Seventh Circuit provides sharply defined view on class member standing in Kohen, et al. v. Pacific Investment Management Company LLC, et al.

I don't follow the Seventh Circuit's decisions closely.  It's a bit outside my regular commute.  But it has served up an educational opinion about class member standing that is too intriguing to pass up without comment.

Kohen v. Pacific Investment Management Co. (7th Cir. Jul. 7, 2009) follows from a successful Rule 23(f) petition by defendants for permission to appeal a District Court's order certifying a class.  The suit, based on section 22(a) of the Commodity Exchange Act, 7 U.S.C. § 25(a), accuses the defendants (referred to in the appeal as “PIMCO”) of having violated section 9(a) of the Act, 7 U.S.C. § 13(a), by cornering a futures market.  What's a cornered futures market?  Glad you asked.  Circuit Judge Posner explains in a very educational discussion that breaks down how a short seller can monopolize a futures market:

Changes in the demand for or the supply of the underlying commodity will make the price of a futures contract change over the period in which the contract is in force. If the price rises, the “long” (the buyer) benefits, as in our example, and if it falls the “short” (the seller) benefits. But a buyer may be able to force up the price by “cornering” the market—in this case by buying so many June contracts for 10-year Treasury notes that sellers can fulfill their contractual obligations only by dealing with that buyer.

Slip op. at 4.  But defendants were trying to corner financial commodities, and you can't corner the money supply...except in one particular instance involving Treasury notes:

Board of Trade v. SEC, supra, 187 F.3d at 725, remarks that since the possibility of manipulation “comes from the potential imbalance between the deliverable supply and investors’ contract rights near the expiration date[,] . . . [f]inancial futures contracts, which are settled in cash, have no ‘deliverable supply’; there can never be a mismatch between demand and supply near the expiration, or at any other time.” But while it is correct that most financial futures contracts are settled in cash, CFTC v. Zelener, 373 F.3d 861, 865 (7th Cir. 2004); Kolb, supra, at 16, and that if a cash option exists there is no market to corner (no one can corner the U.S. money supply!), futures contracts traded on the Chicago Board of Trade for ten-year U.S. Treasury notes are an exception; they are not “cash settled.” Short sellers who make delivery must do so with approved U.S. Treasury notes; otherwise they must execute offsetting futures contracts.

Slip op. at 5.  The class certified by the district court consisted of all persons who between May 9 and June 30, 2005, bought a June Contract in order to close out a short position.  PIMCO challenged the definition on the ground that it includes persons who lack “standing” to sue because they did not lose money in their speculation on the June Contract.  For example, some of the class members might have taken both short and long positions (in order to hedge—that is, to limit their potential losses) and made more money in the long positions by virtue of PIMCO’s alleged cornering of the market than they lost in their short positions. The plaintiffs acknowledged this possibility but argued that its significance was best determined at the damages stage of the litigation.  The Court rejected PIMCO's contention:

PIMCO argues that before certifying a class the district judge was required to determine which class members had suffered damages. But putting the cart before the horse in that way would vitiate the economies of class action procedure; in effect the trial would precede the certification. It is true that injury is a prerequisite to standing. But as long as one member of a certified class has a plausible claim to have suffered damages, the requirement of standing is satisfied. United States Parole Commission v. Geraghty, 445 U.S. 388, 404 (1980); Wiesmueller v. Kosobucki, 513 F.3d 784, 785-86 (7th Cir. 2008).  This is true even  if the named plaintiff (the class representative) lacks standing, provided that he can be replaced by a class member who has standing. “The named plaintiff who no longer has a stake may not be a suitable class representative, but that is not a matter of jurisdiction and would not disqualify him from continuing as class representative until a more suitable member of the class was found to replace him.” Id. at 786.

Slip op. at 7.  Thus far, the Court has stated little more than settled principles about the ability to substitute class representatives after certification.  But the Court also commented on pre-certification standing:

Before a class is certified, it is true, the named plaintiff must have standing, because at that stage no one else has a legally protected interest in maintaining the suit. Id.; Sosna v. Iowa, 419 U.S. 393, 402 (1975); Walters v. Edgar, 163 F.3d 430, 432-33 (7th Cir. 1998); Murray v. Auslander, 244 F.3d 807, 810 (11th Cir. 2001). And while ordinarily an unchallenged allegation of standing suffices, a colorable challenge requires the plaintiff to meet it rather than stand mute. Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 561 (1992). PIMCO tried to show in the district court that two of the named plaintiffs could not have been injured by the alleged corner. We need not decide whether it succeeded in doing so, because even if it did, that left one named plaintiff with standing, and one is all that is necessary.

Slip op. at 7-8.  The Court then explained that it is unnecessary to know whether all class members have standing to bring claims prior to certification:

What is true is that a class will often include persons who have not been injured by the defendant’s conduct; indeed this is almost inevitable because at the outset of the case many of the members of the class may be unknown, or if they are known still the facts bearing on their claims may be unknown. Such a possibility or indeed inevitability does not preclude class certification, Carnegie v. Household Int’lsupra, 376 F.3d at 661; 1 Alba Conte & Herbert Newberg, Newberg on Class Actions § 2:4, pp. 73-75 (4th ed. 2002), despite statements in some cases that it must be reasonably clear at the outset that all class members were injured by the defendant’s conduct. Adashunas v. Negley, 626 F.2d 600, 604 (7th Cir. 1980); Denney v. Deutsche Bank AG, 443 F.3d 253, 264 (2d Cir. 2006). Those cases focus on the class definition; if the definition is so broad that it sweeps within it persons who could not have been injured by the defendant’s conduct, it is too broad.

Slip op. at 9-10.  Later, California authority received a nod from the Court:

At argument PIMCO’s lawyer told us that he could obtain names of class members. If so, he can, as in Bell v. Farmers Ins. Exchage, 9 Cal. Rptr. 3d 544, 550-51, 568, 571 (Cal. App. 2004), and Long v. Trans World Airlines, Inc., 1988 WL 87051, at *1 (N.D. Ill. Aug. 18, 1988), depose a random sample of class members to determine how many were net gainers from the alleged manipulation and therefore were not injured, and if it turns out to be a high percentage he could urge the district court to revisit its decision to certify the class. Cf. Hilao v. Estate of Marcos, 103 F.3d 767, 782-84 (9th Cir. 1996); Long v. Trans World Airlines, Inc., 761 F. Supp. 1320, 1325-30 (N.D. Ill. 1991); Marisol A. v. Giuliani, 1997 WL 630183, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. Oct. 10, 1997). PIMCO has not done this; should it take the hint and try to do so now, this will be an issue for consideration by the district judge.

Slip op. at 13.  The Opinion finishes with a sharp kick to the shins: "PIMCO’s attempt to derail this suit at the outset is ill timed, ill conceived, and must fail. The district court’s class certification is AFFIRMED."  Slip op. at 15.  Nothing like an educational and blunt opinion to keep legal discourse interesting.

My thanks to Kimberly Kralowec for the mention at UCL Practitioner.  And thanks to some guy whose name sounds like "I am - saw the end" for directing me to the case.