The Ninth Circuit has been certifying questions to various state Supreme Courts with increasing frequency. After giving this observed increase some thought, I theorize that at least one reason for this increase is the shift of some class actions to federal court as a result of CAFA. For example, in a post on this blog, I noted a recent question certified to the California Supreme Court about e-mail spam. Other issues certified to state supreme courts are simply questions of first impression, at least as the caselaw is viewed by the Ninth Circuit. One example of such an issue involves a question about statutes of limitation in California, noted in this post on Products Liability Prof Blog. The most famous recent example involves the certification of questions in Sullivan v. Oracle Corp., covered on The UCL Practitioner.
On May 5, 2009, in D'Este v. Bayer Corporation (link now corrected) the Ninth Circuit certified a challenging question that actually a colleague of mine fits in a class action we both worked on several years ago. Here is the key question certified to the California Supreme Court:
“The Industrial Welfare Commission’s Wage Orders 1-2001 and 4-2001 define “outside salesperson” to mean “any person, 18 years of age or over, who customarily and regularly works more than half the working time away from the employer’s place of business selling tangible or intangible items or obtaining orders or contracts for products, services or use of facilities.” 8 Cal. Code Regs., tit. 8, §§ 11010, subd. 2(J); 11040, subd. 2(M). Does a pharmaceutical sales representative (PSR) qualify as an “outside salesperson” under this definition, if the PSR spends more than half the working time away from the employer’s place of business and personally interacts with doctors and hospitals on behalf of drug companies for the purpose of increasing individual doctors’ prescriptions of specific drugs?
(Order, at p. 5193.) But the question doesn't really capture the issue. The underlying issue, developed in the factual description, turns on the fundamental nature of sales for purposes of the "outside salesperson" overtime exemption. The pharmaceutical representatives in question promote Bayer products to doctors and hospitals, but they don't actually enter into bindings sales agreements. Instead, they attempt to influence the prescription decisions of doctors and hospitals. Are they "selling" when they engage in this promotion that does not end in a commercial transaction? The Ninth Circuit thinks that the wage order can be interpreted in either manner. Without CAFA, this issue would certainly have made its way to a California Court of Appeal. Instead, it has moved outside the state court system, up to the Ninth Circuit, and may end up at the California Supreme Court through this inefficient route.
UPDATE: With apologies to the UCL Practitioner, I've fixed the link error to the 9th Circuit opinion. It happens from time to time when posting while tired.