Eleventh Circuit Holds That Administrative Feasibility is Not a Precondition for Class Certification

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals recently analyzed a “hotly contested issue in class action practice” – whether administrative feasibility is a requirement for class certification under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23. Breaking from the First, Third, and Fourth Circuits and agreeing with the Second, Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, and Ninth Circuits, the Eleventh Circuit held putative class representatives need not prove the existence of an administratively feasible method to identify absent class members as a precondition for certification of a class action.

In Cherry v. Dometic Corporation, the plaintiffs filed a putative class action against a refrigerator manufacturer, alleging the refrigerators sold by the manufacturer had a design defect that had caused thousands of fires or leaks that gradually ruined the refrigerators’ functionality. In their motion for class certification, the plaintiffs argued that the proposed class was ascertainable because the class definition relied exclusively on objective criteria. The defendant countered that ascertainability requires proof of administrative feasibility and the plaintiffs failed to satisfy that element because they provided no evidence that their proposed method of identification would be workable. The Florida district court agreed and denied certification.

The Eleventh Circuit reversed, holding that “[a]dministrative feasibility is not an inherent aspect of ascertainability.” Rather, the panel explained, a class is clearly ascertainable if the court is certain “that its membership is capable of being determined,” but “membership can be capable of determination without being capable of convenient determination.” Therefore, the plaintiffs’ appeal turned on whether the text of Rule 23(a) or (b) required proof of administrative feasibility.

As to Rule 23(a), the panel concluded that an administrative feasibility requirement does not follow from its text. A plaintiff satisfies the requirements of administrative feasibility “if the district court concludes that the proposed process will be manageable and successful,” but the court held manageability of a class says nothing “about the qualifications of the putative class representatives, the practicability of joinder of all members, or the existence of common questions of law or fact,” as required by Rule 23(a).

The panel also held a requirement of administrative feasibility does not follow from the text of Rule 23(b). While the panel noted that, “[t]o be sure, administrative feasibility has relevance for Rule 23(b)(3) classes,” it held that “because Rule 23(b)(3) requires a balancing test, it does not permit district courts to make administrative feasibility a requirement.” The panel explained “difficulties in identifying class members is a difficulty in managing a class action,” and administrative difficulties “do not doom a motion for certification.” Rather, “if there appears to be unusually difficult manageability problems at this step, a district court has discretion to insist on details of the plaintiff’s plan for notifying the class and managing the action,” or “has discretion to decertify a certified class that turns out to be unmanageable.” Ultimately, the court held “aside from its limited relevance to Rule 23(b)(3)(D), administrative feasibility is entirely unrelated to either Rule 23(a) or (b).”

While the Eleventh Circuit’s decision in Cherry clarified the administrative feasibility requirement in Alabama, Florida, and Georgia federal courts, this decision only adds to the split between the federal circuits regarding this important issue.