Eighth Circuit Affirms Pre-Certification, Pre-Merits Discovery Summary Judgment

by Carlton Fields
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The Eighth Circuit affirmed a pre-certification summary judgment in favor of Bridgestone Retail Operations in a putative class action where the Plaintiff alleged that in connection with vehicle repairs Bridgestone had violated the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act (MMPA) by charging a disguised “shop supply” fee that it used for profit instead of supplies.  The parties submitted a joint scheduling report that provided for discovery related to class certification issues before class certification, and in which they agreed that “discovery that relates only to merits issues will not occur prior to a decision regarding class certification.”

After class discovery, during which Bridgestone provided information about the shop supply fee, the Plaintiff moved for class certification and Bridgestone moved for summary judgment.  The Plaintiff moved to stay briefing on summary judgment because she had not conducted merits discovery, and she filed a Rule 56(d) motion to allow merits discovery.  The district court denied the Plaintiff’s motion and entered summary judgment in Bridgestone’s favor.

The Eighth Circuit affirmed reasoning that the Plaintiff failed to show that the additional discovery she sought even existed.  The Court noted that Bridgestone’s class discovery responses provided relevant information about the shop supply fee, and that although the Plaintiff sought additional discovery to determine if the information was true, she had not identified any documents or specific facts that she believed would contradict it.  The Plaintiff, therefore, failed to show what additional evidence would prove her claim meritorious, and instead provided only speculative hope of finding evidence supporting her claim, which the Eighth Circuit held insufficient to defer ruling on the summary judgment.

The Eighth Circuit also rejected Plaintiff’s assertion that the District Court abused its discretion in granting summary judgment before ruling on her class certification motion.  The Eighth Circuit noted that the Advisory Committee Notes to Rule 23 permit summary judgment rulings before class certification is decided, and noted that it had previously affirmed summary judgments before class certification in other cases.

Toben v. Bridgestone Retail Ops., LLC, No. 13-3329 (8th Cir. May 13, 2014)

 

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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