Litigation

Is It Time to Update Mass. R. Civ. P. 23?

Over the past 25 years, I have had the good fortune of getting to know and working with both plaintiff and defendant class action lawyers from many states, and to teach class action practice in dozens of local and national CLE programs and at a great law school. I also have represented clients in class action cases in many jurisdictions, both state and federal, including the state courts of Massachusetts. All of these experiences have given me the opportunity over an extended period to learn and reflect upon the varieties of class action practice.

When I speak with my counterparts from other states, one thing I tell them invariably makes their jaws drop — namely, that Massachusetts’ version of Rule 23 does not allow opt outs. I have not done an exhaustive review of all state class action rules, but based on my experience and my interactions with out-of-state class action lawyers, we seem to be the only state that does not permit class members to

Kingara v. Secure Home Health Care Inc. and the Precertification Powers of the Massachusetts Courts

The Backdrop

Class actions are like butterflies; they must undergo a metamorphosis before they fly. The transformation occurs when a court grants class certification. At that instant, what had started out as an individual lawsuit emerges as its own entity, with a number of legal consequences flowing from the change. Among them, plaintiff’s counsel becomes class counsel, representing and owing fiduciary duties to the entire class; the court also becomes a fiduciary, charged with its own responsibility for protecting absent class members (including, importantly, the duty to scrutinize proposed class settlements); and class members become represented parties, which triggers the ethical rules that limit or prohibit defense counsel from communicating with them.

The situation before class certification is different. Because the class does not yet exist, most courts recognize that the fiduciary duties of plaintiff’s counsel and the court to putative class members do not kick in (or, at least, not fully), and defense counsel is generally free to communicate directly with

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

Practice area:

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.

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

Class Action Settlements and the Importance of Clarity

Practice area:

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