Justia Class Action Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
Laudato v. EQT Corp.
About 100 Pennsylvania landowners filed a class-action complaint, alleging that EQT has been storing natural gas in six separate storage fields, thereby utilizing the landowners’ underground pore space without providing them compensation. Months later, all landowners except for Laudato voluntarily dismissed their claims without prejudice. Laudato later moved for class certification, seeking approval of a class of: All persons and/or entities that own and/or owned real property—and/or natural gas storage rights to real property—located within the certificated boundaries of one or more of the Gas Storage Fields for any period of time, not before Defendants’ inception of the respective gas. The district court, exercising federal-question jurisdiction over claims under the Natural Gas Act, 15 U.S.C. 717–17z, agreed to class certification but rejected Laudato’s proposed class definition, refusing to grant other downstream requests such as the appointment of a class representative, the appointment of class counsel, and certain issues’ certification. The court directed the parties to meet and confer “regarding the establishment of an appropriate class definition.”The Third Circuit granted a petition for review, holding that because the order clearly implicates Rule 23(f), it had jurisdiction and that interlocutory review was appropriate. View "Laudato v. EQT Corp." on Justia Law
In re: Citizens Bank, N.A.
Current and former mortgage loan officers claim that Citizens Bank forced them—and more than a thousand of their colleagues—to work over 40 hours a week without paying them the overtime they were due under state and federal law. They filed a collective action under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), 29 U.S.C. 207, and parallel state-law claims that they wished to pursue as a class action under FRCP 23. The district court scheduled a trial on the primary factual issue in the FLSA opt-in collective action but left unresolved whether it would certify a class for the state-law opt-out Rule 23 action.The Third Circuit stayed the trial. Citizens had a sufficient likelihood of success on its mandamus petition, and mandamus is the only relief available. By compelling the FLSA opt-in collective action trial before deciding Rule 23 class certification, the district court “created a predicament for others to unravel” and “clearly and indisputably erred.” Allowing the planned FLSA collective action trial would publicly preview the evidence common to the FLSA and state-law claims, giving potential Rule 23 class members an enormous informational advantage in any subsequent “do-over.” Citizens would suffer irreparable injury absent a stay; a stay will not substantially injure the plaintiffs. View "In re: Citizens Bank, N.A." on Justia Law
Russell v. Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates
The Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates certifies graduates of foreign medical schools who wish to be accepted to a U.S. medical residency program. In 1992, Igberase obtained certification. No residency program accepted him. In 1994, Igberase submitted another application, rearranging his name and using a different date of birth. The Commission learned of the deception and notified the Medical Licensing Examination Committee. Later, Igberase applied for certification under the name “Akoda” and was admitted to a residency program. He was dismissed when the program learned that "Akoda's" social security number belonged to Igberase. Igberase/Akoda argued that it was a case of mistaken identity with his cousin. The Commission did not recommend Akoda’s case to the credentialing committee. Igberase/Akoda was admitted to Howard’s residency program. and received a Maryland medical license. Law enforcement discovered his fraudulent documents. He pleaded guilty to misuse of a social security account number.Patients who received medical treatment from “Akoda” brought a purported class action against the Commission, claiming negligent infliction of emotional distress. The district court certified (FRCP 23(c)(4)) an “issue class” of all patients examined or treated by Igberase beginning with his enrollment at Howard. The Third Circuit vacated. The district court failed to determine whether the issues identified for class treatment fit within one of Rule 23(b)’s categories and failed to explicitly consider some of the “Gates” factors: The effect certification of the issue class will have on the resolution of remaining issues; what efficiencies would be gained by resolution of the certified issues; and whether certain elements of the claim are suitable for issue-class treatment. View "Russell v. Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates" on Justia Law
T.R. v. School District of Philadelphia
Plaintiffs brought a putative class action against the School District, claiming that shortcomings in the District’s translation and interpretation services violated the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), 20 U.S.C. 1400.The Third Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the District, based on failure to exhaust administrative remedies. A “systemic exception” to IDEA’s administrative exhaustion requirement applies where plaintiffs “allege systemic legal deficiencies and, correspondingly, request system-wide relief" that cannot be addressed through the administrative process. The fact that a complaint is structured as a class action seeking injunctive relief, without more, does not excuse exhaustion; the systemic exception applies when plaintiffs challenge policies that threaten basic IDEA goals, not mere components of special education programs. Both named plaintiffs could bring the same IDEA claim from their complaint before a hearing officer who could then order that the District provide each parent with translated individualized education plans, more qualified or consistent interpretation services, or whatever process would ensure meaningful participation for that parent. Both the claim and the relief would be individualized, even if the relief could create spillover benefits for other parents. View "T.R. v. School District of Philadelphia" on Justia Law
Aly v. Valeant Pharmaceuticals International, Inc.
Valeant develops and manufactures generic pharmaceuticals. Appellants purchased stock in Valeant after Valeant changed its business model to focus more on acquiring new drugs from other companies rather than developing its own. Valeant made promising representations about its financial performance based on its new business model. The price of Valeant stock skyrocketed nearly 350% in 2015. Before the district court addressed class certification in a putative class action on behalf of investors who purchased Valeant stock in 2015, alleging that the price was artificially inflated as a result of deceptive practices, the Appellants filed an “opt-out” complaint bringing the same claims in their individual capacities. The district court dismissed that complaint as untimely under the two-year limitations period.The Third Circuit vacated the dismissal. Putative class members may recover as part of the class or seek individual recourse. Members may initially proceed as part of a class, but certification may be denied later or members may discover that their individual claims are more valuable than the class claims and decide to pursue an opt-out complaint even if certification is likely. In either case, members are generally allowed to initiate an individual action. When a class complaint is filed, the limitations period governing the individual claims of putative members is tolled to protect the rights of putative members while avoiding needless identical lawsuits. Nothing further, such as a certification denial, is required to benefit from tolling. View "Aly v. Valeant Pharmaceuticals International, Inc." on Justia Law
Hamer v. LivaNova Deutschland GMBH
Hamer underwent open-heart surgery using LivaNova’s 3T Heater-Cooler System. He developed an infection in the incision, which his physicians suspected stemmed from a non-tuberculosis mycobacterium (NTM). The hospital had experienced an outbreak of NTM infections in other patients who had undergone surgery using the 3T System. Hamer’s treatment team never isolated NTM from any of the swabs or cultures. Hamer, alleging that his treatment caused him lasting injuries, filed suit under the Louisiana Products Liability Act (LPLA) for failure to warn and inadequate design.Hamer’s case was transferred to Multidistrict Litigation case 2816, along with other cases alleging damages from the NTM infection caused by the 3T System. Case Management Order 15 (CMO 15) required plaintiffs to show “proof of NTM infection” through “positive bacterial culture results.” Hamer did not comply but opposed dismissal, claiming he had stated a prima facie claim under Louisiana law and sought remand.The Third Circuit reversed the dismissal. The court could have dismissed Hamer’s claims without prejudice, could have suggested remand, or could have dismissed Hamer’s claims with prejudice, if it found that Hamer had not stated a prima facie case under Louisiana law. .Under the LPLA, Hamer’s facts might state a prima facie case for defective design. Hamer’s allegations may diverge from those of other cases in MDL 2816 in which an NTM infection was verified but stating alternative theories of liability cannot justify foreclosing his claims. View "Hamer v. LivaNova Deutschland GMBH" on Justia Law
Hargrove v. Sleepys LLC
The plaintiffs, who performed mattress deliveries for Sleepy's, signed Independent Driver Agreements, providing that the relationship was “non-exclusive.” Some drivers signed on their own behalf; others signed on behalf of their corporate entity (carrier). Individual drivers were required to form business entities, even if the business consisted of one driver and one truck. Sleepy’s did not pay wages to a carrier’s owners or workers. It paid each carrier for all the deliveries the carrier performed. An employee misclassification suit, seeking class certification, alleged that Sleepy’s misclassified the individual drivers as independent contractors and violated New Jersey law by making certain deductions and failing to pay overtime.The Third Circuit reversed the denial of certification of a proposed class of drivers who performed Sleepy's deliveries on a full-time basis using one truck. In addition to the Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23 class action requirements, the Third Circuit requires that a Rule 23(b)(3) class be “currently and readily ascertainable.” Plaintiffs must show that the class is defined with reference to objective criteria and there is a reliable and administratively feasible mechanism for determining whether putative class members fall within the definition. The district court essentially demanded that the plaintiffs identify the class members at the certification stage and focused on gaps in Sleepy's records. Where an employer’s lack of records makes it more difficult to ascertain members of an otherwise objectively verifiable class, the employees who make up that class should not bear the cost of the employer’s faulty record-keeping. View "Hargrove v. Sleepys LLC" on Justia Law
In re: Suboxone Antitrust Litigation
Reckitt developed Suboxone tablets, a prescription drug used to treat opioid addiction. Toward the end of its seven-year period of exclusivity in which other manufacturers could not introduce generic versions, Reckitt developed an under-the-tongue film version of Suboxone, which would enjoy its own exclusivity period. Generic versions of Suboxone tablets would not be rated as equivalent to the name-brand Suboxone film, so state substitution laws would not require pharmacists to substitute generic Suboxone tablets if a patient were prescribed Suboxone film.Purchasers filed suit, alleging that Reckitt’s transition to Suboxone film was coupled with efforts to eliminate the demand for Suboxone tablets and to coerce prescribers to prefer film in order to maintain monopoly power, in violation of the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. 2. The Purchasers submitted an expert report indicating that, due to Reckitt’s allegedly-anticompetitive conduct, the proposed class paid more for brand Suboxone products. The district court certified a class of “[a]ll persons or entities . . . who purchased branded Suboxone tablets directly from Reckitt” during a specified period. The Third Circuit affirmed. Common evidence exists to prove the Purchasers’ antitrust theory and the resulting injury. Although allocating the damages among class members may be necessary after judgment, such individual questions do not ordinarily preclude the use of the class action device; the court correctly found that common issues predominate. View "In re: Suboxone Antitrust Litigation" on Justia Law
Baptiste v. Bethlehem Landfill Co.
The Baptistes filed suit on behalf of a class of homeowner-occupants and renters (about 8,400 households) claiming interference with the use and enjoyment of their homes and loss in property value caused by noxious odors and other air contaminants emanating from the 224-acre Bethlehem Landfill. The Third Circuit reversed the dismissal of the suit. While everyone in the community—including visitors, commuters, and residents—may suffer from having to breathe polluted air in public spaces, the Baptistes have identified cumulative harms that are unique to residents, such as the inability to use and enjoy their outdoor spaces. These injuries are above and beyond any injury to the public; the Baptistes sufficiently alleged a “particular damage” to sustain a private claim for public nuisance. They also stated a claim for private nuisance. Pennsylvania law does not reject a private nuisance claim on the ground that the property affected was too far from the source of the alleged nuisance. Nor does Pennsylvania law condition an individual’s right to recover private property damages on a nuisance theory on the size of the nuisance or the number of persons harmed, as opposed to the nature of the rights affected or the degree of the harm suffered. The question remains whether the Baptistes have sufficiently pleaded a cognizable injury to state an independent negligence claim. View "Baptiste v. Bethlehem Landfill Co." on Justia Law
In Re: NFL Players’ Concussion Injury Litigation
The Settlement Agreement between the NFL and eligible retired NFL players arose out of a class action based on findings that professional football players are at a significantly increased risk for serious brain injury. The Agreement is intended to provide monetary awards to former players who receive a qualifying diagnosis after following a specified protocol. The Agreement’s claims administrator and the district court created and adopted a set of clarifying, revised rules relating to how players can obtain a qualifying diagnosis.Several retired NFL players or their estates challenged those revised rules, arguing that they amended the Agreement, and alternatively, that the court abused its discretion by adopting the four revised rules. The Third Circuit upheld the rules, noting that the Agreement provided for the court’s continuing jurisdiction and specifies the duties of the claims administrator. The revised rules are permissible clarifications created for the Agreement’s successful administration—for example, to prevent fraud—and were not amendments. They were created, in part, because the claims administrator reviewed many claim submissions and noted that there were certain “clients of a law firm traveling thousands of miles to see the same physician rather than those available to them in their hometowns and excessively high numbers and rates of payable diagnoses from those doctors.” View "In Re: NFL Players' Concussion Injury Litigation" on Justia Law