High Court deals with 2 of 3 class action modification cases

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The justices voted 6-2 on Tuesday to reject new limits Tyson asked them to impose on the ability of workers to band together to challenge pay and workplace issues.

By Kathryn Honecker | Chair, Rose Law Group Class Action Dept.

The Supreme Court historically has protected corporations over the little guy, but has taken an amazing swing in direction this year. There are three cases at the Supreme Court this term (very rare), and each of those cases had the potential of ending or severely modifying class actions. The Court has ruled on two of the three cases (Campbell-Ewald v. Gomez and the Tyson Foods case) and rejected the corporation’s arguments both times.

In the first case, Campbell-Ewald argued that defendants could terminate (moot) a class action by making an Offer of Judgment of full relief to only the named plaintiff (e.g., $500 on a $400 claim) and nothing to the class. If true, defendants could end every class action ever filed. The Supreme Court rejected that argument in an opinion that was issued before Justice Scalia passed away.

In the second case, Tyson argued that a class of its poultry factory workers should not have been certified in their overtime cases, which resulted in a $19 million jury verdict, because the amount of time it took each employee to don and doff their protective gear before they clocked in varied. The district judge had allowed the use of statistics at trial to determine an average time. The Supreme Court upheld the use of statistics and rejected the argument that a class couldn’t be certified if the class members’ damages varied. Tyson was a 6-2 victory, so Justice Scalia’s vote would not have changed the outcome.

The last case in this trilogy of cases is about whether so-called “no injury” class actions can be maintained (e.g., Congress enacted a statute that (1) makes it illegal to robocall cell phones unless the recipients have opted in and (2) provides an award of $500 to anyone who received the call who didn’t opt in). I’ve never filed one of those cases, so the outcome doesn’t currently affect my practice, but it is still an interesting question and will be interesting to see if the plaintiffs sweep all three cases.


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