Class Actions Hang in Balance of Supreme Court Docket

The United States Supreme Court is set to decide a series of cases this year that could have a dramatic impact on the future of class action litigation.  The way the nation’s highest court rules in these cases could impact class action litigation in a litany of cases that cover such diverse topics as unsafe pharmaceuticals, defective medical devices, consumer fraud claims, defective consumer products claims and other cases that are often pursued as a class action lawsuit.  The key cases that the Justices will hear on class action issues include:

Genesis HealthCare Corp. v. Symczyk: This case is not actually a class action case, but the ruling could provide a powerful tool to defendants facing the possibility of a full blown class action case.  The Supreme Court will consider whether a defendant corporation’s offer to pay all claims brought by an individual plaintiff renders any prospective class action moot.  If the court determines that defendants may legitimately use this strategy and moot class actions, defendants may find it far less expensive to satisfy the claims brought by an individually-named defendant than deal with the potential exposure and litigation expense of defending against a class action lawsuit.

Standard Fire Insurance Co. v. Knowles: The Justices will consider whether a stipulation by a class representative that damages are below the threshold for removal to federal court can prevent defendants from transferring the case to federal court pursuant to the Class Action Fairness Act.  An amicus brief has been filed in this case claiming that state courts do not subject proposed classes to “meaningful scrutiny” as required under the federal rules and utilize procedural mechanisms that facilitate nuisance claims.  Another objection by a defendant in this case is that permitting a class representative to stipulate to a damage amount below the $5 million threshold to avoid removal could also expose corporations to defending overlapping class action in state courts in many jurisdictions.

Comcast v. Behrend: This pending matter involves revisiting a matter addressed by the Court in Wal-Mart v. Dukes decided in the previous Supreme Court term.  The question at issue is the appropriate degree of scrutiny to be applied by the District Court when evaluating evidence on the merits and deciding whether to certify a class action.  The Court noted in Wal-Mart that it was the largest class action ever certified, and the number of claimants involved in the class in Comcast is even greater.  The parties in this case disagree on whether the District Court was sufficiently rigorous when evaluating an expert report on the scope of damages alleged by the members of the class.  The Court during argument in this case seemed to be focused on whether the rigorous standards of Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals must be met regarding expert witness testimony on damages.  The defendants contend that if Daubert is not applied, defendants could be forced to defend a class action even if there is no evidence that a remedy could be provided on a class wide basis.

While it is too early to determine how the Supreme Court will rule on these cases, the rulings could substantially impact pending and future class action cases.  Audet and Partners, LLP represents clients in multi-district litigation and class actions involving defective medical products and unsafe pharmaceuticals.  We offer a free consultation so that we can evaluate your legal claim and advise you of your options.  We invite you to call us at (800) 965-1461, click here to submit our confidential online inquiry form, or visit our class action blog at http://www.class-action-blog.com.

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