Justia Class Action Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
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In this case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, the appellant, Paulette Barclift, sued Keystone Credit Services, LLC ("Keystone") for allegedly violating the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act ("FDCPA"). Barclift claimed that Keystone unlawfully communicated her personal information to a third-party mailing vendor, RevSpring, without her consent. She sought to represent a class of similarly situated plaintiffs. The District Court dismissed her suit on the grounds that she did not allege an injury sufficient to establish standing under Article III of the United States Constitution.Upon appeal, the Third Circuit agreed with the lower court that Barclift lacked standing, but modified the District Court's order so that the dismissal would be without prejudice. The court found that Barclift's alleged harm—embarrassment and distress caused by the disclosure of her personal information to a single intermediary (RevSpring)—did not bear a close relationship to a harm traditionally recognized by American courts, such as the public disclosure of private facts. Therefore, the court concluded that Barclift did not suffer a concrete injury and could not establish Article III standing. The court further held that the possibility of future harm was too speculative to establish a concrete injury. The case was dismissed without prejudice, allowing Barclift the opportunity to amend her complaint if she can allege a concrete injury. View "Barclift v. Keystone Credit Services LLC" on Justia Law

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Hackers infiltrated Wawa’s payment systems and obtained the credit and bank card data of about 22,000,000 customers. Wawa announced the breach on December 19, 2019; by the next day, attorneys had identified plaintiffs and filed the first of many class action suits seeking damages for the disclosures. Nine months later, Wawa and class counsel for the consumer-plaintiffs agreed on a settlement making $9 million in gift cards and some other compensation available to customers (of which $2.9 million was claimed) and giving $3.2 million to class counsel for fees and expenses. Objections arrived.The Third Circuit vacated the fee award. The district court must consider whether the funds made available to class members rather than the amount actually claimed during the claims process is the best measure of reasonableness and whether the fee award is reasonable in light of a “clear sailing provision,” in which Wawa promised as part of the settlement not to challenge class counsel’s request for an agreed-upon attorney’s fee award. Though not an automatic bar to settlement approval, such terms deserve careful scrutiny when calculating a reasonable fee award. The court also noted a “puzzling” fee reversion, providing that any court-ordered reduction in the attorney’s fee award would be returned to Wawa—not the class. View "In re: Wawa, Inc. Data Security Litigation" on Justia Law

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Huber visited Crozer doctors on four separate occasions, incurring debts to Crozer of $178, $78, $83.50, and $178. Crozer's debt collection agency, SAI, sent a form collection letter, with an “Account Summary” that provided two figures: the specific debt SAI sought to collect, entitled “Amount,” and a second figure, entitled “Various Other Acc[oun]ts Total Balance.” The fourth such letter to Huber informed Huber that she owed an “Amount” of $178, while her “Various Other Accounts Total Balance” was $517.50. Huber testified that she was confused as to how much she owed in total: Was it $695.50 or $517.50. She consulted a financial advisor.Huber filed this putative class action, asserting a “false, deceptive, or misleading” means of collecting a debt and failure to disclose the “amount of the debt” under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. 1692. The district court held, on summary judgment, that there was no actionable failure to disclose but found the letters “misleading and deceptive,” and certified the class.The Third Circuit affirmed. Huber has standing, but not under the “informational injury doctrine.” Huber did not identify omitted information to which she has entitlement but the financial harm she suffered in reliance on the letter bears a “close relationship” to the harm associated with the tort of fraudulent misrepresentation. The court remanded for determination of whether any of the class members suffered any consequences beyond confusion. View "Huber v. Simons Agency Inc" on Justia Law

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Since 1992, the Energy Star Program has set energy efficiency standards for categories of products and permitted approved products to bear the Energy Star logo. Three models of Whirlpool top-loading clothes washers were approved to display that logo and did so from 2009-2010. Under one method of measurement, those machines did not meet the Program’s energy- and water-efficiency standards; the washers did satisfy the Program’s standards under another measurement technique, which the Program previously endorsed. Program guidance from July 2010 disapproved of that method.Consumers in several states who had purchased those models commenced a putative class action against Whirlpool and retailers that sold those machines, alleging breach of express warranty and violations of state consumer protection statutes based on the allegedly wrongful display of the Energy Star logo. The district court certified a class action against Whirlpool but declined to certify a class against the retailers. At summary judgment, the court rejected all remaining claims.The Third Circuit affirmed, finding no genuine dispute of material fact. The plaintiffs did not demonstrate that the models were unfit for their intended purpose. A reasonable jury could not find that the retailer defendants were unjustly enriched from selling the washers. Without evidence of a false or misleading statement attributable to Whirlpool or the retailers, the state consumer protection claims failed. View "Dzielak v. Whirlpool Corp" on Justia Law

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Wolff received a settlement from the other driver, following a car accident. Aetna sought to collect some of the settlement funds to recoup the disability benefits it had paid to Wolff under her employer's disability plan. In a putative class action, Wolff alleged that Aetna had no right to recoupment and that Aetna’s disability plans utilized standard form language without meaningful variation both within and between employers. Wolff sought to certify a nationwide class composed of all employees who had enrolled in an Aetna standard form disability plan, who were allegedly coerced into repaying a portion of their disability payments from injury recoveries. Aetna argued that the language varied from plan to plan, so Wolff could not demonstrate the cohesiveness required for class certification. Federal Rule 23(b)(3) requires that “questions of law or fact common to class members predominate over any questions affecting only individual members.”The district court certified the class. Aetna did not challenge the order within Rule 23(f)’s 14-day period. Three weeks later, Wolff filed a proposed class notice. Aetna filed objections, including proposed minor modifications to the class definition. After the court revised the definition, Aetna filed a 23(f) petition, which the Third Circuit denied. A modified class certification order triggers a new 23(f) petition period only when the modified order materially alters the original order granting (or denying) class certification. The revision in this case did not effect such a material change. View "Wolff v. Aetna Life Insurance Co" on Justia Law

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Each of the four plaintiffs filed a putative class action complaint in state court, alleging violations of the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act (MMWA), 15 U.S.C. 2301, claiming that the defendants either concealed written warranties prior to sale or provided warranties that prohibit the use of third-party repair services or parts in violation of MMWA. The defendants removed the actions to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania pursuant to the Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA), 28 U.S.C. 1332(d)(2).The plaintiffs moved to remand to state court. The district court held that remand was appropriate because MMWA’s jurisdictional requirements were not satisfied and neither CAFA nor traditional diversity jurisdiction can be used to circumvent those jurisdictional requirements. The Third Circuit affirmed.MMWA claims can only be brought in federal court if section 2310(d)(3)’s requirements are satisfied, including that a class action name at least 100 plaintiffs; here, each complaint names only one plaintiff. MMWA’s stringent jurisdictional requirements are irreconcilable with CAFA. Allowing CAFA to govern MMWA class claims would undercut the MMWA’s requirement and allow an MMWA class action to proceed in contravention of the MMWA. View "Rowland v. Bissell Homecare, Inc." on Justia Law

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Mahindra, incorporated in New Jersey, is wholly owned by a major Indian corporation. Mahindra has over 5,000 employees in the U.S. About 90% are South Asians although that group comprises 1–2% of the U.S. population and around 12% of the relevant labor market. Mahindra annually obtains thousands of H-1B visas, which permit hiring foreign workers for specialty occupations. Hindi is often spoken at Mahinda's regional conferences. In 2014, Mahindra hired Williams, a Caucasian American, as one of two non-South Asians in his sales group. He reported to a South Asian supervisor. In 2015, Mahindra terminated his employment.Williams was a member of the 2018 "Grant" putative race discrimination class action. In 2020, the North Dakota district court granted Mahindra’s motion to compel individual arbitration and stayed the case. Williams filed his putative class action in 2020, in the District of New Jersey, alleging disparate treatment on the basis of race. Williams did not deny that the longest applicable statute of limitations, four years, had expired but argued for tolling. The court dismissed Williams’s complaint without prejudice, finding that Williams had standing and was likely a member of the Grant putative class, and rejecting “American Pipe” tolling, under which the filing of a putative class action suspends the limitations period for absent class members’ individual claims. Williams’s complaint did not plausibly allege but-for causation on an individual basis. The Third Circuit vacated the dismissal for consideration of “wrong-forum tolling,” and whether Williams plausibly pleaded a pattern-or-practice claim. View "Williams v. Tech Mahindra (Americas) Inc." on Justia Law

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Appellant, a fired employee, sued his former employer, alleging a pattern or practice of race discrimination against non-South Asians in violation of 42 U.S.C. Section 1981. The employee had previously attempted to join another class action against the company, but after that case was stayed, he filed this suit – years after his termination. The employer moved to dismiss the complaint under Rule 12(b)(6) as untimely. In response, the employee conceded that the relevant statutes of limitations had expired, and instead, he resorted to two forms of tolling: wrong-forum and American Pipe. The district court concluded that American Pipe tolling did not allow the employee to commence a successive class action, and the employee does not contest that ruling. But the district court dismissed the complaint without considering the applicability of wrong-forum tolling.   The Third Circuit vacated the district court’s order and remanded the case for the district court to consider whether wrong-forum tolling applies and/or whether Appellant has plausibly pleaded a prima facie pattern-or-practice claim. The court explained a class plaintiff’s burden in making out a prima facie case of discrimination is different from that of an individual plaintiff “in that the former need not initially show discrimination against any particular present or prospective employee,” including himself. As a result, Appellant was not required to plead but for causation on an individual basis to avoid dismissal, given the availability of the pattern-or-practice method of proof at later stages of the case. View "Lee Williams v. Tech Mahindra Americas Inc" on Justia Law

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A municipal retirement system that had purchased the company’s common stock before the announcement now alleges that the company knew beforehand of problems with its reserves and misled investors about those issues. The retirement system filed a putative class action against the company and three of its corporate executives, alleging securities fraud under Section 10(b) and Section 20(a) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. The insurance company and the executives moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim for relief. They argued that, under the heightened pleading standard for securities-fraud claims, the retirement system’s complaint failed to plausibly allege three necessary elements of its claims: false or misleading statements; loss causation, and scienter. The district court granted that motion and dismissed the complaint with prejudice.   The Third Circuit partially vacated the district court’s judgment. It remanded the case to the district court to consider, in the first instance, the adequacy of the amended complaint’s allegations of loss causation and scienter concerning the CFO’s statement. The court explained that based on information from a confidential former employee, who qualifies as credible at the pleading stage, the complaint alleged that the insurance company was already contemplating a significant increase in reserves due to negative mortality experience at the time of the CFO’s statements. And the magnitude of the company’s reserve charge and its temporal proximity to the CFO’s statements further undercut the CFO’s assertion that recent mortality experience was within a normal range. Those particularized allegations satisfy the heightened standard for pleading falsity, and they plausibly allege the falsity of the CFO’s statement. View "City of Warren Police and Fire v. Prudential Financial Inc" on Justia Law

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Exchange, an unincorporated association, is a reciprocal insurance exchange under Pennsylvania law, owned by its members, who are subscribers to Erie's insurance plans. Exchange has no independent officers nor a governing body. Indemnity, a Pennsylvania corporation, is the managing agent and attorney-in-fact for Exchange and receives a management fee from Exchange’s funds.Erie subscribers (Stephenson Plaintiffs) sued Indemnity in state court, claiming that Indemnity breached its fiduciary duty by charging an excessive management fee. They brought the case as a class action under Pennsylvania law on behalf of themselves and other “Pennsylvania residents” who subscribed to Erie policies. Invoking federal jurisdiction under the Class Action Fairness Act, 119 Stat. 4 (CAFA), Indemnity removed the case to federal court. The Stephenson Plaintiffs voluntarily dismissed the case. A month later, Exchange filed another case in state court, alleging that Indemnity breached its fiduciary duty by charging an excessive management fee; the case is not pled as a class action but is pled in Exchange’s name “by” “Individual Plaintiffs,” on behalf of Exchange, “to benefit all members of Exchange.”Indemnity removed the case, again citing CAFA. The district court remanded the case to state court. The Third Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments that the district court had jurisdiction because the case is a “class action” for purposes of CAFA or that federal jurisdiction exists because this case is a continuation of a previous federal class action against Indemnity involving similar parties and claims. View "Erie Insurance Exchange v. Erie Indemnity Co" on Justia Law