannot be within the scope of the arbitration provisions because the claims allege lack of compensation for “ongoing yield losses,” not “damages to crops” and (2) Plaintiffs’ claims arise under the State Agreements, which do not have arbitration provisions. The court found the arbitration agreements to be enforceable and to cover all issues. The court held that as to the arbitration class members, the claims should be dismissed without prejudice. As to the members of the class without arbitration provisions, the court saw no reason why these class members cannot proceed with the lawsuit in the normal course at the district court. View "H&T Fair Hills, Ltd. v. Alliance Pipeline L.P." on Justia Law

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HomeServices of America, Inc.; BHH Affiliates, LLC; and HSF Affiliates, LLC (collectively, “HomeServices”) appealed from the district court’s denial of HomeServices’s motion to compel unnamed class members to arbitrate their claims against it.   The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that here, HomeServices conceded before the district court that “neither the named plaintiffs nor any purported class member has any contract or direct relationship with HomeServices relevant to the claims asserted in this case.” Moreover, the Listing Agreements and their included Arbitration Agreements do not name HomeServices as a party or third-party beneficiary. The court explained that the district court correctly concluded this “narrow, party-specific language . . . does not clearly and unmistakably delegate to an arbitrator threshold issue of arbitrability between nonparties, including HomeServices.” Thus, the court held that the district court correctly concluded that “the court—not an arbitrator—must address whether HomeServices can enforce the Arbitration Agreements.” Moreover, the court held that the district court did not err in denying HomeServices’s motion to compel the unnamed class members to arbitrate their claims against it. View "Scott Burnett v. HomeServices of America, Inc." on Justia Law

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This case was brought by a class of sex offenders (Appellants) civilly committed to the Minnesota Sex Offender Program (MSOP) pursuant to the Minnesota Civil Commitment and Treatment Act: Sexually Dangerous Persons and Sexual Psychopathic Personalities, codified at Minnesota Statute Section 253D (MCTA). Appellants filed this action against various MSOP managers and officials, as well as the Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Human Services (collectively, Appellees). On remand after a second appeal to this Court, the district court granted judgment in favor of Appellees on all of Appellants’ claims. Appellants appeal, challenging the district court’s judgment.   The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that Appellants contend that the district court erred by declining to address their treatment-related claims, alleging that the district court found them to be duplicative of previously decided counts. The court wrote that in making this finding, the district court did not dismiss or otherwise ignore any of the counts before it, which were all conditions-of-confinement and inadequate medical care claims. While Appellants attempted to “reanimate” these claims in a Fourth Amended Complaint, the district court denied the amendment, and Appellants do not challenge that decision on appeal. Accordingly, the court perceived no error in the district court’s treatment of Appellants’ treatment-related claims. Appellants additionally attacked the district court’s conclusion that the MSOP’s Behavioral Expectation Report policy is constitutional. But Appellants focused only on the impact of the policy on their treatment and fail to address the other legitimate government objectives it addresses—such as preserving institutional order at the MSOP. View "Kevin Karsjens v. Jodi Harpstead" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed a class action lawsuit against Walmart in the Circuit Court for St. Louis County, Missouri. Plaintiff alleged Walmart engaged in misleading and deceptive marketing practices by selling cough suppressants with dextromethorphan hydrobromide (“DXM”) and a “non-drowsy” label. Walmart removed the case to the Eastern District of Missouri, and Plaintiff moved to have the case remanded to state court. The district court remanded, finding Walmart had not met the Class Action Fairness Act’s jurisdictional requirement of showing the amount in controversy exceeds $5 million.
The Eighth Circuit reversed, finding that Walmart has shown the amount in controversy exceeds $5 million.  The court concluded that Walmart’s declaration was sufficient to support a finding that sales exceeded $5 million. The total amount of sales can be a measure of the amount in controversy. The court explained that the declaration was sufficient, particularly when it is very plausible that a company the size of Walmart would have sold more than $5 million in cough suppressants in the state of Missouri over a period of five years. View "Nicholas Brunts v. Walmart, Inc." on Justia Law

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Minnesota sued a litany of fossil fuel producers1 (together, the Energy Companies) in state court for common law fraud and violations of Minnesota’s consumer protection statutes. In doing so, it joined the growing list of states and municipalities trying to hold fossil fuel producers responsible for alleged misrepresentations about the effects fossil fuels have had on the environment. The Energy Companies removed to federal court. The district court granted Minnesota’s motion to remand, and the Energy Companies appealed.   The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court held that Congress has not acted to displace the state-law claims, and federal common law does not supply a substitute cause of action, the state-law claims are not completely preempted. The court reasoned that because the “necessarily raised” element is not satisfied, the Grable exception to the well-pleaded complaint rule does not apply to Minnesota’s claims. Further, the court wrote that the connection between the Energy Companies’ marketing activities and their OCS operations is even more attenuated. Thus, neither requirement is met, there is no federal jurisdiction under Section 1349. View "State of Minnesota v. American Petroleum Institute" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff opposed a new collective-bargaining agreement that passed by a 119-vote margin. Plaintiff sued the union for breach of its duty of fair representation and a violation of the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act. At their core, these claims are about whether the union hoodwinked members into ratifying the new collective-bargaining agreement by concealing what would happen to the 30-and-out benefit. The district court dismissed the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act claim, denied Plaintiff’s motion for class certification, and granted summary judgment to the union on the fair-representation claim. On appeal, Plaintiff alleged that the union concealed key information, but only nine members said it would have made a difference.   The Eighth Circuit affirmed, holding that Plaintiff failed to provide other evidence that the outcome of the vote would have changed. The court reasoned that the ratification vote was overwhelmingly in favor: 228 to 109, a 119-vote margin. Plaintiff offers only nine members who would have voted “no” if they had known about the elimination of the 30-and-out benefit. Even assuming each would have voted the way he thinks, the agreement still would have passed by a wide margin. The court wrote that no reasonable jury could conclude that the union’s alleged bad-faith conduct was the but-for cause of the union’s ratification of the collective-bargaining agreement. View "Matthew Nagel v. United Food and Com. Workers" on Justia Law