Justia Class Action Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
Prantil v. Arkema Inc.
Plaintiffs filed a class action against Arkema, a chemicals facility that combusted during Hurricane Harvey, seeking redress for the physical and financial effects of the incident, which released toxic ash and smoke into the surrounding communities and caused the evacuation of nearby residents.The Fifth Circuit vacated the district court's class certification order and remanded for further proceedings under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23. The court explained that, when the cementing of relationships among proffered class members of liability or damages or both turns on scientific evidence, the court must insist that the metric of admissibility be the same for certification and trial. Therefore, the Daubert hurdle must be cleared when scientific evidence is relevant to the decision to certify. In its certification order, the court concluded that the district court was not as searching in its assessment of the expert reports' reliability as it would have been outside the certification setting. Furthermore, the district court's certification order did not discuss the considerations affecting the administration of trial, and it concluded that common questions would predominate without adequately addressing Arkema's arguments that causation, injury, and damages would be highly individualized. The court also concluded that the relative balance of concededly common claim elements to contested elements of causation and injury warrants closer attention. Finally, the court concluded that the current record does not compel the conclusion that plaintiffs' medical and property injuries are incapable of being addressed by classwide injunctions. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "Prantil v. Arkema Inc." on Justia Law
Bonin v. Sabine River Authority of Louisiana
The Sabine River meanders between Texas and Louisiana. Two state agencies jointly regulate its waterways and operate a hydroelectric plant--the Toledo Bend Reservoir and Toledo Bend Dam. In March 2016, heavy rains led to heavy water inflow into the reservoir and flooding of the River. The plaintiffs, about 300 Texas and Louisiana property owners, alleged that the flooding of their property was caused or exacerbated by the reservoir’s water level becoming too high and the spillway gates at the reservoir being intentionally opened. The defendants removed the case to federal court, which remanded back to Texas state court. The cases were removed again. The Texas federal district court denied a motion to remand but later dismissed all claims against private power companies and remanded the claims against the state authorities to state court.The Fifth Circuit affirmed. Federal jurisdiction obtained at the time of removal because the suit then qualified as a “mass action” under the Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA), 28 U.S.C. 1332(d)(11)(A); an exception for a local single event does not apply. CAFA mass actions “may be removed by any defendant without the consent of all defendants.” The court upheld the dismissals of the power companies based on findings that the plaintiffs did not adequately allege any violations of the FERC license; that under Texas law, only state authorities may be found liable for floodwater damage; and that the plaintiffs failed to show that the operation of the generators was a proximate cause of plaintiffs’ losses. View "Bonin v. Sabine River Authority of Louisiana" on Justia Law
Dieuvil v. Gebrueder Knauf Verwaltungsgesellschaft, KG
Plaintiff joined the Chinese-Manufactured Drywall Products Liability Multi-District Litigation, alleging that his home contained defective Chinese-manufactured drywall. Plaintiff challenged the district court's award of $300,000 in damages and Knauf Defendants move to dismiss.The Fifth Circuit granted the Knauf Defendants' motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction and dismissed the appeal. In this case, the New Claims Settlement Agreement incorporates another agreement that has a waiver of appellate rights, and these explicit waivers clearly and unequivocally waive plaintiff's right to appeal. View "Dieuvil v. Gebrueder Knauf Verwaltungsgesellschaft, KG" on Justia Law
Chavez v. Plan Benefit Services, Inc.
A district court must engage in a "rigorous analysis" when it certifies a class action. Plaintiffs filed suit against FBG under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), alleging that FBG has acted as a fiduciary and breached its duties.The Fifth Circuit vacated the district court's certification order, because the district court failed to engage in a rigorous analysis when it certified the class. The court held that the district court analyzed Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23 superficially, because the district court's order did not identify the common question with any specificity. Having defined the question vaguely, the district court then analyzed it conclusionally and there is no reference to ERISA. Furthermore, the district court did not explain why clarifying FBG's status as a fiduciary will in one stroke resolve an issue that is central to the claims of each one of the class members, and the order neglected to consider asserted differences among class members that could prevent the suit from generating "common answers apt to drive the resolution of the litigation." Likewise, the district court's analysis of class type was insufficient. View "Chavez v. Plan Benefit Services, Inc." on Justia Law
Mitchell v. State Farm Fire & Casualty Co.
The term "Actual Cash Value" is ambiguous with respect to the withholding of labor depreciation in Mississippi homeowners insurance policies that provide no further definition of ACV. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of State Farm's motion to dismiss with respect to plaintiff's breach of contract claim. The court found that, in the context of a Mississippi homeowners policy that refers to "Actual Cash Value" without further definition, both interpretations are reasonable. Therefore, the court held that the contract was ambiguous and the court applied Mississippi's interpretive canons, which provides that an ambiguous insurance contract is interpreted against the insurance company.The court reversed the district court's denial of State Farm's motion to dismiss with respect to plaintiff's tort claims. The court explained that, because the law on this question of interpreting "Actual Cash Value" in Mississippi was unsettled, State Farm had an arguable basis to depreciate labor costs. The court also found that the district court did not abuse its discretion in certifying a class of Mississippi State Farm policyholders similarly situated to plaintiff, who received "Actual Cash Value" payments in which labor was depreciated and whose contracts similarly did not define "Actual Cash Value." View "Mitchell v. State Farm Fire & Casualty Co." on Justia Law
Cruson v. Jackson National Life Insurance, Co.
Plaintiff and other Texas residents filed a putative class action against a life insurance company that sells annuities, alleging that the company overcharged them by miscalculating early-withdrawal fees in breach of the annuities contracts.The Fifth Circuit vacated the class certification order and remanded for further proceedings. The court held that the company did not waive its personal jurisdiction as to any non-Texas class members. The court also held that the district court erred in its predominance analysis by failing to assess how state-law variations may impact adjudication of the breach question and also by failing to consider the individualized evidence relevant to the company's affirmative defenses of waiver and ratification. Finally, the court held that plaintiffs failed to offer a damages model adequate to support class treatment, an issue they virtually conceded at oral argument. View "Cruson v. Jackson National Life Insurance, Co." on Justia Law
Flecha v. Medicredit, Inc.
Plaintiff filed a putative class action alleging that Medicredit's collection letter made a false threat of legal action against her, in violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's class certification order, holding that the putative class failed to satisfy Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23's commonality, typicality, and predominance requirements. In this case, plaintiff failed to carry her burden to affirmatively demonstrate that her claim that Medicredit threatened to take legal action against class members was capable of classwide resolution. Furthermore, the putative class presented substantial questions of Article III standing. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "Flecha v. Medicredit, Inc." on Justia Law
Weatherly v. Pershing, LLC
Florida law does not recognize putative class actions in Fla. Stat. 95.051's exclusive list of tolling exceptions. In these consolidated cases arising from the Stanford Ponzi scheme, investors alleged that Pershing breached its fiduciary duty and committed indirect fraud under Florida law.The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's holding that investors' claims were time-barred. The court held that the Florida Legislature has laid out an exclusive list of tolling exceptions, and class actions are not on the list. Furthermore, the federal policy of tolling for putative class members could not override the governing statute. Therefore, investors' claims were time-barred by Florida's statute of limitations and the court did not reach the merits of those claims. View "Weatherly v. Pershing, LLC" on Justia Law
BP Exploration & Production, Inc. v. Claimant ID 100094497
BP sought discretionary review of an Appeal Panel's calculation of lost profits owed to appellee under the Deepwater Horizon Economic and Property Damages Class Action Settlement Agreement. The Fifth Circuit vacated the district court's denial of the request, holding that the Appeal Panels were split and this Appeal Panel misapplied the distinction between fixed and variable costs under the Business Economic Loss Formula. Therefore, the district court abused its discretion in failing to correct the significant error. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "BP Exploration & Production, Inc. v. Claimant ID 100094497" on Justia Law
Lester v. Exxon Mobil Corp.
Mobil Oil removed the underlying suits as a mass action under the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005 (CAFA). On interlocutory appeal, the Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of Plaintiffs Bottley and Lester's respective motions to remand. The Fifth Circuit held that Mobil Oil was permitted to remove both plaintiffs' cases to federal court as a mass action under CAFA. In this case, the Bottley consolidation motion proposed a joint trial of 100 or more plaintiffs' claims, a mass action under CAFA. The court held that CAFA applied to Bottley and Lester even though Lester commenced prior to CAFA's effective date. Finally, the district court was permitted to order consolidation under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 42(a) sua sponte. View "Lester v. Exxon Mobil Corp." on Justia Law