Whether federal district courts may certify a damages class action where no reliable, administratively feasible method exists for identifying class members is a question that has long plagued class-action defendants. The need for class ascertainability is especially dire in low-value consumer class actions in which manufacturers, distributors, and retailers are sued over “mislabeled” food, beverages, or other inexpensive consumer products. Unfortunately, the federal courts of appeals are sharply and hopelessly divided on whether Rule 23, which governs class actions in federal courts, includes an implicit ascertainability requirement. Continue reading
Featured Expert Contributor: Mass Torts—Asbestos
Robert H. Wright, a Partner with Horvitz & Levy LLP in Los Angeles, CA
The US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit recently applied the Boyle government-contractor defense to a failure-to-warn claim in an asbestos case. Sawyer v. Foster Wheeler LLC, 860 F.3d 249 (4th Cir. 2017). In doing so, the court wisely rejected a narrow interpretation of the defense favored by other federal circuit courts.
The defense derives its name from Boyle v. United Technologies Corp., 487 U.S. 500, 501 (1988), which held that, in order to avoid indirectly penalizing the United States government for its discretionary decisions concerning the purchase of military equipment, contractors supplying that equipment would be immune from state product-liability claims where (1) the government approved reasonably precise specifications for the equipment; (2) the equipment conformed to those specifications; and (3) the contractor warned the government of any dangers known to the contractor about which the government was unaware. Continue reading