Todays’ classic case asks the question: how close an attorney-client relationship is too close an attorney-client relationship?

In London v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (11th Cir. 2003), the plaintiff, Roger London, sued Wal-Mart and a group of banks, alleging that they had sold insurance without providing the proper disclosures, violating the Truth in Lending Act (TILA) and Florida state law.  

During discovery, it came out that London’s lawyer, Robert Ader, had been his close friend since high school. In fact, for a while, London had served as his counsel’s stockbroker as well. So there had … Continue Reading

 Today’s classic opinion comes from a time that may seem foreign to most modern class-action practitioners. Not only is it pre-Dukes, it is pre-Amchem. And yet it’s likely one of the most influential class-action opinions of the last twenty years. In re GM Pick-Up Truck Fuel Tank Products Liability Litigation (3d Cir. 1995) involved an alleged design defect in GM pick-up trucks over a fifteen-year period. The plaintiffs had alleged that GM’s side-mounted fuel tanks were likely to catch fire during side-impact accidents.

So far, this sounds like many other hard-fought products-liabilty class actions. But, in … Continue Reading

 Pickett v. Iowa Beef Processors was a lawsuit between cattle producers and a beef processing company. Cattle producers sold their cows in two ways: on the cash market (also known as the "spot market") and using forward contracts. The cash market was riskier, but also potentially more profitable. The forward contracts were safer, but also made less money for the producers. So some of the producers sued Iowa Beef Processors, alleging that their use of forward contracts was a deceptive business practice. (Specifically, they alleged a violation of the Packers & Stockyards Act, an antitrust statute which regulated … Continue Reading

 Dora Surowitz, a seamstress and a widow, was a Polish immigrant with very little English. In 1957, she bought about $2,000 of Hilton stock, on the advice of her son-in-law, Mr. Brilliant. (Yes, his real name. Phi Beta Kappa from Columbia, Harvard Law School. But really, with that name, could he have done anything else?) In fact, Hilton bought the stock for her, using her money, and bought some for himself and his family using his own money.

Five years later, Mrs. Surowitz got a notice from Hilton that it was buying back its own stock. Because she wanted to … Continue Reading

 Phillips Petroleum v. Shutts involved a lawsuit by a class of gas royalty owners (folks who own the rights to income from gas produced on land) against an oil company. The royalty owners brought their class action in Kansas state court, alleging that Phillips Petroleum had not paid them on time, and so they were owed interest on their royalty payments.

The Kansas state court certified a class of 33,000 royalty owners. The debate over certification bore some similarity to modern debates, but also some startling differences. Phillips basically made two arguments against certifying a class. First, it argued … Continue Reading

In July 1969, General Telephone Company of the Southwest hired Mariano Falcon, a Mexican-American, as part of minority recruitment effort. Falcon maintained a good employment record until, “[i]n October 1972 he applied for the job of field inspector; his application was denied even though the promotion was granted several white employees with less seniority.” Dissatisfied with being passed over, Falcon filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which promptly granted him a right-to-sue letter.

Falcon filed his lawsuit as a class action, alleging discrimination not just in General Telephone’s promotion practices (sensible, since he had been … Continue Reading

 This week, we’re going to address one of the longest-standing debates in class-action litigation: How much may a court delve into the merits of a class action when deciding certification?

Plaintiffs often argue "not at all." Defendants often argue "as much as necessary." (Though not always; when defendants file motions to strike class allegations, they argue that the court need not look at the merits at all to decide a class is not appropriate.) Both arguments stem back to a single 1974 Supreme Court opinion: Eisen v. Carlisle & Jacquelin

Eisen was a class action filed by odd-lot … Continue Reading

 I hope everyone had a good Martin Luther King Day. Given the holiday, it seemed appropriate to highlight another classic case: Hansberry v. Lee

Oddly, given its importance to class actions litigation, Hansberry is not a class action itself. The case arose out of a restrictive covenant barring African-Americans from buying land in certain areas of Chicago. The Hansberries, an African-America family (which included future Raisin in the Sun playwright Lorraine Hansberry) moved into a neighborhood governed by the covenant. The Lees sued, arguing that 95% of the homeowners in the neighborhood had signed the restrictive covenant. The … Continue Reading

 In Basic, Inc. v. Levinson, the Supreme Court recognized a rebuttable presumption of fraud on the market for securities-fraud cases. That presumption allowed for certification of a number of securities class actions. Plaintiffs since have taken that presumption and tried to apply it to various other sets of facts, most notably tobacco (although that attempt was ultimately unsuccessful) and drug marketing (also unsuccessfully). But the fact that class-action plaintiffs keep arguing for this presumption means that it’s important for defense counsel to understand the theory underlying it.

So let’s look at the actual Basic case. … Continue Reading

In re Hydrogen Peroxide was an antitrust class action. Hydrogen peroxide is a chemical that is often used a bleach for pulp and paper. In this case, the plaintiffs, all purchasers of hydrogen peroxide and other chemicals, sued their suppliers, alleging that the defendants had sold them more expensive chemical grades when less expensive ones would have been sufficient.

Following extensive discovery, 3 plaintiffs moved to certify a class of direct purchasers of hydrogen peroxide, sodium perborate, and sodium percarbonate, over an eleven-year class period. In support of class certification, plaintiffs offered the opinion of an economist. Defendants, opposing

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