June 26, 2019

Paul Karlsgodt: Tenth Circuit Holds that Mere Allegation by Plaintiff of Intent Not to Seek More than $4,999,999.99 in Damages Is Not Dispositive of CAFA Jurisdiction

Yesterday, the Tenth Circuit joined the majority of Circuit Courts of Appeals in holding that a plaintiff cannot conclusively avoid federal removal jurisdiction under the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005 (CAFA) by including in the complaint a statement of intention not to seek more than $4,999,999.99 in damages on behalf of the putative class.  In Frederick v. Hartford Underwriters Insurance Company, No. 12-1161 (10th Cir. June 28, 2012) the Tenth Circuit followed decisions from the First, Second, Fourth, Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, and Eleventh Circuits in holding that a Defendant may support jurisdiction by showing by a preponderance of the evidence that the amount in controversy exceeds $5 million, even if the plaintiff expressly pleads a lesser amount.  It rejected a more stringent “legal certainty” standard, which has been applied by the Ninth and Third Circuits.

The Frederick decision means that plaintiffs cannot foreclose federal jurisdiction in class actions through creative pleading in the Tenth Circuit.  However, the burden is still on the defendant to prove as a matter of fact that the amount at stake in the case exceeds $5 million.  Therefore, it also highlights the need for defense counsel to gather, plead, and be prepared to prove specific facts showing the amount at stake in the case.

It is always important to remember that proving the amount in controversy does not require the defendant to prove the damages that are likely to be awarded against it in the case (of course most defendants would say that this amount is zero).  Instead, it requires the defendant to establish the highest amount that the plaintiff class could conceivably win based on the legal claims presented, the relief sought (both damages and other relief sought expressly and damages that could legally flow from the claims presented), and the maximum potential value that the plaintiff could reasonably put on that relief.  The preponderance standard requires the defendant to prove facts that would cause more than $5 million to be awarded if the plaintiff proves the claims and potential theories of damages that flow from those claims.

Paul Karlsgodt is a partner at Baker Hostetler who focuses his practice on class action defense and other complex commercial litigation. He is editor and primary contributor to www.ClassActionBlawg.com, where this post originally appeared on June 28, 2012.

Paul Karlsgodt: Thoughts on Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes

Many commentators correctly [predicted] that the decision in Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes would be favorable to business interests.  However, unlike the Court’s earlier decision in AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion, the decision does not necessarily threaten to sound a death knell for class actions or even a particular category of class actions.  Instead, the decision merely clarifies the standards on which future class actions are to be evaluated in the federal courts, but it does so in a way that is likely to impact class actions in many areas of the law outside of the employment law context.  Here are some of the key issues on which the opinion will undoubtedly be cited in the future, and some thoughts on the potential impact of the decision on each issue.

  1. Standard of review – The majority’s decision clarifies a long-standing misconception about the ability of a federal court to consider questions relating to the merits of a case in the class certification phase.  For more than 30 years, plaintiffs’ counsel and many courts have cited the Court’s opinion in Eisen v. Carlisle & Jacquelin, 417 U.S. 156 (1974), as prohibiting any examination of the plaintiffs’ claims on the merits at the class certification phase.  Consistent with the majority trend in the lower federal courts, the Supreme Court’s decision in Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. confirms that a court should consider and resolve any issues of fact that are necessary to determine whether one or more elements of Rule 23 are satisfied, regardless of whether those issues may overlap or be identical to one or more issues to be decided in ruling on the merits of the plaintiff’s claims.
  2. Evaluation of Expert Testimony – The majority decision makes clear that it is appropriate for a federal court to conduct a Daubert analysis to consider the reliability and helpfulness of expert witness opinions at the class certification phase.  It is no longer sufficient for a plaintiff to present expert testimony and then argue that the Court may find that testimony reliable at some later point in the proceedings.  Again, in keeping with the trend among the federal circuit courts, the Court’s analysis in Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. makes clear that the reliability and relevance of expert testimony proposed as “common proof” should be evaluated before granting class certification.
  3. Use of Statistical Evidence in Support of Class Certification – The majority’s decision leaves open the possibility that statistical evidence might be used in establishing the existence of common proof in certain cases, but it sets a high standard for when proffered statistical evidence can be considered as adequate proof of the existence of “common issue.”  Significantly, Part III of Justice Scalia’s opinion, which was joined by all 9 justices, disapproves of the “Trial by Formula” approach to class actions, in which a sample of claims is tried on the merits, and the results of that sample are then applied proportionally to the claims of the entire class.
  4. Certification of Claims Seeking Monetary Relief Under FRCP 23(b)(2) – This is perhaps the most uncontroversial aspect of the opinion in that part of the unanimous holding of the Court.  The Court’s holding is also straightforward, at least conceptually: claims for monetary relief may not be certified under FRCP 23(b)(2) unless they are merely incidental to injunctive or declaratory relief being requested on behalf of the class as a whole.  However, the devil may be in the details, as future courts (especially outside the employment law context) will be left with the task of defining what monetary relief is “incidental” to injunctive or declaratory relief and what is not.

Ed. Note: The Supreme Court’s slip opinion for Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes can be read here.

Paul Karlsgodt is a partner at Baker Hostetler who focuses his practice on class action defense and other complex commercial litigation. He is editor and primary contributor to www.ClassActionBlawg.com, where this post originally appeared on June 20, 2011.

Paul Karlsgodt: Will AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion Really Kill the Consumer Class Action?

Daniel Fisher, who writes the Full Disclosure blog at Forbes.com, posted an article last Friday titled Has Scalia Killed the Class Action? Fisher’s article one of the best I’ve seen in discussing the potential practical impact that the Supreme Court’s recent class arbitration waiver decision in AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion may have on future consumer class action litigation.  I highly recommend it.

Although much remains to be seen about Concepcion‘s long-term impact, from a practitioner’s point of view, two things are clear to me.

First, the consumer class action is far from dead.  As Fisher’s article points out, there are many cases that won’t implicate arbitration clauses in consumer contracts at all, such as those involving retail products.  Moreover, even setting aside the prospect of executive branch or Congressional action in effectively overruling Concepcion, there are a variety of legal arguments that are sure to be raised for invalidating or avoiding enforcement of class arbitration waivers in the lower courts, notwithstanding the Supreme Court’s decision.  There are countless theories, many of which have yet to be dreamed up by enterprising plaintiffs’ lawyers, for why a consumer class action in a particular case should be allowed to go forward in court notwithstanding an arbitration provision.

Second, the fact that future legislative or executive action or lower court judicial gloss may water down or limit Concepcion‘s ultimate impact should not keep companies from taking advantage of what is now, at minimum, an enhanced tool for protection against the significant cost of defending against class action litigation.  In the short term, any in-house or outside counsel charged with advising corporate clients should be considering ways to incorporate class arbitration waivers or similar provisions into the client’s form contracts and terms of use.  While it may not be failsafe protection from class actions, a well-drafted, reasonably limited class arbitration waiver, has an exponentially greater chance of being enforced than it did before the Concepcion decision was announced.

Ed. Note: And don’t miss this great comment and follow-up to the post.

Paul Karlsgodt is a partner at Baker Hostetler who focuses his practice on class action defense and other complex commercial litigation. He is editor and primary contributor to www.ClassActionBlawg.com, where this post originally appeared on May 25, 2011.