Recent Cases of Note

by Nelson Brown & Co.

District of New Jersey Denies Class Certification in Title Insurance Case on Grounds of Ascertainability

In the latest in a series of decisions from courts in the Third Circuit regarding ascertainability of a putative class, the District of New Jersey denied class certification. In Haskins v. First American Title Ins. Co., the plaintiffs alleged that they were overcharged on title insurance during mortgage refinance transactions. The court held that class certification was improper because the class could not easily be ascertained. A file-by-file review would have been necessary to determine which potential class members had been overcharged. Despite the fact that the file-by-file review resulted from the defendant insurer’s inadequate databases, the court rejected the plaintiff’s attempt to certify.

Supreme Court Rejects Appeals of Washing Machine Class Actions

The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear appeals of decisions from the Sixth and Seventh Circuits certifying class actions regarding purportedly defective washing machines. As noted in a previous issue of Class Action Quarterly, the circuit courts in Whirlpool Corp. v. Glazer and Sears Roebuck v. Butler held that class certification was appropriate even if some class members may not have experienced any problems with their machines. The Supreme Court initially ordered reconsideration of these decisions in light of Comcast v. Behrend. While this created expectations that the Court would ultimately take the appeal of these cases after the circuit courts affirmed, the Court declined to add these cases to their recent string of class action opinions.

Second Circuit Permits “Late” Removal Under CAFA When Initial Complaint and Other Documents from Plaintiff Fail to Establish Removability

The Second Circuit recognized that a defendant may remove an action under CAFA more than 30 days after the filing of a complaint if it did not originally have any documents from the plaintiff to support removability. In Cutrone v. Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, Inc., the initial complaint did not specify the total amount of damages sought or the exact number of putative class members. The plaintiffs also failed to provide that information in responding to the defendant’s demand for a bill of particulars. After reviewing its records to ascertain the size of the putative class, the defendant filed a notice of removal more than 90 days after the complaint was filed. The Second Circuit held that the 30-day statutory time period for removal under CAFA commenced only upon service of a complaint or other documents from a plaintiff that either specified the amount in controversy or set forth facts from which the amount in controversy in excess of $5 million could be ascertained. The court therefore held that removal based upon a defendant’s investigation was not subject to the 30-day time limit.

Eastern District of Pennsylvania Denies Class Certification in Action Alleging Inflated Workers’ Compensation Premiums

The Eastern District of Pennsylvania refused to certify a class in a case alleging that a workers’ compensation insurer improperly charged policyholders for unnecessary coverage of independent contractors. In NBL Flooring, Inc. v. Trumbull Ins. Co., the plaintiffs contended that the insurer had made systematic errors in auditing policyholders to determine whether workers were employees or independent contractors. The plaintiffs failed to produce “significant proof” in support of these allegations and the court concluded that certification was inappropriate because it would require an individualized analysis for each claimant.

Seventh Circuit Reverses Class Certification in Groundwater Contamination Case

In reversing a trial court’s decision to grant class certification in an environmental contamination case, the Seventh Circuit reinforced the necessity of performing a “rigorous analysis” of the predominance requirement. Parko v. Shell Oil Co. involved allegations that benzene and other toxic chemicals released from a refinery had contaminated the town’s groundwater. Even though the residents obtained their water from an independent, uncontaminated source, the plaintiffs contended that the groundwater contamination resulted in diminution of property value. In reversing the trial court’s order granting class certification, the court noted that the trial court improperly relied on the “mere assertion” that common issues predominated. Specifically, the court criticized the trial court’s acceptance of plaintiffs’ contention that an expert model could be used to establish class-wide liability and damages without reviewing evidence regarding this model.

Pennsylvania Superior Court Reverses Class Certification in Action by Physicians for Overdue Interest

The Pennsylvania Superior Court reversed a trial court’s decision to grant class certification and partial summary judgment for the plaintiffs in an action seeking statutory interest on purportedly overdue insurance claims owed to medical providers. In Glick v. Progressive Ins. Co., a physician alleged that an automobile insurer did not issue timely payment of medical bills following the submission of standardized invoices, and subsequently failed to pay interest owed under the state’s Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law (MVFRL). The MVFRL mandates the payment of interest if benefits are not paid within 30 days after the insurer has received “reasonable proof.” The Superior Court held that the trial court improperly determined that the submission of standardized billing forms constituted “reasonable proof” of benefits under the MVFRL. The court reasoned that the question of whether each claimant had in fact submitted “reasonable proof” of benefits presented individualized factual issues rendering class certification improper.

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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