Monday, November 13, 2023
Linda Mullenix has posted two pieces to SSRN. First, Reflections on the Flying Buttresses of Class Action Settlement. The abstract provides:
Since the advent of the modern class action rule in 1996, class actions have long settled. Yet for more than five decades, class action settlements remained a backwater of class action jurisprudence. This changed in the 1990s, when issues relating to settlement classes dominated the federal legal landscape. The Supreme Court effectively resolved the controversy over settlement classes in its landmark decisions in Amchem Prods. Inc. v. Winsor and Ortiz v. Fibreboard Prods. at the end of the twentieth century.
The Court’s imprimatur on settlement classes opened an era of expansive use of settlement classes, which was accompanied by proliferating problems relating to the substantive and procedural fairness of settlement agreements. These problems garnered the attention of the practicing bar, the federal judiciary, and the rulemakers. In 2003 and 2018, the Advisory Committee on Civil Rules enacted sweeping changes to Rule 23(e) governing judicial approval of class action settlements.
This article argues that the twenty-first century amendments to Rule 23(e) encouraged the creation of an entire cottage industry of external expert witness support to shore up the settling parties’ burden of proof at Rule 23(e) fairness hearings. Although parties employed various such expert sin the 1990s, the rule amendments accelerated the routine use of these experts in the twenty-first century, as well as judicial acceptance and embrace of this testimony.
The article canvasses six types of party-retained expert testimony in support of class certification and settlement approval: (1) the notice vendor, (2) the fee expert, (3) the class certification expert, (4) the settlement fairness expert, (5) the ethics expert, and (6) the neutral mediator. The article focuses on the peculiar development of recourse to mediators in support of final settlement approval.
The article evaluates the value added and benefits to the judicial system of the deployment of these external experts, contrasted with the problems endemic to their use. The article concludes with thoughts on addressing the challenges presented by external expert testimony with recommendations for improvements to the status quo of routine judicial deference to party-retained external support.
Without doubt the U.S. Supreme Court in the twenty-first century has been obsessed with the problem of corporate attorneys’ inclusion of class action waivers in arbitration agreements. This article traces the emergence of the class action waiver issue, which developed in tandem with the plaintiffs’ embrace and proliferation of class action litigation at the end of the twentieth century. The discussion comments on plaintiffs’ initial attempts to request and secure class arbitration where the arbitration clauses were silent, culminating in Supreme Court’s opinion permitting arbitrators to determine this issue. With the Court’s opening the door to possible classwide arbitration, corporate lawyers regrouped to rethink the wording of their mandatory arbitration agreements, to specifically prohibit classwide arbitration. These corporate efforts and the successive redrafting of arbitration agreements prompted a series of class action waiver appeals to the Supreme Court, with the Court construing ever changing class action waiver formulations. Since 2010, the Court has decided eight class action appeals dealing with issues relating to class action waivers in arbitration agreements. The article analyzes the Court’s series of decisions relating to class action waiver provisions, focusing on the Court’s consistent repudiation of classwide arbitration as antithetical to the original concept of bilateral arbitration. The article observes that despite the Court’s clear rejection of almost all class action waiver provisions, plaintiffs’ attorneys regroup and repeatedly seek classwide arbitration by state legislative initiatives and construing arbitration agreements within the contours of the Court’s evolving class waiver jurisprudence. The article concludes with observations about class arbitration in other countries, and the implications of class action waivers for European Union countries that have recently implemented class action and collective redress procedures.