BakerHostetler 2013 Year-End Review of Class Actions (and what to expect in 2014)


I. Introduction -

Library shelves will someday swell with history books about the U.S. Supreme Court under the leadership of Chief Justice John Roberts. No doubt sensational cases about corporate speech, national health care, and marriage rights will populate several chapters, in addition to whatever untold media-friendly cases are forthcoming in the years ahead. When those books are written, however, it may have to be acknowledged that the Roberts Court altered the landscape of class action law more than any other field within its jurisdiction. At least that is an early conclusion that can be drawn after a remarkable 2013 year in which the Court issued numerous influential decisions on class actions and in which lower courts continued to apply landmark Supreme Court precedents from only a few years prior to bring about permanent change in the way class actions are fought. In a matter of a few years, and especially after 2013, the Roberts Court has established a new body of law to govern class action lawsuits. The scope of how much has actually changed is sure to be debated in the years to come, but it cannot be denied that the Roberts Court has decided that it is going to play a significant role in determining the boundaries of that conversation.

For the first time in 2013, the Court issued a decision that required it to delve into the nuances of the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005 (CAFA). After the unanimous decision in Standard Fire Ins. Co. v. Knowles, the Court not only created a new rule regarding CAFA removal, but signaled to lower courts a position that federal courts generally should play a greater role in class action jurisprudence.

Meanwhile, the Court continued to aggressively patrol territory related to class action waivers, issuing decisions in American Express Co. v. Italian Colors Restaurant and Oxford Health Plans LLC v. Sutter that amplify the enforceability of class action waivers and agreements to individually arbitrate claims. The decisions built on recent Court opinions issued in 2011 and 2010, respectively, emphasizing the Court's apparent intent to hash out the fine doctrinal details of class action waiver enforcement.

Of course, the Court rarely speaks with one voice, and nowhere was that more evident in 2013 than in its most noteworthy class action case, Comcast v. Behrend. Taking its seminal 2011 analysis from Wal-Mart v. Dukes and applying it to a damages predominance inquiry under Rule 23(b), a 5-4 majority of the Court instantly created a new battle front for litigants at the class certification stage. With vociferous push-back from a four-member dissent, the battle remained contentious among lower courts throughout the year and is likely to maintain that status quo for some time...

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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