Justia U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Class Action

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Plaintiffs alleged pharmaceutical manufacturers stalled the release of clinical trial results for their blockbuster anti-cholesterol drugs, tried to change the study's endpoint to produce more favorable results, concealed their role in the change, and that the delay allowed one company to raise $4.08 billion through a public offering, which the company used to purchase another company to lessen its reliance on the drugs. Amid press reports and a congressional investigation, the companies released the clinical trial results, which allegedly caused their stock prices to plummet, amounting to about a $48 billion loss in market capitalization. Investors filed suit. The court denied defendants’ motions to dismiss under the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act’s heightened pleading standard, denied defendants’ motion for summary judgment, and granted class certification. Investors were provided with Rule 23(c)(2) notice of their right to opt-out: “you will not be bound by any judgment in this Action” and “will retain any right you have to individually pursue any legal rights.” After the opt-out period, the court approved settlements, offering opt-out investors 45 days to rejoin and share in the recovery, while stating that opt-outs “shall not be bound” to the settlement. Sixteen opt-out investors filed suits, tracking the class action claims, and adding a New Jersey common law fraud claim. After the Supreme Court held that American Pipe tolling does not extend to statutes of repose, plaintiffs were left with only their state-law claims. The court dismissed those as barred by the Securities Litigation Uniform Standards Act, 15 U.S.C. 10 78bb(f)(5)(B)(ii)(II). The Third Circuit reversed, finding that the class actions and the opt-out suits were not “joined, consolidated, or otherwise proceed[ing] as a single action for any purpose.” View "North Sound Capital LLC v. Merck & Co., Inc" on Justia Law

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According to its website, the University of Northern New Jersey, founded in 2012, was “nationally accredited by the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges and the Commission on English Language Accreditation” and “certified by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Student and Exchange Visitor Program to educate international students.” The site included a statement from UNNJ's President, Dr. Brunetti, and its social media accounts informed students of closings for inclement weather and of alumni marriages. The University never existed. The Department of Homeland Security created the “sham university” to catch brokers of fraudulent student visas. It ensnared many such brokers; hundreds of foreign students “enrolled.” The government initially conceded that those students were innocent victims, but later suggested that they were akin to participants in the fraudulent scheme. Each enrolled student (including the plaintiffs) received a letter informing them that their student status had been terminated due to fraudulent enrollment. The government charged 21 individuals with fraudulently procuring visas. The plaintiffs filed a class action. The district court dismissed the claims, finding that there was no final government action. The Third Circuit vacated. Reinstatement proceedings are not required and would not afford an opportunity for review of DHS’s decision to terminate their F1 visa status. The students need not wait until removal proceedings are instituted to challenge the termination of their student status; neither immigration judges nor the BIA have authority to overturn the denial of reinstatement. View "Fang v. Director United States Immigration & Customs Enforcement" on Justia Law

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News broke in 2012 that Google’s Doubleclick.net cookies were bypassing Safari and Internet Explorer privacy settings and tracking internet-user information. Google settled FTC and state attorneys general lawsuits, agreeing to cease the practice and to pay $39.5 million in fines, without admitting wrongdoing. Plaintiffs' claims were consolidated into a putative class action, alleging violations of federal privacy and fraud statutes, California unfair competition and privacy statutes, the California constitution’s right to privacy, and California’s privacy tort law. The Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of all but the California constitutional and tort claims. The parties agreed to a settlement. The district court approved certification of an FRCP 23(b)(2) class and the settlement under FRCP 23(e). Under the settlement a cy pres award would be paid to organizations the defendant approved, primarily data privacy organizations that agree to use the funds to research and promote browser privacy. It also included class counsel’s fees and costs, and incentive awards for named class representatives. One objector argued that the cy pres money belongs to the class as compensation and challenged the choice of cy pres recipients because of their pre-existing relationships with Google and class counsel. The Third Circuit vacated, stating that the “cursory certification and fairness analysis were insufficient for us to review its order certifying the class and approving the settlement. The settlement agreement’s broad release of claims for money damages and its designation of cy pres recipients are particularly concerning.” View "In Re: Google Inc. Cookie Placement Consumer Privacy Litigation" on Justia Law

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Beginning in 2001, Ford received complaints from F-Series vehicle purchasers, relating to the fuel tanks. The problems were clustered in certain regions. Ford suspected that unique qualities in regional fuel supplies, particularly excessive concentrations of biodiesel, were causing delamination. In 2007, Ford released an improved tank coating. Ford’s warranty claims decreased, but some reports of delamination persisted. By 2010, Ford believed that the cause was not biodiesel but was acids found in fuel samples from service stations near a dealer that encountered numerous delamination complaints. Coba purchased two 2006 F-350 dump trucks for his landscaping business. By 2009, both trucks exhibited delamination. Ford's dealership replaced the tanks and filters in both trucks at no cost to Coba. Coba continued to have the same problems, even after the warranties expired. Coba filed a class-action, asserting breach of Ford’s New Vehicle Limited Warranty (NVLW), violation of the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act (NJCFA), and breach of the duty of good faith and fair dealing. The Third Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of Ford. The denial of class certification did not divest the district court of jurisdiction, although jurisdiction was predicated on the Class Action Fairness Act, 28 U.S.C. 1332(d).The NVLW, which covered defects in “materials or workmanship” did not extend to design defects, such as alleged by Coba, which also negated his breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing claims. The evidence of Ford’s knowledge of the alleged defect did not create a triable NJCFA issue. View "Coba v. Ford Motor Co." on Justia Law

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In 2005-2006, Blake and Orkis took out mortgages from JP Morgan to buy homes. In 2013, they filed a class action against JP Morgan under the Real Estate Settlement and Procedures Act, alleging a scheme to refer homeowners to mortgage insurers in exchange for streams of kickbacks. The Act has a one-year statute of limitations that runs from the date of the violation, 12 U.S.C. 2614. Blake and Orkis argued that, rather than the limitations period running from the mortgage closing, each kickback separately violated the Act and had its own limitations period. The Third Circuit accepted that argument. While the kickbacks ended more than a year before they sued, they attempted to piggyback on a different class action filed in 2011 that raised the same claims against JP Morgan but was dismissed. As members of that putative class, they argued, the limitations period should toll for them under the Supreme Court’s 1974 “American Pipe & Construction” decision. The Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of their suit, citing the Supreme Court’s 2018 holding in “China Agritech” that a timely class action should never toll other class actions under American Pipe, which applies only to toll individual claims. View "Blake v. JP Morgan Chase Bank NA" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs sought to represent a proposed class of 20,000 current and former Penn employees who participated in Penn's Retirement Plan since August 2010. The Plan is a defined contribution plan under 29 U.S.C. 1002(34), tax-qualified under 26 U.S.C. 403(b), offering mutual funds and annuities. The University matches employees’ contributions up to 5% of compensation. As of December 2014, the Plan offered 48 Vanguard mutual funds, and 30 TIAA-CREF mutual funds, fixed and variable annuities, and an insurance company separate account. In 2012, Penn organized its investment fund lineup into four tiers, ranging from lifecycle or target-date funds for the “Do-it-for-me” investor to the option of a brokerage account window for the “self-directed” investor looking for additional options. Plan participants could select a combination of funds from the investment tiers. TIAA-CREF and Vanguard charge investment and administrative fees. The district court dismissed plaintiffs’ suit for breach of fiduciary duty, prohibited transactions, and failure to monitor fiduciaries under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. 1001-1461, which alleged that defendants failed to use prudent and loyal decision-making processes regarding investments and administration, overpaid certain fees by up to 600%, and failed to remove underperforming options from the Plan’s offerings. The Third Circuit reversed and remanded the dismissal of the breach of fiduciary duty claims. While the complaint may not have directly alleged how Penn mismanaged the Plan, there was substantial circumstantial evidence from which the court could “reasonably infer” that a breach had occurred. View "Sweda v. University of Pennsylvania" on Justia Law

Posted in: Class Action, ERISA

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Multidistrict litigation was formed to handle claims filed by former professional football players against the NFL based on concussion-related injuries. The district court (Judge Brody) approved a settlement agreement, effective January 2017. The Third Circuit affirmed; the Supreme Court denied certiorari. Under the agreement, approximately 200,000 class members surrendered their claims in exchange for proceeds from an uncapped settlement fund. Class members had to submit medical records reflecting a qualifying diagnosis. The Claims Administrator determines whether the applicant qualifies for an award. In March 2017, the claims submission process opened for class members who had been diagnosed with a qualifying illness before January 7, 2017. Other class members had to receive a diagnosis from a practitioner approved through the settlement Baseline Assessment Program (BAP). Class members could register for BAP appointments beginning in June 2017. While waiting to receive their awards, hundreds of class members entered into cash advance agreements with litigation funding companies, purporting to “assign” their rights to settlement proceeds in exchange for immediate cash. Class members did not assign their legal claims against the NFL. Judge Brody retained jurisdiction over the administration of the settlement agreement, which included an anti-assignment provision. Class counsel advised Judge Brody that he was concerned about predatory lending. Judge Brody ordered class members to inform the Claims Administrator of all assignment agreements, and purported to void all such agreements, directing a procedure under which funding companies could accept rescission and return of the principal amount they had advanced. The Third Circuit vacated. Despite having the authority to void prohibited assignments, the court went too far in voiding the cash advance agreements and voiding contractual provisions that went only to a lender’s right to receive funds after the player acquired them. View "In Re: National Football League Players Concussion Injury Litigation." on Justia Law

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The district court certified a class of Citizens Bank mortgage loan officers from 10 different states who alleged that they were unlawfully denied overtime pay. In an interlocutory appeal, the Third Circuit reversed the class certification decision. The district court failed to “define the class or class claims” as mandated by Rule 23(c)(1)(B). The district court’s analysis did not support a definitive determination as to whether the plaintiffs’ representative evidence satisfied Rule 23’s commonality and preponderance requirements; nor did it support a conclusion regarding either the existence of a company-wide policy or Citizens’ knowledge of it. While the appellate court acknowledged its jurisdiction over class certification under Rule 23, it concluded that Rule 23 certification and collective action certification under the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. 216(b), are not sufficiently similar or otherwise “inextricably intertwined” to justify the exercise of pendent appellate jurisdiction. The court declined to consider the merits of the decision to certify a collective action under FLSA section 216(b). View "Reinig v. RBS Citizens NA" on Justia Law

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On April 21, 2004, and March 22, 2005, Defendants sent unsolicited faxes to Dr. Weitzner’s office. Weitzner filed a putative class action in Pennsylvania state court under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), 47 U.S.C. 227(b)(1)(C), including at least one fax sent to Weitzner. The proposed class included all individuals “who received an unsolicited facsimile advertisement from defendants between January 2, 2001[,] and the date of the resolution of this lawsuit.” In June 2008, the court denied class certification. The case continues as Weitzner's individual action. Defendants stopped sending unsolicited faxes in April 2005. In 2011, Weitzner and his professional corporation (Plaintiffs) brought individual claims based on the same faxes, plus class claims similar to those alleged in state court. The court dismissed, concluding that the four-year federal default statute of limitations, 28 U.S.C. 1658, applicable. The Third Circuit affirmed, rejecting a claim under the Supreme Court’s “American Pipe” holding that the timely filing of a class action tolls the applicable statute of limitations for putative class members until the propriety of maintaining the class is determined. American Pipe permits putative class members to file only individual claims after a denial of class certification and does not toll the limitations period for named plaintiffs like Weitzner. Any judgment in favor of Weitzner P.C. would benefit only Dr. Weitzner. Applying tolling to P.C.’s claims would effectively allow Weitzner to pursue his claims for a second time outside the limitations period. View "Weitzner v. Sanofi Pasteur, Inc." on Justia Law

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Favero’s car struck Alpizar-Fallas's car, causing Alpizar-Fallas serious injuries. Both drivers were insured by Progressive. The next day, Barbosa, a Progressive claims adjuster, went to Alpizar-Fallas's home to inspect her car and have her sign “paperwork” that would “expedite the processing of the property damage claim.” Alpizar-Fallas alleges that he stated that her signature was “necessary” for Progressive to advance her payment. Alpizar-Fallas signed the document. The document was actually a broadly written comprehensive general release of all claims. Barbosa failed to advise Alpizar-Fallas to seek legal counsel and did not communicate with her in Spanish, her native language. Alpizar-Fallas sought damages for the personal injuries she sustained in the accident and amended her complaint to include a class action claim against Progressive and Barbosa under the New Jersey Unfair Claims Settlement Practices Regulations (UCSPR) and the Consumer Fraud Act (CFA). The district court dismissed Alpizar-Fallas’s class action claim to the extent it alleged a violation of the UCSPR because those regulations do not provide a private right of action, then dismissed Alpizar-Fallas’s CFA claim, as a claim for denial of insurance benefits, and construing the CFA to only apply to the “sale or marketing” of insurance policies. The Third Circuit vacated, finding that Alpizar-Fallas’s complaint alleged deception that would be covered by the CFA. View "Alpizar-Fallas v. Favero" on Justia Law