Monday, August 29, 2016

Second Circuit Decision in Nicosia v. Amazon

Last week the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit issued its decision in Nicosia v. Amazon.com, Inc., holding that the plaintiff’s suit against Amazon should not be dismissed for failure to state a claim based on the mandatory arbitration provision in Amazon’s Conditions of Use.

Of course there’s considerable discussion of the Federal Arbitration Act and substantive contract law, but the court also addresses pleading standards, the relationship between Rule 12(b)(6) motions and motions to compel arbitration, and standing (the latter with respect to the plaintiff’s request for a preliminary injunction).

Download Nicosia v Amazon (2d)

 

 

 

August 29, 2016 in Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Recent Decisions, Standing, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Second Circuit Opinion on the Alien Tort Statute: Licci v. Lebanese Canadian Bank

Today the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit handed down another post-Kiobel decision on the Alien Tort Statute (ATS). Licci v. Lebanese Canadian Bank involves claims against a Lebanese bank alleging that they provided international financial services to Hezbollah that facilitated Hezbollah’s rocket attacks on civilians in Israel.

From the opinion’s introductory paragraphs:

This case is not new to our Court. In fact, this appeal is in its third appearance before us in the last five years. In our prior opinions, we determined (with an assist from the New York Court of Appeals, see Licci v. Lebanese Canadian Bank, SAL, 20 N.Y.3d 327, 339 (2012) (“Licci III”)) that the District Court had personal jurisdiction over defendant LCB, and that subjecting the foreign bank to personal jurisdiction in New York comports with due process protections provided by the United States Constitution. See Licci ex rel. Licci v. Lebanese Canadian Bank, SAL, 732 F.3d 161, 165 (2d Cir. 2013) (“Licci IV”); Licci v. Lebanese Canadian Bank, SAL, 673 F.3d 50, 73–74 (2d Cir. 2012) (“Licci II”). This case presents a different question: Whether the District Court has subject matter jurisdiction over Plaintiffs’ ATS claims. The District Court dismissed the ATS claims under Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., 133 S. Ct. 1659 (2013) (“Kiobel II”), reasoning that Plaintiffs failed to displace the presumption against extraterritorial application of the ATS. Though we disagree with the District Court’s basis for dismissal, we affirm because the ATS claims seek to impose corporate liability in contravention of our decision in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., 621 F.3d 111, 145 (2d Cir. 2010) (“Kiobel I”).

Here’s the full opinion:

Download Licci v. LCB (2d Cir 2016)

Particularly notable is the Second Circuit’s discussion of the Supreme Court’s Kiobel decision [pp.18-30 of the opinion], and its conclusion that “Plaintiffs have surpassed the jurisdictional hurdle set forth in Kiobel II, 133 S. Ct. at 1669.”

 

 

 

 

 

August 24, 2016 in Federal Courts, International/Comparative Law, Recent Decisions, Subject Matter Jurisdiction | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 22, 2016

Federal Court Dismisses Alien Tort Statute Claim Against U.S.-Based Turkish Cleric

Earlier this summer, Judge Robert Mariani of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania issued an opinion dismissing an Alien Tort Statute claim brought against Muhammed Fethullah Gülen, a Turkish cleric who has been a U.S. permanent resident since the 1990s. (Gülen has been in the news more recently following the attempted coup that took place in Turkey last month; Turkey is currently seeking Gülen’s extradition.)

Judge Mariani’s ruling in Ates v. Gülen contains a detailed discussion of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Kiobel (an important Alien Tort Statute decision from 2013) as well as some of the post-Kiobel case law in the lower federal courts.

Download Ates v Gulen (MD Pa)

 

 

 

August 22, 2016 in Current Affairs, Federal Courts, In the News, Recent Decisions, Subject Matter Jurisdiction | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 19, 2016

Federal Judge Orders Hillary Clinton to Answer Interrogatories in FOIA Case

Today U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan issued an opinion in Judicial Watch v. U.S. Department of State, a FOIA case seeking employment records relating to Huma Abedin, long-time aide to Hillary Clinton. In connection with the plaintiff’s request for discovery under FRCP 56(d), the court ordered that the plaintiff may serve interrogatories on Hillary Clinton but could not depose her.

From the opinion:

The Court directs Judicial Watch to propound questions that are relevant to Secretary Clinton’s unique first-hand knowledge of the creation and operation of clintonemail.com for State Department business, as well as the State Department’s approach and practice for processing FOIA requests that potentially implicated former Secretary Clinton’s and Ms. Abedin’s emails and State’s processing of the FOIA request that is the subject of this action.

Download Opinion 2016-08-19 Hillary Clinton Interrogatories

 

 

 

 

August 19, 2016 in Current Affairs, Discovery, Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, In the News, Recent Decisions | Permalink | Comments (0)

California Supreme Court Decision on Class Action Attorney Fees

Last week the California Supreme Court issued an important decision on how to calculate the amount of attorney fees in class actions: Laffitte v. Robert Half International Inc.

Alison Frankel (Reuters) has this report.

 

Download Laffitte v Robert Half Intl (Cal.)

 

 

 

August 19, 2016 in Class Actions, In the News, Recent Decisions, State Courts | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Federal Court Dismisses Roy Moore’s Lawsuit Based on Younger Abstention

Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore’s federal lawsuit against the Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission was dismissed today on Younger abstention grounds. Here’s the order:

Download Moore v JIC

Coverage here and here.

 

 

 

August 4, 2016 in Current Affairs, Federal Courts, Recent Decisions | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 11, 2016

Colorado Supreme Court Embraces Twombly/Iqbal

In a 4-3 decision, the Colorado Supreme Court has adopted for purposes of Colorado state procedure the approach to pleading that the U.S. Supreme Court employed in Twombly and Iqbal. From the majority opinion in Warne v. Hall:

¶2 Because our case law interpreting the Colorado Rules of Civil Procedure in general, and C.R.C.P. 8 and 12(b)(5) in particular, reflects first and foremost a preference to maintain uniformity in the interpretation of the federal and state rules of civil procedure and a willingness to be guided by the Supreme Court’s interpretation of corresponding federal rules whenever possible, rather than an intent to adhere to a particular federal interpretation prevalent at some fixed point in the past, the court of appeals too narrowly understood our existing precedent. Because the plaintiff’s complaint, when evaluated in light of the more recent and nuanced analysis of Twombly and Iqbal, fails to state a plausible claim for relief, the judgment of the court of appeals finding the complaint to be sufficient is reversed, and the matter is remanded with instruction to permit further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

From the dissent:

¶31 Today, the majority jettisons a rule that has stood the test of time for over fifty years, based largely on an asserted preference for maintaining uniformity with federal court interpretations of analogous federal rules of procedure. In reaching this result, the majority misperceives the existing state of the law in Colorado and grafts onto C.R.C.P. 8 a “plausibility” requirement that the rule does not contain and that other courts have correctly recognized results in a loss of clarity, stability, and predictability. Even more concerning, the majority’s preferred standard allows a single district judge, at the incipient stages of a case, to weigh what the judge speculates the plaintiff will plausibly be able to prove, based on the individual judge’s subjective experience and common sense, and then to decide whether the plaintiff’s action is viable.

¶32 I cannot subscribe to such a standard, which I believe will deny access to justice for innumerable plaintiffs with legitimate complaints. Indeed, the majority’s application of its newly adopted standard in this case demonstrates the overreaching nature and ultimate unfairness of that standard.

Download Warne v Hall (Colo)

 

 

 

July 11, 2016 in Recent Decisions, State Courts, Twombly/Iqbal | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, May 27, 2016

Forced Individual Arbitration of Wage-and-Hour Claims Violates NLRA

            The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, in an opinion by Judge Diane Wood, held that forcing an employee to agree to bring any wage-and-hour claim through individual arbitration violated the National Labor Relations Act.  Lewis v. Epic Systems Corp., No. 15-2997 (7th Cir. May 26, 2016).

            Epic sent an email to some employees with an agreement requiring them to bring wage-and-hour claims only through individual arbitration and to waive the right to participate in any class, collective, or representative proceeding.  The email said that employees were “deemed to have accepted this Agreement” if they continued to work at Epic. 

            Plaintiff agreed at the time, but later sued Epic in federal court for violations of the overtime requirements of the Fair Labor Standards Act and Wisconsin law.  Epic moved to compel individual arbitration.

            Section 7 of the NLRA provides that “[e]mployees shall have the right to self- organization, to form, join, or assist labor organizations, to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing, and to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection.” 29 U.S.C. § 157.  The Seventh Circuit stated, “Section 7’s ‘other concerted activities’ have long been held to include ‘resort to administrative and judicial forums.’”  The court held that “the phrase ‘concerted activities’ in Section 7 should be read broadly to include resort to representative, joint, collective, or class legal remedies.”   Thus, “insofar as it prohibits collective action, Epic’s arbitration provision violates Sections 7 and 8 of the NLRA.”

            Further, the Federal Arbitration Act did not “save[] the ban on collective action.”  The district court’s denial of the motion to compel arbitration was affirmed. 

May 27, 2016 in Class Actions, Recent Decisions | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Rise and Fall of Plausibility Pleading?

My latest article, The Rise and Fall of Plausibility Pleading?, has just been published in the Vanderbilt Law Review. It builds on some of my earlier work on pleading (here and here), focusing on the Supreme Court’s post-Iqbal decisions on pleading standards (e.g., Johnson v. City of Shelby; Wood v. Moss; Matrixx Initiatives, Inc. v. Siracusano). Here’s the abstract:

The Supreme Court's 2007 decision in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly and its 2009 decision in Ashcroft v. Iqbal unleashed a torrent of scholarly reaction. Commentators charged these decisions with adopting a new pleading regime, "plausibility pleading," that upended the notice-pleading approach that had long prevailed in federal court. Whether a complaint could survive a motion to dismiss — it was argued — now depends on whether the court found the complaint plausible, allowing courts to second-guess a complaint’s allegations without any opportunity for discovery or consideration of actual evidence. Lower courts began to cite Twombly and Iqbal at a remarkably high rate, and empirical work revealed their effect on both dismissal rates and litigant behavior.

Although Twombly and Iqbal were troubling on many levels, the rise of a newly restrictive form of plausibility pleading was not inevitable. There was — and still is — a path forward that would retain the notice-pleading approach set forth in the text of the Federal Rules themselves and confirmed by pre-Twombly case law. This Article describes this reading of Twombly and Iqbal, and explains how more recent Supreme Court pleading decisions are consistent with this understanding. It is crucial, however, that these post-Iqbal decisions and the approach to pleading they reflect receive the same attention that accompanied Twombly, Iqbal, and the rise of plausibility pleading. Otherwise the narrative that Twombly and Iqbal compel a more restrictive pleading standard may become further entrenched, compounding the adverse effects of those problematic decisions.

 

 

March 29, 2016 in Adam Steinman, Federal Courts, Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Recent Decisions, Recent Scholarship, Supreme Court Cases, Twombly/Iqbal | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 25, 2016

SCOTUS Decision in Tyson Foods v. Bouaphakeo: Another Important Case on Class Actions

This week the Supreme Court issued its decision in Tyson Foods, Inc. v. Bouaphakeo, covered here, here, and here. Tyson Foods is one of several important class action cases on the Court’s docket this Term—and the second one decided so far. Like Campbell-Ewald back in January, the Tyson Foods decision is generally good news for proponents of class actions. By a 6-2 vote, the Court upheld class certification under Rule 23(b)(3).

Justice Kennedy wrote the majority opinion, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan. Chief Justice Roberts wrote a separate concurring opinion, which was joined in part by Justice Alito. Justice Thomas wrote a dissenting opinion, which Justice Alito joined. All the opinions are worth a read, but below are a few highlights from Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion.

First, Justice Kennedy emphasized that the presence of some individualized issues is not fatal to Rule 23(b)(3)’s predominance requirement:

The predominance inquiry “asks whether the common, aggregation-enabling, issues in the case are more prevalent or important than the non-common, aggregation-defeating, individual issues.” [2 W. Rubenstein, Newberg on Class Actions], §4:49, at 195–196. When “one or more of the central issues in the action are common to the class and can be said to predominate, the action may be considered proper under Rule 23(b)(3) even though other important matters will have to be tried separately, such as damages or some affirmative defenses peculiar to some individual class members.” 7AA C. Wright, A. Miller, & M. Kane, Federal Practice and Procedure §1778, pp. 123–124 (3d ed. 2005) (footnotes omitted).

Justice Kennedy also provided some important guidance on the Supreme Court’s 2011 Wal-Mart decision, clarifying that “Wal-Mart does not stand for the broad proposition that a representative sample is an impermissible means of establishing class-wide liability.” He recognized the practical reality that “[i]n many cases, a representative sample is ‘the only practicable means to collect and present relevant data’ establishing a defendant’s liability. Manual of Complex Litigation §11.493, p. 102 (4th ed. 2004).” And:

In a case where representative evidence is relevant in proving a plaintiff’s individual claim, that evidence cannot be deemed improper merely because the claim is brought on behalf of a class. To so hold would ignore the Rules Enabling Act’s pellucid instruction that use of the class device cannot “abridge . . . any substantive right.” 28 U. S. C. §2072(b).

The Court ultimately did not resolve the second question in Tyson Foods, which was originally framed as “whether a class may be certified if it contains ‘members who were not injured and have no legal right to any damages.’” After noting that Tyson Foods had “reframe[d] this argument” in its merits brief, Justice Kennedy declined to address it “because the damages award has not yet been disbursed, nor does the record indicate how it will be disbursed.” The Court therefore remanded the case, recognizing that Tyson Foods “may raise a challenge to the proposed method of allocation when the case returns to the District Court for disbursal of the award.” In his final paragraph of analysis, however, Justice Kennedy noted that the potential for “uninjured class members” to recover from the class judgment appeared to be a problem “of [Tyson Foods’] own making,” because Tyson Foods had argued against having bifurcated liability and damages proceedings.

For additional coverage, check out:

 

March 25, 2016 in Class Actions, Federal Courts, Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Recent Decisions, Supreme Court Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 17, 2016

SCOTUS Decision on Diversity Jurisdiction: Americold Realty Trust v. ConAgra Foods

There’s a lot of attention right now on President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the U.S. Supreme Court. But I wanted to quickly flag last week’s unanimous decision on diversity jurisdiction. Justice Sotomayor’s opinion in Americold Realty Trust v. ConAgra Foods, Inc. begins:

This case asks how to determine the citizenship of a “real estate investment trust,” an inanimate creature of Maryland law. We answer: While humans and corporations can assert their own citizenship, other entities take the citizenship of their members.

The Court reaffirmed the “oft-repeated rule” that unincorporated entities take on the citizenship of all of their members (citing Carden v. Arkoma Associates, 494 U. S. 185 (1990)), and held that the “members” of this sort of Maryland-law entity included all of its shareholders:

In Maryland, a real estate investment trust is an “unincorporated business trust or association” in which property is held and managed “for the benefit and profit of any person who may become a shareholder.” Md. Corp. & Assns. Code Ann. §§8–101(c), 8–102 (2014). As with joint-stock companies or partnerships, shareholders have “ownership interests” and votes in the trust by virtue of their “shares of beneficial interest.” §§8–704(b)(5), 8–101(d). These shareholders appear to be in the same position as the shareholders of a joint-stock company or the partners of a limited partnership—both of whom we viewed as members of their relevant entities. See Carden, 494 U. S., at 192–196; see also §8–705(a) (linking the term “beneficial interests” with “membership interests” and “partnership interests”). We therefore conclude that for purposes of diversity jurisdiction, Americold’s members include its shareholders.

Justice Sotomayor concluded by recognizing—but rejecting—the argument that the citizenship of an unincorporated entity should be determined the same way as a corporation:

We also decline an amicus’ invitation to apply the same rule to an unincorporated entity that applies to a corporation—namely, to consider it a citizen only of its State of establishment and its principal place of business. See Brief for National Association of Real Estate Investment Trusts 11–21. When we last examined the “doctrinal wall” between corporate and unincorporated entities in 1990, we saw no reason to tear it down. Carden, 494 U. S., at 190. Then as now we reaffirm that it is up to Congress if it wishes to incorporate other entities into 28 U. S. C. §1332(c)’s special jurisdictional rule.

 

March 17, 2016 in Federal Courts, Recent Decisions, Subject Matter Jurisdiction, Supreme Court Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 25, 2016

SCOTUS Decision in Montgomery v. Louisiana: Supreme Court Jurisdiction, State Courts, and Retroactivity

Today the Supreme Court issued a 6-3 decision in Montgomery v. Louisiana, which involves the retroactive effect of the Supreme Court’s 2012 decision in Miller v. Alabama (where the Court prohibited mandatory sentences of life without the possibility of parole for juveniles).

The case presented both an interesting question of Supreme Court jurisdiction in the context of state collateral review proceedings, and the perennial federal courts challenge of when a new constitutional right applies retroactively. The majority opinion authored by Justice Kennedy (joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Kagan & Sotomayor) concluded:

(1) The Supreme Court had jurisdiction to review a state court’s failure to recognize, in the context of state collateral review, a federal constitutional right that applies retroactively;

(2) Miller did announce “a substantive rule of constitutional law” that applies retroactively; and

(3) A state may remedy a Miller violation by extending parole eligibility to juvenile offenders.

The three dissenters were Justices Scalia, Thomas, and Alito, who disagreed both on jurisdiction and on the merits. Justice Scalia wrote a dissenting opinion that was joined by both Thomas and Alito, and Justice Thomas wrote a separate dissent as well.

Check out Lyle Denniston’s analysis on SCOTUSblog.

 

 

 

 

January 25, 2016 in Federal Courts, Recent Decisions, State Courts, Subject Matter Jurisdiction, Supreme Court Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Today’s SCOTUS Decision in Campbell-Ewald v. Gomez

The Supreme Court issued its decision today in Campbell-Ewald Co. v. Gomez, a closely watched case on class actions, Article III, and mootness (covered earlier here and here). Justice Ginsburg’s majority opinion begins:

Is an unaccepted offer to satisfy the named plaintiff ’s individual claim sufficient to render a case moot when the complaint seeks relief on behalf of the plaintiff and a class of persons similarly situated? This question, on which Courts of Appeals have divided, was reserved in Genesis HealthCare Corp. v. Symczyk, 569 U. S. ___, ___, ___, n. 4 (2013) (slip op., at 5, 6, n. 4). We hold today, in accord with Rule 68 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, that an unaccepted settlement offer has no force. Like other unaccepted contract offers, it creates no lasting right or obligation. With the offer off the table, and the defendant’s continuing denial of liability, adversity between the parties persists.

Justice Ginsburg’s opinion is joined by Justices Kennedy, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan. Justice Thomas adds a sixth vote, but writes a separate concurring opinion. Chief Justice Roberts writes a dissenting opinion, joined by Justices Scalia and Alito, and Justice Alito writes a dissenting opinion as well.

 

 

 

January 20, 2016 in Class Actions, Federal Courts, Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Recent Decisions, Subject Matter Jurisdiction, Supreme Court Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 15, 2016

SCOTUS Cert Grant in Microsoft v. Baker: Appellate Review of Orders Denying Class Certification

Today the Supreme Court granted certiorari in Microsoft Corp. v. Baker, limited to the following Court-generated question:

Whether a federal court of appeals has jurisdiction under both Article III and 28 U.S.C. § 1291 to review an order denying class certification after the named plaintiffs voluntarily dismiss their individual claims with prejudice.

You can find all the cert-stage briefing—and follow the merits briefs as they come in—at SCOTUSblog.

 

 

January 15, 2016 in Class Actions, Federal Courts, Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Recent Decisions, Subject Matter Jurisdiction, Supreme Court Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Ninth Circuit Vacates Order to Seal Records in Chrysler Defect Case

The Ninth Circuit yesterday overturned an order to seal court records in a case involving an alleged automobile safety defect.  The Center for Auto Safety v. Chrysler Group, LLC, No. 15-55084 (9th Cir. Jan. 11, 2016). 

From the summary prepared by the court’s staff:

The panel vacated the district court’s order denying The Center for Auto Safety’s motions to intervene and unseal documents filed to support and oppose a motion for preliminary injunction in a putative class action between Chrysler Group, LLC and certain named plaintiffs, and remanded for further proceedings.

. . .

The panel presumed that the instant motion for preliminary injunction was technically nondispositive.  The panel held that public access to filed motions and their attachments did not depend on whether the motion was technically “dispositive;” but rather, public access turned on whether the motion was more than tangentially related to the merits of the case.  The panel concluded that plaintiffs’ motion for preliminary injunction was more than tangentially related to the merits.  The panel remanded for the district court to consider the documents under the compelling reasons standard.

The case is discussed on the Public Justice blog in a post by Jennifer Bennett, who argued the case for the intervenor, The Center for Auto Safety. 

Hat tip: Paul Bland, Shawn Shaughnessy

January 12, 2016 in Discovery, Recent Decisions, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

CAFA Governs Attorneys’ Fees in Class Settlement Involving Michaels’ Vouchers

          An interesting opinion by U.S. District Judge William G. Young:

  • provides a definition of “coupons” as used in the Class Action Fairness Act;
  • makes sense of the “poorly drafted” CAFA provision regulating attorneys’ fees in so-called coupon settlements; and
  • incidentally speculates on the relationship between MDL case assignment, the potential loss of judgeships in a district, and the strictness of a district judge’s scrutiny of attorneys’ fees in class action settlements.

Tyler v. Michaels Stores, Inc., No. CV 11-10920-WGY, 2015 WL 8484421 (D. Mass. Dec. 9, 2015).

            This class action, based on Massachusetts consumer law, alleged that Michaels “asked customers for their zip codes as part of credit card transactions to reverse engineer those customers' addresses using commercially available databases, and then used those addresses to carry out aggressive and unwanted marketing campaigns.”  [Internal quotation marks omitted.]  After Michaels moved to dismiss, the federal court certified legal questions to the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, which held plaintiffs’ allegations sufficient under state law. 

            After discovery, the parties settled and the court approved the settlement, reserving a ruling on class counsel’s request for fees.  Under the settlement, class members were to receive a $10.00 or $25.00 “voucher” to be used on any merchandise in Michaels’ physical stores, with certain restrictions on use.  The face value of the vouchers was $418,000.00.  The value of the vouchers actually redeemed by class members was $138,620.00.

            Class counsel requested fees and costs of $425,000.00, asserting that Massachusetts law, not CAFA, governed the fees request because the vouchers were not “coupons” as used in CAFA, 28 U.S.C. § 1712, which applies to settlements that “provide[] for a recovery of coupons to a class member.”  Surprisingly, CAFA does not define “coupon.”  Surveying other cases, the Court “essay[ed] such a definition: when class members must transact business with the defendant to obtain the benefit of the settlement, the settlement ‘provides for a recovery of coupons’ under section 1712. In other words, coupons must be redeemed; conversely, if an award must be redeemed, it is a coupon.”  Under that definition, the Michaels vouchers were coupons, and section 1712 applied to the fees request.

            That didn’t settle the matter, however, because section 1712 is bewilderingly drafted.  (I won’t reprint it here: just read subsections (a), (b), and (c), if you dare, and see if you can decipher them.)  Again after surveying other cases, the Court held that even in a coupon-only settlement, section 1712 “vests the Court with the discretion to choose between using a percentage-of-coupons-redeemed method, or the lodestar method.” 

          Here, the Court chose the lodestar method (attorney hours worked times hourly fee) for two reasons:  “[f]irst, class counsel vindicated the important public policy goals of Massachusetts' consumer protection statute,” and “[s]econd, and most importantly, they obtained binding precedent from the Supreme Judicial Court that will influence conduct far beyond that of Michaels.”  However, the Court warned:

Given the hostility to disproportionately large fee awards to class counsel evident in the legislative history -- at least insofar as fees generated from obtaining coupon settlements were concerned -- counsel may reasonably expect that this Court will generally award attorneys' fees based on a percentage of the actual value of the coupons redeemed by class members, absent the groundbreaking nature of this case.

[Footnotes omitted.]

            The Court found that the requested hourly fee of $650.00 for partners was unreasonable, and cut it to $350.00.  This yielded a lodestar of $312,895.00 in attorneys’ fees, which was awarded along with $14,005.30 in costs.

            In other words, the fees award, even though reduced from what was requested, still ended up being more than twice as much as the value of the vouchers actually redeemed by class members.  Personally, I have no problem with that: in my opinion, the primary purpose of the consumer class action is not to compensate the plaintiff class, but to hold the defendant accountable for violating the law.  Others obviously disagree.   

            Here’s where the Court’s two-page footnote 29 comes in.  The Court’s point appears to be this: at least one pro-business advocacy group has argued to the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation that the Panel’s decision where to send an MDL should “rest on a district judge’s strict scrutiny of claims for attorneys’ fees in class action settlements.”  In other words, business interests have argued that the more strictly a district judge scrutinizes fees requests, the more that judge should be favored as the transferee court in an MDL.  But why should judges want to be the transferee court in an MDL?  Because all of those transferred cases will now be counted as part of that judge’s, and that district’s, civil caseload.  (When a civil case is filed in one district, and transferred to another district for whatever reason, including MDL, it is counted as a filing in both the transferor and the transferee court.  So, for example, if the Panel transfers 5,000 MDL cases to another district, the transferee district gets 5,000 cases added to its total filings.)  This accrual of cases “tend[s] to immunize that court against the potential loss of a judgeship,” because recommendations by the Judicial Conference to add or subtract authorized district court judgeships are based in part on the number of case filings that district has.

            So the Court in Tyler candidly “confess[ed] that, when awarding attorneys' fees in this case, it contemplated -- but rejected as wholly inappropriate -- an additional consideration: the views of the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation.”       

December 16, 2015 in Class Actions, MDLs, Recent Decisions | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, December 14, 2015

SCOTUS Decision in DIRECTV v. Imburgia: Federal Arbitration Act Overrides State Contract Law (Again)

Today the Supreme Court issued its decision in DIRECTV, Inc. v. Imburgia. The vote was 6-3, with Justice Breyer writing the majority opinion. Justice Thomas writes a dissenting opinion, and Justice Ginsburg writes a dissenting opinion joined by Justice Sotomayor.

As covered earlier here and here, Imburgia is another case involving the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA). The particular issue is whether the FAA allows California to construe an arbitration provision referring to California state law (the “law of your state”) to mean state law as it existed prior to the U.S. Supreme Court invalidating certain aspects of California contract law in its 2011 decision in AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion. That was how the California Court of Appeal construed the arbitration agreement in Imburgia, but Justice Breyer’s majority opinion disagrees, concluding instead that such a construction itself violates the FAA by failing to “place arbitration contracts on equal footing with all other contracts.”

Continue reading

December 14, 2015 in Class Actions, Recent Decisions, Supreme Court Cases | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Today's SCOTUS Decision on the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act

Today the Supreme Court issued its first opinion in an argued case this Term: OBB Personenverkehr AG v. Sachs. In an opinion by Chief Justice Roberts, the Court unanimously held that a lawsuit against the Austrian state-owned railway was barred by Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act. From the opinion:

Respondent Carol Sachs is a resident of California who purchased in the United States a Eurail pass for rail travel in Europe. She suffered traumatic personal injuries when she fell onto the tracks at the Innsbruck, Austria, train station while attempting to board a train operated by the Austrian state-owned railway. She sued the railway in Federal District Court, arguing that her suit was not barred by sovereign immunity because it is “based upon” the railway’s sale of the pass to her in the United States. We disagree and conclude that her action is instead “based upon” the railway’s conduct in Innsbruck. We therefore hold that her suit falls outside the commercial activity exception and is barred by sovereign immunity. 

Our earlier coverage is here.

 

 

December 1, 2015 in Federal Courts, Recent Decisions, Subject Matter Jurisdiction, Supreme Court Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Today’s SCOTUS Oral Argument in Tyson Foods v. Bouaphakeo

The Supreme Court heard oral argument today in Tyson Foods, Inc. v. Bouaphakeo, which presents the questions:

(I) Whether differences among individual class members may be ignored and a class action certified under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(b)(3), or a collective action certified under the Fair Labor Standards Act, where liability and damages will be determined with statistical techniques that presume all class members are identical to the average observed in a sample.

(II) Whether a class action may be certified or maintained under Rule 23(b)(3), or a collective action certified or maintained under the Fair Labor Standards Act, when the class contains hundreds of members who were not injured and have no legal right to any damages.

Here is the transcript. For our earlier coverage of the case, see here and here.

 

 

November 10, 2015 in Class Actions, Federal Courts, Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Recent Decisions, Supreme Court Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 2, 2015

Today’s SCOTUS Oral Argument in Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins

The Supreme Court hears oral argument today in Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, which presents the question:

Whether Congress may confer Article III standing upon a plaintiff who suffers no concrete harm, and who therefore could not otherwise invoke the jurisdiction of a federal court, by authorizing a private right of action based on a bare violation of a federal statute.

For our earlier coverage, see here, here, and here. You should also check out Amy Howe’s preview of the argument for SCOTUSblog and the Vanderbilt Law Review’s En Banc Roundtable on the case, available here.

UPDATE: The transcript of the oral argument has now been posted.

 

November 2, 2015 in Federal Courts, Recent Decisions, Recent Scholarship, Standing, Subject Matter Jurisdiction, Supreme Court Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)