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.
In a unanimous decision this morning, the California Supreme Court affirmed that attorneys’ fees in a class action may be calculated as a percentage of the common fund created by a settlement or judgment. Laffitte v. Robert Half Int’l, S222996 (August 11, 2016).
In determining the appropriate percentage, the trial court may -- but is not required to – conduct a lodestar cross-check. The trial court also has the discretion, in the first instance, to determine which fee calculation methodology to use (i.e. common fund or lodestar-multiplier) in any particular case. The decision has a useful discussion of the history and criticisms of each method.
Last October, shortly after I joined the Impact Fund as its Litigation Fellow, I had the opportunity to attend the Impact Fund’s Training Institute in Chicago. Having had some exposure to class action litigation during my clerkship, but no experience actually litigating a class action, I had a lot to learn and was excited to dive in and learn as much as I could over the course of the training.
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.
The Ninth Circuit’s decision in The Center for Auto Safety v. Chrysler Group, decided January 11, 2016, adopted a new standard for district courts to use in deciding whether the public has a right to access court records filed by the parties under seal. The decision will go a long way to ensure that corporations cannot hide evidence of misconduct that may threaten public safety. The decision also has important implications for class action litigators.
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.