April 4, 2013
Important Rulings From U.S. Supreme Court Make Class Action Plaintiffs’ Job More Difficult
April 2013 has been a productive month for the development of class action litigation. On April 3, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its long-awaited decision in Comcast Corp. et al. v. Behrend, et al. and held that the plaintiffs’ method of proving damages on a class basis must be tied to the theory of liability upon which the class claims are based. In other words, the proponent of class adjudication must demonstrate that the specific damages that would flow from the specific theory of liability are capable of class proof. The broader ruling from the case is that a plaintiff seeking class certification under Rule 23(b)(3) must establish through evidentiary proof that damages can be measured on a classwide basis and that Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(b)(3) damages class actions should be limited to those cases where all class members truly suffered the same injury. This is a big departure from lower court rulings which have consistently held that individualized issues of damages will not predominate over any common issues.
The U.S. Supreme Court also vacated the Sixth Circuit’s problematic In re Whirlpool class certification ruling (which was cited favorably by the Seventh Circuit’s Judge Posner in his similar Butler v. Sears ruling) and remanded the case to the Sixth Circuit in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Comcast ruling. The U.S. Supreme Court did not grant certiorari or otherwise address the key predominance issue raised in both the Whirlpool and the Butler cases.