District Court denies certification in consumer case involving appliance repair insurance

United States Magistrate Judge Jan M. Adler (Southern District of California) denied a motion for class certification in a suit alleging improper practices and representations about a home warranty insurance product.  Campion v. Old Republic Home Protection Co., Inc., 2011 WL 42759 (S.D.Cal. Jan. 06, 2011).  The Court found that individual issues would predominate because each denial of warranty coverage would reuqire an inquiry into the basis for the denial.  The Court also relied heavily on the construction of Tobacco II that was advanced in Cohen v. DirectTV, 178 Cal. App. 4th 966 (2009) when it refused to presume reliance on the part of absent class members.

Breaking News: Ninth Circuit issue two class action opinions addressing novel issues in the Ninth Circuit

After a bit of a lull on the class action front, the Ninth Circuit had a busy morning.  Two major opinions on class action issues were just issued by Ninth Circuit panels, and both opinions are sure to generate a good deal of discussion.  Both address areas of unsettled law among various federal courts.  The first is of interest to wage & hour practitioners and the second addresses the argument that large statutory damage awards defeat "superiority" of the class action procedure:

  • Wang v. Chinese Daily News, Inc. (9th Cir. Sept. 27, 2010) is something of a kitchen sink of class action issues.  Among other things, the Ninth Circuit affirmed (1) the concurrent prosecution of a FLSA opt-in collective action and a Rule 23 opt-out class action, (2) the invalidation of Rule 23 opt-outs due to coercion, (3) the decision to conduct a corrective opt-out process after the trial, and (4) certification under Rule 23(b)(2).  The Court also held that the UCL was not preempted by the FLSA.
  • Bateman v. American Multi-Cinema, Inc. (9th Cir. Sept. 27, 2010) concerned the singular issue of a class certification denial on superiority grounds.  The Ninth Circuit concluded that none of the three grounds relied upon by the district court — the disproportionality between the potential statutory liability and the actual harm suffered, the enormity of the potential damages, or AMC’s good faith compliance — justified the denial of class certification on superiority grounds.

Both opinions are substantial, and I will try to give both an extended treatment this evening.  Full disclosure: Greg Karasik of Spiro Moss represents Plaintiff Bateman.

Widespread manifestation of a defect is not essential to class certification

The Ninth Circuit giveth and it taketh away.  On the one hand, the Fourth Amendment is better described as the Fourth Suggestion around these parts.  But consumer class actions received a booster shot last week.  In Wolin v. Jaguar Land Rover (9th Cir. Aug. 17, 2010), the Ninth Circuit reversed a denial of class certification in a consumer class action alleging a defective design in an automobile.  Plaintiffs Gable and Wolin each brought a class action lawsuit against Jaguar Land Rover North America, LLC (“Land Rover”) alleging that Land Rover’s LR3 vehicles suffer from an alignment geometry defect that causes tires to wear prematurely. The district court declined to certify a class because Gable and Wolin were unable to prove that a majority of potential class members suffered from the consequences of the alleged alignment defect.  The Ninth Circuit reversed.

The Court first examined commonality:

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(a)(2) provides that “questions of law or fact common to the class” are a prerequisite to class certification. Commonality exists where class members’ “situations share a common issue of law or fact, and are sufficiently parallel to insure a vigorous and full presentation of all claims for relief.” Cal. Rural Legal Assistance, Inc. v. Legal Servs. Corp., 917 F.2d 1171, 1175 (9th Cir. 1990) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). “The existence of shared legal issues with divergent factual predicates is sufficient, as is a common core of salient facts coupled with disparate legal remedies within the class.” Hanlon v. Chrysler Corp., 150 F.3d 1011, 1019 (9th Cir. 1998). [2]

Appellants easily satisfy the commonality requirement. The claims of all prospective class members involve the same alleged defect, covered by the same warranty, and found in vehicles of the same make and model. Appellants’ complaints set forth more than one issue that is common to the class, including: 1) whether the LR3’s alignment geometry was defective; 2) whether Land Rover was aware of this defect; 3) whether Land Rover concealed the nature of the defect; 4) whether Land Rover’s conduct violated the Michigan Consumer Protection Act or the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act; and 5) whether Land Rover was obligated to pay for or repair the alleged defect pursuant to the express or implied terms of its warranties. These common core questions are sufficient to satisfy the commonality test. See Hanlon, 150 F.3d at 1019-20.

Slip op., at 11991.  The Court then rejected the argument that individualized factors would affect tire wear:  "What Land Rover argues is whether class members can win on the merits. For appellants’ claims regarding the existence of the defect and the defendant’s alleged violation of consumer protection laws, this inquiry does not overlap with the predominance test."  Slip op., at 11993.

Then, discussing typicality, the Court made what is probably the most striking pronouncement of the opinion:

Whether they experienced premature tire wear at six months, nine months, or later goes to the extent of their damages and not whether named appellants “possess the same interest and suffer[ed] the same injury as the class members.” E. Tex. Motor Freight Sys. Inc. v. Rodriguez, 431 U.S. 395, 403 (1977) (internal quotation marks omitted). Typicality can be satisfied despite different factual circumstances surrounding the manifestation of the defect. See Daffin, 458 F.3d at 553. Gable and Wolin, like the rest of the class, may have a viable claim regardless of the manifestation of the defect. The fact that Gable and Wolin already received discounts and some free services also does not defeat typicality. See Lymburner v. U.S. Fin. Funds, Inc., 263 F.R.D. 534, 540 (N.D. Cal. 2010) (finding named plaintiff typical of class despite availability of plaintiff-specific remedy and finding “no authority for the argument that typicality is defeated because the remedies may be different for class members or that the availability of rescission as a remedy will monopolize this case”). Gable’s and Wolin’s claims are typical of the class.

Slip op., at 11996.  Finally, the Court concluded that superiority is closely connected to commonality:

Appellants aver that no other prospective class members have filed other related actions, and Land Rover does not dispute this point. The amount of damages suffered by each class member is not large. Forcing individual vehicle owners to litigate their cases, particularly where common issues predominate for the proposed class, is an inferior method of adjudication.

Slip op., at 11997.

Fun fact:  This same panel also heard the Mazza, et al. v. American Honda Motor Company case.