CALIFORNIA CLASS ACTION LAW

Tag: Supreme Court

In an Antitrust Class Action, U.S. Supreme Court Holds That Expert’s Damages Study Must Translate the Legal Theory of Harmful Event to Economic Impact of Event

photograph of the justices, cropped to show Ju...

photograph of the justices, cropped to show Justice Scalia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In a 5 to 4 opinion today written by Justice Scalia, the U.S. Supreme Court found that a proposed antitrust class action was improperly certified under Rule 23(b)(3) because plaintiff’s damages model fell short of establishing that damages can be measured classwide.  Comcast Corp., et al. v. Behrend, et al., No. 11-864, 569 U.S. ___ (Mar. 27, 2013).  The District Court and Third Circuit approved certification of a class of more than 2 million current and former Comcast subscribers who sought damages for alleged violations of the federal antitrust laws.

At the trial court level, plaintiffs proposed four theories of antitrust impact, only one of which–the “overbuilder” theory–the trial court accepted.  To establish damages, plaintiffs relied solely on the testimony of Dr. James McClave, who designed a regression model comparing actual cable prices in one area with hypothetical prices that would have prevailed but for defendant’s allegedly anticompetitive practices.  Dr. McClave acknowledged that the model did not isolate damages resulting from any one theory of antitrust impact.  Id. at 4.

The Supreme Court held that the class was improperly certified.

By refusing to entertain arguments against respondents’ damages model that bore on the propriety of class certification, simply because those arguments would also be pertinent to the merits determination, the Court of Appeals ran afoul of our precedents requiring precisely that inquiry. And it is clear that, under the proper standard for evaluating certification, respondents’ model falls far short of establishing that damages are capable of measurement on a classwide basis. Without presenting another methodology, respondents cannot show Rule 23(b)(3) predominance: Questions of individual damage  calculations will inevitably overwhelm questions common to the class.

The Court reasoned that the “model failed to measure damages resulting from the particular antitrust injury on which petitioners’ liability in this action is premised.”  Id. at 8.  Justice Scalia emphasized that “it may be necessary for the court to probe behind the pleadings before coming to rest on the certification question, . . . Such an analysis will frequently entail overlap with the merits of the plaintiff ’s underlying claim.” Id. at 6 (internal quotations omitted).

By CHARLES H. JUNG

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California Court of Appeal Cites Death Knell Doctrine to Assert Jurisdiction Over Appeal of Order Granting Arbitration

Ring His Death Knell - NARA - 534312

Ring His Death Knell – NARA – 534312 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yesterday, in a proposed wage and hour class action, the California Court of Appeal for the Second District reversed the lower court’s order granting a petition to compel arbitration.  Compton v. Superior Court of Los Angeles County, No. B236669, — Cal.Rptr.3d —-, 2013 WL 1120619 (2d Dist. Mar 19, 2013).  Plaintiff was a property manager who was required to sign an arbitration agreement that also barred arbitration of class claims.  The trial court granted defendants’ petition to compel arbitration.

Normally an order compelling arbitration is not appealable.  But the Court of Appeal determined it had jurisdiction, citing the “death knell” doctrine:

An order compelling arbitration is not appealable. (Elijahjuan v. Superior Court (2012) 210 Cal.App.4th 15, 19.) The parties argue over whether this matter is appealable under the “death knell” doctrine, which applies when an order effectively terminates a class action. Rather than parse the case law on that issue, we conclude that we have jurisdiction to treat this nonappealable order as a petition for writ of mandate in this unusual case because: (1) the unconscionability issue is one of law based on undisputed facts and has been fully briefed; (2) the record is sufficient to consider the issue and it appears that the trial court would be only a nominal party; (3) if we were to dismiss the appeal, and the ultimate reversal of the order is inevitable, it would come in a post-arbitration award after the substantial time and expense of arbitrating the dispute; and (4) as a result, dismissing the appeal would require the parties to arbitrate nonarbitrable claims and would be costly and dilatory.

The Court concluded that the arbitration agreement was unconscionably one-sided because (1) it exempted from arbitration claims the employer would more likely bring, such as claims for injunctive or equitable relief from trade secret disclosures; (2) it limited the time to demand arbitration to a period shorter than the relevant statutes of limitation; (3) it retained the statute of limitations period for itself  and (4) it suggested that the arbitrator had the discretion not to award mandatory attorney’s fees under the Labor Code.

The Court determined that it was not violating Concepcion by enforcing Armendariz’s bilaterality rule:

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California’s First District Invalidates Auto Dealer’s Arbitration Agreement Due to Lack of Mutuality

English: The Earl Warren Building and Courthou...

English: The Earl Warren Building and Courthouse at Civic Center Plaza, San Francisco, California. This building is home to the Supreme Court of California and the Court of Appeal for the First Appellate District. Photographed by user Coolcaesar on August 31, 2006. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The California Court of Appeal struck down an arbitration agreement by a car dealer defendant in a putative class action, rejecting an argument that an unconscionability analysis that focuses on the lack of mutuality in an arbitration contract violates Concepcion. Natalini v. Import Motor, Inc., 213 Cal. App. 4th 587 (1st Dist., mod. February 5, 2013).

Relying on the U.S. Supreme Court’s holding in AT & T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion,  563 U.S. –––– , 131 S.Ct. 1740, 179 L.Ed.2d 742 (2011), appellant car dealer argued that an “unconscionability analysis that focuses on the lack of mutuality or bilaterality in an arbitration provision is ‘an example of applying a generally applicable contract defense in a manner which disfavors arbitration.'”  The First District declined to read Concepcion so broadly, and noted that:

Recent California and federal district court decisions addressing arbitration provisions very similar to that in the present case and in the identical car purchase context have not read  Concepcion so broadly.  (See  Trompeter v. Ally Financial, Inc. (N.D.Cal., June 1, 2012, No. C–12–00392 CW) 2012 WL 1980894 [p. *8] [nonpub. opn.]  ( Trompeter );   Smith v. Americredit Financial Services, Inc. (S.D.Cal., Mar. 12, 2012, No. 09cv1076 DMS (BLM)) 2012 WL 834784 [pp. *2–*4] ( Smith );   Lau v. Mercedes–Benz USA, LLC (N.D.Cal., Jan. 31, 2012, No. CV 11–1940 MEJ) 2012 WL 370557 [pp. *6–*7] ( Lau );  see also  Ajamian v. CantorCO2e, L.P. (2012) 203 Cal.App.4th 771, 804, fn. 18, 137 Cal.Rptr.3d 773.)    Read the rest of this entry »

U.S. Supreme Court Applies Concepcion to Strike Down West Virginia Arbitration Rule

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In a per curiam opinion today applying the rule in Concepcion, the U.S. Supreme Court  reversed and remanded orders of the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia, which held unenforceable all predispute arbitration agreements that apply to claims alleging personal injury or wrongful death against  nursing homes.  Marmet Health Care Center, Inc., et al. v.  Clayton Brown, et al., Case Nos. 11–391 and 11–394, 565 U. S. ____ (Feb. 21, 2012).

The U.S. Supreme Court held that the “Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia, by misreading and disregarding the precedents of this Court interpreting the FAA, did not follow controlling federal law implementing that basic principle.”  Id.  “When this Court has fulfilled its duty to interpret federal law, a state court may not contradict or fail to implement the rule so established.”

Background

In each of three negligence suits, a family member of a patient requiring extensive nursing care had signed an agreement with a nursing home on behalf of the patient.  Id. The agreements included arbitration clauses requiring the parties to arbitrate all disputes, other than claims to collect late payments owed by the patient.  Id. In each of the three cases, a family member of a patient who had died sued the nursing home in state court, alleging that negligence caused injuries or harm resulting in death. Id.

In a decision concerning all three cases, the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia held that “as a matter of public policy under West Virginia law, an arbitration clause in a nursing home admission agreement adopted prior to an occurrence of negligence that results in a personal injury or wrongful death, shall not be enforced to compel arbitration of a dispute concerning the negligence.”  Id.

The state court considered whether the state public policy was pre-empted by the FAA: Read the rest of this entry »

Second District Affirms Denial of Class Certification, Finding Trial Court Appropriately Decided Threshold Legal Issue Re Provision of Meal Breaks

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In a putative meal and rest break class action, the Second District denied class certification, holding that “employers must provide employees with breaks, but need not ensure employees take breaks.”  Hernandez v. Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc., No. B216004, 2010 WL 3789012 (Cal. Ct. App. 2d Dist. Sept. 30, 2010).  Plaintiff and appellant Rogelio Hernandez (Hernandez) Hernandez filed a class action lawsuit against Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc. (Chipotle) alleging that Chipotle violated labor laws by denying employees meal and rest breaks. Id. *1. The trial court denied class certification, and plaintiff appealed.  Id. The Court of Appeal affirmed, holding that it would not be “practical” to require “enforcement of meal breaks” since it “would place an undue burden on employers whose employees are numerous or who … do not appear to remain in contact with the employer during the day.”  Id. *7. “It would also create perverse incentives, encouraging employees to violate company meal break policy in order to receive extra compensation under California wage and hour laws.” Id.

The Court of Appeal also held that: (1) It was appropriate for the trial court to decide the threshold legal issue of whether employers must provide meal breaks rather than ensure they be taken as it could not otherwise assess whether class treatment was warranted; (2) a party seeking to introduce sampling of employee testimony to support certification must explain how the procedure will effectively manage the issues in question; and (3) there was substantial conflicts of interest among the putative class members were some employees moved in and out of supervisory roles with the responsibility to provide meal and rest breaks for themselves and other employees on the shift. Read the rest of this entry »

Central District Denies Motion to Compel Class Arbitration, But Grants Stay Pending Outcome of Supreme Court’s Decision in AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion

American Express
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The United States District Court for the Central District of California denied a class action defendant’s motion to compel arbitration, but granted its motion to stay.  Lopez v. American Express Bank, FSB, No. CV 09-07335 SJO (MANx), 2010 WL 3637755 (C.D. Cal. Sept. 17, 2010).

Plaintiffs sued Defendants American Express Bank, FSB, and American Express Centurion Bank’s (collectively, “Defendants”) alleging causes of action relating to the terms and conditions of credit cards. Id. *1.  Defendants moved to compel arbitration.  Id. The Court denied, finding that the class action waiver contained in the Agreement between the parties was unconscionable under California law, and therefore, the Plaintiffs could not be compelled to arbitrate. Id. Defendants brought the present motion to reconsider.

The Court determined that the Supreme Court’s grant of certiorari in AT & T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion, — U.S. —-, 130 S. Ct. 3322, — L. Ed. 2d —-, 2010 WL 303962 (May 24, 2010) constitutes a material difference in fact and law, potential change in controlling law, and justifiable reason to reconsider its prior. Id. *3.

The specific question that the Supreme Court will resolve is: Read the rest of this entry »

Southern District Grants Stay Pending Appeal of Denial of Class-Wide Arbitration

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The Southern District of California granted a stay of proceedings pending appeal of the trial court’s refusal to compel class-wide arbitration.  Del Rio v. CreditAnswers, LLC, No. 10cv346-WQH-BLM, 2010 WL 3418430 (S.D. Cal. Aug. 26, 2010) (slip op.). Read the rest of this entry »

Eastern District Holds That Stolt-Nielsen Does Not Preempt Gentry

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United States District Court for the Eastern District of California rejected defendant’s argument that Stolt-Nielson preempted Gentry, and the court held that a class-wide arbitration agreement was unenforceable as against an unpaid wage and overtime plaintiff.  Mathias v. Rent-A-Center, Inc., Civ. No. S-10-1476 LKK/KJM, 2010 WL 3715059 (E.D. Cal. Sept. 15, 2010) (slip op.).

Background

Ryan Mathias (“Mathias” or “plaintiff”) was employed by Rent-A-Center, Inc. (“RAC” or “defendant”) as an Assistant Manager, a position that was classified as a non-exempt or hourly position. Id. *1. As a condition of employment, plaintiff executed an arbitration agreement (“Agreement”), which Agreement contained a class action waiver and excluded arbitration private attorney general actions.  Id. Plaintiff filed a class action alleging eight claims arising from his employment with defendant, including claims for unpaid wages and overtime, unpaid rest and meal period premiums, and penalties arising from non-compliant wage statements under the California Labor Code and California Business and Professions Code. Id. Read the rest of this entry »

Essay Arguing for Reversal of Dukes v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.

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Professor Benjamin Spencer’s Federal Civil Practice Bulletin links to an essay by Professor Richard Nagareda entitled Common Answers for Class Certification.  The essay focuses on Dukes v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. Prof. Nagareda argues that the Supreme Court should review and reverse the Dukes opinion because of a “crucial conceptual error in Dukes: the majority’s confusion between motions for class certification and the motion that really does regulate the relationship between the court and the fact finder (summary judgment).” Read the rest of this entry »

Second District Reverses Denial of Nationwide UCL and FAL Class

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The Second District Court of Appeal, in an unpublished opinion, reversed a trial court’s denial of plaintiff’s motion to certify a nationwide class in Schlesinger v. Superior Court of Los Angeles County (Ticketmaster), B224880, 2010 WL 3398844 (Cal. Ct. App. 2d Dist. Aug. 31, 2010).   Read the rest of this entry »