The UCL Practitioner
Monday, April 25, 2005
Recent class action decisions
Now that many plaintiffs will be seeking formal class certification of their UCL claims, practitioners should stay on top of developments in class action law. I'm going to try to do that in this blog. Several noteworthy class action decisions have been handed down recently:

  • In Chamberlan v. Ford Motor Co., ___ F.3d ___ (Mar. 31, 2005) (per curiam), the Ninth Circuit addressed, for the first time, the circumstances under which it would accept, under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(f), an interlocutory appeal from an order granting or denying class certification. The opinion contains a detailed discussion of how other Circuits have dealt with this issue, and holds that:
    We adopt the principles justifying review that are set out in the Advisory Committee Notes—the presence of a death knell situation for either party absent review and the presence of an unsettled and fundamental issue of law related to class actions—along with an additional criterion, manifest error in the district court's certification decision.
    Applying those criteria, the Court declined to review an interlocutory order granting class certification of a CLRA claim involving allegedly defective components in certain Ford vehicles. This is a significant development for those of us handling class actions in federal court.

  • In Pioneer Electronics (USA), Inc. v. Superior Court, ___ Cal.App.4th ___ (Mar. 30, 2005), the Court of Appeal (Second Appellate District, Division Four) addressed the issue of pre-certification notices to putative class members (a relatively rare occurrence). The Court held that because the notices sought permission to release personal identifying information, "it was incumbent upon the trial court to fashion a means of notification that assures that the consumer receive actual notice and, hence, an opportunity to assert his or her right of privacy before the consumer is deemed to have given up that right." (Slip op. at 14-15.) UPDATE: On July 27, 2005, the Supreme Court granted review in this case. Here is a link to the docket.

  • In Cummings v. Connell, ___ F.3d ___ (Mar. 29, 2005), the Ninth Circuit held that "when nominal damages are awarded in a civil rights class action, every member of the class whose constitutional rights were violated is entitled to nominal damages. An award of nominal damages to only the named class representatives fails to appreciate the difference between a class action and a conventional lawsuit." This ruling raised the damages award from $7 to $37,000, a not-insignificant increase. The Court went on to hold that the amount of attorneys' fees should be revisited in light of the enhanced benefit to the class.

  • Finally, as I previously reported, in Consumer Cause, Inc. v. Mrs. Gooch's Natural Food Markets, Inc., ___ Cal.App.4th ___ (Mar. 7, 2005), the Court of Appeal elaborated on the circumstances under which class action objectors are entitled to recover attorneys' fees for their efforts. (A petition for review was recently filed in this case.) UPDATE: The petition for review was denied on June 29, 2005.
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