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.
Supreme Court Unanimously Rejects Equitable Tolling of Rule 23(f)’s Time Limit to Petition for Interlocutory Appeal
Yesterday, the Supreme Court in Nutraceutical Corp. v. Lambert unanimously held that Rule 23(f) is not subject to equitable tolling. After the District Court for the Central District of California decertified a class of consumers who alleged that Nutraceutical’s marketing of a dietary supplement violated California consumer-protection law, plaintiff Lambert filed a motion for reconsideration, which the court subsequently denied. Fourteen days later, Lambert petitioned the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals for permission to appeal the decertification order under Rule 23(f). Nutraceutical opposed Lambert’s petition, arguing that it was untimely because more than four months had passed since the court’s decertification order. The Court of Appeals, however, deemed the petition timely and accepted the appeal, stating that the Rule 23(f) fourteen-day deadline should be equitably tolled under the circumstances as the time limit is “non-jurisdictional, and that equitable remedies softening the deadline are therefore generally available,” and Lambert had acted diligently in moving for reconsideration and subsequently filing his petition within fourteen days after
On December 1, 2018, the amendments to Fed. R. Civ. P. 23 took effect, principally altering portions of the Rule governing class action notice, settlement, and appeals. Although the amendments were approved earlier in 2018 by the United States Supreme Court, they had been in the works for some time.
In 2014, a subcommittee of the Advisory Committee on Civil Rules met with class action attorneys from both the plaintiffs’ and defense bar all across the country in a series of meetings, seeking input on amendments to Rule 23. One such meeting was held in October 2014 during the ABA’s National Institute on Class Actions, a two-day conference well-attended by counsel in private practice, in-house counsel, academics, and reporters from class action news services. Those of us in attendance had the opportunity to offer the subcommittee suggestions on how to amend the Rule to better address problems we encounter in practice, such as cy pres awards, professional objectors, and issue classes. Fast-forward four years later, and
On June 12th, the Supreme Court issued its unsurprising decision in Microsoft Corp. v. Baker, addressing a relatively recent twist concerning the appealability of orders denying class certification. The case resulted in unanimous agreement among the eight Justices who participated in it (Justice Gorsuch did not participate), but a five-three split among them as to whether the case should be decided on statutory grounds (supported by the majority) or constitutional grounds (supported by the minority). In the course of the debate over the decision’s rationale, Justice Thomas penned a paragraph that serves as a useful reminder concerning the nature of putative class litigation.
Of all the Court’s class certification cases, this must have been one of the easiest to decide. Put simply, the district court struck plaintiffs’ class allegations from the complaint, based on a class certification denial in an earlier case raising the same claims. After plaintiffs unsuccessfully petitioned the Ninth Circuit for interlocutory review under Rule 23(f), they were left with