Justia Class Action Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
Abbott v. E. I. du Pont de Nemours & Co.
In the 1950s, DuPont began discharging C-8—a “forever” chemical that accumulates in the human body and the environment—into the Ohio River, landfills, and the air surrounding its West Virginia plant. By the 1960s, DuPont learned that C-8 is toxic to animals and, by the 1980s, that it is potentially a human carcinogen. DuPont’s discharges increased until 2000. Evidence subsequently confirmed that C-8 caused several diseases among those drinking the contaminated water. In a class action lawsuit, DuPont promised to treat the affected water and to fund a scientific process concerning the impact of C-8 exposure. A panel of scientists conducted an approximately seven-year epidemiological study of the blood samples and medical records of more than 69,000 affected community members, while the litigation was paused. The settlement limited the claims that could be brought against DuPont based on the study’s determination of which diseases prevalent in the communities were likely linked to C-8 exposure. The resulting cases were consolidated in multidistrict litigation. After two bellwether trials and a post-bellwether trial reached verdicts against DuPont, the parties settled the remaining cases.More class members filed suit when they became sick or discovered the connection between their diseases and C-8. In this case, the Sixth Circuit affirmed the application of collateral estoppel to specific issues that were unanimously resolved in the three prior jury trials, the exclusion of certain evidence based on the initial settlement agreement, and rejection of DuPont’s statute-of-limitations defense.. View "Abbott v. E. I. du Pont de Nemours & Co." on Justia Law
Doster v. Kendall
The Air Force ordered over 500,000 service members to get COVID-19 vaccinations. About 10,000 members requested religious exemptions; about 135 of these requests were granted, only to those planning to leave the service. It has granted thousands of exemptions for medical or administrative reasons. The Plaintiffs allege that the vaccine mandate substantially burdens their religious exercise in violation of the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). The district court granted a preliminary injunction that barred the Air Force from disciplining the Plaintiffs for failing to take a vaccine, then certified a class of thousands of similar service members and extended this injunction to the class.The Sixth Circuit affirmed. In opposing class-action certification, the Air Force argued that RFRA adopts an individual-by-individual approach: it must show that it has a compelling interest in requiring a “specific” individual to get vaccinated based on that person’s specific duties. In challenging the injunction, however, the Air Force failed to identify the specific duties or working conditions of any Plaintiff, citing the “general interests” underlying the mandate. The court reasoned that it could uphold the injunction based on RFRA alone but also noted common questions for the class: Does the Air Force have a uniform policy of relying on its generalized interests in the vaccine mandate to deny religious exemptions regardless of individual circumstances? Does it have a discriminatory policy of broadly denying religious exemptions but broadly granting secular ones? View "Doster v. Kendall" on Justia Law
Safety Specialty Insurance Co. v. Genesee County Board of Commissioners
The Fox and Puchlak filed purported class actions, alleging that Michigan counties seized property to satisfy property-tax delinquencies, sold the properties, and kept the difference between the sales proceeds and the tax debts.. The suits assert that the counties committed takings without just compensation or imposed excessive fines in violation of the Michigan and federal constitutions. Genesee County’s insurance, through Safety, precludes coverage for claims “[a]rising out of . . . [t]ax collection, or the improper administration of taxes or loss that reflects any tax obligation” and claims “[a]rising out of eminent domain, condemnation, inverse condemnation, temporary or permanent taking, adverse possession, or dedication by adverse use.”Safety sought a ruling that it owed no duty to defend or to indemnify. The district court entered summary judgment, finding no Article III case or controversy between Safety and Fox and Puchlak. The court also held that Safety owes Genesee County no duty to defend. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Safety lacks standing to sue Fox and Puchlak over its duty to defend and its claim for the duty to indemnify lacks ripeness. Safety owes no duty to defend; the alleged tax-collection process directly caused the injuries underlying each of Fox’s and Puchlak’s claims. View "Safety Specialty Insurance Co. v. Genesee County Board of Commissioners" on Justia Law
Steigerwald v. Commissioner of Social Security
Class Counsel discovered the Social Security Administration's (SSA’s) systemic failure to perform “Subtraction Recalculations” and recovered over $106 million in past-due disability benefits. After performing the Subtraction Recalculations for all the claimants, the SSA argued that the district court did not have authority under the Social Security Act’s judicial-review provision, 42 U.S.C. 405(g), to order the Subtraction Recalculations and that Class Counsel cannot recover attorney fees under section 406(b) for representation of the claimants.The Sixth Circuit affirmed the award of $15.9 million in attorney fees to Class Counsel. SSA “may not hide behind” the statutory provisions merely because it erred at the end, rather than at the beginning, of the benefits-award process. The district court appropriately exercised judicial review under section 405(g), properly ordered the SSA to perform the Subtraction Recalculations, and properly awarded reasonable attorneys’ fees. The SSA failed to award claimants additional past-due benefits to which they were entitled. Counsel successfully sought judicial assistance to obtain those benefits. Congress did not create a statute that allows attorneys to recover fees when the SSA initially fails to award benefits, only to foreclose fee recovery when the SSA later unlawfully withholds additional benefits. View "Steigerwald v. Commissioner of Social Security" on Justia Law
Tarrify Properties, LLC v. Cuyahoga County
After a judicial foreclosure proceeding for delinquent property taxes, the county generally sells the land at a public auction and pays any proceeds above the delinquency amount to the owner upon demand. Ohio's 2008 land-bank transfer procedure for abandoned property permits counties to bring foreclosure proceedings in the County Board of Revision rather than in court and authorizes counties to transfer the land to landbanks rather than sell it at auctions, “free and clear of all impositions and any other liens.” The state forgives any tax delinquency; it makes no difference whether the tax delinquency exceeds the property’s fair market value. The Board of Revision must provide notice to landowners and the county must run a title search. Owners may transfer a case from the Board to a court. After the Board’s foreclosure decision, owners have 28 days to pay the delinquency and recover their land. They also may file an appeal in a court of general jurisdiction. Owners cannot obtain the excess equity in the property after the land bank receives it.After Tarrify’s vacant property was transferred to a landbank, Tarrify sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983, claiming that the transfers constituted takings without just compensation. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the denial of Tarrify’s motion to certify a class of Cuyahoga County landowners who purportedly suffered similar injuries. While the claimants share a common legal theory—that the targeted Ohio law does not permit them to capture equity in their properties after the county transfers them to a land bank—they do not have a cognizable common theory for measuring the value in each property at the time of transfer. View "Tarrify Properties, LLC v. Cuyahoga County" on Justia Law
Fox v. Saginaw County,
Fox and others failed to pay some of their property taxes. The counties foreclosed on and sold their properties and kept all of the sale proceeds, sometimes tens of thousands of dollars beyond the taxes due. Fox filed this class action. While Fox’s class action was pending, the Michigan Supreme Court held that the counties’ practice violated the Michigan Constitution’s Takings Clause. The Michigan legislature then began crafting a statutory process for recovering the proceeds. ARI then began contacting potential plaintiffs about pursuing relief on their behalf. Meanwhile, the district court certified Fox’s class. ARI instructed the law firm it hired to opt-out ARI-represented claimants and pursue individual relief on their behalf. Fox believed that ARI was improperly soliciting class members.The district court ordered ARI to stop contacting class members and allow 32 class members to back out of their agreements with ARI. The Sixth Circuit affirmed in part. The district court has the authority to protect the class-action process and did not abuse its discretion when it acted to protect class members from ARI’s post-certification communications. While most of the order was justified, the district court abused its discretion by allowing class members who hired ARI before the class was certified to rescind their agreements. View "Fox v. Saginaw County," on Justia Law
Automotive Parts Antitrust Litig.
In the Automotive Parts Antitrust multi-district litigation, a subset of consumers and businesses (End-Payor Plaintiffs), alleged that automotive-part manufacturers fixed prices in violation of antitrust laws and that they paid elevated prices for defendants’ parts or purchased or leased vehicles containing those parts. After eight years of motions, negotiations, approval hearings, and objections, the district court granted final approval to settlements between End-Payor Plaintiffs and defendants. The settlement agreements, the class notices, and plans of allocation for each settlement agreement defined the classes of plaintiffs to include consumers and businesses that bought or leased certain qualifying vehicles or paid to replace certain qualifying vehicle parts during designated time periods. The class definitions did not include insurers, assignees, or subrogees.FRS, a third-party company that manages and files claims for clients, later submitted claims on behalf of insurers that purchased or leased eligible vehicles for company use (Fleet Vehicles) and claims that are based on its clients’ claimed “subrogation rights” to class members’ claims. The district court denied FRS’s motion to intervene as untimely. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. FRS offers no legitimate excuse for failing to intervene after End-Payor Plaintiffs repeatedly expressed their adverse position; the district court alerted FRS to a deficient filing. End-Payor Plaintiffs would have suffered delay-related prejudice had the district court allowed intervention. View "Automotive Parts Antitrust Litig." on Justia Law
I. C. v. StockX, LLC
Eight named plaintiffs, including two minors, brought a nationwide putative class action against e-commerce provider StockX for allegedly failing to protect millions of StockX users’ personal account information obtained through a cyber-attack in May 2019. Since 2015, StockX’s terms of service included an arbitration agreement, a delegation provision, a class action waiver, and instructions for how to opt-out of the arbitration agreement. Since 2017, StockX's website has stated: StockX may change these Terms without notice to you. “YOUR CONTINUED USE OF THE SITE AFTER WE CHANGE THESE TERMS CONSTITUTES YOUR ACCEPTANCE OF THE CHANGES. IF YOU DO NOT AGREE TO ANY CHANGES, YOU MUST CANCEL YOUR ACCOUNT.The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit and an order compelling arbitration. The court rejected arguments that there is an issue of fact as to whether four of the plaintiffs agreed to the current terms of service and that the defenses of infancy and unconscionability render the terms of service and the arbitration agreement (including the delegation provision) invalid and unenforceable. The arbitrator must decide in the first instance whether the defenses of infancy and unconscionability allow plaintiffs to avoid arbitrating the merits of their claims. View "I. C. v. StockX, LLC" on Justia Law
Canaday v. The Anthem Companies, Inc.
Anthem provides health insurance and hires nurses to review insurance claims. The company pays those nurses a salary but does not pay them overtime. Canaday, an Anthem nurse who lives in Tennessee, filed a proposed collective action under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), 29 U.S.C. 206. claiming that the company misclassified her and others as exempt from the Act’s overtime pay provisions. A number of Anthem nurses in other states opted into the collective action.The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the out-of-state plaintiffs on personal jurisdiction grounds. In an FLSA collective action, as in the mass action under California law, each opt-in plaintiff becomes a real party in interest, who must meet her burden for obtaining relief and satisfy the other requirements of party status. Anthem is based in Indiana, not Tennessee. General jurisdiction is not an option for out-of-state claims. Specific jurisdiction requires a connection between the forum and the specific claims at issue. The out-of-state plaintiffs have not brought claims arising out of or relating to Anthem’s conduct in Tennessee. View "Canaday v. The Anthem Companies, Inc." on Justia Law
Messer v. Commissioner of Social Security
Attorney Conn represented Plaintiffs and thousands of others in seeking disability benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA). Conn bribed doctors to certify false applications and bribed an ALJ to approve those applications. After Conn’s scheme was uncovered, SSA identified more than 1,700 approved applications that it believed might have been the product of fraud. SSA redetermined and denied Plaintiffs’ applications,Several class actions challenged the SSA’s redetermination procedures. The Martin case was dismissed without a class having been certified because the named plaintiffs failed to exhaust their administrative remedies. The Hughes case was stayed before a class was certified. In the meantime, the Sixth Circuit held that the SSA’s redetermination procedures violated due process. Plaintiffs had 60 days to seek judicial review of the SSA’s decision, 42 U.S.C. 405(g). Each waited more than two years. As absent Hughes class members, they relied on the Supreme Court’s “American Pipe” doctrine under which filing a class action pauses the deadlines for members to file related individual actions. Once the district court remanded Hughes, plaintiffs filed their civil actions.The district courts dismissed the suits as untimely. The Sixth Circuit reversed in part. American Pipe tolling continues after a district court denies a motion for class certification solely as a matter of docket management, without deciding that certification is unwarranted. The outright dismissal of an uncertified class action ends American Pipe tolling and restarts class members’ statute-of-limitations clocks. View "Messer v. Commissioner of Social Security" on Justia Law