Justia Class Action Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
Grainger v. Ottawa County, Mich.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of Brian Behovitz's motion to intervene in a class action lawsuit initiated by Frederick Grainger, Jr. against Ottawa County, Michigan, and other Michigan counties. Grainger alleged that the counties unlawfully retained the full proceeds from foreclosure auctions of homes, even when the proceeds exceeded the homeowners' unpaid property taxes. The district court denied class certification because Grainger's individual claims were barred by the statute of limitations, making him unfit to serve as a class representative. Behovitz, who had a similar experience with another county, sought to intervene as a new putative class representative. His motion was denied by the district court, and he appealed.The Sixth Circuit affirmed the denial, finding that Behovitz failed to establish the necessary factors for intervention as of right under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 24(a). Specifically, he failed to show a substantial legal interest in the subject matter of the case or that his ability to protect his interest may be impaired without intervention. The court also concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying Behovitz’s permissive intervention. It noted that Behovitz likely does not have an interest in class certification, and his interest in opposing a settlement in a similar litigation was not a proper reason for intervention in this case. View "Grainger v. Ottawa County, Mich." on Justia Law
Hardwick v. 3M Co.
Hardwick alleged that his bloodstream contains trace quantities of five chemicals (PFAS)—which are part of a family of thousands of chemicals used in medical devices, automotive interiors, waterproof clothing, food packaging, firefighting foam, non-stick cookware, ski and car waxes, batteries, semiconductors, aviation and aerospace construction, paints and varnishes, and building materials. Hardwick, who was exposed to firefighting foam, does not know what companies manufactured the particular chemicals in his bloodstream; nor does he know whether those chemicals might someday make him sick. Of the thousands of companies that have manufactured PFAS since the 1950s, Hardwick sued 10 defendants and sought to represent a class comprising nearly every person “residing in the United States.” The district court certified a class comprising every person residing in Ohio with trace amounts of certain PFAS in their blood.The Sixth Circuit remanded with instructions to dismiss the case. Even at the pleadings stage, the factual allegations, taken as true, “must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” The element of traceability requires a showing that the plaintiff’s “injury was likely caused by the defendant.” The district court treated the defendants as a collective, but “standing is not dispensed in gross.” Even if Hardwick met the actual-injury requirement he must tie his injury to each defendant.” Hardwick’s conclusory allegations do not support a plausible inference that any of the defendants bear responsibility for the PFAS in Hardwick’s blood. View "Hardwick v. 3M Co." on Justia Law
In re Ford Motor Co.
A putative class sued Ford over an alleged design defect in their F-150 pickup trucks, model years 2013-2018, involving brake master cylinders manufactured by Hitachi, citing two alternative theories of how the failure of internal seals would occur. The court declined to certify injunction and damages classes under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(b)(2) and (b)(3) but certified five statewide issue classes under 23(c)(4) for three issues: whether the brake systems were defective; whether Ford possessed pre-sale knowledge of the defect; and whether concealed information about the defect would be material to a reasonable buyer.On interlocutory review, the Sixth Circuit reversed. Rule 23 certification requires that a class action be able to “generate common answers apt to drive the resolution of the litigation.” Here, it is not clear that the certified issues can each be answered “in one stroke.” The court noted design and manufacturing changes to the units over the years and that the class alleged two distinct theories of design defect. Ford may have believed any problem was fixed when Hitachi altered its cylinder design. It is possible that those changes affected brake performance to a degree that would have made a difference to a consumer. On remand, the district court must evaluate whether each of the four Rule 23(a) factors is actually satisfied, not merely properly alleged. The inquiry might overlap with the merits of the underlying claims but is a crucial part of avoiding the procedural unfairness to which class actions are uniquely susceptible. View "In re Ford Motor Co." on Justia Law
Trumbull County v. Purdue Pharma, L.P.
In the multidistrict National Prescription Opiate Litigation, municipalities from across the nation, Indian Tribes, and other entities allege that opioid manufacturers, distributors, pharmacies, and retailers acted in concert to mislead medical professionals into prescribing, and millions of Americans into taking and often becoming addicted to, opiates. Two northeast Ohio counties, Trumbull and Lake, alleged that national pharmaceutical chains “created, perpetuated, and maintained” the opioid epidemic by filling prescriptions for opioids without controls in place to stop the distribution of those that were illicitly prescribed and that conduct caused an absolute public nuisance remediable by abatement under Ohio common law.The district court ordered a bellwether trial, after which a jury concluded that the “oversupply of legal prescription opioids, and diversion of those opioids into the illicit market” was a public nuisance in those counties and that defendants “engaged in intentional and/or illegal conduct which was a substantial factor in producing" that nuisance. The district court entered a $650 million abatement order and an injunction requiring defendants to “ensure they are complying fully with the Controlled Substances Act and avoiding further improper dispensing conduct.” On appeal, the Sixth Circuit certified a question of law to the Ohio Supreme Court: Whether the Ohio Product Liability Act, Ohio Revised Code 2307.71, abrogates a common law claim of absolute public nuisance resulting from the sale of a product in commerce in which the plaintiffs seek equitable abatement, including both monetary and injunctive remedies? View "Trumbull County v. Purdue Pharma, L.P." on Justia Law
Patti Cahoo v. SAS Institute, Inc.
Out-of-work residents of Michigan may claim unemployment benefits if they meet certain eligibility criteria. The State’s Unemployment Insurance Agency oversees the benefits system. In 2011, with the help of private contractors, the Agency began to develop software to administer the unemployment system. The Agency sought to equip the software to auto-adjudicate as many parts of the claims process as possible. The Agency programmed software that used logic trees to help process cases and identify fraud. A claimant’s failure to return the fact-finding questionnaire, for example, led to a fraud finding, as did the claimant’s selection of certain multiple-choice responses. In August 2015, problems arose with some features of the system, prompting the Agency to turn off the auto-adjudication feature for fraud claims.Plaintiffs are four individuals who obtained unemployment benefits, which were terminated after the Agency flagged their claims for fraud. Plaintiffs filed a putative class action against three government contractors and nineteen Agency staffers, raising claims under the Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments, 26 U.S.C. Sec. 6402(f), and Michigan tort law. In a previous proceeding, the court held that plaintiffs’ due process rights clearly existed because they had alleged a deprivation of their property interests without adequate notice and without an opportunity for a pre-deprivation hearing.At this stage, because the remaining plaintiffs have failed to show that these procedures violate any clearly established law, the supervisors of the unemployment insurance agency are entitled to judgment as a matter of law. The court also found that an intervening plaintiff was properly prevented from joining the case, based on her untimely filing. View "Patti Cahoo v. SAS Institute, Inc." on Justia Law
Clark v. A&L Homecare & Training Center, LLC
The named plaintiffs, former home-health aides, sued A&L under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), claiming that A&L had paid them less than the correct overtime rate and under-reimbursed their expenses. Plaintiffs may bring such claims on behalf of other “similarly situated” employees. 29 U.S.C. 216(b). The plaintiffs sought to facilitate notice of their action to three groups of other employees who had worked for A&L. The court adopted a two-step procedure under which it would facilitate such notice following “conditional certification,” which required a “modest factual showing” that the other employees are “similarly situated” to the original plaintiffs. When merits discovery is complete, the court must grant “final certification” for the case to proceed as a collective action. The court applied that “fairly lenient” standard, and “conditionally certified” two groups for receiving notice. The court declined to facilitate notice to employees who had left A&L more than two years before or who had signed a “valid arbitration agreement” with A&L.On interlocutory appeal, the Sixth Circuit rejected the lenient standard, vacated the notice determination, and remanded for redetermination of that issue under the strong-likelihood standard. The court noted that the decision to send notice of an FLSA suit to other employees is often dispositive, in the sense of forcing a settlement. As a practical matter, it is not possible to conclusively make “similarly situated” determinations as to employees who are not present in the case. View "Clark v. A&L Homecare & Training Center, LLC" on Justia Law
Fox v. Saginaw County, Michigan
When a Michigan county forecloses on a property because its owner has failed to pay property taxes, Michigan law permits the county to obtain ownership of the property outright—even if its value exceeds the taxes owed. Fox owed about $3,000 in unpaid taxes, Gratiot County took his land. He valued the property at over $50,000. The county treasurer sold it for over $25,000. Fox did not receive any of the surplus. The Sixth Circuit has previously held that similar conduct was an unconstitutional “taking.”Fox filed a class action against Gratiot County on behalf of himself and similar landowners and sued 26 other counties, arguing that they engaged in the same conduct against other delinquent taxpayers. The district court certified a class, holding that Fox had standing to sue these other counties under the “juridical link doctrine,” under which a named plaintiff in a putative class action can sue defendants who have not injured the plaintiff if these defendants have injured absent class members.The Sixth Circuit vacated. The judicial link doctrine conflicts with the Supreme Court’s precedent holding that a class-action request “adds nothing to the question of standing.” Fox lacks standing to sue the 26 other counties. In individual litigation, a plaintiff lacks standing to sue a defendant if the plaintiff’s injuries are not “fairly traceable” to that defendant. Expediency concerns cannot supplant Article III’s separation-of-powers protections. View "Fox v. Saginaw County, Michigan" on Justia Law
Adams v. 3M Co.
Adams and Mounts mined coal in Kentucky. Both wore respirators to protect their lungs but nevertheless developed pneumoconiosis, a disease caused by inhaled dust particles. They sued 3M and other out-of-state respirator manufacturers and distributors. Adams’ complaint named more than 400 co-plaintiffs. Mounts’ complaint named more than 300 co-plaintiffs. 3M removed the cases to federal court. The district court remanded to state court.On interlocutory appeal, the Sixth Circuit reversed the remand order. The 2005 Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA) extends federal diversity jurisdiction to certain “mass action[s]” involving “100 or more persons,” 28 U.S.C. 1332(d)(11)(B)(i) and permits removal of any civil action “in which monetary relief claims of 100 or more persons are proposed to be tried jointly on the ground that the plaintiffs’ claims involve common questions of law or fact.” These complaints did that. Claims presented in a single complaint proceed through a common trial process absent an order to the contrary; when the plaintiffs each filed complaints with more than 100 co-plaintiffs, they offered to try their co-plaintiffs’ claims jointly. Both complaints sought “a trial by jury” and a singular “judgment,” not multiple trials and judgments. By filing a complaint predicated on a “common” “question of law or fact,” the plaintiffs offered the presence of common questions as a “ground” for pursuing a joint trial, View "Adams v. 3M Co." on Justia Law
Ohio Public Employees Retirement System v. Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp.
Following a 29% drop in Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (Freddie Mac) stock prices in 2007, OPERS, a state pension fund, filed a securities fraud case against Freddie Mac. The district court dismissed, concluding that OPERS failed to adequately plead loss causation because the theory OPERS pursued (materialization of the risk) had not been adopted in the circuit. The Sixth Circuit reversed, “join[ing] our fellow circuits in recognizing the viability of alternative theories of loss causation and apply[ing] materialization of the risk.” On remand, the district court denied OPERS’ motion for class certification, granted Freddie Mac’s motion to exclude OPERS’ expert, and denied OPERS’ motion to exclude Freddie Mac’s experts.The Sixth Circuit denied OPERS’s petition for leave to appeal. OPERS asked the district court to enter “sua sponte” summary judgment for Freddie Mac, arguing that the class certification decision prevented OPERS’ case from proceeding, as it doomed OPERS’ ability to prove loss causation. The district court summarily agreed and entered summary judgment for Freddie Mac. The Sixth Circuit reversed and remanded, citing its lack of jurisdiction. The summary judgment decision was manufactured by OPERS in an apparent attempt to circumvent the requirements of Federal Rule 23(f). The decision was not final. View "Ohio Public Employees Retirement System v. Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp." on Justia Law
Waid v. Snyder
Following the Flint Water Crisis, thousands of cases were brought for the various harms minors, adults, property owners, and business owners endured as a result of lead-contaminated water. Putative class action lawsuits and individual lawsuits were consolidated in the Eastern District of Michigan, where Co-Lead Class Counsel and Co-Liaison Counsel were appointed to represent the putative class and individual plaintiffs. After years of negotiation, Co-Lead Class Counsel and Co-Liaison Counsel, together with the Settling Defendants, reached a record-breaking settlement. The court approved the settlement and awarded attorneys’ fees and reimbursement for expenses. Three Objector groups appealed that award.The Sixth Circuit affirmed. The Objectors are not entitled to detailed discovery of billing and cost records; assertions that those records would have shown excessive billing or revealed the inclusion of time not performed for the common benefit are entirely speculative. The Objectors lack standing to appeal the structure of the fee award; they would fare no better with or without the Common Benefit Assessments applicable to their claims. Were they to have standing, they did not demonstrate that the court abused its discretion in awarding Common Benefit Assessments, particularly when those assessments achieve parity among settlement beneficiaries and are reasonable under the circumstance. The court upheld an award of $500 for bone scans. View "Waid v. Snyder" on Justia Law