Tuition Refund Class Actions: Our ABA Podcast

Recently, my colleague Melanie Conroy and I delivered a podcast for the American Bar Association about the tuition refund class actions filed against universities in response to COVID-19 campus closures. We discuss the impact of COVID-19 on colleges and universities, the legal theories underlying the plaintiffs’ claims and likely defenses, the issues raised by anticipated motions for class certification, and some predictions about the progress and potential outcomes of the cases. A link to the podcast can be found here.

A Survey and Comparison of Federal and Maine Class Action Law

I’m pleased to say that I recently published an article, Class Actions: A Survey and Comparison of Federal Law and Maine State Law, that considers Maine class action law in light of federal law, particularly case law in the First Circuit.  While class actions are prevalent at the national level, the story thus far has been different in Maine – but that may be changing.

Since 2000, Maine courts have more frequently addressed class action issues. That trend could accelerate, given that plaintiffs may increasingly seek recourse to state courts if the Supreme Court is perceived to be taking a more hostile view of class actions. If this trend continues, Maine law regarding Rule 23 will continue to become more robust. It is likely that Maine law will continue to track federal class action law to some extent, though it has diverged—and may continue to diverge—to some extent as well.

The article provides a primer on the growing body

Navigating the Tuition Refund Class Action

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One fallout of the Coronavirus pandemic is a national wave of class action lawsuits against universities, including some schools located in New England. To read more about the cases and our thoughts about the universities’ defenses, please see this client alert we published today.

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