CALIFORNIA CLASS ACTION LAW

Category: Standing

U.S. Supreme Court Dismisses Certiorari in First American Financial Corp. v. Edwards

In a notable non-decision, the U.S. Supreme Court today decided not to decide First American Financial Corporation v. Edwards.  567 U. S. ____ (2012) (available at http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/11pdf/10-7081b2d.pdf).  Edwards was a case closely watched by class action attorneys.  Class action defense counsel have argued that putative class representatives lack Article III standing where the basis for standing is solely statutory damages (i.e., not actual damages).  The Ninth Circuit ruled that Article III injury can exist solely by statutes creating legal rights. In a per curiam opinion, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered that the “writ of certiorari is dismissed as improvidently granted.”

Questions Presented

Section 8(a) of the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act of 1974 (“RESPA” or “the Act”) provides that “[n]o person shall give and no person shall accept any fee, kickback, or thing of value pursuant to any agreement or understanding … that business incident to or a part of a real estate settlement service involving a federally related mortgage loan shall be referred to any person.” 12 U.S.C. § 2607(a). Section 8(d)(2) of the Act provides that any person “who violate[s],” inter alia, § 8(a) shall be liable “to the person or persons charged for the settlement service involved in the violation in an amount equal to three times the amount of any charge paid for such settlement service.” Id. § 2607(d)(2). The questions presented were:

1. Did the Ninth Circuit err in holding that a private purchaser of real estate settlement services has standing under RESPA to maintain an action in federal court in the absence of any claim that the alleged violation affected the price, quality, or other characteristics of the settlement services provided?

2. Does such a purchaser have standing to sue under Article III, § 2 of the United States Constitution, which provides that the federal judicial power is limited to “Cases” and “Controversies” and which this Court has interpreted to require the plaintiff to “have suffered an ‘injury in fact,'” Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560 (1992)?

On June 20, 2011, the Court granted cert on Question 2; and it reversed itself today.  More later.

By CHARLES JUNG

Central District Strikes Opposition Filed by Terminated Former Co-Counsel in Putative Class Action

Treasure fight
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In the latest round of an apparent falling out between law firms, the Central District of California struck a terminated firm’s  request to strike the notice of its termination, and considered but did not rule on the remaining firm’s alleged ethics violations.  Yumul v. Smart Balance, Inc., No. CV 10-00927 MMM (AJWx), 2010 WL 4352723 (C.D. Cal. Oct. 8, 2010).

Background

Plaintiff Rebecca Yumul filed a notice of termination of counsel, terminating Beck & Lee Business Trial Lawyers (“Beck & Lee”) as her counsel.  Id. *1. The notice was filed by Beck & Lee’s former co-counsel, the Weston firm (“Weston”), which continues to represent Yumul.  Id. Beck & Lee filed a pleading requesting that the court strike the notice of termination, alleging ethical violations by the Weston, and seeking Weston’s disqualification. Id. Beck & Lee asserts that Weston has filed a suit in the Southern District of California to determine the validity of the Joint Prosecution Agreement (“JPA”) that governed Beck & Lee’s co-counsel relationship with Weston in this and other class actions. Id. Yumul filed an ex parte application to strike Beck & Lee’s filings. Id.

Motion to Strike Terminated Counsel’s Opposition

The court granted plaintiff’s motion to strike Beck & Lee’s opposition to the notice of termination on the grounds that it interferes with her absolute right to discharge her attorney.  Id. Read the rest of this entry »

Second District Holds That Purchasing a Product for the Purposes of Litigation Does Not Constitute Injury in Fact Sufficient to Confer Standing Under the UCL

Slot machine.
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The Second District Court of Appeal found that Burger King’s “Transform Your Way” promotional sweepstakes was not a lottery under Penal Code section 319, and that the game pieces were slot machines or punchboards under Penal Code sections 330b and 330c.  McVeigh v. Burger King Corp., B220964, 2010 WL 4056857 (Cal. Ct. App. 2d Dist. Oct. 18, 2010).  The court also held that purchasing a product for the purposes of litigation did not constitute injury in fact sufficient to confer standing under the Unfair Competition Law.  Id. *1.

Background

Plaintiff went to a Burger King restaurant and asked an employee for a free sweepstakes game piece.  Id. And although the game piece prominently indicated that no purchase was necessary, appellant alleged he was told he could not receive a free chance for a prize unless he bought a value meal.  Id. Plaintiff purchased a value meal and removed a pull-tab game piece from the soda and french fry containers.  Id. The game piece required him to scratch off only one of two concealed areas or the game piece would be voided.  Id. Plaintiff-appellant filed a complaint against Burger King, asserting that Burger King had illegally conducted a lottery in violation of section 319, and it had distributed slot machines or punchboards in violation of section 330c.  Id. Burger King’s business acts or practices allegedly caused appellant and the public unspecified injury, as to which appellant claimed entitlement to relief. Id. Read the rest of this entry »

Fourth District Reverses Denial of Class Certification in Mail-In Rebate Case

BUY.COM FAIL
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The Fourth District Court of Appeal reversed a denial of class certification in Kershenbaum v. Buy.com, Inc.,  No. G042303, 2010 WL 3800339 (Cal. Ct. App. 4th Dist. Sept. 30, 2010).  Plaintiff Richard M. Kershenbaum did not receive an advertised rebate on a product he purchased through Buy.com, Inc.’s Web site. Id. *1. Buy.com contended the rebate was offered by the product manufacturer, and it was therefore not responsible for compensating Kershenbaum. Id.

The Court of Appeal held that the trial court erred in denying the motion for class certification:

The different definitions of the proposed class contained in the memorandum of points and authorities and the proposed order did not warrant denial of the motion for lack of ascertainability. Any confusion caused by the different definitions could and should have been remedied by the trial court, either by correcting the proposed order, or by independently drafting a new order.

We further conclude the trial court erred in denying the motion on the ground that common questions of law did not predominate. The California choice-of-law provision in Buy.com’s terms of use agreement applies to the claims asserted by the class. Even if the choice-of-law provision did not apply, class certification was still appropriate because significant contacts with California have been shown to exist, and Buy.com cannot demonstrate that any foreign law, rather than California law, should apply to the class claims.

We also conclude the trial court erred in determining the claims asserted by the class were vague.

Finally, Kershenbaum had standing to assert a claim for misleading advertising; the trial court erred in determining otherwise. Read the rest of this entry »