White v. Hollister Co. Illustrates Importance of Individual Questions in Class Certification

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The California Court of Appeals January 3, 2013 decision in White v. Hollister Co. reversed and remanded the trial court’s opinion denying class certification to a class of consumers who claimed that defendant Hollister Co. (“Hollister”) refused to honor gift cards that failed to include an expiration date on the face of the card. While the court’s decision confirms that a uniform misrepresentation leads to inference of reliance as to an entire class and can therefore make certification appropriate, the appellate court declined to order the trial court to certify the class. Instead, the appellate court remanded to the trial court to determine whether a class of 21,000 customers could be identified without individual questions predominating over common questions, thereby presenting a significant hurdle to certifying the class.

White v. Hollister Co. -

In December 2009, Hollister ran a holiday promotion in which it issued a $25 gift card to each customer who made a purchase of $75 or more, and the plaintiff received a $25 gift card after making such a purchase. The gift card did not include an expiration date on its face. The plaintiff gifted the card to his daughter, who then attempted to redeem the card. After a Hollister cashier refused to honor the card, stating that it had expired six days earlier, the plaintiff filed a putative class action against Hollister alleging that Hollister’s failure to include the expiration date of the gift cards on the face of the cards violated California Business and Professions Code Section 1749.5 and the Consumers Legal Remedies Act Section 1770.

The plaintiff moved for class certification and argued that common questions of law and fact predominated over issues affecting individual class members because, inter alia, none of the Hollister gift cards contained an expiration date. In opposition, Hollister contended that individual factual issues predominated over issues common to the class because, during the 2009 holiday promotion, putative class members learned about the promotion – including its expiration date – via various methods, including in-store signs, card client alert January 2013 sleeves in which the gift cards were delivered, e-mails, or conversations with in-store Hollister personnel.

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