Justia Class Action Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
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The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reviewed a case involving the Cenikor Foundation, a nonprofit drug rehabilitation center. The foundation had been sued by a group of its rehabilitation patients for alleged violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The patients contended that they were effectively employees of the foundation, as they were required to work as part of their treatment program without receiving monetary compensation. The foundation contested the lawsuit and appealed a district court's decision to certify the case as a collective action under the FLSA.The Court of Appeals found that the district court had applied the incorrect legal standard in determining whether the patients were employees under the FLSA. Specifically, the court should have applied a test to determine who was the primary beneficiary of the work relationship, rather than a test typically used to distinguish employees from independent contractors.The appellate court remanded the case back to the district court to apply this primary beneficiary test and to consider the foundation's defense that any benefits provided to the patients offset any requirement to pay them a wage. The court emphasized that the question of whether the foundation's patients were employees under the FLSA was a threshold issue that needed to be resolved before the case could proceed as a collective action. View "Klick v. Cenikor Foundation" on Justia Law

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Connie Bourque, a Louisiana resident insured by State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co., filed a class-action lawsuit, alleging that State Farm breached its insurance contract and violated its duty of good faith and fair dealing under Louisiana Law. The claim was based on the method State Farm used to calculate the actual cash value (ACV) of vehicles in the event of a total loss. State Farm used the Autosource MarketDriven Valuation, which Bourque alleged provided a valuation less than the true ACV.The United States District Court for the Western District of Louisiana certified a class of all persons insured by State Farm in Louisiana whose vehicle's Autosource valuation was less than the value according to the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) Official Used Car Guide. State Farm appealed this decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.The Fifth Circuit, citing a similar case (Sampson v. United Services Automobile Ass’n), held that the district court's class certification was error. The Fifth Circuit noted that to establish a breach of contract under Louisiana law, proof of injury is required—proof that Bourque failed to establish can be made on a class-wide basis. The court also noted that the NADA value was just one of many statutorily acceptable methods for calculating ACV, and therefore pinning ACV to NADA value constituted an impermissibly arbitrary choice of a liability model.As a result, the Fifth Circuit vacated the district court’s grant of class certification and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Bourque v. State Farm Mtl Auto Ins" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs are three Texas residents whose assets escheated to the State under Texas’s Unclaimed Property Act. Plaintiffs brought a class action lawsuit against the Texas Comptroller and a director in the Comptroller’s office, alleging that the State is abusing the Unclaimed Property Act to seize purportedly abandoned property without providing proper notice. The district court dismissed most of Plaintiffs’ claims. Defendants contend that Plaintiffs cannot invoke Ex parte Young because they lack standing to seek prospective relief and have not alleged an ongoing violation of federal law.   The Fifth Circuit agreed with Defendants and reversed the district court’s denial of Eleventh Amendment sovereign immunity, and remanded with instructions to dismiss Plaintiffs’ remaining claims for prospective relief without prejudice. The court explained that Plaintiffs have failed to allege facts indicating that Texas’s alleged abuse of the UPA is ongoing or will continue in the future. As there is no ongoing violation of federal law sufficiently pleaded in the complaint, Plaintiffs have failed to satisfy the Ex parte Young requirements, and their claims for prospective relief are barred by sovereign immunity. View "James v. Hegar" on Justia Law

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Before Plaintiffs’ cases were distributed to the district court, these cases were part of MDL 2179, the multi-district litigation proceeding before United States District Court Judge Carl J. Barbier in the Eastern District of Louisiana. Judge Barbier established what is known as the “B3 Bundle” within the overall litigation. The B3 Bundle included claims for personal injury and wrongful death due to exposure to oil and/or other chemicals used during the response to the disaster. 85 B3 cases were assigned to District Judge Barry Ashe. Before his confirmation, Judge Ashe he was a longtime partner at the Stone Pigman law firm. A little more than two weeks after Judge Ashe began granting summary judgments following the exclusion of Dr. Cook, Street’s counsel moved to disqualify Judge Ashe in the five cases in which he had excluded Dr. Cook and in other cases where Daubert and summary judgment motions were still pending. Plaintiffs argued that Judge Ashe should have disqualified himself and, in the alternative, that he should have extended the case-management deadlines.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed. If Judge Ashe erred when he failed to recuse in these cases, that error was harmless. Nonetheless, as the arguments on this appeal support, potential conflicts of interest must be taken seriously by every member of the judiciary. The litigants and the public need to be confident in the impartiality of those who will decide legal disputes. View "Lundy v. BP Expl & Prod" on Justia Law

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These consolidated cases continue the Fifth Circuit’s saga of Deepwater Horizon. Plaintiffs argue the district court judge abused his discretion by failing to disqualify himself at their request. The Street Plaintiffs do not challenge Judge Ashe’s decision to exclude the expert’s testimony under Daubert, nor do they raise any argument on the merits as to why his granting of summary judgment to BP was erroneous. In the briefing before the Fifth Circuit, the two arguments raised were that Judge Ashe should have disqualified himself and, in the alternative, that he should have extended the case-management deadlines. The Street plaintiffs argued that Judge Ashe abused his discretion for not disqualifying himself under 28 U.S.C. Section 455(b)(2) because he was a partner at Stone Pigman when it represented Cameron in the Phase One liability trial.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that the Street Plaintiffs do not challenge the judge’s actual impartiality on appeal. Instead, they rely solely on the “matter in controversy” language found in Section 455(b)(2) and argue that recusal was mandatory. The court explained that even mandatory recusal under Section 455(b)(2) can be harmless. The court wrote that if Judge Ashe erred when he failed to recuse in these cases, that error was harmless. Nonetheless, as the arguments on this appeal support, potential conflicts of interest must be taken seriously by every member of the judiciary. The litigants and the public need to be confident in the impartiality of those who will decide legal disputes. View "Street v. BP Expl & Prod" on Justia Law

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Defendants United Services Automobile Association and USAA General Indemnity Company (“USAA”) contract with insureds to pay “Actual Cash Value” (“ACV”) for totaled vehicles. USAA calculates ACV using the CCC One Market Valuation Report (“CCC”) rather than, e.g., the National Automobile Dealers Association guidebook (“NADA”) or Kelley Blue Book (“KBB”). Plaintiffs are USAA-insureds whose vehicles were totaled and who received ACV as determined by CCC. Plaintiffs alleged that CCC violates Louisiana statutory law, that they would have been paid more if USAA used NADA, and that they are owed the difference. Plaintiffs sought certification for a class of USAA-insureds who were paid less under CCC, and the district court granted it. USAA appealed class certification. On appeal, the parties dispute, among other things, whether common questions across the class involving damages and liability predominate over individual differences between class members, as required for class certification under Rule 23(b)(3).   The Fifth Circuit vacated and remanded. The court held that Plaintiffs failed to show injury and therefore failed to establish USAA’s liability on a class-wide basis because they failed to demonstrate entitlement to the NADA values for their totaled vehicles. The court held that with respect to Plaintiffs’ breach of contract claim, the district court’s choice of NADA is not simply an arbitrary choice among imperfect damages models. It is an arbitrary choice of a liability model, and a district court’s wide discretion to choose an imperfect estimative-damages model at the certification stage does not carry over from the context of damages to the context of liability. View "United Svcs Automobile v. Sampson" on Justia Law

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BD LaPlace, LLC, doing business as Bayou Steel (Bayou Steel), operated a steel mill in LaPlace, Louisiana. Without giving The Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN) notice, Bayou Steel terminated Plaintiffs’ employment and closed the LaPlace mill where they worked. Seeking to recover under the WARN Act, Plaintiffs initially filed a putative class action complaint against Bayou Steel in Delaware bankruptcy court. Plaintiffs dismissed that action and filed the instant class action in federal district court. Rather than suing their employer Bayou Steel, Plaintiffs sued Bayou Steel BD Holdings II, LLC and Black Diamond Capital Management, LLC(a private equity firm that advised the fund that owned BD Holdings II). Plaintiffs demanded a jury trial, which the district court denied. Defendants sought summary judgment, which the district court granted. Plaintiffs appealed, challenging both the denial of their jury demand and the summary judgment for Defendants.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court’s conclusion that there is no right to a jury trial under the WARN Act. The court also affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to BD Holdings II. But the district court erred in granting summary judgment to BDCM because there is a genuine dispute of material fact as to whether BDCM exercised de facto control over Bayou Steel’s decision to close its LaPlace steel mill and order Plaintiffs’ layoffs. The court explained that if BDCM “specifically directed” the closing of the mill without proper notice, the company may be liable for Bayou Steel’s WARN Act violation even absent the other factors. View "Fleming v. Bayou Steel" on Justia Law

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Louisiana oil and gas law authorizes the state Commissioner of Conservation to combine separate tracts of land and appoint a unit operator to extract the minerals. Plaintiffs own unleased mineral interests in Louisiana that are part of a forced drilling unit. BPX is the operator. Plaintiffs alleged on behalf of themselves and a named class that BPX has been improperly deducting post-production costs from their pro rata share of production and that this practice is improper per se. The district court granted BPX’s motion to dismiss Plaintiffs’ per se claims, holding that the quasi-contractual doctrine of negotiorum gestio provides a mechanism for BPX to properly deduct postproduction costs. Plaintiffs filed this action as purported representatives of a named class of unleased mineral owners whose interests are situated within forced drilling units formed by the Louisiana Office of Conservation and operated by BPX. BPX removed this action to the district court based on both diversity and federal question jurisdiction. BPX sought dismissal of the Plaintiffs’ primary claim. The district court granted BPX’s motion to dismiss. The district court certified its ruling for interlocutory appeal pursuant to 28 U.S.C. Section 1292(b).The Fifth Circuit wrote that no controlling Louisiana case resolves the parties’ issue. Accordingly, the court certified the following determinative question of law to the Louisiana Supreme Court: 1) Does La. Civ. Code art. 2292 applies to unit operators selling production in accordance with La. R.S. 30:10(A)(3)? View "Self v. B P X Operating" on Justia Law

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This is a class action brought by Louisiana sheriffs and Louisiana law enforcement districts against purveyors of software. The sheriffs and law enforcement districts allege that the software purveyors sold them defective software and then failed to administer the software properly.Defendants include both in-state and out-of-state software purveyors. The Class Action Fairness Act excludes federal jurisdiction over class actions with “less than 100” plaintiff class members. However, from 2015 to late 2018, only in-state Defendants were responsible for the alleged wrongdoing. An out-of-state defendant bears responsibility for the alledged conduct after 2018.Plaintiffs sued in Louisiana state court. Defendants removed to federal district court. Plaintiffs then sought remand to Louisiana state court, arguing that the local controversy exception to the Class Action Fairness Act applied. The magistrate recommended remand under the local controversy exception. The district court adopted the magistrate’s report. Defendants appeal.To be heard in federal court, a class action must have at least a hundred plaintiff class members. Plaintiffs argued that this class action is not removable to federal court because it has fewer than a hundred class members. The Fifth Circuit held that the law enforcement districts are separate entities from the sheriffs under 28 U.S.C. 1332(d)(5)(B).However, the Fifth Circuit remanded to state court on alternate grounds. The Class Action Fairness Act establishes a local controversy exception to federal jurisdiction. 28 U.S.C. 1332(d)(4). This exception requires at least one in-state defendant “whose alleged conduct forms a significant basis for the claims asserted” and “from whom significant relief is sought.” View "State of Louisiana v. i3 Verticals" on Justia Law

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Several collections of residents near Jefferson Parish Landfill sued the landfill’s owner (Jefferson Parish) and its operators (four companies). This mandamus action arises out of the Eastern District of Louisiana’s case management of two of those lawsuits: the Ictech-Bendeck class action and the Addison mass action. The Ictech-Bendeck class action plaintiffs seek damages on a state-law nuisance theory under Louisiana Civil Code articles 667, 668, and 669. The Addison mass action plaintiffs seek damages from the same defendants, although they plead claims for both nuisance and negligence. The district court granted in part and denied in part Petitioners’ motion for summary judgment against some of the Addison plaintiffs. Then on April 17 the district court adopted a new case management order drafted by the parties that scheduled a September 2023 trial for several of the Addison plaintiffs.   The Fifth Circuit denied Petitioners' petition for mandamus relief. The court explained that mandamus is an extraordinary form of relief saved for the rare case in which there has been a “usurpation of judicial power” or a “clear abuse of discretion.” The court explained that mandamus relief is not for testing novel legal theories. The court wrote that Petitioners’ theory is not merely new; it is also wrong. Rule 23 establishes a mechanism for plaintiffs to pursue their claims as a class. It does not cause the filing of a putative class action to universally estop all separate but related actions from proceeding to the merits until the class-certification process concludes in the putative class action, after years of motions practice. View "In Re Jefferson Parish" on Justia Law