supreme court

Lamps Plus, Inc. v. Varela: Class Arbitration Must Be Expressly Authorized

Class arbitration came back before the Supreme Court this term in Lamps Plus, Inc. v. Varela.  Today, the Supreme Court issued a 5-4 decision in Lamps Plus, holding that, under the Federal Arbitration Act, “courts may not infer from an ambiguous agreement that parties have consented to arbitrate on a classwide basis.”  Rather, class arbitration must be expressly authorized by contract.

The facts of Lamps Plus are straightforward.  An employee had signed an arbitration agreement upon being hired to work for Lamps Plus.  After a data breach, the employee sued Lamps Plus in federal court.  Lamps Plus filed a motion to compel individual arbitration, and the district court granted the motion to compel but authorized arbitration on a class basis.  The Ninth Circuit affirmed, reasoning that the arbitration provision was ambiguous as to class arbitration and must be construed against the employer under California’s contra proferentem rule that ambiguities in a contract must be

Questions Regarding Cy Pres Settlements Remain after Frank v. Gaos

Today, in a case that was being watched closely for its potential ramifications for class settlements, the Supreme Court opted not to address the merits of the cy pres issues that were presented to it.  Frank v. Gaos involved a settlement that would have distributed millions of dollars to cy pres recipients and class counsel, but no money to class members.  Objectors complained that the settlement did not comply with the requirement that class settlements be “fair, reasonable and adequate,” and the Supreme Court granted certiorari to resolve that issue.  It ultimately did not.

Instead, the Supreme Court, in a per curiam decision, vacated and remanded for the lower courts to address whether the named plaintiff had Article III standing in light of Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins.  After the district court rejected the argument the plaintiff lacked injury and thus standing to pursue its claim that Google violated federal law by

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

Supreme Court Affirms Class Action Waivers in Employment Arbitration Agreements

Since the Federal Arbitration Act’s (FAA) enactment in 1925, parties have sparred over the enforceability of arbitration agreements in a number of contexts. In recent years, the battle has focused on the enforceability of class or collective action waivers, pursuant to which parties agree to forgo their right to proceed on a class basis and to pursue claims in arbitration on an individual basis instead. Between 2011 and 2013, the United States Supreme Court issued several opinions enforcing class action waivers in the consumer context, but none dealt with employment arbitration agreements. On Monday, the United States Supreme Court removed any doubt that class or collective action waivers contained in employment arbitration agreements are enforceable, affirming a potential cure for the employment class action epidemic.

The argument that employment class action waivers are different from consumer class action waivers derives from Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), which guarantees employees the right to engage in collective activities

Justice Thomas’ Concurring Opinion in Microsoft Corp. v. Baker: A Useful Reminder

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

A New Justice: Any Change For Class Actions?

This week, Justice Gorsuch donned his black robes and began hearing arguments alongside his new colleagues on the Supreme Court.  With his elevation to the high court, Justice Gorsuch assumes many new responsibilities.  Some, of the lighter kind, include opening the door during conferences with his colleagues and assuming oversight of the Court’s cafeteria menu.  More serious responsibilities will include weighing in on important class action cases that will undoubtedly be heard by the Court in the future.

Despite his lengthy judicial record from having served a decade on the Tenth Circuit, there are relatively few clues regarding Justice Gorsuch’s approach to class actions.  While on the court of appeals, he participated in only a few class action cases, which is not surprising given that the Tenth Circuit has not been a hotbed of class actions.  His handful of class action opinions, however, evidences not only his gift with the pen but also a restrained, textual approach to Rule 23.  These characteristics are