With “Ascertainability” Missing from Rule 23 Draft Reforms, Focus Remains on Courts

uscourtsThe WLF Legal Pulse has devoted a lot of digital ink to the issue of whether the members of a class action must be “ascertainable”—that is, capable of being feasibly identified. Opinions on this implicit class action procedural requirement have varied among the federal circuits and even within specific federal district courts. As an organization that generally favors uniformity, WLF was intrigued by reports that those responsible for making and amending the federal rules of civil procedure had ascertainability on their radar screen for class action rule reform.

The October 30-31, 2014 Agenda Book of the Advisory Committee on Civil Rules dumped cold water on the chances for a rule on ascertainability. The committee discussed the split among federal courts and concluded “in light of the likely difficulty of drafting rule provisions on class definition, the question is whether the problems described warrant making the effort.”

We can’t say we’re surprised, then, that the Advisory Committee’s Rule 23 Subcommittee left ascertainability out of its “draft concept amendments” for the class action rules, which can be read in the April 10-11 Agenda Book (starting on page 243). Considering what fellow legal reform enthusiast Andrew Trask of McGuire Woods LLP wrote on his blog about the Subcommittee’s proposals, perhaps we should be relieved ascertainability wasn’t also included. In any event, for the time being, class action defendants will have to continue fighting a court-by-court battle over this implied requirement.

As we’ve discussed previously, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit is poised to offer some clarity on ascertainability in Jones v. ConAgra. District courts in the circuit, especially within the Northern District of California (N.D. Cal., a/k/a The Food Court), have expressed divergent views on whether and how plaintiffs must demonstrate ascertainability.

For instance, in the Jones district court opinion, N.D. Cal. Judge Charles Breyer held that the plaintiffs must offer an objective and feasible method of identifying class members, though their failure to do so was not, by itself, fatal to their motion for class certification. Fellow N.D. Cal. Judge Samuel Conti, however, in Sethavanish v. ZonePerfect Nutrition Co., denied plaintiffs’ class certification motion entirely on the ground that they failed to demonstrate ascertainability. Continue reading

WLF Program to Assess Supreme Court Arguments in Critical Property Rights Case

PodiumPic1Studies have shown a correlation between strong protections for private property ownership and environmental quality. It is quite appropriate, then, that the U.S. Supreme Court will be hearing arguments today, Earth Day 2015, in a critical property rights case, Horne v. U.S. Department of Agriculture. The case involves, among other issues, whether a “categorical” or per se taking of property under the Fifth Amendment occurs when government seizes personal property, rather than real property. The personal property in Horne were raisins, and the seizure occurred under a Depression-era “Raisin Marketing Order.”

Washington Legal Foundation, which filed an amicus brief supporting Marvin and Laura Horne’s takings claim, will be hosting a live Web Seminar program this afternoon at 1:00 p.m. EDT, Takings of Personal Property: An Assessment of U.S. Supreme Court Arguments in Horne v. USDA. Click here for free registration.

Our panelists this afternoon will be:

Timothy S. Bishop, Partner, Mayer Brown LLP
Stephen S. Schwartz, Associate, Kirkland & Ellis LLP
Richard A. Samp, Chief Counsel, Washington Legal Foundation

WLF Attorney Interviewed for FCPA Compliance and Ethics Report Blog Podcast

Attorney Thomas R. Fox, a prominent Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) practitioner and author of a forthcoming WLF Legal Opinion Letter, “Is SEC Heading toward a Strict Liability Application of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act?,” recently interviewed WLF Legal Studies Division Chief Counsel, Glenn Lammi, about WLF’s public interest work and our focus on the FCPA.

 Episode 151-Glenn Lammi, Washington Legal Foundation.

Supreme Court Has Opportunity to Halt Lawsuits by Uninjured Plaintiffs

supreme courtFederal courts have been inundated in recent years by suits filed by plaintiffs who have suffered no injury but who allege that a federal statute provides them with “standing” to sue for alleged violations of federal law. Such lawsuits can be extremely lucrative for the plaintiffs’ bar when the statute provides for an award of statutory damages (typically, $100 to $1,000) for each violation; by filing their suits as nationwide class actions, attorneys can often plausibly seek to recover billions of dollars. The Supreme Court may soon make it much more difficult for such suits to survive a motion to dismiss. The Court on Friday will consider whether to grant review in Spokeo v. Robins, a case that squarely addresses whether plaintiffs can assert Article III standing where their only “injury” is the affront to their sensibilities caused by the belief that someone is not complying federal law. The Court has indicated a strong interest in addressing the issue; Spokeo is an appropriate vehicle for doing so and ought to be granted.

The U.S. Solicitor General recently filed a brief recommending that the Court not hear Spokeo. That brief may, ironically, increase the likelihood that the Court will agree to hear the case, because the Solicitor General very pointedly declined to endorse the appeals court’s rationale for concluding that the plaintiff has standing.

Spokeo involves claims filed under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), one of dozens of federal statutes that offer a bounty (in the form of statutory damages) to those who demonstrate a violation of a federal statute. Spokeo, Inc. operates a “people search engine”—it aggregates publicly available information from phone books, social networks, and other sources into a database that is searchable via the Internet, and displays the results of searches in an easy-to-read format. It has always emphasized that it does not verify or evaluate any piece of data and does not guarantee the accuracy of information offered. Continue reading

End of the Road in the Long-running “FTC v. Phoebe Putney” Saga

amurinoFeatured Expert Column – Antitrust/Federal Trade Commission

Andrea Agathoklis Murino, Goodwin Proctor LLP

Many months ago, I wrote about the ongoing saga that was the Federal Trade Commission’s (“FTC”) attempt to unwind the acquisition of Palmyra Park Hospital (“Palmyra”) by Phoebe Putney Health System Inc. (“Phoebe”) in Albany, Georgia. There were visits to all three levels of the federal court system (yes, even the Supremes!), as well as unexpected detours through various Georgia regulatory bodies. With the FTC’s announcement late last month that it was settling its administrative litigation with a behavioral remedy, we now know how this story ends.

Where We’ve Been

This journey began back in early-2011 with the FTC’s attempt to block the deal outright on the grounds that the combined entity would have had market shares in excess of 85% in the provision of acute care services in a six-county region. The FTC initially secured a preliminary injunction at the district court level but Phoebe successfully argued that despite the concentration levels, its acquisition was legal under the state action doctrine. The state action doctrine provides that where (1) there is a clearly articulated state policy to displace competition and (2) there is active supervision by the state of the policy or activity, otherwise anticompetitive activity will be permitted. Here, Phoebe argued the acquisition was immune under both prongs of the test because it was owned by the Hospital Authority of Albany-Dougherty County, and operated under Georgia’s Hospital Authorities Law.

Continue reading

Two Cheers for the Tenth Circuit’s Temporary Stay of the CPSC’s New Magnet Safety Standard

zen magnetsOn April 1—no joke—the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s troubling new standard for magnet sets was slated to go into effect.  However, thanks to the efforts of the sole remaining distributor of Small Rare Earth Magnets (SREMs) in the United States, Zen Magnets LLC, consumer freedom won a last-minute reprieve.

As companies wishing to challenge final rules of federal agencies may typically do, Zen Magnets filed a stay of enforcement directly in the U.S. Court of Appeals covering its home state, Colorado in this case.  In rapid response to Zen Magnets LLC’s motion for a stay, the Tenth Circuit issued a same-day order to temporarily “stay the enforcement and effect of the Safety Standard for Magnet Sets promulgated by respondent Consumer Product Safety Commission on October 3, 2014, which goes into effect on April 1, 2015.”  In addition, the Court ordered CPSC to file a brief in response on or before today (April 14) “to assist the court in its review of the motion.”

Under the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure, the Court had to consider four factors in issuing the motion to stay: likelihood of success on the merits; threat of irreparable harm; absence of harm to the government; and risk of harm to the public interest.  Just because the Tenth Circuit has issued the stay does not mean that it has decided the motion to stay enforcement will succeed.  Still, if the Court were convinced that the arguments Zen Magnets has presented in opposition to the Magnet Safety Standard were frivolous or had little chance to prevail, it is unlikely the Court would have issued even a temporary stay.  Since the appeals court’s review marks the first time any entity outside the agency’s purview has had an opportunity to check CPSC’s work, it is encouraging to see the Tenth Circuit forcing the agency to explain its unprecedented actions here. Continue reading

Rewind and Replay: The Ongoing Saga of Video Privacy Protection Act Suits

VHSIn the 1997 futuristic thriller “Gattaca,” character Vincent Freeman, played by actor Ethan Hawke, falls victim to genetic discrimination after the government begins to track and monitor human DNA strands via the Internet in a scheme to control and manipulate societal trends.

While the film’s plot seems nothing short of fantastical, the idea behind it—that the Internet has become an unguarded playground for identity thieves and major corporations to obtain unauthorized information in a quest to influence consumer behavior—echoes recent plaintiffs’ suits regarding the protection of personal privacy under the Video Privacy and Protection Act (VPPA) that have become increasingly popular in federal courts. Continue reading