Justia Class Action Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
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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

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Heriberto Chavez, Evangelina Escarcega (representing her son, Jose Escarcega), and Jorge Moreno (collectively “Plaintiffs”) sought to represent a class in a lawsuit against Plan Benefit Services, Fringe Insurance Benefits, and Fringe Benefit Group (collectively “FBG”) for the alleged mismanagement t of funds that Plaintiffs contributed to benefit plans through their employers.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court’s determination that the litigation may proceed as a class-action lawsuit. The court held that Plaintiffs have standing and certification is appropriate under Rule 23(b)(1)(B) or (b)(3). The court explained that here, Plaintiffs have established their standing to sue FBG. First, they have demonstrated injury in fact by alleging that FBG abused its authority under the Master Trust Agreement by hiring itself to perform services paid with funds from the CERT and CPT trusts, effectively devaluing the trusts and retirement benefits that Plaintiffs otherwise would have accrued with their employer. Second, they have established that their injury is traceable to FBG’s conduct by providing evidence of FBG’s direct control over the CERT and CPT trusts and the underlying contractual agreement with their employer. Finally, their injury is redressable in this court by awarding monetary damages or other relief. View "Chavez v. Plan Benefit Services" on Justia Law

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In this class action, Plaintiffs, representing persons who have been convicted of certain crimes and have completed the terms of their sentences, challenge their disenfranchisement by two provisions of Article XII of the Mississippi Constitution of 1890. The first provision, Section 241, mandates permanent, lifetime disenfranchisement of a person convicted of a crime of any one of “murder, rape, bribery, theft, arson, obtaining money or goods under false pretense, perjury, forgery, embezzlement or bigamy.” The second, Section 253, provides for a discretionary, standardless scheme for the Mississippi Legislature to restore the right to vote to disenfranchised persons on an individualized basis by a two-thirds vote of all members of each house of the Legislature. Plaintiffs sued Mississippi’s Secretary of State (the “Secretary”), contending that Section 241 violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment and the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection under the law.   The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court’s contrary ruling, render judgment for Plaintiffs on this claim, and remanded the case with instructions that the district court grant relief declaring Section 241 unconstitutional and enjoining the Secretary from enforcing Section 241 against the Plaintiffs and the members of the class they represent. Plaintiffs’ equal protection claim against the Secretary with respect to Section 241, however, is foreclosed by the Supreme Court’s decision in Richardson v. Ramirez, 418 U.S. 24 (1974). Finally, the court held that Plaintiffs lack standing to challenge the legislative process embodied in Section 253 through this action. View "Hopkins, et al v. Hosemann" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, on behalf of a putative class of students, sued Southern Methodist University (“SMU”) for refusing to refund tuition and fees after the university switched to remote instruction during the COVID-19 pandemic. The district court dismissed Plaintiff’s complaint for failure to state a claim.   The Fifth Circuit reversed that decision in light of King v. Baylor University, 46 F.4th 344 (5th Cir. 2022), which was issued after the district court’s ruling and which teaches that Hogan adequately pled a breach-of-contract claim. Alternatively, the district court held that Texas’s Pandemic Liability Protection Act (“PLPA”) retroactively bars Plaintiff’s claim for monetary relief and is not unconstitutionally retroactive under the Texas Constitution. That latter ruling raises a determinative-but-unsettled question of state constitutional law, which the court certified to the Texas Supreme Court: Does the application of the Pandemic Liability Protection Act to Plaintiff’s breach-of-contract claim violate the retroactivity clause in article I, section 16 of the Texas Constitution? View "Hogan v. Southern Methodist Univ" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff brought a Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) suit against Rehab Synergies alleging violations of the federal overtime law. The district court, over Rehab Synergies’ objection, allowed the case to proceed as a collective action and a jury found Rehab Synergies liable. On appeal, Rehab Synergies contends that the district court abused its discretion by allowing the case to proceed as a collective action.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed. The court concluded that the district court applied the correct legal standards and that its factual findings were not clearly erroneous. The court explained that Plaintiffs’ adverse-inference argument does not suggest a “disparity” as a result of the case proceeding as a collective action; rather, the record shows that any “disparity” had other causes. Because the Plaintiffs were similarly situated, it would have been inconsistent with the FLSA to require 22 separate trials absent countervailing due process concerns that are simply not present here. View "Loy v. Rehab Synergies" on Justia Law

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On emerging from Chapter 11 reorganization effective February 9, 2021, Chesapeake Energy Corporation tested the limits of the bankruptcy court’s post-confirmation jurisdiction by asking it to settle two prebankruptcy purported class actions covering approximately 23,000 Pennsylvania oil and gas leases. The Fifth Circuit consolidated the Proof of Claim Lessors’ appeal from the preliminary approval order with the appeal from the final approval order. At issue is whether the bankruptcy and district courts had jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. Section 1334 to hear and decide these “class” claims.   The Fifth Circuit vacated and remanded the bankruptcy and district court judgments with instructions to dismiss. The court explained that no proofs of claim were filed for class members, and every feature of the settlements conflicts with Chesapeake’s Plan and Disclosure Statement. Handling these forward-looking cases within the bankruptcy court, predicated on 28 U.S.C. Section 1334(a) or (b), rather than in the court where they originated, exceeds federal bankruptcy post-confirmation jurisdiction. View "Sarnosky v. Chesapeake" on Justia Law

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After the Texas Legislature amended the Election Code in 2021, the United States and others sued, alleging the changes were racially discriminatory. When Plaintiffs sought discovery from individual, nonparty state legislators, those legislators withheld some documents, citing legislative privilege. The district court largely rejected the legislators’ privilege claims, and they filed this interlocutory appeal.   The Fifth Circuit reversed. The court explained that for their part, the legislators rely on the privilege for each of the disputed documents. Plaintiffs, too, do not argue that the documents are non-legislative. Instead, they argue only that the privilege either “was waived” or “must yield.” The court wrote that the legislators did not waive the legislative privilege when they “communicated with parties outside the legislature, such as party leaders and lobbyists.” The district court’s contrary holding flouts the rule that the privilege covers “legislators’ actions in the proposal, formulation, and passage of legislation.” Finally, the court reasoned that Plaintiffs’ reliance on Jefferson Community Health Care Centers, Inc. v. Jefferson Parish Government is misplaced. That decision stated that “while the common-law legislative immunity for state legislators is absolute, the legislative privilege for state lawmakers is, at best, one which is qualified.” But that case provides no support for the idea that state legislators can be compelled to produce documents concerning the legislative process and a legislator’s subjective thoughts and motives. View "LULAC Texas v. Hughes" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs sued Defendants GEICO Advantage Insurance Company and its related entities. Each Plaintiff possessed a vehicle that was subject to a private passenger auto insurance policy with a different Defendant (collectively, the “Policies”). Each Plaintiff’s vehicle was involved in an auto collision while insured under one of the Policies. Plaintiffs sought to represent a class of insureds claiming that GEICO failed to fully compensate them for the total loss of their vehicles under their respective insurance policies. The district court held that Plaintiffs had standing to sue on behalf of the proposed class and subsequently granted class certification. GEICO appealed both holdings.
The Fifth Circuit affirmed. The court wrote it is clear that each Plaintiff individually satisfies the less stringent class certification approach. Indeed, there is no dispute that each Plaintiff alleges that he or she has suffered some injury; the disagreement between the parties concerns how those injuries relate to those of the class. Further, the court wrote it disagreed with the contention that Plaintiffs have alleged three separate injuries. GEICO’s failure to remit any of the three Purchasing Fees amounts to the same harm—a breach of the Policies. The court also concluded that the strategic value of these claims’ waiver is considerably greater than their inherent worth. It was accordingly within the district court’s discretion to rule that Plaintiffs are adequate class representatives. Moreover, the court wrote that GEICO’s arguments against class certification for this claim largely track its arguments opposing certification of Plaintiffs’ other claims. The district court’s analysis meets the requisite rigor when read in the broader context of its decision. View "Angell v. GEICO Advantage Ins" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs are captains of charter boats operating in the Gulf of Mexico with federal for-hire permits, and their companies. They filed a class-action complaint in the Eastern District of Louisiana in August of 2020, naming as Defendants the Department of Commerce, NOAA, NMFS, and related federal officials. This appeal concerns a regulation issued by the United States Department of Commerce that requires charter-boat owners to, at their own expense, install onboard a vessel monitoring system that continuously transmits the boat’s GPS location to the Government, regardless of whether the vessel is being used for commercial or personal purposes.   The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court’s judgment and held that in promulgating this regulation, the Government committed multiple independent Administrative Procedure Act violations, and very likely violated the Fourth Amendment. The court wrote that two components of the Final Rule are unlawful. First, the Magnuson-Stevens Act does not authorize the Government to issue the GPS-tracking requirement. In addition, that rule violates the Administrative Procedure Act because it is arbitrary and capricious, in turn because the Government failed to address Fourth Amendment issues when considering it and failed to rationally consider the associated costs and benefits. Second, the business-information requirement violates the APA because the Government did not give fair notice that it would require the type of data specified in the Final Rule. View "Mexican Gulf v. U.S. Dept. of Comm" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, Oklahoma Firefighters Pension and Retirement System (“Oklahoma Firefighters”) is a purchaser of Six Flags Entertainment Corporation common stock and brought suit against the company and two of its executive officers. Plaintiffs alleged that Six Flags executives made material misrepresentations and omissions regarding the development of several Six Flags theme parks in China, thereby violating federal securities laws. The district court dismissed the claims with prejudice for failure to state a claim. Plaintiff sought a reversal of the district court’s two primary rulings: the dismissal of the complaint and the refusal to allow post-judgment amendments to the complaint. As to the dismissal, Plaintiff argued it sufficiently pled (1) actionable misstatements, (2) scienter, and (3) control person liability. As to the failure to allow an amendment, Plaintiff alleged it timely and sufficiently corrected the claimed deficiencies in the complaint.   The Fifth Circuit reversed and remanded the district court’s ruling. The court held that the complaint adequately alleges that Six Flags improperly recognized revenue on the China parks in its Class Period financial statements due to Defendants’ misleading statements regarding the parks’ construction progress and the admission of $15 million in overstated revenue in 2018. However, the court remanded to consider whether the complaint adequately alleges a Section 20(a) claim. View "OK Firefighters Pension v. Six Flags Entmt" on Justia Law