First Circuit Holds That College Does Not Owe Fiduciary Duties to Students, Rejects Data Privacy Class Action Claims

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On March 25, 2020, the First Circuit Court of Appeals in Squeri v. Mount Ida College upheld the lower court’s dismissal of prospective and former Mount Ida College students’ claims against the college and its Board of Trustees arising from the college’s abrupt closure and sale of its campus to UMass Amherst in May 2018. No. 19-1624, 2020 WL 1445400 (1st Cir. Mar. 25, 2020). On appeal, the student plaintiffs urged the First Circuit to dramatically expand students’ ability to sue colleges under Massachusetts law, opening the door to new litigation risks for academic institutions. The First Circuit declined this invitation, noting that Massachusetts law does not allow for the broader theories of liability they sought to assert.

The students’ allegations against Mount Ida and the lower court’s dismissal of their claims

The students’ class action claims arose out of the college’s abrupt and permanent closure after six weeks’ notice to students that they would need to continue their studies

Two Courts of Appeals Issue Decisions Addressing Whether Bristol-Myers Squibb’s Personal Jurisdiction Holding Extends to Class Actions

We have previously written about the Supreme Court’s personal jurisdiction decision in Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Superior Court, 137 S. Ct. 1773 (2017) and how the federal district courts were applying it.  Now, two Courts of Appeals have finally weighed in, issuing the very first appellate decisions addressing whether Bristol-Myers applies to class actions in federal courts.

In Molock v. Whole Foods Market Group, Inc., No. 18-7162, 2020 WL 1146733 (D.C. Cir. March 10, 2020), plaintiffs, current and former employees of Whole Foods, brought a putative class action seeking to recover alleged lost wages.  Defendant moved to dismiss and argued that the court lacked personal jurisdiction over the claims of nonresident putative class members.  The district court denied the motion, and Whole Foods appealed.  In a 2-1 decision, the D.C. Circuit held that the question of whether Bristol-Myers applied to class actions was premature and need not be addressed because no class had been certified and

District Of Massachusetts Holds That Consumers With No Arbitration Agreement Must Arbitrate Their “Closely Intertwined” Class Action Claims

It is a legal maxim that arbitration is a creature of contract. A recent District of Massachusetts decision explores critical questions about when that creature can exist outside of the confines of a binding agreement to arbitrate among the parties.

The November 27, 2019 decision by Senior U.S. District Judge George A. O’Toole ordered that plaintiff fantasy sports players were obligated to arbitrate their class action claims against DraftKings, Fan Duel, and their payment processing companies. The claims referred to arbitration included not only those brought by players with arbitration agreements with DraftKings and Fan Duel, but claims by players with no contractual relationship with the defendant on the basis that their claims were closely “intertwined” with claims subject to arbitration. However, the Court drew a line at family members of players, determining that they had not reaped any benefit from a contract with an arbitration agreement, and thus could not be compelled to arbitrate. Judge O’Toole also declined to hear challenges

After-Effects of In re Asacol: Recent District Court Decisions on Certification and Uninjured Class Members

About a year ago, I observed that the First Circuit in In re Asacol Antitrust Litigation had constrained plaintiffs’ ability to rely on affidavits to prove injury-in-fact.  In so doing, the First Circuit substantially curtailed its prior decision in In re Nexium Antitrust Litigation, which certified a class containing uninjured consumers because class members would be able to prove injury via affidavit.  In its In re Asacol decision, the First Circuit made it clear that trial-by-affidavit is a permissible means to establish injury only if the affidavits are unrebutted.

As the D.C. Circuit observed in relying on In re Asacol, that case “sharply limited” In re Nexium and established that “any winnowing mechanism” used to identify uninjured class members

must be truncated enough to ensure that common issues predominate, yet robust enough to preserve the defendants’ Seventh Amendment and due process rights to

The District of Massachusetts Orders that Comcast Subscribers Must Individually Arbitrate Privacy Class Action Claims

On November 4, 2019, in Wainblat v. Comcast Cable Communications, LLC, et. al., No. 19-cv-10976, the District of Massachusetts ordered that a consumer privacy class action against Comcast must be arbitrated on an individual basis because the claims are subject to a valid and enforceable arbitration provision. Against a backdrop of rapidly expanding consumer class action litigation, especially based on consumer privacy laws with statutory damages, the case is an important reminder that arbitration provisions in customer agreements offer robust and critical protections for businesses.

Wainblat’s Consumer Privacy Class Action Claims against Comcast

In a class action complaint filed on April 25, 2019, plaintiff Wainblat asserted claims on behalf of all Massachusetts Comcast subscribers under the Cable Privacy Act, 47 U.S.C. § 55l(a)(l), and the Massachusetts consumer protection statute, M.G.L. c. 93A § 9 (“Chapter 93A”). The plaintiff alleged that Comcast “systematically violates cable television subscribers’ federal statutory privacy rights

Despite Holding the TCPA’s Government Debt Exemption is Unconstitutional, the District of Massachusetts Permits Class Claims to Move Forward

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On September 24, 2019, the District of Massachusetts held in Katz v. Liberty Power Corp., LLC that the government debt collection exemption to the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”), 47 U.S.C. §§ 227 et seq., is an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment. No. 18-cv-10506-ADB, 2019 WL 4645524 (D. Mass. Sept. 24, 2019). Following the U.S. Circuit Courts for the Fourth and Ninth Circuits, Judge Burroughs concluded that the exemption to the statute could not survive constitutional scrutiny, but otherwise permitted the plaintiffs’ TCPA class action claims, which did not implicate the exemption, to go forward.

Defendants Sought Dismissal of the TCPA Class Claims by Challenging the Constitutionality of the Government Debt Exemption

In their class action complaint, the plaintiffs alleged that Liberty Power Corp., LLC and its holding company (“Liberty Power”) placed prohibited pre-recorded calls to cell phones in disregard of the national Do Not Call Registry and specific do-not-call

Even With Common Questions, Chapter 93A Deceptive Marketing Claims Are Ill-Suited for Class Treatment

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Earlier this month, in Plastic Surgery Associates, SC v. Cynosure, Inc., United States District Judge Denise Casper denied plaintiffs’ motion for class certification and allowed Cynosure’s motion for summary judgment on claims arising from the marketing of a medical device intended to reduce body fat. The decision provides a searching and instructive analysis of the standards for class certification under Fed. R. Civ. P. 23, particularly for claims under Massachusetts’s consumer protection law, Mass Gen. L. c. 93A (“Chapter 93A”).

In Cynosure, plaintiffs purported to represent a class of all U.S.-based purchasers and lessees of the same medical device over a four-year period. Over 1,400 customers, mostly plastic surgeons and medical spas, had purchased the device for approximately $165,000 each. Plaintiffs each claimed they were harmed by the alleged deceptive marketing of the devices. Invoking Rule 23(c)(4), plaintiffs asked the Court to certify four issues for their Chapter 93A claim, including whether Cynosure

The District of Massachusetts Declines to Strike FCRA Class Claims in McIntyre v. RentGrow, Inc.

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In McIntyre v. RentGrow, Inc., No. 18-cv-12141-ADB, the District of Massachusetts recently denied a defendant’s motion to dismiss or to strike class claims in a putative Fair Credit Reporting Act (“FCRA”) action. The plaintiff’s complaint asserted FCRA claims on behalf of a nationwide class of tenants allegedly harmed by the defendant’s tenant screening reports that purportedly contained inaccurate and outdated eviction information.

The Court Declines to Dismiss or Strike FCRA Class Allegations

Under FCRA § 1681e(b), a defendant violates the Act if it reports inaccurate information about a consumer due to a failure to follow reasonable procedures to ensure accuracy, causing harm to the consumer. The complaint alleged that the defendant’s purchase of eviction information that was not updated, with knowledge of the errors, resulted in inaccurate screening reports that unfairly harmed thousands of tenants. The Court determined that the class claims in the complaint met the requirements of Rule

Class Action Settlements and the Importance of Clarity

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Most class actions resemble three-act plays. In the first act, the players are adversaries – fighting to kill the case or keep it alive, and if kept alive, to keep it limited to a solitary dispute or allow it to burgeon into the combined claim of large numbers of absent parties. If the case survives these early scenes, it proceeds to Act II, in which the cast members pause to see whether they can negotiate a resolution. In cases that are mediated, Act II often extends beyond the mediation sessions and does not end until a Settlement Agreement is signed. Act III begins upon execution of the Settlement Agreement. As the matter approaches its denouement, the parties’ interests come into alignment, as both sides work together to gain court approval.

Occasionally disputes develop over whether the case was resolved in Act II. This can occur when no Settlement Agreement has been signed but one side claims that the negotiations resulted in a binding oral agreement. Although

Class Action Update from the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2018-2019 Term

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The 2018-2019 term of the U.S. Supreme Court opened with a newly configured court in which Justice Kavanaugh joined as an Associate Justice following the retirement of Justice Kennedy. Since October of last year, the Court has heard 69 argued appeals, several of which arose from class action litigation. Over the past nine months, the Court has addressed issues relating to class action practice concerning arbitration provisions, federal removal statutes, consumer antitrust law, FDA preemption, and the equitable tolling of interlocutory appeals. Although presented with class action questions related to cy pres awards, data privacy litigation standing, issue class certification, securities laws, and TCPA claims, the Court declined to resolve these issues. Reflective of the Court’s decisions this term at large, rulings were unanimous or sharply divided along ideological lines, with the Court declining to hear a number of controversies. The below summary provides an overview of class action decisions by the Court this term, including recent remands and certiorari decisions.