Friday, February 6, 2015
Perry Cooper, of the BNA Class Action Litigation Report, published a special report yesterday titled "Issue Classes Swell in Consumer Suits: Are Potential Rewards Worth the Risk?" A subscription is required to read the full article, but it does a nice job of portraying different points of view on the topic - John Beisner and Jessica Miller (Sadden Arps) for the defense, Gary Mason (Whitfield Bryson & Mason) for the plaintiffs, and some of my own views as an academic.
Issue classes have been on my mind for awhile now as well as the minds of many others--the Rule 23 Subcommittee has indicated that the topic tops their list for potential rule changes. As such, I've been working on an article titled "Constructing Issue Classes." I'm still tweaking it, so it's not available for public consumption yet, but for those interested in the topic, here's the gist of it:
Issue classes under Rule 23(c)(4) have the potential to adjudicate collectively what actually unites plaintiffs: defendant's uniform conduct. One can separate the elements of any cause of action into "conduct elements" that relate to the defendant's conduct--what the defendant knew, when the defendant knew it, etc.--or "eligibility elements" that relate to the plaintiff's eligibility for relief--specific causation, damages, etc. When defendant's conduct toward the plaintiffs is uniform, as it was for example in the smelly washing machine cases, then adjudicating elements relating to that conduct collectively can even out resource imbalances between plaintiffs' attorneys and defendants and reduce the possibility of inconsistent verdicts.
As you may imagine, a lot rides on that one trial. Issue classes work by generating two-way preclusion in follow-on cases. In the Ohio "smelly washer" trial against Whirlpool, the defense verdict meant that defendants could preclude class members from relitigating those same issues in subsequent cases. (Granted, the class was limited to Ohio purchasers, but did include some 100,000 consumers.) The high stakes suggest that anytime courts certify an issue for class treatment they should be prepared to allow an interlocutory appeal on the merits (not just the certification question as Rule 23(f) permits). It also means that courts shouldn't certify trivial issues for class treatment. As the ALI in its Principles of the Law of Aggregate Litigation suggest, the issue class should "materially advance the resolution of the claims," which would be the case with regard to most conduct-related questions.
Monday, February 2, 2015