11th Circuit: Comcast Doesn’t Require Classwide Proof of Damages

Today, in Carriuolo v. General Motors Co., the Eleventh Circuit joined a group of circuits that includes at least the Second, Third, Seventh, and Ninth, holding that “individual damages calculations alone cannot defeat class certification.” The court rejected defendant’s argument that, after the Supreme Court’s Comcast v. Behrend decision, “damages must be capable of measurement on a classwide basis.”

The underlying case involves allegations that GM advertised that some of its vehicles had achieved safety ratings that they hadn’t really achieved.  Plaintiffs alleged this conduct violates Florida’s deceptive practices statute.  Based on that theory of liability, the Eleventh Circuit held that damages would be a common issue, since individual buying preferences would not alter the overall market price::

a manufacturer’s misrepresentation may allow it to command a price premium and to overcharge customers systematically. Even if an individual class member subjectively valued the vehicle equally with or without the accurate Monroney sticker, she could have suffered a loss in negotiating leverage if a vehicle with perfect safety ratings is worth more on the open market. … Obviously, prices are determined in substantial measure according to market demand. Thus, because a vehicle with three perfect safety ratings may be able to attract greater market demand than a vehicle with no safety ratings, the misleading sticker arguably was the direct cause of actual damages for the certified class even if members individually value safety ratings differently.

(emphasis added).

Finally, also of interest was the fact that although the vehicles had not achieved the safety ratings when they were advertised and sold, later on they achieved the ratings. The court ruled, however:

A defendant may not escape FDUTPA liability under Florida law merely because a deceptive or misleading statement later turns out to be true. The injury occurs at the point of sale because the false statement allows the seller to command a premium on the sales price. A vehicle that the manufacturer knows to be safe is more valuable than a vehicle that the manufacturer perhaps anticipates will later be declared safe. Because General Motors could only anticipate five-star safety ratings at the time of sale to class members, it caused actual damages within the meaning of FDUTPA by presenting those ratings as confirmed fact.

(emphasis added).