Class Actions — Circuit Split over Proper Way to Analyze Predominance — Applicability of Comcast to Individual Damages

Abraham v. WPX Production Productions, LLC, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 108492 (D. N.M. Aug. 16, 2016):

THIS MATTER comes before the Court on the Plaintiffs' Renewed Motion for Class Certification, filed January 13, 2014 (Doc. 116). The Court held a multi-part [*2]  class certification hearing, which took place on: (i) May 8 and 9, 2014; (ii) March 13 and 14, 2014; (iii) June 30, 2014; and (iv) July 14, 2014. See Transcript of Hearing, taken March 13, filed June 26, 2014 (Doc. 200); Transcript of Hearing, taken March 14, 2014 (Doc. 201); Transcript of Hearing, taken May 8, 2014, filed June 26, 2014 (Doc. 198); Transcript of Hearing, taken May 9, 2014, filed June 26, 2014 (Doc. 199); Transcript of Hearing, taken June 30, 2014, filed July 23, 2014 (Doc. 211); Transcript of Hearing, taken July 14, 2014, filed July 23, 2014 (Doc. 212)(collectively, "Tr.").2 The primary issues are: (i) whether a class is ascertainable; (ii) whether the determination of which class wells' gas is processed at the processing plants named in the Plaintiffs' class definition defeats the predominance requirement of rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure; (iii) whether textual variations among the leases within the proposed class defeat commonality and predominance under rule 23; and (iv) whether rule 23(a)'s requirements -- numerosity, commonality, typicality, and adequacy -- and rule 23(b)(3)'s requirements -- predominance and superiority -- are otherwise met with regard to the proposed class. First, because the Plaintiffs' class definition [*3]  includes only those wells whose gas is or has been processed at three specific processing plants, and the Court cannot determine whether some of the wells' gas was processed at those plants, the Court cannot adequately ascertain the class. Second, because the Plaintiffs' class definition includes only that gas that was processed for natural gas liquid extraction and marketing, the Court must determine which gas was processed. This inquiry weighs against finding predominance. Third, the central issue in this case -- how the Defendants should have paid the Plaintiffs -- varies between leases. Accordingly, when considered alongside the other individual issues, textual variations among the leases destroy commonality and predominance. Therefore, this proposed class action satisfies the rule 23(a) prerequisites of numerosity, typicality, and adequacy, and the rule 23(b)(3) requirement of superiority, but it fails rule 23(a)(2)'s commonality prerequisite and rule 23(b)(3)'s predominance requirement. The Court thus denies the Motion.

2   Although the transcripts of each day of the class certification hearing are filed as separate documents on CM/ECF, the transcripts' internal pagination is consecutive across all six documents, and the Court will [*4]  thus cite them as a single transcript. All pincites refer to the transcripts' internal pagination -- the black numbers in the top right corner -- and not CM/ECF's pagination.

***

i. The Predominance Requirement.

15. Rule 23(b)(3)'s first requirement is that questions common to the class predominate over those that are individualized. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(b)(3). A question is common when "the same evidence will suffice for each member to make a prima facie showing," Blades v. Monsanto Co., 400 F.3d 562, 566 (8th Cir. 2005)(citing In re Visa Check/MasterMoney Antitrust Litig., 208 F.3d 124, 136-40 (2d Cir. 2001)), or when the issue is "susceptible to generalized, class-wide proof," In re Nassau Cty. Strip Search Cases, 461 F.3d 219, 227 (2d Cir. 2006). A question is individual when "the members of a proposed class will need to present evidence that varies from member to member," Blades v. Monsanto Co., 400 F.3d at 566. Although a case need not present only common questions to merit certification, and the presence of some individual questions does not destroy predominance, the rule 23(b)(3) predominance requirement is much stricter than the rule 23(a)(1) commonality requirement: the latter requires only that a common question or questions exist; the former requires that the common question or questions predominate over the individual ones. See Amchem Prods., Inc. v. Windsor, 521 U.S. 591, 623-24; In re Thornburg Mortg., Inc. Sec. Litig., 912 F. Supp. 2d at 1225 ("The predominance criterion of rule 23(b)(3) is 'far more demanding' than rule 23(a)(2)'s commonality requirement."). As the Tenth Circuit, addressing a Title [*178]  VII claim, put it:

   The myriad discriminatory acts that Plaintiffs allege (e.g., failure to promote, failure to train, unequal pay, disrespectful treatment, etc.) each require independent legal analysis, and similarly challenge the predominance requirement of Rule 23(b)(3) if not also the commonality requirement of Rule 23(a).

. . . .

Although we do not rest our decision upon Rule 23(a), cases that interpret that the commonality requirement of Rule 23(a) illustrate the instant Plaintiffs' inability to satisfy Rule 23(b)(3)'s 'far more demanding' requirement that common issues predominate.

Monreal v. Potter, 367 F.3d 1224, 1237 (10th Cir. 2004)(Ebel, J.)(footnote omitted).

16. The predominance question applies to both macro damages -- the total class damages -- and to the micro damages -- the individual damages. In Comcast Corp. v. Behrend, 133 S. Ct. 1426 (2013), the Supreme Court held that it could not accept the regression model which the plaintiffs' expert had developed as evidence that damages were susceptible of measurement across an entire class -- as rule 23(b)(3) requires. The plaintiffs argued four theories of antitrust violations; one theory was that Comcast Corp.'s activities had an antitrust impact, because Comcast Corp.'s activities reduced the level of competition from "overbuilders," companies that build competing cable networks in areas where [*179]  an incumbent cable company already operates. The district court found, among other things, that the damages resulting from overbuilder-deterrence impact could be calculated on a classwide basis. To establish such damages, the plaintiffs relied solely on the testimony of Dr. James McClave. Dr. McClave designed a regression model which compared actual cable prices in the Philadelphia "Designated Market Area" with hypothetical prices that would have prevailed but for Comcast Corp.'s allegedly anticompetitive activities. The model calculated damages of $875,576,662.00 for the entire class. As Dr. McClave acknowledged, however, the model did not isolate damages resulting from any one theory of antitrust impact. The district court nonetheless certified the class.

17. The Third Circuit affirmed the district court decision. The Third Circuit concluded that the plaintiffs "provided a method to measure and quantify damages on a classwide basis," finding it unnecessary to decide "whether the methodology was a just and reasonable inference or speculation." 133 S. Ct. at 1433 (quoting 655 F.3d 182, 206 (3d Cir. 2011)). The Supreme Court granted certiorari on the question "[w]hether a district court may certify a class action without resolving whether the [*180]  plaintiff class had introduced admissible evidence, including expert testimony, to show that the case is susceptible to awarding damages on a class-wide basis." 133 S. Ct. at 24. Justice Scalia criticized the Court of Appeals' reluctance to entertain arguments against the plaintiffs' damages model "simply because those arguments would also be pertinent to the merits determination . . . ." 133 S. Ct. at 1433. Justice Scalia said that

   it is clear that, under the proper standard for evaluating certification, respondents' model falls far short of establishing that damages are capable of measurement on a classwide basis. Without presenting another methodology, respondents cannot show Rule 23(b)(3) predominance: Questions of individual damage calculations will inevitably overwhelm questions common to the class.

Comcast Corp. v. Behrend, 133 S. Ct. at 1433. Justice Scalia stated that, under the Third Circuit's logic, "at the class-certification stage, any method of measurement is acceptable so long as it can be applied classwide, no matter how arbitrary the measurements may be. Such a proposition would reduce rule 23(b)(3)'s predominance requirement to a nullity." 133 S. Ct. at 1433 (emphasis in original).

18. It is clear that Comcast Corp. v. Behrend applies to classwide damages. It is less clear that Comcast [*181]  Corp. v. Behrend's language applies to the determination of individual damages. There are three ways that the Court could deal with Comcast Corp. v. Behrend and the determination of individual damage awards. First, the Court could decide that Comcast Corp. v. Behrend applies only to classwide damages and is not controlling at all in the determination of individual damages. Second, the Court could decide that everything that Justice Scalia said about classwide damages also applies to the determination of individual damages. Third, the Court could decide that Justice Scalia said some things relating to the determination of individual damages, but not the same things that apply to classwide damages. As to the first option, while much could be said of limiting Justice Scalia's opinion to classwide damages -- even from the language of the opinion and from the wording of the question presented -- the Court is reluctant to say that it has nothing to say that might be relevant to the determination of individual damages awards. Some of Justice Scalia's concerns about admissible evidence to determine damages -- whether classwide or individual damage awards -- still seems relevant to whether [*182]  damages are classwide or individual. While Justice Scalia was not addressing the determination of individual damage awards, some of what he said -- and how he said it -- causes the Court to be cautious in determining a methodology for calculating individual damage awards. On the other hand, the Court is not convinced that it should or even can apply Comcast Corp. v. Behrend's language to the individual determination of damages as it does to classwide damages. The dissent stated that "[r]ecognition that individual damages calculations do not preclude class certification under Rule 23(b)(3) is well nigh universal." 133 S. Ct. at 1437 (Ginsburg, J., dissenting). Justice Scalia did not refute this proposition, and the Court has no reason to think the dissent's statement -- which is accurate -- does not remain good law. Accordingly, just because each plaintiff and class member may get a different amount and there has to be a separate calculation of each plaintiff's damages does not defeat class certification.

19. What the Court thinks that Comcast Corp. v. Behrend says that is relevant to the individual determination of damages is threefold. First, at the class certification stage, the Court cannot ignore how individual damages, if [*183]  any are appropriate, are to be decided. In other words, the Court cannot ignore the possible complexities of the individual damages determinations in making the predominance calculation. A class can have individual damage calculations, but the Court has to look at the issues of individual damages calculations at the class certification stage. Second, the methodology for all class members needs to be common or, if there are different methodologies for some plaintiffs and class members, the Court must take these differences into account at the class certification stage in the predominance analysis. In other words, if the Court is going to use different methodologies for different class members, it must decide: (i) whether these differences create questions affecting only individual members; and (ii) whether these individual questions predominate over the questions of law or fact common to the class. Third, even if the methodology is common to the class, the Court must decide whether it will operate in a consistent way for each individual class member. The law and methodology may be the same, but when applied to the class, they may create issues for one class member or group of class [*184]  members that they do not create for other class members or groups. The predominance analysis must identify precisely the common issues and uncommon issues that application of the class methodology or methodologies raise, and then determine whether, in the total issue mix, the common issues predominate over the individual ones.

20. A defendant's desire to assert individual counterclaims,32 does not typically defeat predominance. See Phillips Petrol. Co. v. Shutts, 472 U.S. 797, 810 (1985); Allapattah Servs, Inc. v. Exxon Corp., 333 F.3d 1248, 1260 (11th Cir. 2003). A defendant's desire to assert individual affirmative defenses also often does not defeat predominance, see Smilow v. Sw. Bell Mobile Sys., Inc., 323 F.3d 32, 39 (1st Cir. 2003)("Courts traditionally have been reluctant to deny class action status under Rule 23(b)(3) simply because affirmative defenses may be available against individual members."), but this statement is less true after Wal-Mart.33 Other recurring individual issues present more serious challenges to predominance, such as: (i) the prima facie element of reliance or due diligence in common-law fraud and other cases;34 (ii) differences in the applicable law in a multi-state, state law-based class actions,35 see Castano v. Am. Tobacco Co., 84 F.3d 734, 741 (5th Cir. 1996); and (iii) the need to determine individual personal injury damages, which presents such a challenge to predominance that class certification of mass tort claims is now [*185]  exceedingly rare, see Amchem Prods., Inc. v. Windsor, 521 U.S. at 625.

32   Generally speaking, counterclaims, even common ones, are not permitted against absent class members at all.

33   Limitations defenses are an especially common breed of affirmative defense. Limitations defenses generally present common questions, rather than individual ones, because a limitations defense's merits rest on two facts: (i) the date on which the statute of limitations accrued; and (ii) the date on which the action was filed. Fact (ii) is a common issue in virtually every class action, because the entire class gets credit for the filing date of the class action complaint. Fact (i) may not be truly common, but it might be, if, for example, the discovery rule delays accrual of a statute of limitations until the cause of action is discovered, and all class members' causes of action are discovered at the same time, or if a single act by the defendant breached contracts with all class members at once.

Even if the question is individual -- for example, if a class is defined as only encompassing preexisting filed claims, or if the discovery rule might delay the accrual of the statute for some class members but not others -- it still typically does not defeat predominance. [*186]

   Although a necessity for individualized statute-of-limitations determinations invariably weighs against class certification under Rule 23(b)(3), we reject any per se rule that treats the presence of such issues as an automatic disqualifier. In other words, the mere fact that such concerns may arise and may affect different class members differently does not compel a finding that individual issues predominate over common ones. As long as a sufficient constellation of common issues binds class members together, variations in the sources and application of statutes of limitations will not automatically foreclose class certification under Rule 23(b)(3). Predominance under Rule 23(b)(3) cannot be reduced to a mechanical, single-issue test.

Waste Mgmt. Holdings, Inc. v. Mowbray, 208 F.3d 288, 296 (1st Cir. 2000)(citing 5 James Wm. Moore et al., Moore's Federal Practice ¶ 23.46[3] (3d ed. 1999)). See Newberg § 4:57 (confirming that the above passage "reflects the law in most circuits" (footnote omitted)).

34   The advisory committee's notes to rule 23 state that

   a fraud perpetrated on numerous persons by the use of similar misrepresentations may be an appealing situation for a class action, and it may remain so despite the need, if liability is found, for separate determination of the damages suffered by individuals within [*187]  the class. On the other hand, although having some common core, a fraud case may be unsuited for treatment as a class action if there was material variation in the representations made or in the kinds or degrees of reliance by the persons to whom they were addressed.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 23 advisory committee's notes (citations omitted).

   Despite the generalized concern about the individual nature of the misrepresentations and/or reliance inquiry in fraud cases, there are at least three recurring situations in which courts have found common issues predominant in fraud cases: (1) those in which reliance is common across the class; (2) those in which courts have excused a showing of individual reliance; and (3) those in which the underlying law does not require a showing of individual reliance.

Newberg § 4:58. Reliance may be a common issue when the same misrepresentation is made to the entire class; some circuits have held that written misrepresentations may be common issues while oral misrepresentations are presumed to be individualized. See, e.g., Moore v. PaineWebber, Inc., 306 F.3d 1247, 1253 (2d Cir. 2002)("[T]he Third, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Circuits . . . have held that oral misrepresentations are presumptively individualized."); In re Prudential Ins. Co. Am. Sales Practice Litig. Agent Actions, 148 F.3d 283, 319 (3d Cir. 1998)(certifying class where alleged misrepresentations [*188]  were written and uniform); Spencer v. Hartford Fin. Servs. Grp., Inc., 256 F.R.D. 284, 297 (D. Conn. 2009)(certifying class where class definition was narrowed to include only those who had received written communications from defendant). The requirement that plaintiffs show reliance is most often presumed or excused in so-called fraud-on-the-market securities cases, in which class members -- investors in the defendant company -- are presumed to be rational, fully informed actors who use all of the information available to the general public, but are also presumed to not possess insider information.

   We have found a rebuttable presumption of reliance in two different circumstances. First, if there is an omission of a material fact by one with a duty to disclose, the investor to whom the duty was owed need not provide specific proof of reliance. Second, under the fraud-on-the-market doctrine, reliance is presumed when the statements at issue become public. The public information is reflected in the market price of the security. Then it can be assumed that an investor who buys or sells stock at the market price relies upon the statement.

Stoneridge Inv. Partners, LLC v. Scientific-Atlanta, 552 U.S. 148, 159 (2008)(citing Affiliated Ute Citizens of Utah v. United States, 406 U.S. 128, 153 (1972); Basic Inc. v. Levinson, 485 U.S. 224, 245 (1988)).

35   In In re Bridgestone/Firestone, Inc., 288 F.3d 1012 (7th Cir. 2002), Judge Easterbrook, in a pre-Wal-Mart/ Comcast opinion, stated:

   No class action is proper unless all litigants are [*189]  governed by the same legal rules. Otherwise the class cannot satisfy the commonality and superiority requirements of Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(a), (b)(3). Yet state laws about theories such as those presented by our plaintiffs differ, and such differences have led us to hold that other warranty, fraud, or products-liability suits may not proceed as nationwide classes

288 F.3d at 1015. Judge Easterbrook then discussed how variations in tires defeat class treatment:

   Because these claims must be adjudicated under the law of so many jurisdictions, a single nationwide class is not manageable. Lest we soon see a Rule 23(f) petition to review the certification of 50 state classes, we add that this litigation is not manageable as a class action even on a statewide basis. About 20% of the Ford Explorers were shipped without Firestone tires. The Firestone tires supplied with the majority of the vehicles were recalled at different times; they may well have differed in their propensity to fail, and this would require sub-subclassing among those owners of Ford Explorers with Firestone tires. Some of the vehicles were resold and others have not been; the resales may have reflected different discounts that could require vehicle-specific litigation. Plaintiffs [*190]  contend that many of the failures occurred because Ford and Firestone advised the owners to underinflate their tires, leading them to overheat. Other factors also affect heating; the failure rate (and hence the discount) may have been higher in Arizona than in Alaska. Of those vehicles that have not yet been resold, some will be resold in the future (by which time the tire replacements may have alleviated or eliminated any discount) and some never will be resold. Owners who wring the last possible mile out of their vehicles receive everything they paid for and have claims that differ from owners who sold their Explorers to the second-hand market during the height of the publicity in 2000. Some owners drove their SUVs off the road over rugged terrain, while others never used the "sport" or "utility" features; these differences also affect resale prices.

Firestone's tires likewise exhibit variability; that's why fewer than half of those included in the tire class were recalled. The tire class includes many buyers who used Firestone tires on vehicles other than Ford Explorers, and who therefore were not advised to underinflate their tires.

. . . .

When courts think of efficiency, they should [*191]  think of market models rather than central-planning models.

Our decision in Rhone-Poulenc Rorer made this point, and it is worth reiterating: only "a decentralized process of multiple trials, involving different juries, and different standards of liability, in different jurisdictions" (51 F.3d at 1299) will yield the information needed for accurate evaluation of mass tort claims.

. . . .

No matter what one makes of the decentralized approach as an original matter, it is hard to adopt the central-planner model without violence not only to Rule 23 but also to principles of federalism. Differences across states may be costly for courts and litigants alike, but they are a fundamental aspect of our federal republic and must not be overridden in a quest to clear the queue in court. See BMW v. Gore, 517 U.S. at 568-73; Szabo (reversing a nationwide warranty class certification); Spence v. Glock, G.m.b.H., 227 F.3d 308 (5th Cir. 2000) (reversing a nationwide tort class certification); Larry Kramer, Choice of Law in Complex Litigation, 71 N.Y.U. L. Rev. 547, 579 (1996); Linda S. Mullenix, Mass Tort Litigation and the Dilemma of Federalization, 44 DePaul L. Rev. 755, 781 (1995); Robert A. Sedler, The Complex Litigation Project's Proposal for Federally-Mandated Choice of Law in Mass Torts Cases: Another Assault on State Sovereignty, 54 La. L. Rev. 1085 (1994). Tempting as it is to alter doctrine [*192]  in order to facilitate class treatment, judges must resist so that all parties' legal rights may be respected.

In re Bridgestone/Firestone, Inc., 288 F.3d at 1018-20.

21. There is little uniform guidance on how to assess when common issues predominate over individual ones, and the Court's statements to this point have, obviously, done more to disavow various tempting but fallacious rules than they have to set forth a usable standard.

22. There is currently a split of authority between the United States Court of Appeals over the proper way to analyze predominance -- with the Seventh and Sixth Circuits on one side and the Third, Tenth and Eleventh Circuits on the other. The Honorable Richard A. Posner,36 United States Circuit Judge for the Seventh Circuit, concludes that the predominance inquiry boils down to "a question of efficiency." Butler v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 702 F.3d at 362. Judge Posner poses the predominance question as: "Is it more efficient, in terms both of economy of judicial resources and of the expense of litigation to the parties, to decide some issues on a class basis or all issues in separate trials?" Butler v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 702 F.3d at 362. In Butler v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., the Seventh Circuit reversed a district court's denial of certification of a class of washing-machine owners who alleged that Sears' [*193]  washing machines were prone to cultivate mold and affirmed the district court's certification of the same class to pursue a claim that the machines' control units were defective. See 702 F.3d at 360-61. The Seventh Circuit certified the class -- which spanned six states -- to pursue its mold claim under state breach-of-warranty law:

   A class action is the more efficient procedure for determining liability and damages in a case such as this, involving a defect that may have imposed costs on tens of thousands of consumers yet not a cost to any one of them large enough to justify the expense of an individual suit. If necessary a determination of liability could be followed by individual hearings to determine the damages sustained by each class member (probably capped at the cost of replacing a defective washing machine -- there doesn't seem to be a claim that the odors caused an illness that might support a claim for products liability as distinct from one for breach of warranty). But probably the parties would agree on a schedule of damages based on the cost of fixing or replacing class members' mold-contaminated washing machines. The class action procedure would be efficient not only in cost, but also [*194]  in efficacy, if we are right that the stakes in an individual case would be too small to justify the expense of suing, in which event denial of class certification would preclude any relief.

. . . .

[T]he district court will want to consider whether to create different subclasses of the control unit class for the different states. That should depend on whether there are big enough differences among the relevant laws of those states to make it impossible to draft a single, coherent set of jury instructions should the case ever go to trial before a jury.

Butler v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 702 F.3d at 362. Along with numerous other class actions pending appeal before the Supreme Court, the Supreme Court vacated Butler v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., and remanded it to the Seventh Circuit "for reconsideration in light of Comcast Corp. v. Behrend." Butler v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 727 F.3d at 797 (7th Cir. 2013). On reconsideration, the Seventh Circuit reaffirmed its prior decision, again in an opinion written by Judge Posner:

   Sears thinks that predominance is determined simply by counting noses: that is, determining whether there are more common issues or more individual issues, regardless of relative importance. That's incorrect. An issue "central to the validity of each one of the claims" in a class action, if [*195]  it can be resolved "in one stroke," can justify class treatment. Wal-Mart, 131 S. Ct. at 2551. That was said in the context of Rule 23(a)(2), the rule that provides that class actions are permissible only when there are issues common to the members of the class (as of course there are in this case). But predominance requires a qualitative assessment too; it is not bean counting. In Amgen Inc. v. Connecticut Retirement Plans & Trust Funds, 133 S. Ct. at 1196, the Court said that the requirement of predominance is not satisfied if "individual questions . . . overwhelm questions common to the class," and in Amchem Products, Inc. v. Windsor, 521 U.S. 591, 623 (1997), it said that the "predominance inquiry tests whether proposed classes are sufficiently cohesive to warrant adjudication by representation." And in In re Inter-Op Hip Prosthesis Liability Litigation, 204 F.R.D. 330, 345 (N.D. Ohio 2001), we read that "common issues need only predominate, not outnumber individual issues." . . .

As we noted in Carnegie v. Household Int'l., Inc., 376 F.3d 656, 661 (7th Cir. 2004), "the more claimants there are, the more likely a class action is to yield substantial economies in litigation. It would hardly be an improvement to have in lieu of this single class 17 million suits each seeking damages of $15 to $30. . . . The realistic alternative to a class action is not 17 million individual suits, but zero individual suits, as only a lunatic or a fanatic sues for $30" (emphasis in original). The present case is less extreme: [*196]  tens of thousands of class members, each seeking damages of a few hundred dollars. But few members of such a class, considering the costs and distraction of litigation, would think so meager a prospect made suing worthwhile.

There is a single, central, common issue of liability: whether the Sears washing machine was defective. Two separate defects are alleged, but remember that this class action is really two class actions. In one the defect alleged involves mold, in the other the control unit. Each defect is central to liability. Complications arise from the design changes and from separate state warranty laws, but can be handled by the creation of subclasses. See, e.g., Johnson v. Meriter Health Services Employee Retirement Plan, 702 F.3d at 365 (10 subclasses).

Butler v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 727 F.3d at 801-02.37

36   Judge Posner is not only the most widely referenced legal authority alive -- he is the most-cited legal scholar of all time. See Fred R. Shapiro, The Most-Cited Legal Scholars, 29 J. Legal Stud. 409, 424 (2000).

37   In addition to articulating the Seventh Circuit's construction of the predominance inquiry, Judge Posner addressed Comcast Corp. v. Behrend's impact on the Seventh Circuit's case:

   So how does the Supreme Court's Comcast decision bear on the rulings . . . in our first decision?

Comcast holds that a damages suit cannot be certified [*197]  to proceed as a class action unless the damages sought are the result of the class-wide injury that the suit alleges. Comcast was an antitrust suit, and the Court said that "if [the plaintiffs] prevail on their claims, they would be entitled only to damages resulting from reduced overbuilder competition, since that is the only theory of antitrust impact accepted for class-action treatment by the District Court. It follows that a model purporting to serve as evidence of damages in this class action must measure only those damages attributable to that theory. If the model does not even attempt to do that, it cannot possibly establish that damages are susceptible of measurement across the entire class for purposes of Rule 23(b)(3)." "[A] methodology that identifies damages that are not the result of the wrong" is an impermissible basis for calculating class-wide damages. Id. at 1434 (emphasis added). "For all we know, cable subscribers in Gloucester County may have been overcharged because of petitioners' alleged elimination of satellite competition (a theory of liability that is not capable of classwide proof )." And on the next page of its opinion the Court quotes approvingly from Federal Judicial Center, [*198]  Reference Manual on Scientific Evidence 432 (3d ed.2011), that "the first step in a damages study is the translation of the legal theory of the harmful event into an analysis of the economic impact of that event." (emphasis the [Supreme] Court's). None of the parties had even challenged the district court's ruling that class certification required "that the damages resulting from . . . [the antitrust violation] were measurable 'on a class-wide basis' through use of a 'common methodology.'"

Unlike the situation in Comcast, there is no possibility in this case that damages could be attributed to acts of the defendants that are not challenged on a class-wide basis; all members of the mold class attribute their damages to mold and all members of the control-unit class to a defect in the control unit.

Sears argues that Comcast rejects the notion that efficiency is a proper basis for class certification, and thus rejects our statement that "predominance" of issues common to the entire class, a requirement of a damages class action under Rule 23(b)(3), "is a question of efficiency." But in support of its argument Sears cites only the statement in the dissenting opinion in Comcast that "economies of time [*199]  and expense" favor class certification, -- a statement that the majority opinion does not contradict. Sears is wrong to think that anything a dissenting opinion approves of the majority must disapprove of.

Sears compares the design changes that may have affected the severity of the mold problem to the different antitrust liability theories in Comcast. But it was not the existence of multiple theories in that case that precluded class certification; it was the plaintiffs' failure to base all the damages they sought on the antitrust impact -- the injury -- of which the plaintiffs were complaining. In contrast, any buyer of a Kenmore washing machine who experienced a mold problem was harmed by a breach of warranty alleged in the complaint.

Furthermore and fundamentally, the district court in our case, unlike Comcast, neither was asked to decide nor did decide whether to determine damages on a class-wide basis. As we explained in McReynolds v. Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith, Inc., 672 F.3d 482, 491-92 (7th Cir. 2012), a class action limited to determining liability on a class-wide basis, with separate hearings to determine -- if liability is established -- the damages of individual class members, or homogeneous groups of class members, is permitted by Rule 23(c)(4) and will often be the [*200]  sensible way to proceed

Bulter v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 727 F.3d at 799-800 (emphasis in Butler v. Sears, Roebuck & Co. but not Comcast Corp. v. Behrend, except as noted)(citations omitted).

23. The Sixth Circuit handled essentially the same case -- a class action against Sears for defective washing machines -- in In re Whirlpool Corp. Front-Loading Washing Products Liability Litigation, 678 F.3d 409 (6th Cir. 2012), and also elected to certify the mold-based claim.38

   [W]e have no difficulty affirming the district court's finding that common questions predominate over individual ones and that the class action mechanism is the superior method to resolve these claims fairly and efficiently. This is especially true since class members are not likely to file individual actions because the cost of litigation would dwarf any potential recovery. See Amchem Prods., Inc. v. Windsor, 521 U.S. 591, 617 (1997)(finding that in drafting Rule 23(b)(3), "the Advisory Committee had dominantly in mind vindication of 'the rights of groups of people who individually would be without effective strength to bring their opponents into court at all' "). Further, [as] the district court observed, any class member who wishes to control his or her own litigation may opt out of the class under Rule 23(b)(3)(A).

In re Whirlpool Corp. Front-Loading Washing Products Liability Litigation, 678 F.3d at 421 (citation omitted). That case was also vacated after Comcast Corp. v. Behrend, and, like the Seventh Circuit, the Sixth Circuit reaffirmed its prior [*201]  decision, fleshing out the predominance inquiry in more detail than it had done in its prior opinion:

   Whirlpool does not point to any "fatal dissimilarity" among the members of the certified class that would render the class action mechanism unfair or inefficient for decision-making. Instead, Whirlpool points to "a fatal similarity --[an alleged] failure of proof as to an element of the plaintiffs' cause of action." That contention, the Supreme Court instructs, "is properly addressed at trial or in a ruling on a summary-judgment motion. The allegation should not be resolved in deciding whether to certify a proposed class." Tracking the Supreme Court's reasoning, we conclude here that common questions predominate over any individual ones. Simply put, this case comports with the "focus of the predominance inquiry" -- it is "sufficiently cohesive to warrant adjudication by representation."

In re Whirlpool Corp. Front-Loading Washing Products Liability Litigation, 722 F.3d 838, (7th Cir. 2013)(citations omitted). The Seventh Circuit and Sixth Circuit, thus, define predominance in much the same way: if the district court can design a mechanism for trying the case that is fair to the defendants and more efficient than individual litigation of the same dispute, then predominance is satisfied. [*202]  See Butler v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 727 F.3d at 802. This styling of the predominance inquiry is in keeping with that given, many years earlier, by a leading class-action treatise:

   [A] court addressing predominance must determine whether the evidence about the putative class representative's circumstances and the opposing evidence from the defense will enable a jury to make across-the-board "yes" or "no" factual determinations that fairly resolve the claims of the entire class. Where the right to recover for each class member would "turn . . . on facts particular to each individual plaintiff," class treatment makes little sense. If the resolution of the common issues devolves into an unmanageable variety of individual issues, then the lack of increased efficiency will prohibit certification of the class.

   The predominance and efficiency criteria are of course intertwined. When there are predominant issues of law or fact, resolution of those issues in one proceeding efficiently resolves those issues with regard to all claimants in the class. When there are no predominant issues of law or fact, however -- as in the instant case -- class treatment would be either singularly inefficient, as one court attempts to resolve diverse claims [*203]  from around the country in its own courtroom, or unjust, as the various factual and legal nuances of particular claims are lost in the press to clear the lone court's docket.

McLaughlin on Class Actions § 5:23 (11th ed.)(emphases added)(omission in original)(footnotes omitted).

38   The Sixth Circuit's class "did not involve the other claim in [the Seventh Circuit's] case, the control unit claim." Butler v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 727 F.3d at 802.

24. Although the Seventh Circuit and the Sixth Circuit may agree about the definition of predominance, the Third, Tenth, and Eleventh Circuits stake out a different test.

   "Whether an issue predominates can only be determined after considering what value the resolution of the class-wide issue will have in each class member's underlying cause of action." Common issues of fact and law predominate if they "'ha[ve] a direct impact on every class member's effort to establish liability' that is more substantial than the impact of individualized issues in resolving the claim or claims of each class member." If "after adjudication of the classwide issues, plaintiffs must still introduce a great deal of individualized proof or argue a number of individualized legal points to establish most or all of the elements of their [*204]  individual claims, [their] claims are not suitable for class certification under Rule 23(b)(3)."

Sacred Heart Health Sys., Inc. v. Humana Military Healthcare Serv., Inc., 601 F.3d at 1170 (11th Cir.)(emphasis in original)(citations omitted).39 The Eleventh Circuit, however, imposes a different, more rigorous, second step: the district court's trial plan must spend more time adjudicating the common questions than it does adjudicating the individual questions. The Eleventh Circuit's test may not be the greatest -- the Court sees little reason why negative-value cases that can be fairly and efficiently adjudicated via class action should not be certified40 -- but it is commendable in that it is a test that district courts can use, rather than yet another meaningless recitation, see CGC Holding Co. LLC v. Broad & Cassel, 773 F.3d 1076 (10th Cir. 2014)("[T]he predominance prong 'asks whether the common, aggregation-enabling, issues in the case are more prevalent or important than the non-common, aggregation defeating, individual issues." (quoting Newberg § 4:49)), circular axiom, see, e.g., Amchem Prods., Inc. v. Windsor, 521 U.S. at 623 ("The Rule 23(b)(3) predominance inquiry tests whether proposed classes are sufficiently cohesive to warrant adjudication by representation."), obvious guidepost, see Reed v. Bowen, 849 F.2d at 1309 ("Each case must be decided on its own facts, on the basis of 'practicalities and prudential considerations.'"), self-evident comparison, see [*205]  Monreal v. Potter, 367 F.3d at 1237 ("[T]he predominance criterion of Rule 23(b)(3) [i]s 'far more demanding' tha[n] the Rule 23(a) commonality requirement[.]" (quoting Amchem Prods., Inc. v. Windsor, 521 U.S. at 623-24)), or worthless slogan, see Marcus v. BMW of N. Am., LLC, 687 F.3d at 600 (exhorting district courts to examine claims "'through the prism' of Rule 23(b)(3)").

39   The Eleventh Circuit first adopted this test -- relying on district court decisions -- in 2004 in Klay v. Humana, Inc., and gave renewed articulations of the test in 2009 in Vega v. T-Mobile USA, Inc., and in 2010 in Sacred Heart Health Systems, Inc. v. Humana Healthcare Services, Inc. In each case, the Eleventh Circuit made some reference to additionally adopting a Fifth Circuit rule-of-thumb test:

   An alternate formulation of this test was offered in Alabama v. Blue Bird Body Co., 573 F.2d 309 (5th Cir. 1978). In that case, we observed that if common issues truly predominate over individualized issues in a lawsuit, then "the addition or subtraction of any of the plaintiffs to or from the class [should not] have a substantial effect on the substance or quantity of evidence offered." Put simply, if the addition of more plaintiffs to a class requires the presentation of significant amounts of new evidence, that strongly suggests that individual issues (made relevant only through the inclusion of these new class members) are important. Alabama v. Blue Bird Body Co., 573 F.2d at 322 ("If such addition [*206]  or subtraction of plaintiffs does affect the substance or quantity of evidence offered, then the necessary common question might not be present."). If, on the other hand, the addition of more plaintiffs leaves the quantum of evidence introduced by the plaintiffs as a whole relatively undisturbed, then common issues are likely to predominate.

Klay v. Humana, Inc., 382 F.3d at 1255. See Sacred Heart Health Sys., Inc. v. Humana Military Healthcare Serv., Inc., 601 F.3d at 1170 ("In practical terms, while '[i]t is not necessary that all questions of fact or law be common,' 'the addition or subtraction of any of the plaintiffs to or from the class [should not] have a substantial effect on the substance or quantity of evidence offered.'"); Vega v. T-Mobile USA, Inc., 564 F.3d at 1270 (quoting the above portion of Klay v. Humana, Inc.).

The Fifth Circuit, however, was not setting forth a test for when predominance is satisfied so much as a test for when an issue is common versus individualized. The Fifth Circuit's full quote -- without the Eleventh Circuit's alterations -- is:

   We only point out that in a situation wherein one seeks to represent a nationwide class in order to obtain redress for harm done from a nationwide conspiracy consideration should be given to whether the addition or subtraction of any of the plaintiffs to or from the class will have a substantial [*207]  effect on the substance or quantity of evidence offered. If such addition or subtraction of plaintiffs does affect the substance or quantity of evidence offered, then the necessary common question might not be present.

State of Alabama v. Blue Bird Body Co., Inc., 573 F.2d at 322 (emphasis added)(footnote omitted).

40   In fairness to the Eleventh Circuit, Judge Posner's test merges the predominance and superiority inquiries -- effectively reading out predominance -- in negative-value cases. Thus, the Eleventh Circuit's test is truer to rule 23's text than Judge Posner's. "Predominate," the word that rule 23 uses, means "[t]o be of greater power, importance, or quantity; be most important or outstanding." The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language 1032 (William Morris ed., New College ed. 1976)(emphasis added). Rule 23's text thus arguably suggests a direct comparison of common and individual issues, and not -- as Judge Posner suggests -- an indirect comparison that decides the predominance question on the basis of a fancy economic analysis. There are, however, two other rule 23 provisions whose impact on predominance is not often discussed: (i) the issue class-action clause, see Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(c)(4) ("When appropriate, an action may be brought or maintained as a class action with respect [*208]  to particular issues."); and (ii) the subclassification clause, see Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(c)(5) ("When appropriate, a class may be divided into subclasses that are each treated as a class under this rule."). These provisions are indeed unfortunate for those who wish to read rule 23 as containing the seeds of its own destruction. Rule 23(c)(4) allows for adjudication of common issues, even if these issues do not add up to a common claim. Rule 23(c)(5) allows for collective adjudication, even if it falls short of being completely "classwide" adjudication. Judge Posner's test explicitly admits of subclasses and issue classes. Even if it had not, their impact in Judge Posner's analysis would be obvious: the district court uses the tools of subclassification and issue classification -- along with other management tools, such as polyfurcation -- to design a class-action management plan, and then decide whether the plan is more or less efficient than separate trials.

The impact that these provisions have on the Eleventh Circuit's approach is less clear. The Eleventh Circuit's best discussion of subclasses comes from Sacred Heart Health Systems, Inc. v. Humana Military Healthcare Services, Inc.:

   [W]e cannot accept the district court's proposal to use subclasses [*209]  corresponding to the hospitals' six categories of payment clauses. We recognize the long and venerated practice of creating subclasses as a device to manage complex class actions, but the six subclasses proposed here mask a staggering contractual variety. The sixth proposed subclass -- a miscellaneous residue of numerous payment clauses that are insusceptible of ready classification -- alone is fatal to predominance. When this "potpourri" subclass, as Humana has termed it, is broken down into its disparate component parts, the illusion of uniformity gives way to nearly thirty subclasses.

Common sense tells us that "[t]he necessity of a large number of subclasses may indicate that common questions do not predominate," Manual for Complex Litigation § 21.23 (4th ed. 2004); see also Harding v. Tambrands Inc., 165 F.R.D. 623, 630 (D. Kan. 1996)("The potential for numerous different subclasses weighs against a finding of predominance of common issues."). Here, the necessary recourse to a "miscellaneous" subclass readily indicates the lack of a predominant question.

Ultimately, after examining the many individualized payment clauses contained in the network agreements, we perceive a "distinct possibility that there was a breach of contract with some class members, [*210]  but not with other class members." Subclasses are no answer to this problem, meaning that the efficiency of a class action will be lost entirely unless the hospitals are allowed "to stitch together the strongest contract case based on language from various [contracts], with no necessary connection to their own contract rights. The hospitals, however, may not lawfully "amalgamate" their disparate claims in the name of convenience. The Rules Enabling Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2072 -- and due process -- prevents the use of class actions from abridging the substantive rights of any party. Yet, from the record before us, an abridgment of the defendant's rights seems the most likely result of class treatment. By glossing over the striking differences in the material terms of the agreements, the district court created an "unnecessarily high risk," of such unlawful results, and thereby abused its discretion.

601 F.3d at 1176 (citations omitted). These statements imply that, but for the sixth "category" of payment clauses -- really a catchall for all contracts that did not fit into one of the five real categories -- the class would be certifiable. The only "abridgement of the defendant's rights" that the district court's plan would [*211]  produce would be the "'amalgamat[ion]'" of different contractual language into a single category -- the sixth category. 601 F.3d at 1176. That case, thus, leaves open the question whether subclassification and issue certification can aid in satisfying predominance, or if these techniques are separate from the predominance inquiry.

The Fifth Circuit staked out a clear answer to this question in its much-discussed Castano v. American Tobacco Co. case, deciding the issue in a way one might expect:

   Severing the defendants' conduct from reliance under rule 23(c)(4) does not save the class action. A district court cannot manufacture predominance through the nimble use of subdivision (c)(4). The proper interpretation of the interaction between subdivisions (b)(3) and (c)(4) is that a cause of action, as a whole, must satisfy the predominance requirement of (b)(3) and that (c)(4) is a housekeeping rule that allows courts to sever the common issues for a class trial. Reading rule 23(c)(4) as allowing a court to sever issues until the remaining common issue predominates over the remaining individual issues would eviscerate the predominance requirement of rule 23(b)(3); the result would be automatic certification in every case where there is a common issue, a result that could not have been intended.

84 F.3d at 745 n.21 (citations [*212]  omitted). This logic is hardly unassailable. Namely, the result of reading rules 23(c)(4) and (c)(5) as bearing on the predominance inquiry would not be "automatic certification in every case where there is a common issue," because superiority must still be satisfied. 84 F.3d at 745 n.21. If a proposed class action is superior -- e.g., if it lacks the value to be brought on an individual basis -- and individual issues can be pared away via rules 23(c)(4) and (c)(5) then it is not clear why certification "could not have been intended" by the rule. 84 F.3d at 745 n.21. Moreover, it is a poor reading of the rule's text. Presumably, even if rules 23(c)(4) and (c)(5) are mere "housekeeping rule[s]," they would still alleviate "likely difficulties in managing a class action." 84 F.3d at 745 n.21; Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(b)(3)(D). Because rule 23 directs that "[t]he matters pertinent to these findings [predominance and superiority] include: . . . the likely difficulties in managing a class action," the Court, if it were writing on a clear slate would think that rules 23(c)(4) and (c)(5) would play a part in the predominance determination, Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(b)(3), and that this result thus "could not have been intended." 84 F.3d at 745 n.21.

The Fifth Circuit's approach attracted the adherence of a revered jurist on the Fourth Circuit -- although not the Fourth Circuit itself. The Honorable Paul V. Niemeyer, United [*213]  States Circuit Judge for the Fourth Circuit, endorsed the Fifth Circuit's view in an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part from an opinion in which the Fourth Circuit adopted the opposing view:

   Despite the overwhelming predominance of these individualized issues and claims over the common issue that the majority now certifies for class treatment, the majority has adopted an inventive approach to Rule 23 that allows certification of a class where the predominance requirement of Rule 23(b)(3) is admittedly unmet in the context of the case as a whole. According to the majority, to require the certified issue in this case to predominate over the individualized issues in the action as a whole ignores Rule 23(c)(4)(A), which it appears to view as a fourth avenue for class certification, on equal footing with Rules 23(b)(1), 23(b)(2), and 23(b)(3). In doing so, the majority glorifies Rule 23(c)(4)(A) -- a housekeeping rule that authorizes a court to certify for class treatment "particular issues" in a case that otherwise satisfies Rule 23(a) and 23(b) -- with the effect of materially rewriting Rule 23 such that Rule 23(b)(3)'s requirements no longer need be applied to "[a]n action," see Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(b), but rather to any single issue, no matter how small.

Not only does the majority's approach expand Rule 23 beyond its [*214]  intended reach, but it also creates a direct conflict with the Fifth Circuit which has held:

   A district court cannot manufacture predominance through the nimble use of subdivision (c)(4). The proper interpretation of the interaction between subdivisions (b)(3) and (c)(4) is that a cause of action, as a whole, must satisfy the predominance requirement of (b)(3) in that (c)(4) is a housekeeping rule that allows courts to sever the common issues for a class trial.

Castano v. American Tobacco Co., 84 F.3d 734, 745 n.21 (5th Cir. 1996).

Gunnells v. Healthplan Servs., Inc., 348 F.3d at 446-47. Despite Judge Niemeyer's concern with creating a Circuit split, the Second Circuit, the Ninth Circuit, and, of course, the Seventh Circuit have all held that subclasses can be used to satisfy predominance concerns since at least 2001, two years before Gunnells v. Healthplan Services, Inc. See Zinser v. Accufix Research Inst., Inc. 253 F.3d at 1189-90, 1192 n.8. See Robinson v. Metro-North Commuter R.R., 267 F.3d 147, 167-69 (2d Cir. 2001); Jefferson v. Ingersoll Int'l Inc., 195 F.3d 894, 898 (7th Cir. 1999).

The Eleventh Circuit has refrained from taking a side on this question:

   Some have been critical of the piecemeal certification of class action status for claims within a case. See Gunnells v. Healthplan Servs., Inc., 348 F.3d 417, 446-47 (4th Cir. 2003)(Niemeyer, J., dissenting)(arguing that the predominance requirement in Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(b) applies to the action as a whole, not to individual subclasses or claims); Castano v. Am. Tobacco Co., 84 F.3d 734, 745 n. 21 (5th Cir. 1996)("The proper interpretation of the interaction between [Fed. R. Civ. P. 23] subdivisions (b)(3) and (c)(4) is that a cause of action, as a whole, must satisfy the predominance requirement of [*215]  (b)(3) and that (c)(4) is a housekeeping rule that allows courts to sever the common issues for a class trial."). We did not directly address the propriety of such partial certification in Klay.

Borrero v. United Healthcare of N.Y., Inc., 610 F.3d 1296, 1310 n.5 (11th Cir. 2010)(alterations in original). The Tenth Circuit also appears to have refrained from taking a side:

   Plaintiffs urge us to consider a "hybrid" certification whereby the liability stage might be certified for class treatment under Rule 23(b)(2) even if the damages stage does not qualify for such treatment. See Robinson v. Metro-North Commuter R.R., 267 F.3d 147, 167-69 (2d Cir. 2001). Compare Lemon v. Int'l Union of Operating Engr's, Local No. 139, AFL-CIO, 216 F.3d 577, 581 (7th Cir. 2000), and Jefferson v. Ingersoll Int'l Inc., 195 F.3d 894, 898 (7th Cir. 1999), with Allison v. Citgo Petroleum Corp., 151 F.3d 402, 420-22 (5th Cir. 1998). We do not need to rule on a hybrid possibility because in the instant case, the liability stage does not satisfy either Rules 23(b)(2) or 23(b)(3). The district court's ruling that plaintiffs did not allege a sufficient policy, practice or pattern of discrimination to warrant class treatment for liability determination is not an abuse of discretion.

Monreal v. Potter, 367 F.3d at 1237 n.12 (Ebel, J.).

25. The Tenth Circuit followed the Eleventh Circuit's approach in CGC Holding Co., LLC v. Broad and Cassel.

   Predominance regularly presents the greatest obstacle to class certification, especially in fraud cases. Accordingly, the issues disputed in this case are not unusual. And given our obligation to ensure that the district court did not err in conducting [*216]  its rigorous analysis, we must characterize the issues in the case as common or not, and then weigh which issues predominate. Here, that task requires us to survey the elements of the class's RICO claims to consider (1) which of those elements are susceptible to generalized proof, and (2) whether those that are so susceptible predominate over those that are not. Stated another way, consideration of how the class intends to answer factual and legal questions to prove its claim -- and the extent to which the evidence needed to do so is common or individual -- will frequently entail some discussion of the claim itself.

In this context, it is worth reiterating that our review on appeal is limited. For the purposes of class certification, our primary function is to ensure that the requirements of Rule 23 are satisfied, not to make a determination on the merits of the putative class's claims. But it is impractical to construct "an impermeable wall" that will prevent the merits from bleeding into the class certification decision to some degree. So, although class certification does not depend on the merits of the suit, "[e]valuation of many of the questions entering into determination of class action questions [*217]  is intimately involved with the merits of the claims."

With these legal principles in mind, "[c]onsidering whether 'questions of law or fact common to class members predominate' begins, of course, with the elements of the underlying cause of action." For this limited purpose, we consider the proposed class's claim for a RICO conspiracy.

Share this article:

Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn
Share on email
Email

Recent Posts

Archives