The recent appellate decision affirming class certification, Ruiz Torres v. Mercer Canyons Inc., No. 15-35615 (9th Cir. Aug. 31, 2016), written by Judge Milan Smith, skillfully addresses the issues of informational injury, non-injured class members, class definition, and aggregate damages while scrupulously declining defendant's invitation to engage the underlying merits.
The Supreme Court docket this past term had class action practitioners holding their breath. Over the last five years, the Court has limited access to class actions in cases including Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes, AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion, and American Express Co. v. Italian Colors Restaurant. This term, the Court took on an unprecedented four class action cases. The outcome is fascinating and has many ramifications for the ability of class actions to serve as a vehicle for groups of people—including workers, minorities, and consumers—to hold corporations and the government accountable.
Earlier this year, statistics made headlines as the subject of a new Supreme Court decision, Tyson Foods, Inc. v. Bouaphakeo. As Jocelyn Larkin described in her earlier blog post, employees working in the kill, cut, and retrim departments of a Tyson Foods pork processing plant in Iowa alleged that they had not been paid overtime for the time they spent putting on and taking off the protective gear required to do their dangerous jobs. At trial, the employees relied on “representative evidence” to prove liability – an observational study that resulted in an estimated average “donning and doffing” time for each department. A jury awarded the class of employees about $2.9 million in unpaid wages.
The Supreme Court accepted Tyson’s appeal and agreed to consider two questions:
The Supreme Court yesterday decided the third of three class actions cases from this term that we have been closely watching, Spokeo Inc. v. Robins. A few observations.
Phew! The Court did not adopt the most extreme of defense arguments that Congress cannot authorize statutory damages where the victim cannot prove that he or she actually lost money as a result of corporate malfeasance.
On April 4, the U.S. Supreme Court denied cert in Wal-Mart Stores v. Braun, a wage and hour class action brought on behalf of 187,000 hourly Wal-Mart workers in Pennsylvania. The case was tried in the Pennsylvania state court in 2006, and Michael Donovan and his team obtained a $188 million verdict for the workers. The heart of the appellate dispute was Wal-Mart’s decision to stop keeping records of wage and hour violations.
For more than a year, a subcommittee of the Advisory Committee on Civil Rules has been soliciting and vetting ideas for amending Rule 23, the federal class action rule (see previous post here). These hardy souls (Judge Robert M. Dow, Professor Robert Klonoff, Elizabeth Cabraser and John Barkett) have criss-crossed the country, attending more than a dozen conferences to hear from practitioners across the spectrum. The Impact Fund’s 2015 Class Action conference in Berkeley was one of the subcommittee’s whistlestops.
ge theft is a huge problem.
In 2014 alone, the U.S. Department of Labor recovered over $240 million in unpaid wages for over 270,000 workers. Not surprisingly, the lowest paid workers are often the most vulnerable. Many low-wage workers are not fully informed about their rights, or fear retaliation if they speak up. And those who want to take legal action have a hard time securing counsel due to the low value of their claims. Recordkeeping violations by employers make things even worse; a lack of legally-required documentation can make proving violations difficult, if not impossible.