9th Circuit Affirms Class Certification in RICO Suit

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Last week, the Ninth Circuit affirmed certification of nationwide classes in a suit featuring RICO, contract, and other claims.  The published opinion dealt with a range of issues, including typicality, predominance, and superiority.

The case is Just Film, Inc. v. Buono.  No. 14-16132, 2017 WL 510452 (9th Cir. Feb. 7, 2017).  The full opinion is worth a read; a few highlights follow.

Typicality

One argument defendants raised was that the named plaintiffs’ injuries differed from the injuries suffered by other class members.  The Ninth Circuit held that the differing injuries did not defeat typicality:

The requirement of typicality is not primarily concerned with whether each person in a proposed class suffers the same type of damages; rather, it is sufficient for typicality if the plaintiff endured a course of conduct directed against the class. Although Campbell was able to fend off the attempted fraud before it reached into and diminished her bank account, there is no reason why she cannot prove the nature of the fraudulent scheme for benefit of all class members, whether or not their precise injuries are identical.

Predominance

Defendants challenged predominance on several grounds, including that damages would vary by class member and would require individualized evidence.  … Read more

Does Tyson Foods Case Redefine Predominance?

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According to Justice Thomas, who (along with Justice Alito) dissented in Tyson Foods v. Bouaphakeo, 555 U.S. ___ (2016), the answer is ‘yes’:

The majority begins by redefining the predominance standard. According to the majority, if some “‘central issues’” present common questions, “ ‘the action may be considered proper under Rule 23(b)(3) even though other important matters will have to be tried separately, such as damages or some affirmative defenses peculiar to some individual class members.’ ” Ante, at 9 (quoting, 7AA C. Wright, A. Miller, & M. Kane, Federal Practice & Procedure §1778, pp. 123–124 (3d ed. 2005; footnotes omitted)). We recently—and correctly—held the opposite. In Comcast, we deemed the lack of a common methodology for proving damages fatal to predominance because “[q]uestions of individual damage calculations will inevitably overwhelm questions common to the class.” 569 U. S., at ___ (slip op., at 7).

Slip op. at 8-9 (Thomas, J., dissenting). To drive this point home, Justice Thomas observes in a footnote that “[t]he majority relies on the same treatise citations that the Comcast dissent invoked to argue that individualized damages calculations should never defeat predominance. 569 U. S., at ___–___ (slip op., at 3–4) (opinion of Breyer, J.).” Id.… Read more

23(c)(4) Certification Granted in Costco Hepatitis A Lawsuit

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Judge David O. Carter of the Central District of California recently certified a liability-only class in a case alleging defendants’ conduct created a “risk of exposure to the hepatitis A virus” through the sale of defective food products. See Petersen v. Costco Wholesale Co., 2016 WL 304299 (C.D. Cal. Jan. 25, 2016).

Ruling on the existence and predominance of common questions, the court explained:

Given that Plaintiffs allege that a single product sold only at Costco was defective, there is a common core of salient facts. See Valentino v. Carter-Wallace, Inc., 97 F. 3d 1227, 1229 (9th Cir. 1996).

Thus, the court overruled defendants’ arguments that proving the existence of a defect on a classwide basis would be impossible:

The Ninth Circuit, however, has made clear that “proof of the manifestation of a defect is not a prerequisite to class certification.”  Baker v. Microsoft Corp., 797 F.3d 607, 611 (9th Cir. 2015) (citation omitted).

Indeed, there are several significant common issues here, including Plaintiffs’ contention that a single, specific lot of allegedly defective organic pomegranate seed has given rise to Plaintiffs’ claims. … Put differently, determining whether Defendants sold a defective product in this case will not require a searching individualized inquiry; rather, there will be significant common proof at issue in resolving Defendants’ liability.

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Certification in Keurig coffee case in the Southern District of Illinois

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Judge Nancy Rosentstengel’s lengthy opinion certifying a class under Rule 23(b)(3) in Suchanek v. Strum Foods, is worth a read in its entirety and is available at 2015 WL 6689359 (S.D. Ill. Nov. 3, 2015), clarified and reconsideration denied at ECF No. 250 (Nov. 19, 2015).

The case is based on allegations that defendants marketed and sold “premium, ground coffee,” which in truth was more than 95% instant coffee. Here are some highlights:

Commonality:
This case had previously been to the 7th Circuit, which concluded that plaintiffs had satisfied commonality. Suchanek v. Sturm Foods, 764 F.3d 750, 756 (7th Cir. 2014). The district court declined to reconsider that conclusion and reaffirmed that the following question was common classwide: whether the coffee’s packaging was likely to mislead a reasonable consumer.

Typicality:
Defendants contested typicality on the grounds that plaintiffs and other class members bought the coffee for different reasons and based on their own beliefs. The court rejected that argument:

What Defendants are essentially saying is that typicality is not satisfied unless the class members all had the same perceptions and knowledge … and the same preferences and reasons for purchasing [the coffee]. This argument goes too far. The standard for typicality does not require the facts underlying every claim to be identical.

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