Tagged: Class Certification Opinions

New Jersey Appellate Division Finds Individual Causation Issues Related to Ascertainable Loss Detrimental to Class Certification

In Polanco v. Star Career Academy, the New Jersey Appellate Division vacated a $10.7 million final verdict against Star Career Academy (“Star”), a New Jersey for-profit school. At issue in the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act (“CFA”) class action trial below was whether Star concealed and failed to disclose necessary information to Surgical Technology (“ST”) program applicants and students. Specifically, it was alleged that the school did not have the required accreditation needed for students to gain employment upon graduation. Trial resulted in a verdict against Star in the amount of $9 million, with a $1.7 million fee award. On appeal, the appellate panel first found that students seeking an education from a school like Star have the right to know, before enrollment, whether the school has proper accreditation. This is to afford students the opportunity to attend an accredited institution instead. The panel found that because the record contained evidence that Star had made material misrepresentations to students regarding the lack of proper accreditation, Star’s pre-trial summary judgment motion had properly been denied. However, the appellate panel concluded that the trial court had improperly certified the class because the class-wide claims did not predominate over individual allegations by the class members for the following reasons: First, there was a “disparate series of alleged misrepresentations,”...

TCCWNA Back Before the New Jersey Supreme Court

This year the federal courts in New Jersey have seen a dramatic uptick in the filing of class action lawsuits seeking statutory damages under the New Jersey Truth-in-Consumer Contract, Warranty and Notice Act (“TCCWNA”), particularly cases targeting merchants selling or promoting goods or services via the internet. These cases are premised on the notion that the “terms and conditions” or “terms of use” on a company’s website constitute a contract and thus subject companies to potentially massive class-wide penalty damages should the terms of use contain language which violates the TCCWNA. As motions to dismiss are pending in many of these cases, the federal courts in New Jersey may soon provide further clarity on a number of important questions, including: (1) whether online website users are “aggrieved consumers” as required under the statute; (2) whether plaintiffs bringing bare TCCWNA claims have Article III standing given the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent Spokeo decision; and (3) whether the statute reaches contractual provisions wholly unrelated to a consumer’s transaction.

Supreme Court Accepts Use of Representative Sample To Prove Classwide Liability

In Tyson Foods, Inc. v. Bouaphakeo, the Supreme Court of the United States definitively answered the question of whether statistical “representative evidence” may be used in class actions to establish that “questions of law or fact common to class members predominate over any questions affecting only individual members” pursuant to Rule 23(b)(3). According to the Court’s much-anticipated opinion, the answer is yes: “Its permissibility turns not on the form a proceeding takes – be it a class or individual action – but on the degree to which the evidence is reliable in proving or disproving the elements of the relevant cause of action.”

Third Circuit Clarifies Apparent Confusion Regarding Rule 23(b)(3) Ascertainability Requirement

In Byrd v. Aaron’s Inc., the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit added to, and clarified, its “quartet” of ascertainability cases to resolve the “apparent confusion in the invocation and application of ascertainability in this Circuit.” The plaintiffs in Byrd brought a class action claiming violations of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 because laptop computers had “spyware” installed, which had captured a wide array of personal information from the users including photographs and screenshots of websites visited. Adopting the recommendation of the Magistrate Judge, the District Court denied class certification for failure to establish ascertainability, finding that the proposed classes were both “underinclusive” (i.e., did not include all individuals whose information was gathered) and overinclusive (not every computer user had data intercepted), and that it was insufficient to propose that “household members” be identified by public records. “Because the District Court confused ascertainability with other relevant inquiries under Rule 23,” it “erred in determining that the Byrds’ proposed classes were not ascertainable.”

Halliburton Gives Defense Bar New Tool to Defeat Class Certification

The Supreme Court has raised the class certification stakes yet again, holding in Halliburton v. Erica P. John Fund that defendants in securities class actions may rebut the fraud-on-the-market presumption of reliance at the class certification stage. Over the objections of Justices Thomas, Scalia, and Alito, the Court declined to toss out the presumption altogether.