While Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes was quickly applied by lower federal courts, it took some time to see how California courts would apply Dukes. (Heck, it took quite some time for me to get around to writing this post, so I suppose we can excuse others for not racing their appeals up the ladder just to generate opinions for us to dwell upon.) In Williams v. Superior Court (Allstate Ins. Co.), 221 Cal. App. 4th 1353 (Dec. 6, 2013), the Court of Appeal (Second Appellate District, Division Eight) offered us our first look at how a California Court of Appeal views the relevance of Dukes in a state class action, outside the Title VII context.
The background of the case generated some additional interesting points, so it's worth a quick summary. The trial court initally certified a class. After Wal–Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes was decided, the parties and trial court discussed Dukes. The trial court thereafter permitted Allstate to file a motion based on Dukes for decertification of the Off–the–Clock class. In its decertification motion, Allstate emphasized two points from Dukes. First, “there must be some ‘glue’ holding the class members' claims together, such that common facts can resolve the claims for everyone in the class.” And, second, “a trial-by-formula using statistical sampling is an improper means to try class claims, as it deprives a defendant of due process by precluding a defendant from proving its individual defenses against each class member.” Allstate told the trial court, “In light of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Wal–Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes [, supra,] 131 S.Ct. 2541, which the Court admitted changed the relevant legal landscape for this case, and additional discovery since the class certification order, it is apparent that the close call on certification must be reversed.” The trial court agreed, and decertified the Off–the–Clock class and the corresponding Unfair Competition Claim.
The Court of Appeal began its discussion by addressing the standard applicable to decertification motions generally:
We review a decertification order for an abuse of discretion. (Brinker, supra, 53 Cal.4th at p. 1022, 139 Cal.Rptr.3d 315, 273 P.3d 513; Sav–On Drug Stores, Inc. v. Superior Court (2004) 34 Cal.4th 319, 326, 17 Cal.Rptr.3d 906, 96 P.3d 194; Ghazaryan v. Diva Limousine, Ltd. (2008) 169 Cal.App.4th 1524, 1530, 87 Cal.Rptr.3d 518.) Decertification requires new law or newly discovered evidence showing changed circumstances. (Weinstat v. Dentsply Internat., Inc. (2010) 180 Cal.App.4th 1213, 1225, 103 Cal.Rptr.3d 614.) A motion for decertification is not an opportunity for a disgruntled class defendant to seek a do-over of its previously unsuccessful opposition to certification. “Modifications of an original class ruling, including decertifications, typically occur in response to a significant change in circumstances, and ‘[i]n the absence of materially changed or clarified circumstances ... courts should not condone a series of rearguments on the class issues.’ [Citation.].” (Driver v. AppleIllinois, LLC N.D.Ill., Mar. 2, 2012, No. 06 C 6149) 2012 WL 689169, *1 (Driver ).) “A class should be decertified ‘only where it is clear there exist changed circumstances making continued class action treatment improper.’ ” (Green v. Obledo (1981) 29 Cal.3d 126, 147, 172 Cal.Rptr. 206, 624 P.2d 256.)
Williams, 221 Cal. App. 4th at 1360-61. Frankly, the point that a decertification motion is not a "do-over" was a point long overdue. Talk about motions that are nothing but billing opportunities and time wasters.
Then the Court turned its attention to Dukes, giving it all the love it richly deserves. Since Dukes was effectively the only reason for decertification, essentially all of the discussion was about Dukes. The Court began by addressing the unique factual background:
The trial court erred in concluding Dukes required decertification. In Dukes, a nationwide class of 1.5 million current and former female employees from 3,400 stores sued Wal–Mart, alleging that the company engaged in a pattern or practice of gender discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The female plaintiffs were required to prove that thousands of store managers shared the same discriminatory animus toward women in denying them promotions and pay raises. The Supreme Court reversed the district court's certification order on the grounds that the plaintiffs could not offer “significant proof that Wal–Mart operated under a general policy of discrimination.” In reversing class certification, the Court found that there was no unifying theory holding together “literally millions of employment decisions” that turned on the subjective intents of thousands of supervisors in thousands of stores to explain for each class member the “crucial question why was I disfavored” for a promotion or pay raise. (Italics original.) (Dukes, supra, 131 S.Ct. at p. 2552; see e.g. Espinoza v. 953 Assocs. LLC (S.D.N.Y.2011) 280 F.R.D. 113, 130 [distinguished Dukes where “claims were based on the countless subjective decisions made by Wal–Mart's local supervisors regarding compensation and promotions” from worker's overtime claims where workers alleged employer “failed to pay minimum wages and overtime compensation as a result of certain policies and practices.”]; see also Ross v. RBS Citizens, N.A. (7th Cir.2012) 667 F.3d 900, 908–910judgment vacated and matter remanded for further reconsideration in light of Comcast Corp. v. Behrend (2013) ––– U.S. –––, 133 S.Ct. 1426, 185 L.Ed.2d 5153 [distinguishing Dukes in case involving 1,129 class members who alleged they were unlawfully denied overtime because of the employer's “unofficial policy” which was “the glue holding together [the class members] based on the common question of whether an unlawful overtime policy prevented employees from collecting lawfully earned overtime compensation.”].)
Williams, 221 Cal. App. 4th at 1361-62. The Court then discussed the inapplicability of the Rule 23(b)(2) standard to the case before it:
Despite the trial court's turning to Dukes' analysis of the restrictions on, if not outright unavailability of, money damages under rule 23(b)(2) to explain the trial court's decertification order, appellant was not pursuing a 23(b)(2) type of class action. Appellant instead sought class certification under California's class action statute, Code of Civil Procedure section 382.5 Section 382 is analogous to subpart (a) of Rule 23, which establishes the four requirements of a class action. (In re Tobacco II Cases (2009) 46 Cal.4th 298, 318, 93 Cal.Rptr.3d 559, 207 P.3d 20.) The trial court's reliance on Dukes' analysis of subpart (b)(2) of Rule 23—a class action seeking injunctive relief—was thus misplaced because appellant's class members here were seeking principally, if not exclusively, monetary damages, that the federal rules establish is a different type of class action. (Compare Rule 23(b)(2) with 23(b)(1) and 23(b)(3); Dukes, supra, 131 S.Ct. at p. 2558 [“monetary claims belong in Rule 23(b)(3)”].) More fundamentally, the concern expressed in Dukes about the unmanageability of trying 1.5 million claims which depended on proof of the subjective intents of thousands of individual supervisors is not present here. Appellant asserts there is a companywide policy to deny overtime pay. The resolution of that issue does not involve the subjective intents of countless supervisors.
Williams, 221 Cal. App. 4th at 1363-64.
Next, the Court explained that the Dukes discussion of the right to assert statutory defenses under Title VII did not have a corresponding analogue in the Williams matter:
The Supreme Court's second area of focus in Part III of Dukes involved the statutory affirmative defenses in the anti-discrimination statute Title VII. Because the affirmative defenses were statutory, Dukes concluded a class proceeding could not deprive Wal–Mart of its right to present those defenses. (Dukes, supra, 131 S.Ct. at pp. 2560–2561.) As those affirmative defenses required individualized evidence, Dukes disapproved a “Trial by Formula” of Wal–Mart's affirmative defenses because it prevented Wal–Mart from offering its individualized evidence.
Williams, 221 Cal. App. 4th at 1364.
Finally, the Court concluded that nothing in Dukes rendered the original certification order of the trial court incorrect, which necessarily rendered decertification inappropriate. There is one major lesson here: you can't predict with very much accuracy the ultimate impact of a big decision when it is first released. This opinion stems from Brinker, which is having a much more far reaching impact than the subject matter of that case initially suggested. Dukes is having less of an impact at the state level.