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Federal Bar Update: Supreme Court takes rare steps on procedural decisions

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FedBarMaley-sigWith its limited docket, the U.S. Supreme Court rarely decides procedural issues, focusing instead on weighty constitutional issues or resolving split interpretations of federal statutes. This term, however, the Supreme Court has addressed several procedural issues.

Class actions – In Standard Fire Ins. Co. v. Knowles, (March 19, 2013), plaintiff brought a class action in state court and stipulated not seeking more than $5 million. Defendant removed asserting diversity and that the amount in controversy met the $5 million threshold under the Class Action Fairness Act. The District Court remanded based on plaintiff’s stipulation as to damages.

The Supreme Court reversed, holding that plaintiffs bringing class actions cannot escape federal jurisdiction by promising to seek less than $5 million in damages. The court – in interpreting the Class Action Fairness Act – ruled that a plaintiff has no power to bind other class members.

In Amgen v. Connecticut Retirement Plans & Trust, (Feb. 27, 2013), the court ruled in a securities 10(b)(5) action that while plaintiff “certainly must prove materiality to prevail on the merits, we hold that such proof is not a prerequisite to class certification.” The court explained, “Rule 23(b)(3) requires a showing that questions common to the class predominate, not that those questions will be answered, on the merits, in favor of the class.”

By contrast, in Comcast Corp. v. Behrend, (March 27, 2013), the court ruled that class certification was improperly certified in the antitrust case. The lower court needed to decide whether the named plaintiffs’ proposed damages model could show damages on a class-wide basis. That this issue intertwined with the merits did not matter.

The court explained: “A party seeking to maintain a class action must be prepared to show that Rule 23(a)’s numerosity, commonality, typicality, and adequacy-of-representation requirements have been met, and must satisfy through evidentiary proof at least one of Rule 23(b)’s provisions. Courts may have to ‘probe behind the pleadings before coming to rest on the certification question,’ and [a] certification is proper only if ‘the trial court is satisfied, after a rigorous analysis, that [Rule 23’s] prerequisites …have been satisfied.’”

Collective FLSA action – In Genesis Healthcare Corp. v. Symczyk, (April 16, 2013), the underlying case was an FLSA suit on behalf of plaintiff and other “similarly situated” employees. Defendant made an offer of judgment to plaintiff for the full amount of plaintiff’s claim. No other claimants had opted in.

The Supreme Court held that the District Court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction when named plaintiff’s claim became moot by the full Rule 68 offer of judgment and no other claimant had opted in. The court noted that the plaintiff did not challenge mootness, and also noted differences between FLSA collective actions and class actions.

Increased filing fee Effective May 1, civil filing fees increased to $400 for filing a new civil action.

Updated benchbook for U.S. District judges – The 6th edition of this benchbook, published by the Federal Judicial Center, is publicly available as a pdf at: www.fjc.gov. Search in publications for “benchbook.”

Save the date – The annual Federal Civil Practice 3-hour CLE seminar will be Thursday, Dec. 19 from 1:30 – 4:45 p.m. in Indianapolis.

Run with other attorneysThe 5th annual Joseph Maley Foundation 5k Run, Walk, Roll is set for 9 a.m. July 13 at Eagle Creek Park in Indianapolis. This event is well attended by area attorneys. To register or sponsor, see www.josephmaley.org.•

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John Maley – jmaley@btlaw.com – is a partner with Barnes & Thornburg LLP, practicing federal and state litigation, employment matters and appeals. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

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