Donald R. Frederico

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.

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.

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

Massachusetts SJC: Rule 23 Governs Wage Act Claims, Rejected Offers of Judgment Do Not Moot Claims, and More

Every now and then a case comes along that rewards us class action nerds with an embarrassment of riches. Gammella v. P.F. Chang’s China Bistro, Inc., decided last week by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, is one such case. In it, the Court addressed a number of important class certification issues, some unique to Massachusetts law, and some that have close federal procedural analogues. And its resolution of those issues offers something to both plaintiffs and defendants.

Gammella is a wage and hour case. Plaintiff brought a claim under the Massachusetts Wage Act and the minimum fair wage law for his employer’s alleged violations of the “reporting pay” provision of Massachusetts regulations which, the Court explains, “requires employers to pay employees three hours’ wages at no less than the minimum wage if they report for a scheduled shift of three or more hours but are involuntarily dismissed before they have worked three hours.” He alleged that, on numerous occasions, he reported to work at

A Class Settlement Checklist

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Having heard good things about it for years, last month I finally got around to reading Dr. Atul Gawande’s book, The Checklist Manifesto, and have begun to give some thought regarding its application to class action practice. Proposed class action settlements are currently occupying much of my time, and my usual practice when drafting the settlement agreements is to draw upon lengthy agreements I have negotiated before.  However, after reading Dr. Gawande’s opus, it occurred to me that a short, simple checklist would likely be a helpful tool in considering the most commonly recurring terms of class action settlements. With the book as inspiration, I offer the following as a first, high-level attempt at a simple class settlement checklist, one which can be expanded, refined, and otherwise improved upon. Each item on the checklist is followed by a little clarification of what it entails. Taken together, the items represent the basic provisions of many class action settlements, but each case is different, and settlements of

In re Asacol Antitrust Litigation: Article III Standing in Multi-State Class Actions

In his October 17th post, Josh Dunlap describes in detail the First Circuit’s landmark ruling in In re Asacol Antitrust Litigation concerning classes that include uninjured members. As Josh points out, although the district court had referred to ascertainability in its decision certifying the class, the First Circuit opinion reversing class certification did not, and for good reason. The case did not raise an ascertainability issue at all, but rather an issue of an overly broad class definition that encompassed significant numbers of uninjured class members (the court estimated 10 percent of potential class members had not been harmed because they would have purchased the branded drug even had the generic been allowed on the market). The ill-fated class was defined to include all purchasers of the defendant’s product, not just all such persons who would have purchased the generic alternative. Presumably, all purchasers of the drug could have been identified through prescription records, but plaintiffs failed to show that it

SCOTUS Resolves Circuit Split Regarding American Pipe Tolling

In an opinion authored by Justice Ginsburg and joined by all of the Justices (though with only a concurrence from Justice Sotomayor), the Supreme Court today ruled that its 1974 ruling in American Pipe & Constr. Co. v. Utah does not toll the statute of limitations for successive class actions. Justice Ginsburg summarized the Court’s holding as follows:

American Pipe tolls the statute of limitations during the pendency of a putative class action, allowing unnamed class members to join the action individually or file individual claims if the class fails. But American Pipe does not permit the maintenance of a follow-on class action past expiration of the statute of limitations.

The case, China Agritech, Inc. v. Resh, was the third in a series of putative class actions brought to address alleged federal securities law violations. Each of the first two lawsuits was filed within the two-year statute of limitations

Campbell-Ewald in Massachusetts

On March 6th, in Silva v. Todisco Services, Inc., Judge Kenneth Salinger, sitting in the Business Litigation Session of the Massachusetts Superior Court, held that a defendant’s tendering of the maximum amount of damages a plaintiff might recover in a putative class action did not moot either the plaintiff’s individual claims or the claims of putative class members. In rejecting defendant’s “pick-off” attempt, Judge Salinger aligned Massachusetts state court practice with federal case law, including the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Campbell-Ewald v. Gomez, and subsequent federal decisions. His reasons for doing so, while perhaps consistent with Massachusetts precedent, were somewhat different from the federal court rationale and could have unintended consequences.

In Campbell-Ewald, the Supreme Court held that an unaccepted offer of judgment does not moot a named plaintiff’s claim, and therefore cannot prevent a putative class action from moving forward. The Court based its decision on principles of contract law

Consumer Financial Services Arbitration: Another Perspective

Much has been said and written about Congress’ rejection of the CFPB proposal to ban class action waivers in arbitration agreements between consumers and financial services companies. One of the most frequent statements I have heard from some politicians in the media is that Congress has voted to ban class actions against banks. As is true with many political statements from both sides of the aisle, this one is only partially true. Here are a few additional (but not alternative) facts to place Congress’ action in context.

  • The CFPB rule, and not Congress’ rejection of it, would have represented a change in the law. Since the Supreme Court’s 2011 decision in AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion, class action waivers have generally been enforceable in contracts for consumer financial services. The CFPB proposed rule was based on the agency’s authority granted under the Dodd-Frank Act. However, Congress and the President had the final say regarding whether the rule would take effect, and