On Oct. 14, Nov. 2, and Nov. 10, 2015, the Supreme Court heard argument on three cases with the potential to impact access to the courts by claimants seeking to bring class actions and/or enforce federal statutes in which Congress has conferred a private right of action.
In the first of these, Campbell-Ewald Company v. Gomez, No. 14-857, the Court considered whether a proposed class representative’s standing to sue (and thus his/her ability to proceed with a class action) can be eliminated by a defendant’s offer of complete relief on his/her individual claim. A transcript of the argument can be viewed here.
UPDATE: On January 20, 2016, in a win for consumers and access to justice, the Supreme Court held that a corporation cannot eliminate an individual consumer’s standing to bring a class action merely by making an unaccepted offer to settle that consumer’s claim on an individual basis. The Court split 6-3 in favor of consumers, with Justices Ginsburg, Kennedy, Breyer, Sotomayor, Kagan, and Thomas either in the majority or concurring in the majority opinion. Justice Ginsburg delivered the opinion for the majority of the Court, which may be read here.
In the second, Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, No. 13-1339, the Court considered whether Congress may confer Article III standing to sue upon a plaintiff by authorizing a private right of action based on the violation of a federal statute, independent of any separately cognizable harm or injury suffered by that plaintiff. A transcript of the argument can be viewed here.
UPDATE: On May 16, 2016, the Supreme Court, in a 6-2 opinion, vacated the 9th Circuit’s holding that the named plaintiff had adequately alleged an injury in fact. In so doing, however, the Court reaffirmed that plaintiffs harmed by illegal conduct have standing to defend their privacy rights. Although split on whether the named plaintiff in this particular case had standing, the Court unanimously rejected the defense bar’s proposed cramped construction of Article III standing that would have eliminated whole categories of injury long-recognized by Congress, but that do not involve easily measured harm, including violations of privacy rights. The Court also expressly confirmed that Congress has the power to define injuries and create causes of action that did not exist before. While protecting access to justice for plaintiffs with legitimate complaints about corporate conduct, the Court precluded lawsuits based on bare statutory violations unaccompanied by any semblance of actual harm. A copy of the Court’s opinion can be viewed here. A brief examination of the decision co-authored by NASCAT member Nick Diamand can be viewed here.
And in Tyson Foods, Inc. v. Bouaphakeo, No. 14-1146, the Court considered whether statistical techniques that presume all class members are identical to the average observed in a sample can be used to determine liability and/or damages in a class action. A transcript of the argument can be viewed here.
UPDATE: On March 22, 2016, in a win for workers and other class action plaintiffs, the Supreme Court affirmed the Eighth Circuit and held that the proposed class was properly certified after the plaintiffs relied on statistical evidence to establish class-wide liability. The Court split 6-2 in favor of the proposed plaintiff class of workers, with Justices Kennedy, Roberts, Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan either in the majority or concurring in the majority opinion, in which the Court declined to adopt “a broad rule against the use in class actions of what the parties call representative evidence.” The Court noted that “[a] categorical exclusion of that sort . . . would make little sense. A representative or statistical sample, like all evidence, is a means to establish or defend against liability. Its permissibility turns not on the form a proceeding takes—be it a class or individual action—but on the degree to which the evidence is reliable in proving or disproving the elements of the relevant cause of action.” Justice Kennedy delivered the opinion for the majority of the Court, which may be read here.