Hernandez v. Restoration Hardware, Inc. tells class action objectors to get party status or get lost

I frequently contemplate things without any real expectation that I will get an answer.  One thing I wonder about in the practice of law is whether California Courts of Appeal develop cultures as an institution (i.e., whether each Appellate District has a significant impact on its constituent members over time), or whether the tendencies are happenstance of the appointments (i.e., whether the tendencies of each Appellate District -- and Division therein -- is just the sum of random events like the preferences of the appointing administration and the timing of open seats). An application of this pondering occurred to me mere moments ago, when I read Hernandez v. Restoration Hardware, Inc. (March 14, 2016), in which the Fourth Appellate District, Division One, held that named party status is required to appeal a class action judgment. Jinkies!

In Hernandez v. Restoration Hardware, a bench trial resulted in a class recovery of up to $36,412,350.  The class representatives requested fees of $9,103,087.50 (25 percent of the total maximum fund). Francesca Muller, a class members, requested that the court order notice of the fee motion be sent to all class members.  The court denied the request, awarded the fees, and entered judgment.  Muller filed a notice of appeal. Class representative Hernandez substantively opposed the appeal but argued that Muller lacked standing to appeal at all. The Court of Appeal addressed the threshold issue of whether Muller had standing to appeal.

Recognizing that only an aggrieved party has standing to appeal, the Court began by recognizing the distinction between names class representatives and absent class members:

Indeed, "[t]he structure of the class action does not allow absent class members to become active parties, since 'to the extent the absent class members are compelled to participate in the trial of the lawsuit, the effectiveness of the class action device is destroyed.' "  (Ibid., fn. omitted.)  Although unnamed class members may be deemed "parties" for the limited purposes of discovery (Southern California Edison Co. v. Superior Court (1972) 7 Cal.3d 832, 840), unnamed class members are not otherwise considered "parties" to the litigation.  (Cf. National Solar Equipment Owners' Assn. v. Grumman Corp. (1991) 235 Cal.App.3d 1273, 1282 ["unnamed class members do not 'stand on the same footing as named parties' "].)

Slip op., at 9.  The Court then began its analysis by considering Eggert v. Pac. States S. & L. Co., 20 Cal. 2d 199 (1942), which considered the same issues presented here.  Concluding that Eggert was factually almost identical, theCourt concluded that Eggert required dismissal of the action:

Eggert appears to be on "all fours" with the present action: both involved a class action; both involved a matter litigated to judgment; both involved a challenge to the postjudgment attorney fee award to the counsel for the named plaintiff; both involved appellants who were members of the class, but not named parties, and who had appeared through counsel to object to the attorney fee award; and both involved members who took no steps to be added as named plaintiffs.  Accordingly, under Auto Equity Sales, Inc. v. Superior Court (1962) 57 Cal.2d 450, we must adhere to Eggert and dismiss the appeal.

Slip op., at 11.  The Court then commented on several decisions from Courts of Appeal that permitted appeals by non-party class members:

Muller also cites several cases in which California appellate courts stated a class member who was not a party to the action obtains appellate standing to challenge the judgment merely by interposing an objection to the judgment below.  However, neither of the cases cited by Muller, Consumer Cause, Inc. v. Mrs. Gooch's Natural Food Markets, Inc. (2005) 127 Cal.App.4th 387 and Wershba v. Apple Computer, Inc. (2001) 91 Cal.App.4th 224, made any effort to reconcile their conclusions with Eggert, and instead rooted their conclusions in the analysis contained in Trotsky v. Los Angeles Fed. Sav. & Loan Assn. (1975) 48 Cal.App.3d 134 (Trotsky).  (See Wershba, at pp. 235-236 [citing only Trotsky on issue of standing]; Consumer Cause, at pp. 395-396 [citing Trotsky and Wershba on issue of standing].)  Accordingly, we examine Trotsky.

Slip op., at 12.  That examination of Trotsky was not flattering, and the Court quickly concluded that Trotsky had failed to consider the "party" element of section 902:

Trotsky focused primarily on whether an objector to a settlement was "aggrieved" within the meaning of Code of Civil Procedure section 902, concluding objectors were aggrieved because " '[i]t is possible that, within a class, a group of small claimants might be unfavorably treated by the terms of a proposed settlement. For them, the option to join is in reality no option at all,' " and reasoning that because those claimants might be forced to choose between "equally unpalatable alternatives"—of accepting either nothing or an unfair settlement—those parties were sufficiently aggrieved for purposes of the right to appeal.  (Trotsky, supra, 48 Cal.App.3d at pp. 139-140.)  However, Trotsky did not examine the distinct "party" element of Code of Civil Procedure section 902, nor make any effort to reconcile its conclusion with Eggert's holding that unnamed class members whose only appearance was to object to the attorneys' fees had no standing to appeal because they were not "parties" and did not avail themselves of the "ample opportunity . . . to become parties of record . . . ."  (Eggert, supra, 20 Cal.2d at p. 201.)  Because Eggert teaches the "party" requirement of Code of Civil Procedure section 902 is not met merely because the "aggrieved" requirement of section 902 might also be satisfied as to a nonparty class member, we conclude Trotsky's analysis of standing is flawed and that Trotsky and its progeny (which includes both Consumer Cause, Inc. v. Mrs. Gooch's Natural Food Markets, Inc., supra, 127 Cal.App.4th 387 and Wershba v. Apple Computer, Inc., supra, 91 Cal.App.4th 224) should not be followed.

Slip op., at 13-14.  Well now.  That's....interesting.  The Court went on to point out that federal courts handle this differently, but California courts aren't federal courts, and there is no requirement that California follow the federal approach.  You have to at least respect the cut of this Court's jib to state that they are bound to follow a factually similar 1942 decision and reject much more recent decisions for failing to address the California Supreme Court's Eggert decision. That said, of the many things I ponder, one is whether this case case more than 90 days of shelf life.