Ninth Circuit Decision Allowing Appeal of Right from Order Denying Class Certification Is Ripe for Supreme Court Review

9thCirRule 23(f) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure gives appeals courts unfettered discretion in deciding whether to permit an interlocutory appeal from a class certification decision. Most circuits have exercised that discretion sparingly. But a U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit decision issued last week affirmed that circuit’s unique rule: plaintiffs (but not defendants) are entitled to take an immediate appeal from an adverse class certification ruling, even when an appeals court panel has previously denied discretionary appeal under Rule 23(f). All plaintiffs need do is stipulate to dismissal of the complaint with prejudice, and then seek review of the order denying certification in connection with an appeal from the final judgment of dismissal. Never mind that a plaintiff who stipulates to dismissal of his lawsuit might reasonably be deemed to have abandoned his claims. Continue reading

Applying High Court Jurisdiction Rulings, Federal Judge Shuts Out Suit Against Foreign Soccer Federation

headerGuest Commentary

By Ashley Snell, a 2015 Judge K.K. Legett Fellow at the Washington Legal Foundation and a student at Texas Tech School of Law.

After finding some success in its concussion-related class actions against professional and amateur football associations, noted plaintiffs’ firm Hagens Berman has taken aim at the world’s most popular sport—soccer. The firm has sued a number of soccer organizations, including the much-maligned Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), for failing to provide proper concussion management for players. The Zurich, Switzerland-based federation, obviously averse to playing defense on (or rather, in) the plaintiffs’ home court (U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California), moved to dismiss. The result in Mehr v. Federation Internationale de Football Association exhibits the far-reaching impact of the U.S. Supreme Court’s game-changing general-jurisdiction decisions.

In its 2014 Daimler AG v. Bauman decision, the Court offered defendants highly specific guidance on defeating general jurisdiction. Several past WLF Legal Pulse commentaries have addressed Bauman (here and here). In a nutshell, Argentinian plaintiffs sued a German company, over events that took place in Argentina, in a California federal court. The Court’s opinion limited general jurisdiction over corporations to its principal place of business, its state of incorporation, and “an exceptional case” that renders the defendant at home in that state. Continue reading

Update: New Jury Again Exonerates KC Royals’ Mascot in Hot-Dog Incident

Not a Tortfeasor

Not a Tortfeasor

Almost exactly a year ago in the WLF Legal Pulse,  WLF general counsel Mark Chenoweth (a Kansas native and Royals fan) called foul on the Missouri Supreme Court for ordering a new trial in the case of a fan that alleged a hot dog, tossed by the Kansas City Royals’ mascot Sluggerrr (pictured left), caused an eye injury.

We recently learned that on June 17, a Jackson County jury, after a wasteful second trial, once again found the Royals not responsible for the fan’s injuries. In addition, it found the fan was not responsible for the injury either. In the original trial, the jury found him 100% responsible for his injuries. The second jury reached the correct decision without the benefit of the “Baseball Rule,” which, as pointed out in last year’s commentary, the Missouri high court inexplicably ruled inapplicable.

The plaintiff’s lawyer told the Kansas City Star that he “hoped the trial ‘sent a message’ to Major League Baseball.” The nature of such a message is unclear, however, especially given the fact that the fan lost his suit and the team won even without the protection of the Baseball Rule.

Unfortunately, the result in Coomer v. Kansas City Royals Baseball Corp. won’t put an end to plaintiffs’ lawyers’ persistent efforts to shift responsibility for ballpark injuries from inattentive fans to deep-pocketed sports franchises. For instance, a Seattle plaintiffs’ firm that specializes in bet-the-company lawsuits has filed a class action in the Northern District of California against Major League Baseball alleging common law negligence and California Unfair Competition Act violations for its failure to provide a safe fan experience. The suit amounts to a frontal assault on the Baseball Rule.

One of the arguments the class makes in support of its negligence claim: baseball teams’ allegedly distracting efforts to entertain fans with activities such as food tosses.

Attorneys as Qui Tam Relators?: False Claims Act Doesn’t Preempt Ethics Laws and Canons

ethicsGuest Commentary

by Tara Parker, a 2015 Judge K.K. Legett Fellow at the Washington Legal Foundation and a student at Texas Tech School of Law.

A federal district judge in the Southern District of Mississippi recently reaffirmed something that should be intuitively obvious to most attorneys:  the federal False Claims Act (FCA) does not relieve a lawyer who brings a qui tam action under the law of his ethical obligations. The court in United States ex rel. Holmes v. Northrop Grumman Corporation disqualified the attorney from serving as a relator because he had violated his duties of loyalty, candor, and confidentiality, as well as the duty to obey court orders. The case stands as not only a monument to unethical attorney behavior, but it also provides yet another example of how laws that delegate enforcement authority to individuals inspire abuses with the lure of financial profit.

The attorney in question, Donald Holmes, represented Munich Re (Munich), an insurance company, in arbitration proceedings with Northrop Grumman Corporation (Northrop), the insured, in April 2010. Northrop had contracted with the United States Navy to construct ships, some of which were damaged as a result of Hurricane Katrina in August 2005. Holmes, along with a co-counsel, sought to obtain documents from the Navy professedly for use in the arbitration. Holmes and his co-counsel turned around and used the information to file an FCA suit against Northrop. Continue reading

Eleventh Circuit Weighs in on Need for Consumer Class Actions’ Plaintiffs to be Ascertainable

11th CircuitWhether a class of plaintiffs must be “ascertainable”—i.e. capable of being feasibly identified through an objective process—continues to be one of the most contested legal issues in class-action litigation. We’ve written about ascertainability mostly in the context of food labeling lawsuits (our collection is here) but it has arisen in claims involving other consumer products. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit is the latest jurisdiction to weigh in on the issue with a decision that directly addresses one of the common objections to ascertainability—that it dooms small-dollar class-action suits.

The plaintiff in Karhu v. Vital Pharmaceuticals accused the defendant of falsely advertising its dietary supplement, “Meltdown Fat Incinerator,” because it did not in fact incinerate his fat. The federal district court dismissed Karhu’s claims because he failed to demonstrate the class members were ascertainable. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court. Judge Richard Goldberg of the U.S. Court of International Trade, sitting by designation, authored the majority opinion and Judge Beverly Martin wrote a cautionary concurrence. Continue reading

Majority Rule: Standing Continues to be Plaintiffs’ Achilles Heel in Data-Breach Class Actions

securityGuest Commentary

by Spencer Salmon, a 2015 Judge K.K. Legett Fellow at the Washington Legal Foundation and a student at Texas Tech School of Law.

Some years ago, when data breaches first became a problem for the business community, plaintiffs’ lawyers thought class actions on behalf of consumers whose information had been stolen would be the next big moneymaker. To their disappointment, a majority of federal courts across the United States has ruled in favor of data breaches’ most direct and obvious victim—hacked businesses—because plaintiffs have failed to establish standing to sue. In order to establish constitutional standing, plaintiffs must show that the alleged injury is concrete, particularized, actual or imminent, fairly traceable to the action challenged, and redressable. Absent standing, courts lack subject matter jurisdiction over the suit under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 12(b)(1).

Recently, federal district courts from Nevada (In re Zappos.com, Inc., Customer Data Security Breach Litigation) and Minnesota (Carlsen v. Gamestop, Inc.) joined most federal courts in dismissing data-breach class-action lawsuits for lack of standing. Continue reading

Copyright Act Submission Hold: Professional Wrestler’s Publicity and Privacy Claims Preempted

copyrightGuest Commentary

by Sara Thornton, a 2015 Judge K.K. Legett Fellow at the Washington Legal Foundation and a student at Texas Tech School of Law.

What do copyright law, a WWE professional wrestler, and ESPN have in common? They were all involved in an appeal before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit in Ray v. ESPN, Inc., decided on April 22, 2015. Steve “Wild Thing” Ray sued ESPN under Missouri law for broadcasting WWE rerun matches featuring Ray in the early 1990s.

The specific claims were for (1) invasion of privacy, (2) misappropriation of name, (3) infringement of the right of publicity, and (4) interference with prospective economic advantage. ESPN moved to dismiss the suit, asserting that federal copyright law preempted the state-law claims. The district court construed Ray’s first two claims as being identical under Missouri law, so analyzed them as one. It also assumed that since Ray did not challenge ESPN’s argument that copyright law preempted his first and fourth claims, Ray had waived those claims. The court concluded that the Copyright Act preempted Ray’s remaining misappropriation and right of publicity claims. Continue reading