District Court grants unopposed motion to strike nationwide class allegations; denies attempt to impose actual reliance on California class members at pleading stage

United States District Court Judge Thelton E. Henderson (Northern District of California) granted in part and denied in part a motion to strike class allegations.  Collins v. Gamestop Corp., 2010 WL 3077671 (N.D.Cal. Aug. 6, 2010).  The case concerns the sale of used video games that promote additional, online features that are not available with the used game.  The discussion is short, so I quote the majority of the opinion here:

As GameStop correctly observes, Collins failed to oppose GameStop's motion to strike the nationwide class claims as to the first and second causes of action for violation of the CLRA and UCL, respectively, and also failed to oppose the motion to strike the third claim for violation of consumer protection laws in non-California jurisdictions. In particular, Collins does not contest that he does not have standing to pursue claims based on laws in jurisdictions besides California; that a class action based on laws of fifty-two jurisdictions would be unmanageable; or that a nationwide UCL or CLRA class would be improper because those statutes do not reach conduct lacking any connection to California. Accordingly, the Court GRANTS GameStop's motion to strike these class allegations from the complaint without leave to amend.

GameStop's motion to strike the remaining class allegations relies on its argument that Article III requires all members of the class to have standing, which in turn, according to GameStop, requires a showing of actual reliance. As a result, GameStop argues, a nationwide fraud claim would require individualized inquiries making class treatment inappropriate, and the UCL and CLRA putative classes cannot be certified because they include individuals who did not rely on the allegedly concealed facts and therefore lack standing.  

The Court finds GameStop's motion as to these claims to be premature and is not prepared to find, based on the pleadings alone, that Collins cannot state valid class claims. For example, although GameStop relies heavily on Sanders for the proposition that a nationwide fraud claim cannot be certified because individualized issues as to reliance would predominate, the Sanders court did not state that no such class could be certified; instead, the court granted leave to amend and “urge[d] Plaintiffs to consider whether a more narrowly defined class might be appropriate.” Sanders, 672 F.Supp.2d at 991 (emphasis added). Moreover, in a later case, the same court rejected an argument similar to GameStop's here:

Defendants argue that Plaintiffs cannot sustain classwide claims on their fraud-based claims because they must demonstrate individual reliance on the alleged concealment. However, “courts have recognized that this element, which is often phrased in terms of reliance or causation, may be presumed in the case of a material fraudulent omission.”

Tietsworth v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., Case No. C09-0288 JF (HRL), ---F.Supp.2d ----, 2010 WL 1268093, at *20 (N.D.Cal. Mar. 31, 2010) (quoting Plascensia v. Lending 1st Mortg., 259 F.R.D. 437, 447 (N.D.Cal.2009)).

More recently, another court in this district certified a nationwide class for UCL, CLRA, and common law fraud claims based on the defendants' alleged omissions. Chavez v. Blue Sky Natural Beverage Co., Case No. C06-6609 VRW, --- F.R.D. ----, 2010 WL 2528525 (N.D. Cal. June 18, 2010).FN1 The Chavez court specifically rejected defendants' arguments that the class could not be certified because no unnamed class members established Article III standing and that plaintiffs' UCL, CLRA, and common law fraud claims required individualized proof of reliance. Id. at *9-11, 13.

FN1. The court allowed nationwide UCL and CLRA claims because, unlike here, “Defendants are headquartered in California and their misconduct allegedly originated in California”; thus, “application of the California consumer protection laws would not be arbitrary or unfair to defendants.” Chavez, 2010 WL 2528525, at *14.

Another court in this district has similarly certified a class action that raised a UCL fraud claim among other causes of action. Estrella v. Freedom Fin. Network, LLC, Case No. C09-3156 SI, 2010 WL 2231790 (N.D. Cal. June 2, 2010). The defendant “argue[d] that neither plaintiff can show typicality under [the UCL fraud] claim because reliance is an individualized inquiry.” Id. at *10. The court rejected that argument, concluding that “[i]ndividualized reliance may be presumed ... where the alleged misrepresentation is material,” and that, “[f]or purposes of the class certification inquiry, plaintiffs have sufficiently alleged that the misrepresentations they have identified were material.” Id.

In light of the above case law, the Court does not find it clear from the complaint's allegations that a class action cannot be maintained. GameStop's motion to strike is therefore DENIED as to the fraud class allegations for the nationwide and California classes, and as to the UCL and CLRA class allegations for the California class.

Collins, slip op., at 2-3.