Category: Class Action Defense

New Jersey Supreme Court Holds That CFA and PLA Claims Can Be Pleaded in the Same Action

In a recent decision answering a question certified to it by the Third Circuit, the New Jersey Supreme Court held that claims brought under New Jersey’s Consumer Fraud Act (CFA) may be brought in the same action as claims brought pursuant to the Products Liability Act (PLA), provided each claim is based on distinct conduct. In Sun Chemical Corporation v. Fike Corporation and Suppression Systems, Inc., the Court explained that it is the nature of the actions—not the resulting damages—that determines when claims may be brought under either the CFA or the PLA. The Court clarified that CFA claims may be brought in instances where a party alleges “express misrepresentations — deceptive, fraudulent, misleading, and other unconscionable commercial practices,” while PLA claims are reserved for claims based upon “product manufacturing, warning, or design defects.” The claims in Sun Chemical arose out of the plaintiff’s purchase of an explosion isolation and suppression system from the defendant to be used to “prevent and contain potential explosions” in the plaintiff’s new dust collection system. Plaintiff’s federal court complaint alleged that on the first day it used the suppression system, a fire broke out in the dust collection system and while the alarm in the suppression system was activated, it was inaudible. Plaintiff alleged that, as a result, several...

Eleventh Circuit Eliminates Incentive Awards for Named Plaintiffs in Class Action Settlements

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals recently upended what has become common practice in class action settlements by ruling that “incentive” awards to named plaintiffs are unlawful. In Johnson v. NPAS Solutions, LLC, the plaintiff filed a class action lawsuit under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) alleging that the defendant used an automatic telephone dialing system to call cell phones without the proper consent. Less than eight months after the complaint was filed, the parties jointly filed a notice of settlement for an award of $1,432,000. The District Court preliminary approved the settlement and certified the class for settlement purposes. In addition, that order permitted the plaintiff to petition the court to receive an amount not to exceed $6,000 “as acknowledgement of this role in prosecuting this case on behalf of class members.” The court also set a date for class members to opt out of the class settlement and a date three weeks later for class counsel to submit their petition for attorneys’ fees and costs. One person objected to the settlement on the grounds that (1) the objection deadline was set before the deadline for class counsel to file their attorneys’ fee petition, which she contended violated Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23 and the Due Process Clause; (2) the amount of...

Second Circuit Holds Injunctive Class of Past Purchasers Not Certifiable Under Rule 23(b)(2)

The Second Circuit recently resolved a conflict among district courts, holding that past purchasers of a product are ineligible for class certification under Rule 23(b)(2) because not all class members would benefit from injunctive relief. Specifically, explained the Court, it is unlikely a purchaser will buy the allegedly deceptive product again, and if they do, they do so with the knowledge of the alleged deception. In Berni v. Barilla S.p.A., plaintiffs initiated a class action alleging that defendant intentionally sold its pasta in misleading boxes that concealed non-functional “slack-fill,” i.e., excessive empty space in the box. The parties reached a settlement, agreeing that defendant would include a minimum “fill-line” on its boxes, to indicate how much pasta was in the container, and a disclaimer that the pasta is sold by weight and not by volume. Neither party challenged the settlement; however, an absent class member objected, arguing that the group of past purchasers could not be certified under Rule 23(b)(2) because past purchasers were ineligible for injunctive relief. The district court disagreed and certified the injunctive class and approved the settlement. The objector appealed. The Circuit Court vacated the district court’s order granting approval of the settlement class, reasoning that injunctive relief was not proper for the group of past purchasers and, thus, the group...

Third Circuit Reverses Denial of Class Certification: Holds Ascertainability Satisfied Even with Gaps in Records

On September 9, 2020, a split panel of the Third Circuit issued a precedential opinion in Hargrove v. Sleepy’s LLC, reversing the denial of class certification because the district court “misapplied” the Circuit’s ascertainability case law and was “too exacting” when it “essentially demanded” that plaintiffs identify the class members at the certification stage. The circuit court also determined that the district court erroneously applied the motion-for-reconsideration standard to plaintiffs’ renewed motion for class certification, and held that courts should apply “the usual Rule 23 standard.” In Hargrove, the plaintiffs, delivery drivers, brought an employee misclassification suit alleging that defendant misclassified them as independent contractors, rather than employees, and thus violated several New Jersey labor laws. The district court denied class certification, twice, on the ground that the ascertainability requirement was not satisfied. In denying plaintiffs’ renewed motion for certification, the Court held that plaintiffs’ proposed class was “not ascertainable because the records kept by Sleepy’s regarding the identity of the drivers lacked critical information.” The plaintiffs sought leave to appeal pursuant to Rule 23(f), and the Third Circuit granted their request. First, the circuit court addressed the split among the district courts, both in and out of the Third Circuit, on the issue of the standard that applies to renewed motions for class certification....

Supreme Court to Finally Decide Definition of Autodialer in TCPA Litigation

On July 9, 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court granted a long-pending petition for certiorari in Facebook Inc. v. Duguid, Noah, et al. to address a hotly debated question in Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) litigation: “whether the definition of [automated telephone dialing system] encompasses any device that can ‘store’ and ‘automatically dial’ telephone numbers, even if the device does not ‘us[e] a random or sequential number generator.’” The grant of certiorari comes on the heels of the Court’s sweeping decision in Barr v. American Ass’n of Political Consultants, severing the government debt collection exception to the TCPA’s “autodialer” prohibition as a content-based restriction on free speech. The TCPA broadly prohibits most calls using any ATDS or autodialer, defined by statute as “equipment which has the capacity – (A) to store or produce telephone numbers to be called, using a random or sequential number generator; and (B) to dial such numbers.” Given the lack of clarity in the statutory language, courts have grappled with whether “a random or sequential number generator” must be used to only “store” the numbers, or only to “produce” the numbers, or to “dial” the numbers after having “randomly or sequentially” generated or produced them. Further complicating court interpretations is the FCC’s interpretations stating that a dialing system known as a “predictive...

Third Circuit Affirms Class Certification in In re Suboxone Antirust Litigation

On July 28, 2020, the Third Circuit in In re Suboxone (Buprenorphine Hydrochloride & Nalaxone) Antitrust Litigation, affirmed certification of a direct purchaser class, concluding that common evidence existed to prove the plaintiffs’ antitrust theory and resulting injury and that the proposed class representative, Burlington Drug Company, Inc., was an adequate class representative. The direct-purchaser plaintiffs alleged that the defendant drug manufacturer of the opioid-treatment drug, Suboxone, engaged in anticompetitive conduct that impeded the entry of generic versions of the drug into the market. Specifically, plaintiffs asserted that defendant “shifted the market” from Suboxone tablets to Suboxone film by the time generic tablets entered the market, thereby maintaining a monopoly and suppressing competition. According to plaintiffs, the defendant’s transition from tablets to film was coupled with six tactics to “eliminate demand for Suboxone tablets and to coerce prescribers to prefer film,” including making false statements about the safety of the tablets and withdrawing brand-name Suboxone tablets from the market. The plaintiffs argued that due to defendant’s anticompetitive conduct, they paid more for brand Suboxone products than they would have for generic tablets. The district court certified the class, and the Third Circuit granted the defendant’s petition for leave to appeal under Rule 23(f). First, the Third Circuit addressed defendant’s argument that plaintiffs did not provide...

Supreme Court Severs TCPA’s Government Debt-Collection Exception as Content-Based Restriction on Free Speech, but Leaves Autodialer Restriction

The Supreme Court of the United States recently analyzed the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), 47 U.S.C. § 227, et seq., highlighting the importance of the Act’s ban on “robocalls,” (i.e., calls placed using an “automatic telephone dialing system” or “autodialer”), but leaving key questions unanswered. In Barr v. American Association of Political Consultants, Inc., the Court upheld the TCPA but severed Congress’s 2015 amendment that allowed entities to make robocalls to collect government-backed debt. Enacted in 1991, the TCPA generally prohibits robocalls to cell phones and home phones. At the heart of the Court’s opinion here was the decision whether to uphold Congress’s 2015 amendment which allowed an exception to the general ban on robocalls for entities collecting government-backed debt. The plaintiffs, organizations that participate in the political system, make calls to citizens for a multitude of purposes, such as discussing political issues, soliciting donations, and conducting polls. If robocalls to cellphones were allowed for political outreach, the plaintiffs believe that their efforts would be more effective and efficient. The plaintiffs filed a declaratory judgment action against the U.S. Attorney General and the Federal Communications Commission to invalidate the TCPA’s entire 1991 autodialer restriction, arguing that allowing certain entities to make robocalls to collect government-backed debt, but prohibiting other robocalls, was a content-based restriction...

New Jersey Supreme Court Holds That Individualized Proof of Damages Is Required Absent a Basis for Presumption of Class-Wide Damages Capable of Reliable Mathematical Calculation

In Little v. Kia Motors America, Inc., a litigation spanning nearly two decades, the New Jersey Supreme Court held that, although aggregate proof of damages can be appropriate in some settings, individualized proof of damages based on the actual costs incurred by the class members was required in the case before it. Class members had to show they incurred “actual costs” as a result of an alleged defect in order to recover damages. In 2001, plaintiff filed a putative class action asserting breach of warranty and other claims on her behalf and on behalf of other New Jersey owners and lessees of certain Kia models. Plaintiff alleged that the vehicles had a defective brake system which rendered the vehicles’ front brakes susceptible to premature wear. After a four-week trial, the jury returned a verdict in favor of plaintiff and the class on the class-wide warranty claim, awarding zero damages for alleged diminution-in-value but $750 per class member on the out-of-pocket loss theory, which had been premised on an expert’s estimate of the amount of money an average owner would pay for brake repairs over the vehicles’ lives as a result of the alleged defect. On defendant’s motion for a new trial and to decertify for purposes of repair damages, the trial court decertified the class...

District of New Jersey Denies Class Certification in Product Defect Case Against BMW

The District of New Jersey recently denied class certification in a putative class action alleging a product defect in BMW engines. Afzal v. BMW of North America, LLC concerned whether BMW defectively designed its car engine so that a component wears out too quickly and failed to disclose that defect to purchasers. Two Plaintiffs, both California residents who allegedly suffered premature rod bearing wear, filed a putative class action raising various causes of action including violations of several California consumer protection statutes, breach of warranty, and fraud. Plaintiffs sought certification of two classes: (1) the Dealership Class and (2) the Warranty Class. The “Dealership Class” was defined as: “All persons who after November 12, 2011, purchased a model year 2008 to 2013 BMW M3 (the “Class Vehicle”) in California from an authorized BMW dealership, and who resided in California at the time of that purchase, and who as of the date of the Court’s Certification Order, either 1. Currently owns a Class Vehicle with 120,000 miles or less; or 2. Currently or formerly owned a Class Vehicle and, when the Class Vehicle had 120,000 miles or less, incurred out-of-pocket costs to replace the connecting rod bearings in the Class Vehicle.” The “Warranty Class” was defined as: “All persons who after November 12, 2011, purchased a...

Third Circuit Clarifies How Arbitration Language Should be Presented to Consumers

The Third Circuit recently issued a precedential decision further explaining the requirements when presenting consumers with otherwise enforceable language requiring arbitration. In Bacon v. Avis Budget Group Inc., six plaintiffs rented cars from defendant Payless Car Rental, Inc., a subsidiary of defendant Avis Budget Group, Inc. At the rental counter, plaintiffs each signed identical one-page rental agreements, which, among other things, itemized charges and fees and showed whether the customer had accepted or declined certain products and services. Each plaintiff signed below the final paragraph, which provided: “I agree the charges listed above are estimates and that I have reviewed & agreed to all notices & terms here and in the rental jacket.” The rental jackets were kept at the rental counter, typically near the rental associate’s computer terminal or printer. The rental associates were trained to give a rental jacket to each customer after the customer signed the agreement and to any customer who requested one, but the associates were not trained to alert customers to the additional terms in the rental jacket. The rental associates said nothing about the rental jacket when plaintiffs reviewed their agreements. After plaintiffs signed their agreements, the rental associate folded the agreement into thirds, placed it into the rental jacket, and handed the jacket to plaintiffs. The rental...