Timbs v. Indiana to be cited in PAGA cases in 3...2...1...

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On Wednesday, February 20, 2019, the United States Supreme Court held, in Timbs v. Indiana, that the Eighth Amendment’s ban on excessive fines applies to the states. You can find plenty of analysis about this decision out there as it applies to things like state asset forfeiture laws, so I won’t even try to duplicate all of that analysis here, But it occurs to me that we should expect to see this holding tossed into the mix in PAGA cases on the theory that a large PAGA penalty violates the Eighth Amendment. How well that works remains to be seen, since, just spitballing here, a large PAGA penalty is pretty much only going to arise when an employer has lots of employees and violates lots of wage and hour provisions lots of times. Of course, out at the fringe, this argument might have some traction. I’m sure we’ll see in the next few years.

In China Agritech, Inc. v. Resh, the United States Supreme Court confirms that American Pipe tolling isn't what we thought

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American Pipe, we had some good time.  Sniff.  But now you're dead to me.  Pack your stuff and get out. The Unites States Supreme Court, in China Agritech, Inc. v. Resh, et al. (June 11, 2018), answered a question that, as far as I have observed, wasn't being asked with any stridency for years.  That question was whether American Pipe equitable tolling applied to a subsequent class action (as opposed to individual action) when the plaintiff bringing the second action (a putative class member from the first) would have a time-barred claim absent the equitable tolling.

Top-filers, start your engines!

In American Express Co., et al. v. Italian Colors Restaurant, et al. (June 20, 2013), the Supreme Court tries to take class arbitration off life support

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This one made me too sad to write about it quickly.  I had to grieve first.  Another day, another chance for the United States Supreme Court to pork litigants with an arbitration ruling.  In today's chapter, American Express Co., et al. v. Italian Colors Restaurant, et al. (June 20, 2013), we have the last saga in a long-running case addressing effective vindication of statutory rights.   Merchants who accept American Express cards brought a class action against Amex for violations of the federal antitrust laws. According to the merchants, American Express used its monopoly power in the market for charge cards to force merchants to accept credit cards at rates approximately 30% higher than the fees for competing credit cards. This tying arrangement, they said, violated §1 of the Sherman Act. They sought treble damages for the class under §4 of the Clayton Act.  The agreement with Amex contains a clause that requires all disputes between the parties to be resolved by arbitration. The agreement also provides that“[t]here shall be no right or authority for any Claims to be arbitrated on a class action basis.” In re American Express Merchants’ Litigation, 667 F. 3d 204, 209 (CA2 2012).  The Court of Appeal reversed an order compelling arbitration, agreeing with the merchants that the expense required to prove antitrust claims was so high that no individual merchant would be able to vindicate their statutory rights without the ability to aggregate claimants in a class action.

The 5 Justice majority opinion, authored by Justice Scalia, focused its analysis on the meaning of the “effective vindication” exception to the requirements of the FAA, concluding that it did not apply to a prohibitively expensive process for resolving claims on an individual basis only:

But the fact that it is not worth the expense involved in proving a statutory remedy does not constitute the elimination of the right to pursue that remedy. See 681 F. 3d, at 147 (Jacobs, C. J., dissenting from denial of rehearing en banc). The class-action waiver merely limits arbitration to the two contracting parties. It no more eliminates those parties’ right to pursue their statutory remedy than did federal law before its adoption of the class action for legal relief in 1938, see Fed. Rule Civ. Proc. 23, 28 U. S. C., p. 864 (1938 ed., Supp V); 7A C. Wright, A. Miller, & M. Kane, Federal Practice and Procedure §1752, p. 18 (3d ed. 2005). Or, to put it differently, the individual suit that was considered adequate to a
ssure “effective vindication” of a federal right before adoption of class-action procedures did not suddenly become “ineffective vindication” upon their adoption.

Slip op., at 7.  The majority, in referring in later discussion to Concepcion, made it very clear that, while you may have a “right” conferred by statute, you have no right to insist on an effective method to enforce that “right.”

The dissent, authored by Justice Kagan, offers a passionate but ultimately unavailing criticism of the majority’s holding:

Here is the nutshell version of this case, unfortunately obscured in the Court’s decision. The owner of a small restaurant (Italian Colors) thinks that American Express (Amex) has used its monopoly power to force merchants to accept a form contract violating the antitrust laws. The restaurateur wants to challenge the allegedly unlawful provision (imposing a tying arrangement), but the same contract’s arbitration clause prevents him from doing so. That term imposes a variety of procedural bars that would make pursuit of the antitrust claim a fool’s errand. So if the arbitration clause is enforceable, Amex has insulated itself from antitrust liability—even if it has in fact violated the law. The monopolist gets to use its monopoly power to insist on a contract effectively depriving its victims of all legal recourse.

Slip diss. op., at 1.  The dissent began by positing an uncontroversial proposition: “We would refuse to enforce an exculpatory clause insulating a company from antitrust liability—say, ‘Merchants may bring no Sherman Act claims’—even if that clause were contained in an arbitration agreement.” Slip diss. op., at 2.  But the dissent then observed, “If the rule were limited to baldly exculpatory provisions, however, a monopolist could devise numerous ways around it.”  Slip diss. op., at 3.

Applied as our precedents direct, the effective- vindication rule furthers the purposes not just of laws like the Sherman Act, but of the FAA itself. That statute reflects a federal policy favoring actual arbitration—that is, arbitration as a streamlined “method of resolving dis- putes,” not as a foolproof way of killing off valid claims. Rodriguez de Quijas v. Shearson/American Express, Inc., 490 U. S. 477, 481 (1989). Put otherwise: What the FAA prefers to litigation is arbitration, not de facto immunity. The effective-vindication rule furthers the statute’s goals by ensuring that arbitration remains a real, not faux, method of dispute resolution. With the rule, companies have good reason to adopt arbitral procedures that facili- tate efficient and accurate handling of complaints. With- out it, companies have every incentive to draft their agreements to extract backdoor waivers of statutory rights, making arbitration unavailable or pointless. So down one road: More arbitration, better enforcement of federal statutes. And down the other: Less arbitration, poorer enforcement of federal statutes. Which would you prefer?  Or still more aptly: Which do you think Congress would?

Slip diss. op., at 5-6.  The balance of the dissent is an effective and scathing dismantling of the majority reasoning.  In conclusion, Justice Kagain writes:  “To a hammer, everything looks like a nail. And to a Court bent on diminishing the usefulness of Rule 23, everything looks like a class action, ready to be dismantled.” Slip diss. op., at 14.  But it is for naught at this point.  The majority opinion is the one that will rule day, and it is the one that should cause great concern if not checked legislatively.

In Genesis Healthcare v. Symczyk, Supreme Court ducks actual mootness issue raised by Rule 68 offers

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Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 68 allows a defendant to pony up the dough to resolve a claim and avoid the expense of litigation so long as the amount to fully resolve the claim can be clearly calculated in full and is offered in full (more can be offered if the defendant wants to be sure that the full claim under any method of calculation is fully resolved by the offer).  In Genesis Healthcare v. Symczyk, 569 U. S. ____ (April 16, 2013), the Supreme Court entirely ducked the issue of whether a Rule 68 offer moots a collective action filed under the FLSA, instead resting on a concession by the plaintiff in the court below.  And thanks for nothing.

To sum up, the plaintiff brought a collective action under the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA) on behalf of herself and “other employees similarly situated.”  She ignored defendant’s offer of judgment under Rule 68.  The District Court, finding that no other individuals had joined and that the Rule 68 offer fully satisfied her claim, concluded that the suit was moot and dismissed it for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. The Third Circuit reversed. It held that her individual claim was moot but that her collective action was not, explaining that allowing defendants to “pick off” named plaintiffs before certification with calculated Rule 68 offers would frustrate the goals of collective actions. The case was remanded to the District Court to allow the plaintiff to seek “conditional certification,” which, if successful, would relate back to the date of her complaint.

Relying on the case or controversy requirement, the Court ducked the entire "pick off" issue:

While the Courts of Appeals disagree whether an unaccepted offer that fully satisfies a plaintiff ’s claim is sufficient to render the claim moot, we do not reach this question, or resolve the split, because the issue is not properly before us. The Third Circuit clearly held in this case that respondent’s individual claim was moot. 656 F. 3d, at 201. Acceptance of respondent’s argument to the contrary now would alter the Court of Appeals’ judgment, which is impermissible in the absence of a cross-petition from respondent. See Northwest Airlines, Inc. v. County of Kent, 510 U. S. 355, 364 (1994); Trans World Airlines, Inc. v. Thurston, 469 U. S. 111, 119, n. 14 (1985). Moreover, even if the cross-petition rule did not apply, respondent’s waiver of the issue would still prevent us from reaching it.  In the District Court, respondent conceded that “[a]n offer of complete relief will generally moot the [plaintiff ’s] claim, as at that point the plaintiff retains no personal interest in the outcome of the litigation.” App. 93; 2010 WL 2038676, at *4. Respondent made a similar concession in her brief to the Court of Appeals, see App. 193, and failed to raise the argument in her brief in opposition to the petition for certiorari. We, therefore, assume, without deciding, that petitioners’ Rule 68 offer mooted respondent’s individual claim. See Baldwin v. Reese, 541 U. S. 27, 34 (2004).

Slip op., at 5.  So, given that the Supreme Court said that it is refusing to consider the "pick off" issue, what has been the general reaction of the defense bar?  Naturally they have already written that this means the "pick off" is completely acceptable.  I happen to think that this means you shouldn't concede anything ever, even if the court you are before thinks you are a punk for holding fast to your view of the law.

Justice Kagan had a few choice words for the 5-4 majority in her dissent.  She wrote:

The Court today resolves an imaginary question, based on a mistake the courts below made about this case and others like it. The issue here, the majority tells us, is whether a “ ‘ collective action’ ” brought under the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA), 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq., “is justiciable when the lone plaintiff's individual claim becomes moot.” Ante, at ––––. Embedded within that question is a crucial premise: that the individual claim has become moot, as the lower courts held and the majority assumes without deciding. But what if that premise is bogus? What if the plaintiff's individual claim here never became moot? And what if, in addition, no similar claim for damages will ever become moot? In that event, the majority's decision—founded as it is on an unfounded assumption—would have no real-world meaning or application. The decision would turn out to be the most one-off of one-offs, explaining only what (the majority thinks) should happen to a proposed collective FLSA action when something that in fact never happens to an individual FLSA claim is errantly thought to have done so. That is the case here, for reasons I'll describe. Feel free to relegate the majority's decision to the furthest reaches of your mind: The situation it addresses should never again arise.

Slip diss. op., at 1-2.  Justice Kagan then observed that the underlying issue was already answered indirectly by the Supreme Court recently:

We made clear earlier this Term that “[a]s long as the parties have a concrete interest, however small, in the outcome of the litigation, the case is not moot.” Chafin v. Chafin, 568 U.S. ––––, ––––, 133 S.Ct. 1017, 1023, –––L.Ed.2d –––– (2012) (internal quotation marks omitted). “[A] case becomes moot only when it is impossible for a court to grant any effectual relief whatever to the prevailing party.” Ibid. (internal quotation marks omitted). By those measures, an unaccepted offer of judgment cannot moot a case. When a plaintiff rejects such an offer—however good the terms—her interest in the lawsuit remains just what it was before. And so too does the court's ability to grant her relief. An unaccepted settlement offer—like any unaccepted contract offer—is a legal nullity, with no operative effect. As every first-year law student learns, the recipient's rejection of an offer “leaves the matter as if no offer had ever been made.” Minneapolis & St. Louis R. Co. v. Columbus Rolling Mill, 119 U.S. 149, 151, 7 S.Ct. 168, 30 L.Ed. 376 (1886). Nothing in Rule 68 alters that basic principle; to the contrary, that rule specifies that “[a]n unaccepted offer is considered withdrawn.” Fed. Rule Civ. Proc. 68(b). So assuming the case was live before—because the plaintiff had a stake and the court could grant relief—the litigation carries on, unmooted.

Slip diss. op., at 3.  Don't forget this admonition from Justice Kagan when you receive the inevitable pick-off attempt, followed by a motion to dismiss.

In Amgen Inc. v. Connecticut Retirement Plans and Trust Funds, Supreme Court holds that proof of materiality not required to certify securities fraud class

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The fraud-on-the-market theory, first accepted by the U.S. Supreme Court in Basic Inc. v. Levinson, 485 U. S. 224 (1988), and recently endorsed in Erica P. John Fund, Inc. v. Halliburton Co., 563 U. S. ___ (2011), presumes that the price of a security traded in an efficient market will reflect all publicly available information about a company.  With that presumption, a buyer of the security may be presumed to have relied on that information in purchasing the security, including misrepresentations in public communications.  In Amgen, Inc. v. Connecticut Retirement Plans and Trust Funds (Feb. 27, 2013), the U.S. Supreme Court took up the question of whether, at the certification stage, materiality must be proven.  Affirming the Ninth Circuit, the majority concluded that materiality need not be proven at the certification stage.

Summarizing the holding of the Court, Justice Ginsburg wrote:

While Connecticut Retirement certainly must prove materiality to prevail on the merits, we hold that such proof is not a prerequisite to class certification. Rule 23(b)(3) requires a showing that questions common to the class predominate, not that those questions will be an­swered, on the merits, in favor of the class. Because mate­riality is judged according to an objective standard, the materiality of Amgen’s alleged misrepresentations and omissions is a question common to all members of the class Connecticut Retirement would represent. The al­leged misrepresentations and omissions, whether material or immaterial, would be so equally for all investors com­posing the class. As vital, the plaintiff class’s inability to prove materiality would not result in individual questions predominating. Instead, a failure of proof on the issue of materiality would end the case, given that materiality is an essential element of the class members’ securities fraud claims. As to materiality, therefore, the class is entirely cohesive: It will prevail or fail in unison. In no event will the individual circumstances of particular class members bear on the inquiry.

Essentially, Amgen, also the dissenters from today’s decision, would have us put the cart before the horse. To gain certification under Rule 23(b)(3), Amgen and the dissenters urge, Connecticut Retirement must first establish that it will win the fray. But the office of a Rule 23(b)(3) certification ruling is not to adjudicate the case; rather, it is to select the “metho[d]” best suited to adjudi­cation of the controversy “fairly and efficiently.”

Slip op., at 2-3.  With the heavy tide of anti-class decisions emanating from the U.S. Supreme Court of late, this is an important reminder that certification analysis focuses on common questions, not proof.

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear Oxford Health Plan LLC's appeal of an order requiring it to consent to class arbitration

Here we have yet another opportunity for the United States Supreme Court to clarify whether class arbitrations are appropriate without express consent to participate in a class arbitration.  The issue is described as follows:

Whether an arbitrator acts within his powers under the Federal Arbitration Act (as the Second and Third Circuits have held) or exceeds those powers (as the Fifth Circuit has held) by determining that parties affirmatively “agreed to authorize class arbitration,” Stolt-Nielsen S.A. v. Animalfeeds Int'l Corp., based solely on their use of broad contractual language precluding litigation and requiring arbitration of any dispute arising under their contract.

This case concerns reimbursements to doctors.  And yet, the question that will likely remain unanswered is whether, in the employment context, the National Labor Relations Act preserves a right to concerted activity, including class litigation, even if in the arbitration context.  The case is entitled Oxford Health Plan LLC v. Sutter, and the docket is here.

Christopher et al. v. Smithkline Beecham Corp., dba Glaxosmithkline holds, 5-4, that pharma sales reps are exempt as "outside salespersons"

The United States Supreme Court, in Christopher et al. v. Smithkline Beecham Corp., dba Glaxosmithkline (June 18, 2012), examined the question of whether pharmaceutical sales representatives, whose primary duty was to obtain nonbinding commitments from physicians to prescribe their employer’s prescription drugs, were correctly classified as exempt from overtime pay requirements set forth in the Fair Labor Standards Act.  In the courts below, defendant moved for summary judgment, arguing that plaintiffs were “employed in the capacity of outside salesman,” §213(a)(1), and therefore were exempt from the FLSA’s overtime compensation requirement. The District Court agreed and granted summary judgment to defendant. Plaintiffs filed a motion to alter or amend the judgment, contending that the District Court had erred in failing to accord controlling deference to the DOL’s interpretation of the pertinent regulations, which the DOL had announced in an amicus brief filed in a similar action. The District Court rejected this argument and denied the motion. The Ninth Circuit, agreeing that the DOL’s interpretation was not entitled to controlling deference, affirmed.

The opinion was decided on sharply divided 5-4 lines, with one majority opinion and one minority opinion. The opinion considered three of the DOL’s regulations: §§541.500, 541.501, and 541.503. The Court referred to the three regulations as the “general regulation,” the “sales regulation,” and the “promotion-work regulation,” respectively.

First, the majority observed that the DOL’s own interpretation of its regulations was not consistent over time. In briefs filed before the Second and Ninth Circuits, “the DOL took the view that ‘a “sale” for the purposes of the outside sales exemption requires a con- summated transaction directly involving the employee for whom the exemption is sought.’” Slip op., at 9. After certiorari was granted in this matter, the DOL took the position that “ ‘[a]n employee does not make a “sale” for purposes of the “outside salesman” exemption unless he actually transfers title to the property at issue.’ ” Slip op., at 9.

Next, the majority observed that Auer deference to the DOL’s ambiguous regulations was not justified because to do so would allow for imposition of “potentially massive liability on respondent for conduct that occurred well before that interpretation was announced.” Slip op., at 10. Continuing, the Court said:

Until 2009, the pharmaceutical industry had little reason to suspect that its longstanding practice of treating detailers as exempt outside salesmen transgressed the FLSA. The statute and regulations certainly do not provide clear notice of this. The general regulation adopts the broad statutory definition of “sale,” and that definition, in turn, employs the broad catchall phrase “other disposition.” See 29 CFR §541.500(a)(1). This catchall phrase could reasonably be construed to encompass a nonbinding commitment from a physician to prescribe a particular drug, and nothing in the statutory or regulatory text or the DOL’s prior guidance plainly requires a contrary reading. See Preamble 22162 (explaining that an employee must “in some sense” make a sale); 1940 Report 46 (same).

Slip op., at 12. Then the majority noted that, despite the industry’s decades of applying an exempt classification, the DOL never initiated any enforcement action.

The majority then discussed the DOL’s interpretations and found them unpersuasive, particularly with respect to the definition of “sale.” The Court held:

This new interpretation is flatly inconsistent with the FLSA, which defines “sale” to mean, inter alia, a “consignment for sale.” A “consignment for sale” does not involve the transfer of title. See, e.g., Sturm v. Boker, 150 U. S. 312, 330 (1893) (“The agency to sell and return the proceeds, or the specific goods if not sold . . . does not involve a change of title”); Hawkland, Consignment Selling Under the Uniform Commercial Code, 67 Com. L. J. 146, 147 (1962) (explaining that “‘[a] consignment of goods for sale does not pass the title at any time, nor does it contemplate that it should be passed’” (quoting Rio Grande Oil Co. v. Miller Rubber Co. of N. Y., 31 Ariz. 84, 87, 250 P. 564, 565 (1926))).

Slip op., at 15. The majority then spends some time construing the regulation itself, concluding that the language of the statute was intended to broadly include all manner of transactions that, in certain industries, were tantamount to a sale in the most conventional sense. In the regulated industry of pharmaceutical sales, the majority observed that the representatives did all that was allowed:

Obtaining a nonbinding commitment from a physician to prescribe one of respondent’s drugs is the most that petitioners were able to do to ensure the eventual disposition of the products that respondent sells. This kind of arrangement, in the unique regulatory environment within which pharmaceutical companies must operate, comfortably falls within the catch- all category of “other disposition.”

Slip op., at 20-21.

The minority opinion, authored by Justice Breyer, accepted the majority’s description of the job in question and agreed that deference to the DOL interpretation was not justified given the recent change in that interpretation. Instead, the minority opnion simply disagrees with the construction of the language at issue:

Unless we give the words of the statute and regulations some special meaning, a detailer’s primary duty is not that of “making sales” or the equivalent. A detailer might convince a doctor to prescribe a drug for a particular kind of patient. If the doctor encounters such a patient, he might prescribe the drug. The doctor’s client, the patient, might take the prescription to a pharmacist and ask the pharmacist to fill the prescription. If so, the pharmacist might sell the manufacturer’s drug to the patient, or might substitute a generic version. But it is the pharmacist, not the detailer, who will have sold the drug.

Minority slip op., at 3. The minority opinion concludes that the representatives stimulate sales eventually made by others:

The detailer’s work, in my view, is more naturally characterized as involving “[p]romotional activities designed to stimulate sales . . . made by someone else,” §541.503, e.g., the pharmacist or the wholesaler, than as involving “[p]romotional activities designed to stimulate” the detailer’s “own sales.”

Minority slip op., at 5. The minority emphasized the fact that doctors determine what to prescribe, based on medical need:

To the contrary, the document makes clear that the pharmaceutical industry itself understands that it cannot be a detailer’s “primary duty” to obtain a nonbinding commitment, for, in respect to many doctors, such a commitment taken alone is unlikely to make a significant difference to their doctor’s use of a particular drug. When a particular drug, say Drug D, constitutes the best treatment for a particular patient, a knowledgeable doctor should (hence likely will) prescribe it irrespective of any nonbinding commitment to do so. Where some other drug, however, is likely to prove more beneficial for a particular patient, that doctor should not (hence likely will not) prescribe Drug D irrespective of any nonbinding commitment to the contrary.

Minority slip op., at 6. The minority concluded by dismissing the majority’s fears that a salesman who takes an order would suddenly become non-exempt by transferring the order to jobber’s employee to be filled. The minority noted that the example created no basis for fear, given that the salesman had obtained a firm commitment to buy the product. Regardless of the quality of the counter-arguments, the minority opinion by Justice Breyer is just that, a minority opinion, and "sales" are evidently in the eye of the beholder.

Certiorari denied in Ticketmaster, et al. v. Stearns, et al.

On the consumer litigation front, today the United States Supreme Court denied certiorari in Ticketmaster, et al. v. Stearns, et al. (Sup. Ct. Case No. 11-983).  Stearns v. Ticketmaster Corp., 655 F.3d 1013 (9th Cir. 2011) examined a number of consumer law concepts in the class context.  For example, the Ninth Circuit shot down the federal court standing challenge attempted in UCL actions post-Tobacco II.  And, on the issue of reliance in CLRA claims, the Court said:

A CLRA claim warrants an analysis different from a UCL claim because the CLRA requires each class member to have an actual injury caused by the unlawful practice. Steroid Hormone Prod. Cases, 181 Cal.App.4th 145, 155-56, 104 Cal. Rptr.3d 329, 337 (2010). But "[c]ausation, on a classwide basis, may be established by materiality. If the trial court finds that material misrepresentations have been made to the entire class, an inference of reliance arises as to the class." Vioxx, 180 Cal.App.4th at 129, 103 Cal.Rptr.3d at 95; see also Vasquez v. Superior Court, 4 Cal.3d 800, 814, 484 P.2d 964, 973, 94 Cal.Rptr. 796, 805 (1971); Steroid, 181 Cal. App.4th at 156-57, 104 Cal.Rptr.3d at 338. This rule applies to cases regarding omissions or "failures to disclose" as well. See McAdams v. Monier, Inc., 182 Cal.App.4th 174, 184, 105 Cal.Rptr.3d 704, 711 (2010) (holding that because of defendant's failure to disclose information "which would have been material to any reasonable person who purchased" the product, a presumption of reliance was justified); Mass. Mut. Life Ins. Co. v. Superior Court, 97 Cal. App. 4th 1282, 1293, 119 Cal.Rptr.2d 190, 198 (2002) ("[H]ere the record permits an inference of common reliance. Plaintiffs contend Mass Mutual failed to disclose its own concerns about the premiums it was paying and that those concerns would have been material to any reasonable person contemplating the purchase...." If proved, that would "be sufficient to give rise to the inference of common reliance on representations which were materially deficient.").

Stearns, at 1022.

Another arbitration-friendly decision from the U.S. Supreme Court in CompuCredit Corp. v. Greenwood

Today the United States Supreme Court issued its decision in CompuCredit Corp. v. Greenwood (Jan. 10, 2012).  At issue was whether a sentence in that act, at 15 U. S. C. §1679c(a), which says, "You have a right to sue a credit repair organization that violates the [Act]," preserves the right to sue in court.  Because the Credit Repair Organizations Act is silent as to whether claims may be heard in an arbitration forum, the Court held, 8-1, that the arbitration agreement in question should be enforced according to its terms.  Justice Ginsburg dissented strongly, and the short concurring opinion by Justices Sotomayor and Kagan stated that the case was a much closer call than the majority opinion suggests, noting good points raised in the dissenting opinion of Ginsburg.  In particular there seems to be a strong disagreement about whether Congressional intent must be explicitly stated or may be inferred from a consistent set of statements suggesting a specific intent.  Not much more to say about this, other than to note that its essentially a tautology that the majority gets to decide whether they see a clear Congressional intent or not.  If they say there isn't an intent, then they are right by default.

Breaking News: Walmart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes decided by Supreme Court; Reversed

I'll preface this brief post by noting that I have not had a chance to read the entire opinion, but the opnion in Walmart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes (June 20, 2011) was released this morning by the United States Supreme Court.  The Court reversed the Ninth Circuit and the District Court, finding that the matter was not suitable for class certification.  The core majority was authored by Justice SCALIA. ROBERTS, C. J., and KENNEDY, THOMAS, and ALITO, JJ., joined in that opinion, and GINSBURG, BREYER, SOTOMAYOR, and KAGAN, JJ., joined as to Parts I and III.  Justice GINSBURG authored an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part.  BREYER, SOTOMAYOR, and KAGAN joined in Justice GINSBURG'S opinion.

Some key aspects of the holding are:

  • Proof of commonality necessarily overlaps with respondents’ merits contention that Wal-Mart engages in a pattern or practice of discrimination. The crux of a Title VII inquiry is “the reason for a particular employment decision,” Cooper v. Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, 467 U. S. 867, 876, and respondents wish to sue for millions of employment decisions at once. Without some glue holding together the alleged reasons for those decisions, it will be impossible to say that examination of all the class members’ claims will produce a common answer to the crucial discrimination question.
  • General Telephone Co. of Southwest v. Falcon, 457 U. S. 147, describes the proper approach to commonality. On the facts of this case, the conceptual gap between an individual’s discrimination claim and “the existence of a class of persons who have suffered the same injury,” id., at 157–158, must be bridged by “[s]ignificant proof that an employer operated under a general policy of discrimination,” id., at 159, n. 15. Such proof was absent here.
  • Claims for monetary relief may not be certified under Rule 23(b)(2), at least where the monetary relief is not incidental to the requested injunctive or declaratory relief.
  • The mere “predominance” of a proper (b)(2) injunctive claim does nothing to justify eliminating Rule 23(b)(3)’s procedural protections, and creates incentives for class representatives to place at risk potentially valid monetary relief claims.

Justice Ginsburg is concerned that the majority imported too much of the "predominance" analysis into the Rule 23(a) requirement that common questions of law or fact must exist:

The Court’s emphasis on differences between class members mimics the Rule 23(b)(3) inquiry into whether common questions “predominate” over individual issues. And by asking whether the individual differences “impede” common adjudication, ante, at 10 (internal quotation marks omitted), the Court duplicates 23(b)(3)’s question whether “a class action is superior” to other modes of adjudication.

Slip op., Ginsburg concurring and dissenting, at 9.  Otherwise, Ginsburg agrees that the class should not have been certified under Rule 23(b)(2) but would  have saved the issue of whether certification was appropriate under Rule 23(b)(3) for the District Court on remand.

The opinion looks as though it will prove to have the greatest impact on cases of this type.  While the Rule 23(a) construction seems to be inconsistent with well-settled standards, the balance of the opinion was predictable, given the massive size of the class.