Thursday, July 24, 2014

Allen v. Dairy Farmers of America

What happens when class counsel wants to settle and the class representatives do not? Rule 23(a)(4) and the Constitution require adequate class representation before individual class members can be bound. If class counsel can hijack a class and force a settlement when no class representative approves, it would seem to unconstitutionally abrogate the Rule 23(a)(4) inquiry. If class representatives have limited power to bind a class (as the Supreme Court has held in Standard Fire Ins. Co. v. Knowles and Smith v. Bayer Corp.), how can a class without any representation do so? And if a zombie class can proceed and settle without any class representatives, why have the Rule 23(a) requirements at all, and not just allow attorneys to sue on behalf of a class without any individual standing?

This issue is about to arise in Allen v. Dairy Farmers of Am., Inc., No. 5:09-CV-00230 (D. Vt.), where class counsel moved for preliminary approval of a settlement without a single class representative agreeing to the settlement. Unfortunately for the class representatives, the Second Circuit permits this shenanigan; unless the district court steps in, they will need to persuade the Second Circuit to reverse itself and join circuits like the Seventh that hold that class representation requires class representatives, or eventually take the case to the Supreme Court. The district court has so far withheld preliminary approval, so the class representatives may be able to prevail on the merits without need for resort to the niceties of constitutional law and procedural protections for absent class members, but this will someday be an issue that the Supreme Court resolves, and almost certainly resolves against current Second Circuit law.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Letter to Chicago Lawyer Magazine

To the editor:

Your June 2014 article "Cy pres success" contains a material misstatement of the law, when it implies that giving the class's money to legal services organizations is invariably a "recognized approach to avoid granting awards to dubious organizations." A number of decisions, including Ira Holtzman, CPA v. Turza, 728 F.3d 682 (7th Cir. 2013), have held such cy pres recipients to be inappropriate, rejecting the reasoning of the article for such distributions. 

One might overlook this statement as an excusable oversimplification of a complex area of the law, except that the author's firm, McDermott Will & Emery, currently represents the National Legal Aid and Defender Association in at least two pending appeals (including one adverse to one of my clients, Oetting v. Green Jacobson, No. 13-2620 (8th Cir.)) where it is arguing for affirmance of cy pres awards against existing precedent. This conflict is nowhere disclosed in the article.

Very truly yours,

Theodore H. Frank
Center for Class Action Fairness
Washington, DC