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
Forum-shopping plaintiffs’ attorneys have long sought to file their claims against large businesses in jurisdictions with reputations for favoring plaintiffs—without regard to whether the claims actually arose in those jurisdictions. They justify their assertions of personal jurisdiction in such cases by arguing that a company that does business nationwide should be amenable to suit in any State in which it conducts substantial business. In its 2014 Daimler AG v. Bauman decision, the US Supreme Court called into serious question the validity of such venturesome assertions of jurisdiction. The Court’s decision last week in Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Superior Court may have put such claims entirely to rest. Continue reading
Microsoft Corp. v. Baker is one of those cases that only a lawyer could love. At issue was whether a federal appellate court has jurisdiction to review a class-certification order if the plaintiffs have voluntarily dismissed all of their claims, with prejudice.
Class-action plaintiffs have long sought the right to immediately appeal from orders denying class certification. In the 1960s and 1970s, some federal courts of appeals began allowing such an immediate right of appeal under the so-called death-knell doctrine. Under that judicially created rule, if the plaintiffs could show that the denial of class certification—if left unreviewed—would end the lawsuit for all practical purposes, the appeals court would grant review of that interlocutory order. Continue reading
Here we go again. Lawsuits over allegedly deceptive food labels have become commonplace—a tried-and-true tactic for some plaintiffs’ attorneys to earn an easy buck. By claiming that the labels were intentionally misleading in some way, these lawyers and the purportedly confused clients they represent, seek to leverage the specter of a class action to force quick settlements. Unfortunately, this tactic often works. In fact, it has worked so well that entire subsets of labeling lawsuits have sprung up, among them “healthy food” labels, “all natural” labels, and slack-fill cases. We can now add a new category to the list: plaintiffs alleging they were deceived because their beer was not brewed where they thought it was.
Plaintiffs Sara Cilloni and Simone Zimmer filed a putative class action, Cilloni v. Craft Brew Alliance, Inc., in the Food Court (also known as the US District Court for the Northern District of California) against Craft Brew Alliance, the owners of Kona Brewing Company (Kona). Kona was founded in 1995 on Hawaii’s Big Island. Taking pride in the company’s origins, Kona stylizes each of its beers in an overtly Hawaiian theme, inviting customers to enjoy the “Liquid Aloha” and “Catch A Wave.” With names like Big Wave Golden Ale, Longboard Island Lager, and Wailua Wheat, Kona’s products celebrate their history and ties to Hawaiian culture. Continue reading
In creating the federal judicial branch, the Framers of the US Constitution did not intend that courts would right every possible wrong. Article III authorizes federal courts to resolve “Cases” and “Controversies.” The US Supreme Court has interpreted that power to mean that civil-litigation plaintiffs must prove they suffered an “injury in fact,” which is concrete and particularized, and not speculative. We’ve discussed Article III standing jurisprudence here in numerous contexts, most frequently in consumer class actions targeting food labels or data-security breaches, areas where the ever-amorphous concept of “economic harm” is often alleged. A March 6, 2017 Seventh Circuit decision, Eike v. Allergan, Inc. et al., shot down an especially outlandish attempt to expand standing based on an alleged economic injury. Continue reading
Civil Justice/Class Actions
On February 6, 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, in the consolidated appeal Beck v. McDonald, 848 F.3d 262 (4th Cir. 2017), affirmed the district court’s order dismissing the plaintiff veterans’ putative class-action claims against the Secretary of Veterans Affairs and Dorn Veterans Affairs Medical Center (“Dorn VAMC”) officials for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. The Fourth Circuit held that the plaintiffs “failed to establish a non-speculative, imminent injury-in-fact for purposes of Article III standing.” Id. at 267. Continue reading
In a closely watched appeal, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has squarely weighed in on the “ascertainability” of class members in a class-action lawsuit. The three-judge panel further widened a rift among federal courts of appeal on the issue, holding that plaintiffs need not demonstrate an administratively feasible way to identify class members at the class-certification stage.
In an August, 2016 WLF Legal Backgrounder, we predicted that a trio of class actions then-pending in the Ninth Circuit could prompt the US Supreme Court to resolve the circuit split on the ascertainability issue. Although that issue was briefed in all three cases, it was not decided in Brazil v. Dole Packaged Foods, LLC (No. 14-17480), and a hold placed on Jones v. ConAgra Foods, Inc. (No. 14-16327) pending a Supreme Court decision in Microsoft v. Baker is still in effect. The Ninth Circuit did address ascertainability in the third case discussed in that Legal Backgrounder—Briseno v. ConAgra Foods, Inc. The January 3 decision presents a view sharply in contrast with that of certain other circuits, most notably the Third Circuit. Continue reading