I hope everyone had a good Memorial Day weekend. This week, we take a brief look at a number of opinions that were decided last week, none of which are revolutionary, but all of which are useful to defendants at some stage of the class action. Think of it like a Memorial Day barbecue, a little something for each course.
Discovery. Both plaintiffs and defendants like to serve contention interrogatories, and both also like to give vague answers. It’s part of the chess game that is pretrial discovery, and it can be frustrating to both observers and participants. In Fulghum v. Embarq Corp., 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 72643 (D. Kan. May 24, 2012), the court decided it had had enough of the squabbling over identifying which documents could identify the class:
The interrogatory asked Plaintiffs–not Defendants–to identify the group of retirees who fell within the applicable plan documents. Plaintiffs, therefore, would have that information. Furthermore, if the process is as simple and mechanical as Plaintiffs contend, the Court questions why Plaintiff did not perform the analysis. Plaintiffs do not offer any reasons why Judge O’Hara’s ruling is clearly erroneous, but instead assert that their answer was appropriate. Plaintiffs have spent more time arguing over the appropriateness of their interrogatory response than necessary to respond to the request.
(Emphasis added.) Moral: while a little fencing is OK, you must answer your interrogatories with substance at some point.
Offer of judgment. A plaintiff files a FCRA class action. The defendant files an offer of judgment for $25,000, a comfortable amount more than the maximum statutory damages plus an attorneys’ fee. Does that moot the class action? According to Sanchez v. Verified Person, Inc., 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 70128 (W.D. Tenn. May 21, 2012), yes it does.
[I]f a named plaintiff’s claim is mooted by an offer of judgment made before certification of the class or the filing of a class certification motion, dismissal of the action is required.
(Internal quotation marks omitted, emphasis added.) The court found the rule unnecessarily harsh, but still applied it to dismiss the action. (The opinion includes an discussion of how the timing of an offer of judgment may affect its validity; the discussion is interesting because it gets so convoluted. This level of complication may be the beginning of a tip towards the Seventh Circuit’s rule in Damasco v. Clearwire Corp.)
Certification. Consider this the entree in our little picnic of class-action rulings. Johnson v. Harley Davidson Motor Company Group, LLC, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 72048 (E.D. Cal. May 23, 2012) concerned an alleged defect that caused surfaces on certain motorcycles to heat to a temperature that might burn skin. The court found three problems with certifying a class: (1) There was no uniform design to the motorcycles, (2) There were
literally zero complaints about the allegedly excessive heat. Literally zero complaints suggest this is a public-policy-driven lawsuit instead of a client-driven lawsuit.
(Emphasis added, internal citation omitted.) The third problem was that (3) regulation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration was a superior remedy to a class action.
Notice. Everyone knows that Rule 23(b)(3) requires the "best notice practicable," and that that usually means individually-mailed notice. But what if the defendant sends the notice by bulk mail to nursing homes for distribution to residents there? Not good enough, says the Northern District of Oklahoma:
The mailing of Notice Packets in bulk to these 49 care facilities does not comport with due process because there is no evidence that the potential Class Members ever actually received their packets.
Childs v. United Life Ins. Co., 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 70113 (N.D. Okla. May 21, 2012) (emphasis added). The court took special care to explain its concerns, which primarily had to do with the structure of the proposed settlement. Because the plaintiffs were guaranteed a particular fee, their incentives were "decoupled" from maximizing the number of class members to respond; and because the defendants had a reversion clause, their incentive was to minimize the number of respondents.
Moral: the simpler the settlement, the better the odds of it getting through. If you can’t make a simple settlement, it may be that it’s not really a case worth settling.