Class Cert Appeals & the Muddy Waters of the 9th Circuit

 

In less than two weeks, the Supreme Court will hear oral argument on the following issue: Whether a federal court of appeals has jurisdiction to review an order denying class certification after the named plaintiffs voluntarily dismiss their individual claims with prejudice.

The underlying decision, which we’ve written about previously, is the Ninth Circuit’s ruling in Baker v. Microsoft.  In Baker, the district court struck class allegations, Plaintiffs sought leave to appeal under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(f), and leave was denied.  Plaintiffs then voluntarily dismissed their individual claims with prejudice and appealed.  The Ninth Circuit concluded it had jurisdiction because the dismissal – even though it came by stipulation – was “sufficiently adverse” to be an appealable final decision.

With the Supreme Court poised to rule in Baker, the Ninth Circuit recently issued a second published decision involving a similar issue. Bates v. Bankers Life & Casualty Co.  In Bates, as in Baker, the district court granted a motion to strike class allegations.  From there, the posture of the cases diverged.  Rather than voluntarily dismissing with prejudice (as in Baker), the Bates plaintiffs filed an unopposed motion for entry of final judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(b). The district court concluded the decision to strike class allegations was “final” and entered final judgment so Plaintiffs could appeal. Plaintiffs then appealed.

Without referencing its earlier decision in Baker (or the prior panel decision on which Baker relied), the Ninth Circuit held it did not have jurisdiction to hear the appeal:

There are only two procedural avenues for appealing an order striking class allegations made under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23: (1) asking the district court to certify an order for interlocutory review pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1292(b); or (2) filing a petition for permission to appeal pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(f).  … Plaintiffs did not use either of these procedural avenues, and we therefore lack jurisdiction to hear their challenge to the order striking their class allegations.

(emphasis added).

Query whether the plaintiffs in Baker went down either of the “only two” avenues that the Bates court lists.  Whatever the answer, clarity is likely to come from the Supreme Court by June.