Justia Class Action Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
Smith v. Professional Transportation,Inc.
Smith worked for PTI, a company that transports railroad crews to and from their workplaces. Believing that her position was misclassified under the Fair Labor Standards Act and that she was not receiving proper overtime wages, she filed a collective action 29 U.S.C. 216(b). Unlike a class action under FRCP 23(b)(3), an FLSA collective action requires group members to affirmatively opt-in to participate. Her suit was within the two-year limitation period. The district court’s docket sheet shows numerous putative group members consenting to opt-in.PTI noted that Smith had not filed anything except her complaint indicating that she herself wished to participate in the group action. The court held that Smith’s group action could not “commence” until such consent was filed, 29 U.S.C. 256, but the limitations periods had run. The court concluded that Smith’s complaint also failed to allege timely individual claims, and dismissed the case. Smith’s appeal concerned only her individual action. The Seventh Circuit vacated. The court erred by refusing to allow Smith to proceed on her individual claims. Read in the light most favorable to Smith, the complaint contained sufficient factual allegations related to her individual claims to put PTI on notice that she intended to sue it both in an individual and a representative capacity. She explicitly stated as much in the caption. View "Smith v. Professional Transportation,Inc." on Justia Law
DRASC, Inc. v. Navistar, Inc.
A class of owners accused Navistar of selling trucks with defective engines. The suit was settled for $135 million. The district court gave its preliminary approval. A court-approved Rule 23(e) notice was sent by first-class mail to all class members describing the settlement terms and the option to litigate independently. The notice's opt-out instructions included a link to a website with the full details and a phone number. The court held a fairness hearing then entered a final judgment implementing the settlement. Class member Drasc had sued Navistar in Ohio concerning the truck engines. The federal court declined to enjoin parallel state court suits, so the Ohio case proceeded while the federal action was pending. After the court approved the settlement, Navistar notified Drasc that its suit is barred by the release in the settlement. Drasc argued that it never received notice of the settlement and that its effort to continue litigating in Ohio should be deemed a “reasonable indication” of a desire to opt-out. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the rejection of Drasc’s arguments, noting findings that two first-class letters were sent to Drasc at its business addresses; Drasc had not provided an email address for notice; Drasc’s Ohio lawyers had actual notice of the settlement and must have known about the need to opt-out. Drasc had actual knowledge of the need to opt-out and could not show excusable neglect that would justify an extension of the opt-out deadline. View "DRASC, Inc. v. Navistar, Inc." on Justia Law
Howard v. Cook County Sheriff’s Office
Women who work at the Cook County Jail or the adjoining courthouse filed a class-action suit against their employers for failing to prevent male inmates from sexually harassing them. The district court certified a class comprising all non‐supervisory female employees who work with male inmates at the jail or courthouse, of whom there are about 2,000.On interlocutory appeal, the Seventh Circuit held that the district court abused its discretion in certifying the class under Rule 23. The court’s primary error was using the peripheral and overbroad concept of “ambient harassment” (i.e., indirect or secondhand harassment) to certify a class of employees who have endured a wide range of direct and indirect harassment. Even without this error, the class cannot stand because it comprises class members with materially different working environments whose claims require separate, individualized analyses. Hostile work environment claims are fact-intensive. They turn on the frequency, severity, character, and effect of the harassment. Here, these are “worker‐specific” inquiries because they depend on a class member’s unique experience—which correlates to where she works. Some class members will have had comparable experiences but the plaintiffs have not proven that for the entire class. View "Howard v. Cook County Sheriff's Office" on Justia Law
Anderson v. Weinert Enterprises Inc.
Weinert roofing employees could drive directly to job sites around Green Bay or could carpool from the shop using a company truck. For carpool employees, Weinert paid travel time at time-and-a-half the minimum wage and did not count travel time toward an employee’s 40-hour workweek. Weinert paid more than minimum wage for job-site work; job-site overtime pay was higher than travel time pay. Anderson, a Weinert seasonal employee, filed a collective action under the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. 216(b), and Wisconsin law. Three other employees joined the action. Anderson converted the collective action into an individual FLSA action, which settled. Anderson then sought class certification (FRCP 23) for the state claims. Anderson identified 37 former or current Weinert employees to include in the class and requested the inclusion of employees Weinert expected to hire in 2019.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of class certification. Employees to be hired in a future period cannot be included in the class. Anderson failed to show that joinder of the 37 employees in a single lawsuit (with multiple named plaintiffs) would be impracticable, as required by Rule 23(a). Anderson did not identify any difficulty in locating or contacting potential class members; the class lacked the geographical spread that might render joinder impracticable. Prevailing under the Act allows a plaintiff to recover attorneys’ fees and costs, offsetting some of the disincentive created by the small damages available. The numerosity requirement focuses on whether joinder would be impracticable, not whether each potential class member could bring a separate lawsuit. View "Anderson v. Weinert Enterprises Inc." on Justia Law
McFields v. Dart
The Cook County Jail houses primarily people who have not yet been convicted. Under the jail’s “paper triage” policy, a detainee who has dental pain and wants treatment must submit a health service request form (HSRF). Staff review the HSRF and categorize it as “routine,” “priority,” or “urgent.” The detainee is referred to a dentist for treatment in three to 30 days, depending on the categorization. Most detainees do not receive a face-to-face assessment from a nurse or higher-level practitioner before they see a dentist. An assessment could identify bona fide complaints of dental pain or reveal serious medical issues and would allow a nurse to dispense over-the-counter pain medication.McFields, a former detainee, filed a putative class action, alleging that detainees suffered gratuitous pain as a result of the paper triage policy. They alleged that the standard of care for processing a health service request requires a face-to-face assessment within 48 hours and that the jail’s policy is objectively unreasonable. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of class certification, noting that each detainee presents a different situation that involved a different type of pain, took place at a different time, and involved different medical professionals and prison staff. McFields failed to satisfy the commonality and typicality requirements of Rule 23. Individual issues predominate over common questions. View "McFields v. Dart" on Justia Law
Frank v. Target Corp.
Named plaintiffs filed a putative class action in Illinois, alleging that defendants made false claims about dietary supplements. The parties negotiated a settlement. Over the objection of class member Frank, the district court approved it. The Seventh Circuit reversed. In 2015, the parties submitted “the Pearson II settlement.” Three class members objected to the Pearson II settlement.Nunez had filed his own putative class action against the defendants in California. After the Seventh Circuit vacated the first Pearson settlement, Nunez wanted to represent a Pearson subclass. The Pearson parties refused to include Nunez’s counsel in their negotiations. Nunez objected to the Pearson II settlement. The district court approved it. All three objectors appealed, then dismissed their appeals. Frank moved for disgorgement of any payments made to objectors in exchange for those dismissals. Discovery showed that the objectors had received side payments in exchange for dismissing their appeals. The district court denied disgorgement.The Seventh Circuit reversed. The district court had the equitable power to order the settling objectors to disgorge for the benefit of the class the proceeds of their private settlements. “Falsely flying the class’s colors, these three objectors extracted $130,000 in what economists would call rents from the litigation process simply by showing up and objecting" to the settlement.” Settling an objection that asserts the class’s rights in return for a private payment to the objector is inequitable and disgorgement is the most appropriate remedy. Those objectors are, in essence, “not paid for anything they owned.” View "Frank v. Target Corp." on Justia Law
Carpenters Pension Trust Fund for Northern California v. Allstate Corp.
In 2013, Allstate announced a new strategy in its auto insurance business: attracting more new customers by “softening” its underwriting standards. Allstate disclosed that new and potentially riskier customers might file more claims and that Allstate would monitor and adjust business practices accordingly. Two years later, Allstate’s stock price dropped by more than 10 percent, immediately after Allstate announced that the higher claims rates it had experienced for three quarters had been fueled at least in part by the company’s recent growth strategy and that the company was “tightening" its underwriting parameters. The plaintiffs claim that Allstate initially intentionally misled the market by falsely attributing the increases to other factors.The Seventh Circuit vacated the certification of a plaintiff class after reviewing recent Supreme Court decisions concerning the fraud-on-the-market presumption of reliance, which allows plaintiffs to avoid proving individual reliance upon fraudulent misrepresentations and omissions. The issues of materiality, loss causation, and transaction causation are left for the merits but the court must consider evidence on those issues in deciding class certification using the presumption, if the defense offers it to show the absence of transaction causation (price impact). The district court granted class certification after admitting, but without engaging with, defense evidence offered to defeat the presumption--an expert opinion that the alleged misrepresentations had no impact on the stock price. Class certification may be appropriate here, but the district court must decide at the class stage the price impact issue. The court directed modification of any class certification to limit the class to buyers of Allstate common stock rather than any other securities. View "Carpenters Pension Trust Fund for Northern California v. Allstate Corp." on Justia Law
Bryant v. Compass Group U.S.A., Inc.
Bryant's Illinois employer had a cafeteria, containing vending machines owned and operated by Compass. The machines did not accept cash; a user had to establish an account using her fingerprint. Fingerprints are “biometric identifiers” under the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA). In violation of BIPA, Compass never made publicly available a retention schedule and guidelines for permanently destroying the biometric identifiers and information it was collecting; never informed Bryant in writing that her biometric identifier was being collected or stored, of the specific purpose and length of term for which her fingerprint was being collected, stored, and used; nor obtained Bryant’s written release to collect, store, and use her fingerprint.Bryant brought a putative class action in state court; BIPA provides a private right of action to persons “aggrieved” by a violation. Compass removed the action to federal court under the Class Action Fairness Act, 28 U.S.C. 1332(d), on the basis of diversity of citizenship and an amount in controversy exceeding $5 million. Bryant successfully moved to remand the action, claiming that the district court did not have subject-matter jurisdiction because she lacked the concrete injury-in-fact necessary for Article III standing. State law poses no such problem. The district court found that Compass’s alleged violations were bare procedural violations that caused no concrete harm to Bryant. The Seventh Circuit reversed. The failure to follow BIPA leads to an invasion of personal rights that is both concrete and particularized. View "Bryant v. Compass Group U.S.A., Inc." on Justia Law
Stampley v. Altom Transport, Inc.
Stampley, the owner-operator of a tractor-trailer, provided hauling services for Altom. Altom agreed to pay Stampley 70% of the gross revenues that it collected for each load he hauled and to give Stampley a copy of the “rated freight bill” or a “computer-generated document with the same information” to prove that it had properly paid Stampley. The contract granted Stampley the right to examine any underlying documents used to create a computer-generated document and required him to bring any dispute regarding his pay within 30 days. Years after he hauled his last Altom load, Stampley filed a putative class action, alleging that Altom had shortchanged him and similarly situated drivers. The district court certified a class and held that Altom’s withholdings had violated the contract. Stampley had moved for summary judgment on the 30-day provision before the class received notice. The court subsequently denied Stampley’s motion for summary judgment, decertified the class, granted Altom summary judgment, and held that Stampley’s individual claims were barred.The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The district court did not abuse its discretion in finding Stampley an inadequate class representative and decertifying the class. The court found that the 30-day period began to run as soon as Stampley received any computer-generated document purporting to have the same information as the rated freight bill, necessarily including those that lacked the same information as the rated freight bill. View "Stampley v. Altom Transport, Inc." on Justia Law
Douglas v. Price
The $8.5 million proposed settlement of a class action that claimed that Western Union violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act by sending unsolicited text messages, 47 U.S.C. 227(b)(1)(A)(iii). defined the class as: “All Persons in the United States who received one or more unsolicited text messages sent by or on behalf of Western Union.” Price, thinking she was a class member because she had received two text messages from Western, objected, arguing that the settlement inadequately compensated the class; class counsel’s fee request was too high; the plaintiff’s incentive award was too high; the class definition was imprecise; and the list of class members had errors.Western’s records confirmed that Price had enrolled in its loyalty program, checking a disclaimer box consenting to receive text messages. The judge certified the class, ruled that Price was not a member, approved the settlement, and reduced class counsel’s fees. Price did not appeal her exclusion from the class and did not seek to intervene but sought attorney’s fees and an incentive award. Her motion was denied because Price had cited “no authority for the highly questionable proposition that a non‐class member can recover fees and an incentive award under Rule 23.” The Seventh Circuit dismissed her appeal for lack of jurisdiction. Price is not a party and lacks standing to appeal. View "Douglas v. Price" on Justia Law