Monday, June 20, 2011

Wal-Mart v. Dukes Recap: Scope of Rule 23(b)(2)

As covered earlier here, the Supreme Court decided Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes today. The opinions cover two distinct issues: (1) whether the class action satisfied Rule 23(a)(2)’s requirement that “there are questions of law or fact common to the class”; and (2) whether the class members’ claims for backpay were properly certified under Rule 23(b)(2).

This post recaps the decision on the 23(b)(2) issue, on which Justice Scalia writes for a unanimous Court (Part III of the opinion) and concludes: “[Plaintiffs’] claims for backpay were improperly certified under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(b)(2). Our opinion in Ticor Title Ins. Co. v. Brown, 511 U. S. 117, 121 (1994) (per curiam) expressed serious doubt about whether claims for monetary relief may be certified under that provision. We now hold that they may not, at least where (as here) the monetary relief is not incidental to the injunctive or declaratory relief.” [Slip Op. 20]

Rule 23(b)(2) allows class treatment when “the party opposing the class has acted or refused to act on grounds that apply generally to the class, so that final injunctive relief or corresponding declaratory relief is appropriate respecting the class as a whole.” One possible reading of this provision is that it applies only to requests for such injunctive or declaratory relief and does not authorize the class certification of monetary claims at all. We need not reach that broader question in this case, because we think that, at a minimum, claims for individualized relief (like the backpay at issue here) do not satisfy the Rule. [Slip Op. 20]

The opinion continues [Slip Op. 21-22 (footnotes omitted)]:

Permitting the combination of individualized and classwide relief in a (b)(2) class is also inconsistent with the structure of Rule 23(b). Classes certified under (b)(1) and (b)(2) share the most traditional justifications for class treatment—that individual adjudications would beimpossible or unworkable, as in a (b)(1) class, or that the relief sought must perforce affect the entire class at once, as in a (b)(2) class. For that reason these are also mandatory classes: The Rule provides no opportunity for (b)(1) or (b)(2) class members to opt out, and does not even oblige the District Court to afford them notice of the action. Rule 23(b)(3), by contrast, is an “adventuresome innovation” of the 1966 amendments, Amchem, 521 U. S., at 614 (internal quotation marks omitted), framed for situations “in which ‘class-action treatment is not as clearly called for’,” id., at 615 (quoting Advisory Committee’s Notes, 28 U. S. C. App., p. 697 (1994 ed.)). It allows class certification in a much wider set of circumstances but with greater procedural protections. Its only prerequisites are that “the questions of law or fact common to class members predominate over any questions affecting only individual members, and that a class action is superior to other available methods for fairly and efficiently adjudicating the controversy.” Rule 23(b)(3). And unlike (b)(1) and (b)(2) classes, the (b)(3) class is not mandatory; class members are entitled to receive “the best notice that is practicable under the circumstances” and to withdraw from the class at their option. See Rule 23(c)(2)(B).

Given that structure, we think it clear that individualized monetary claims belong in Rule 23(b)(3). The procedural protections attending the (b)(3) class— predominance, superiority, mandatory notice, and the right to opt out—are missing from (b)(2) not because the Rule considers them unnecessary, but because it considers them unnecessary to a (b)(2) class.

The opinion then confronts the language in Rule 23’s advisory committee notes stating “that Rule 23(b)(2) ‘does not extend to cases in which the appropriate final relief relates exclusively or predominantly to money damages.’ 39 F. R. D., at 102 (emphasis added).” [Slip Op. 23]. The plaintiffs argued that this language indicated that, in some cases, Rule 23(b)(2) was appropriate for monetary claims. The Court’s response [Slip Op. 23-24]:

Of course it is the Rule itself, not the Advisory Committee’s description of it, that governs. And a mere negative inference does not in our view suffice to establish a disposition that has no basis in the Rule’s text, and that does obvious violence to the Rule’s structural features. The mere “predominance” of a proper (b)(2) injunctive claim does nothing to justify elimination of Rule 23(b)(3)’s procedural protections: It neither establishes the superiority of class adjudication over individual adjudication nor cures the notice and opt-out problems. We fail to see why the Rule should be read to nullify these protections whenever a plaintiff class, at its option, combines its monetary claims with a request—even a “predominating request”—for an injunction.

The Court does not, however, decide that all forms of monetary claims are forbidden in Rule 23(b)(2) class actions [Slip Op. 26]:

In Allison v. Citgo Petroleum Corp., 151 F. 3d 402, 415 (CA5 1998), the Fifth Circuit held that a (b)(2) class would permit the certification of monetary relief that is “incidental to requested injunctive or declaratory relief,” which it defined as “damages that flow directly from liability to the class as a whole on the claims forming the basis of the injunctive or declaratory relief.” In that court’s view, such “incidental damage should not require additional hearings to resolve the disparate merits of each individual’s case; it should neither introduce new substantial legal or factual issues, nor entail complex individualized determinations.” Ibid. We need not decide in this case whether there are any forms of “incidental” monetary relief that are consistent with the interpretation of Rule 23(b)(2) we have announced and that comply with the Due Process Clause. Respondents do not argue that they can satisfy this standard, and in any event they cannot. 

The opinion concludes with some observations  [Slip Op. 26-27] about the portion of the Ninth Circuit opinion addressing potential ways to adjudicate the backpay claims:

Contrary to the Ninth Circuit’s view, Wal-Mart is entitled to individualized determinations of each employee’s eligibility for backpay. . . .  We have established a procedure for trying pattern-or-practice cases that gives effect to these statutory requirements. When the plaintiff seeks individual relief such as reinstatement or backpay after establishing a pattern or practice of discrimination, “a district court must usually conduct additional proceedings . . . to determine the scope of individual relief.” Teamsters, 431 U. S., at 361. At this phase, the burden of proof will shift to the company, but it will have the right to raise any individual affirmative defenses it may have, and to “demonstrate that the individual applicant was denied an employment opportunity for lawful reasons.” Id., at 362.

The Court of Appeals believed that it was possible to replace such proceedings with Trial by Formula. A sample set of the class members would be selected, as to whom liability for sex discrimination and the backpay owing as a result would be determined in depositions supervised by a master. The percentage of claims determined to be valid would then be applied to the entire remaining class, and the number of (presumptively) valid claims thus derived would be multiplied by the average backpay award in the sample set to arrive at the entire class recovery—without further individualized proceedings. 603 F. 3d, at 625–627. We disapprove that novel project. Because the Rules Enabling Act forbids interpreting Rule 23 to “abridge, enlarge or modify any substantive right,” 28 U. S. C.§2072(b); see Ortiz, 527 U. S., at 845, a class cannot be certified on the premise that Wal-Mart will not be entitled to litigate its statutory defenses to individual claims. And because the necessity of that litigation will prevent backpay from being “incidental” to the classwide injunction, respondents’ class could not be certified even assuming, arguendo, that “incidental” monetary relief can be awarded to a 23(b)(2) class.

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