The battle for control of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB”) raged on this Thursday during oral argument before the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in English v. Trump. All three panel judges seemed skeptical of English’s claim that she should be acting director of the CFPB, but two judges questioned whether President Trump could appoint Mulvaney as acting director when a provision in the Dodd-Frank Act states that a subsection on budgeting and financial management “may not be construed as implying … any jurisdiction or oversight over the affairs or operations of the [CFPB]” by the Office of Management and Budget (“OMB”). Continue Reading D.C. Circuit Questions English’s Standing to Challenge CFPB Control
In response to “the void left by the Trump Administration’s pullback of the [CFPB],” the New Jersey Attorney General recently announced that Paul R. Rodriguez will be serve at the Director of the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs, the state’s lead consumer protection agency. Mr. Rodriguez will serve as the Acting Director of the Division beginning on June 1, 2018, until he is confirmed by the New Jersey Senate. This appointment fulfills one of Governor Phil Murphy’s promises to create a “state-level CFPB” in New Jersey.
Several other state attorneys general, including those in California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington, have announced that they intend to fill any void resulting from leadership changes at the CFPB by continuing to vigorously enforce federal consumer protection laws, as well as the consumer protection laws of their respective states. This sentiment was memorialized in a December 14, 2017, letter from the attorneys general to President Trump expressing their support for the CFPB’s mission and their disapproval of Mick Mulvaney’s appointment as CFPB Acting Director.
Seyfarth Shaw will continue to monitor and report on this potential state-level CFPB formation trend and related enforcement activity.
Seyfarth Synopsis: In light of the uncertainties surrounding lawsuits alleging violations of the Illinois Information Biometric Privacy Act (“BIPA”), the Northern District of California has taken a firm position on a plaintiff’s Article III standing. U.S. District Judge James Donato delivered opinions in In re Facebook Biometric Info. Privacy Litig., Case No. 15-CV-03747; 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 30727 (N.D. Cal. Feb. 26, 2018) and Gullen v. Facebook Inc., Case No. 16-CV-00937; 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 34792 (N.D. Cal. March 2, 2018), denying Facebook’s motions to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction in both cases. The court held that plaintiffs’ Article III standing was satisfied through mere collection of biometric information.
The decisions provide plaintiffs the ability to get their feet in the door and threaten businesses and employers alike. The court dismissed Facebook’s argument that Article III standing requires “real-world harms,” stating that the argument exceeds the law. Instead, the court held that a plaintiff has standing when they are deprived of procedures that protect statutorily protected interests, similar to the procedures outlined in the BIPA. Continue Reading California Federal District Court Does Not ‘like’ Facebook’s Standing Argument in Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act Case
On March 16, 2018, the D.C Circuit issued a decision invalidating portions of the FCC’s 2015 TCPA Omnibus Declaratory Ruling and Order. Notably, the decision overturns as “arbitrary and capricious” the FCC’s definition of an automated telephone dialing system (“ATDS”) and the one-call safe harbor for calling a phone number that has been reassigned to a non-consenting person. The decision was not a complete victory for businesses as the D.C. Circuit sustained the FCC’s order on both consumers’ ability to revoke consent and the scope of the “time-sensitive healthcare call” exemption.
The FCC’s Definition of ATDS is Arbitrary and Capricious
In the 2015 Order, the FCC defined an ATDS as equipment that contained the potential “capacity” to dial random or sequential numbers, even if that capacity could be added only through specific modifications or software updates, so long as the modifications were not too theoretical or too attenuated. In crafting this definition, the FCC noted that smartphones could be included within the definition and only categorically ruled out a rotary-dial telephones.
In striking down the 2015 Order, the court made it clear that under the current definition of an ATDS, anyone with a smartphone, which the court estimates to be 80% of the population, is at risk of violating the TCPA because “all smartphones, under the Commission’s approach, meet the statutory definition of an autodialer.” Under the FCC’s interpretation, if a person sent a group text message to ten acquaintances without obtaining their express consent, he or she would be liable for ten distinct violations of the TCPA, with a minimum damage recovery of $5,000. In sum, the court held that “[i]t cannot be the case that every uninvited communication from a smartphone infringes federal law, and that nearly every American is a TCPA-violator-in-waiting, if not a violator-in-fact.” The D.C. Circuit held that, if the 2015 Ruling does not encompass smartphones, then the FCC failed to “articulate a comprehensible standard.”
In striking down the FCC’s sweeping definition of an ATDS, the court ordered the FCC going forward to take into account whether a system actually used autodialer functionality or whether it was merely possible to download software to convert a telephone into an ATDS. Additionally, the court held that the FCC must determine whether the definition of an ATDS requires that a system “must itself have the ability to generate random or sequential telephone numbers,” or whether it is “enough if the device can call from a database of telephone numbers generated elsewhere.” Finally, the court left open the issue of human intervention. Based on the decision, if the FCC departs from the statutory requirement of using a random or sequential number generator, it must also tackle the issue of human intervention.
In light of Chairman Ajit Pai’s expression of support for business-friendly reforms to the TCPA, it is likely that the D.C. Circuit’s ruling may result in real change in this area of the law.
The FCC’s One-Call Safe Harbor and Definition of “Called Party” are Arbitrary and Capricious
The court then turned its attention to the distinct challenges raised by the reassignment of cell phone numbers. Under the 2015 Order, a caller could place only a single call to a reassigned number before running afoul of the TCPA. Per the 2015 Order, a “called party” was the current subscriber, i.e. the consumer assigned the number and billed for the call.
The D.C. Circuit rejected both the one-call safe harbor for calling reassigned numbers and the definition of “called party.” The court held that issues related to calls or texts to reassigned numbers where the prior owners had provided consent to be contacted, present a looming challenge because “there is no dispute that millions of wireless numbers are reassigned each year.”
The court set aside the FCC’s post-reassignment interpretation on the ground that a one-call safe harbor is “arbitrary and capricious.” In reaching this result, the court focused on the FCC’s own determination that callers must be able to reasonably rely on the consent provided by former subscribers when calling or texting. Based on the record before it, the court held that it was not reasonable to hold that placing a single call to a reassigned number was likely to afford a caller reasonable notice that the number was one of the millions of numbers reassigned each year. By striking down the one-call safe harbor and the definition of “called party,” the court provided defendants with a potential defense to avoid liability for calling reassigned numbers if a defendant can establish that its reliance on the former subscriber’s consent was reasonable at the time it placed calls to the new subscriber.
Critically, in addition to striking down the one-call safe harbor, the court set aside the definition of “called party” as the “current subscriber” on the grounds that it would impose strict liability for calls to reassigned numbers. Thus, it appears that defendants may once again argue that “called party” means “intended recipient” when defending against TCPA claims based on calls or texts to reassigned numbers.
Consumers May Still Revoke Consent in Any “Reasonable” Manner
In upholding consumers’ right to revocation of consent, the court set limits. As an initial matter, a consumer may only revoke consent using “reasonable” means. The reasonableness of the revocation is governed by a totality-of-the-circumstances test. Thus, if a consumer uses creative revocation techniques or declines to follow reasonable revocation procedures set forth by the caller, the revocation may not be reasonable or permissible. Moreover, the D.C. Circuit emphasized that the FCC’s ruling “does not address revocation rules mutually adopted by contracting parties,” meaning that callers and consumers may contractually agree to revocation mechanisms.
TCPA Consent Standards for Healthcare Calls Upheld
The D.C. Circuit declined to expand the scope of calls placed to wireless numbers without express consent “for which there is exigency and that have healthcare treatment purposes.” Under the 2015 Order, calls placed to consumers for certain purposes, including, appointment reminders, pre-operative instructions and lab results do not require consent. In upholding the contours of the 2015 Order, the court declined to except “advertisements, solicitations and post-treatment financial communications” from the consent requirements. The court held that billing communications are not made for “emergency purposes.”
As of now, the state of the TCPA is in flux. Under Chairman Pai, we are cautiously optimistic that the new FCC regime will likely advance more business-friendly rules. We will continue to monitor changes to the law and provide timely updates.
On January 10, 2018, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia denied Plaintiff Tiffanie Branch’s renewed motion for class certification in Branch v. Government Employees Insurance Company, No. 3:16-cv-1010, 2018 WL 358504 (E.D. Va. Jan. 10, 2018). In particular, the Court found that the facts underlying her allegations were too individualized and specific to merit class certification. Because of this deficiency, Branch failed to meet, among other criteria, the predominance criterion required by Rule 23(b)(3) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. This post examines the interaction between predominance and Article III standing.
In August 2016, Branch accepted a job offer with Defendant GEICO, contingent upon the results of a background check. The background report included a felony conviction that Branch had not disclosed on her application. GEICO preliminarily graded Branch’s report as “Fail” because of the conviction and then contacted Branch by phone. During the call, Branch explained that the conviction was a misdemeanor, not a felony. While Branch averred that GEICO had rescinded the job offer over the phone, GEICO maintained that it had advised her that she would receive a pre-adverse action letter with a copy of the background check and a summary of her rights, including instructions on how to dispute the background report. GEICO sent Branch the letter the next day, and later sent an adverse action letter, indicating that GEICO would not hire her.
On December 30, 2016, Branch filed a putative class action, alleging that GEICO’s hiring process violated section 1681(b)(3)(A) of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (“FCRA”). That section mandates that, prior to taking an adverse action upon a consumer report for employment purposes (such as a background check), the prospective employer must provide a copy of the consumer report and a disclosure of consumer rights. Branch alleged that GEICO’s act of grading applicants “Fail” was an final decision rather than a preliminary one and that thus the adverse action occurred before GEICO provided any notice to the applicant. Branch sought to certify a class of similarly situated individuals who sought employment from GEICO and had their background reports graded “Fail” before GEICO sent the individuals a copy of their reports and a summary of their rights.
In response, GEICO argued that its grading process was not final. GEICO defended that its policy and practice was to grade a background report, provide the applicant a pre-adverse action notice and an opportunity to dispute the report if it was graded “Fail,” and then take final action only after the cure period had expired. GEICO noted that about 25% of applicants graded “Fail” had their grades changed after disputing their background reports. GEICO argued that Branch could not show that common issues would predominate at trial because her claim turned on her individualized allegation that GEICO rescinded her job offer over the phone.
Class Certification: Predominance and Article III Standing
In addition to Rule 23(a)’s requirements for class certification—numerosity, commonality, typicality, and adequacy of representation—a class must also fit within one of the prescribed conditions of Rule 23(b). EQT Prod. Co. v. Adair, 764 F.3d 347, 357 (4th Cir. 2014). In this instance, Branch argued that her proposed class satisfied Rule 23(b)(3) because “questions of law or fact common to class members predominate over any questions affecting only individual members . . . .” Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(b)(3) (emphasis added).
The Court held that this argument failed in part because of Article III, which necessitated that Branch define her class in a way so that each member had standing. At a minimum, each member must have suffered an injury in fact to satisfy Article III standing. Lujan v. Defs. of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560 (1992). The court reasoned that, as defined, the class left open the “possibility that some class members did not suffer injuries.” The court noted that it was not the designation of the “Fail” grade on an employment application in response to a criminal background check that created the adverse action in violation of FCRA. Rather, it was only if GEICO diverted from its hiring policy by immediately rescinding a job offer upon the “Fail” designation without a meaningful period to dispute the designation. In other words, the court explained, what purportedly happened to Branch did not necessarily happen to the absent class members. Consequently, the court held that this particularized inquiry “cause[d] individual injury issues to predominate,” sinking Branch’s attempt to certify her defined class.
Implications for Businesses
Businesses facing class action lawsuits should consider all options for defeating class certification. Although the United States Supreme Court has not yet decided whether each putative class member must have standing for a class to be certified, the courts of appeals and the district courts are giving greater scrutiny to this issue. Businesses should investigate claims early to see if there are differences between the named plaintiff and the individuals he or she seeks to represent. Even minor differences, if relevant, can defeat certification.
Since its enactment a decade ago, the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA) has seen a recent spike in attention from employees and consumers alike. This is due, in large part, to the technological advancements that businesses use to service consumers and keep track of employee time.
What Is The BIPA?
Intending to protect consumers, Illinois was the first state to enact a statute to regulate use of biometric information. The BIPA regulates the collection, use, safeguarding, handling, storage, retention, and destruction of biometric identifiers and information. The statute defines biometric identifiers to include a retina or iris scan, fingerprint, or scan of hand or face geometry. Furthermore, the statute defines biometric information as any information, regardless of how it is captured, converted, stored, or shared, based on an individual’s biometric identifier used to identify an individual. Any person aggrieved by a violation of the act may sue to recover actual or statutory damages or other appropriate relief. A prevailing party may also recover attorneys’ fees and costs.
Since September of 2017, there have been more than thirty-five class action BIPA lawsuits with no particular industry being targeted. More commonly sued industries include healthcare facilities, manufacturing and hospitality.
The drastic increase in litigation is largely contributable to employers’ attempt to prevent “buddy punching,” a term that references situations where employees punch in for a co-worker where biometric data is not required to clock in or out. For example, in Howe v. Speedway LLC, the class alleges that defendants violated the BIPA by implementing a finger-operated clock system without informing employees about the company’s policy of use, storage and ultimate destruction of the fingerprint data. Businesses engaging in technological innovation have also come under attack from consumers. In Morris v. Wow Bao LLC, the class alleges that Wow Bao unlawfully used customers’ facial biometrics to verify purchases at self-order kiosks.
In Rivera v. Google Inc.,the District Court for the Northern District of Illinois explained that a “biometric identifier” is a “set of biometric measurements” while “biometric information” is the “conversion of those measurements into a different, useable form.” The court reasoned that “[t]he affirmative definition of “biometric information” does important work for the Privacy Act; without it, private entities could evade (or at least arguably could evade) the Act’s restrictions by converting a person’s biometric identifier into some other piece of information, like mathematical representation or, even simpler, a unique number assigned to a person’s biometric identifier.” Thus, a company could be liable for the storage of biometric information, in any form, including an unreadable algorithm.
More recently, in Rosenbach v. Six Flags, the Illinois Appellate Court, Second District, confirmed that the BIPA is not a strict liability statute that permits recovery for mere violation. Instead, consumers must prove actual harm to sue for a BIPA violation. The court reasoned that the BIPA provides a right of action to persons “aggrieved” by a statutory violation, and an aggrieved person is one who has suffered an actual injury, adverse action, or harm. Vague allegations of harm to privacy are insufficient. The court opined that, if the Illinois legislature intended to allow for a private cause of action for every technical violation of the BIPA, the legislature could have omitted the word “aggrieved” and stated that every violation was actionable. The court’s holding that actual harm is required is consistent with the holdings of federal district courts on this issue.
Damages and Uncertainty
Plaintiffs and their counsel are attracted to the BIPA because it provides for significant statutory damages as well as attorneys’ fees and costs. The BIPA allows plaintiffs to seek $1,000 for each negligent violation, and $5,000 for each intentional or reckless violation, plus attorneys’ fees and costs.
To date, all claims have been filed as negligence claims, and, thus, it is unclear what a plaintiff must show to establish an intentional violation. Similarly, the law is unsettled on whether the statutory damages are awarded per claim or per violation. A per violation rule would exponentially increase a defendant’s potential liability. For example, some plaintiffs are currently seeking $1,000 or $5,000 for each swipe of a fingerprint to clock in or out.
How To Protect Your Business
To avoid a costly mistake when retaining biometric data, businesses should:
- provide employees or consumers with a detailed written policy that includes why and how the data will be collected, stored, retained, used, and destroyed;
- require a signed consent before collecting the data;
- implement a security protocol to protect the data; and
- place an appropriate provision in vendor contracts (e.g., for data storage) to require vendors to adhere to the law and report any data breaches.
Consent can be obtained in different ways. For example, employers may condition employment upon an individual’s consent to a data retention policy, and companies can require consumers to accept a click-through consent before accessing a company’s website or application.
Seyfarth Synopsis: One court upholds protection of Dodd-Frank limiting the President’s removal authority, while another court stifles a challenge against Mulvaney serving as acting Director of CFPB.
Last week, the Trump Administration experienced mixed results in the ongoing litigation over the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB”). As we’ve mentioned in our prior publications, there are several actions pending that involve the President’s authority to control the CFPB. The first action discussed below, which had been languishing in the court for some time, raised the issue of whether the CFPB’s structure as an independent agency is constitutional. The Trump Administration lost on this issue for the moment. In the second action, the Trump Administration dodged, at least temporarily, a challenge to President Trump’s appointment of current CFPB Director Mick Mulvaney because the court determined that the plaintiff, a non-profit credit union, had no standing to bring its case. Continue Reading Win Some, Lose Some: Trump Gets a Loss and a Win in the Fight to Control the CFPB
On January 23, 2018, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (“CFPB”) Acting Director, Mick Mulvaney, issued a mission statement to the CFPB redirecting the agency’s mission and focus. Mulvaney emphasized that the law mandates the enforcement of consumer protection laws and that, although things would be different under new leadership, the CFPB will continue to fulfill its mandate.
Mulvaney made clear that he did not see the CFPB as the “good guys” out to fight the “bad guys,” but instead he noted that the agency would treat both consumers and financial services companies fairly and equally. To that end, the CFPB will focus its enforcement efforts on quantifiable and unavoidable harm to the consumer. Where no such harm exists, the agency will not go looking for excuses to bring lawsuits. Continue Reading Under New Leadership, CFPB No Longer Interested in Pushing the Envelope on Consumer Protection Laws
Seyfarth Synopsis: The fourth and final key trend from our 14th Annual Workplace Class Action Litigation Report involves rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court. Over the past few years, the country’s highest court has issued a number of rulings that impacted the prosecution and defense of class actions in significant ways. Today, we provide readers with an outline of the most important workplace rulings issued by the Supreme Court in 2017, as well as which upcoming decisions employers should watch for in 2018. Read the full breakdown below!
Over the past decade, the U.S. Supreme Court – led by Chief Justice John Roberts – increasingly has shaped the contours of complex litigation exposures through its rulings on class action and governmental enforcement litigation issues. Many of these decisions have elucidated the requirements for pursuing employment-related class actions.
The 2011 decision in Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes and the 2013 decision in Comcast Corp. v. Behrend are the two most significant examples. Those rulings are at the core of class certification issues under Rule 23. To that end, federal and state courts cited Wal-Mart in 586 rulings in 2017; they cited Comcast in 238 cases in 2017.
The past year also saw a change in the composition of the Supreme Court in April of 2017, with Justice Neil Gorsuch assuming the seat of Antonin Scalia after his passing in 2016. Given the age of some of the other sitting Justices, President Trump may have the opportunity to fill additional seats on the Supreme Court in 2018 and beyond, and thereby influence a shift in the ideology of the Supreme Court toward a more conservative and strict constructionist jurisprudence. In turn, this is apt to change legal precedents that shape and define the playing field for workplace class action litigation.
Rulings In 2017
In terms of direct decisions by the Supreme Court impacting workplace class actions, this past year was no exception. In 2017, the Supreme Court decided seven cases – three employment-related cases and four class action cases – that will influence complex employment-related litigation in the coming years. The three “game-changers” in 2017 can be seen in the following graphic:
The employment-related rulings included one case brought under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, one ERISA case, and one EEOC case. A rough scorecard of the decisions reflects two distinct plaintiff/worker-side victories, and defense-oriented rulings in five cases.
- EEOC v. McLane Co., 137 S. Ct. 1159 (2017) – Decided on February 21, 2017, the case involved the applicable standard of appellate review of district court decisions to quash or enforce EEOC subpoenas. The Supreme Court held that the standard must be based on an abuse of discretion, and contrary lower court decisions – which called for de novo review – were rejected. The EEOC has broad statutory authority to issue subpoenas in the course of investigating charges of employment discrimination, and it may seek enforcement of its subpoenas in federal court when employers refuse to comply with them. In that event, the applicable test favors enforcement of the subpoena. The Supreme Court determined that if the charge is proper and the material requested is relevant, the subpoena should be enforced unless the employer can establish that the subpoena is too indefinite, has been issued for an illegitimate purpose, or is unduly burdensome. In sum, the Supreme Court underscored the breadth of the agency’s authority to subpoena information from employers in the course of investigating discrimination charges.
- Expressions Hair Design, et al. v. Schneiderman, 137 S. Ct. 1144 (2017) – Decided on March 29, 2017, this case involved a class action by a group of New York merchants, arguing that a New York statute that prohibits merchants from charging a surcharge to customers who use credit cards violated the First Amendment because it regulates what they say about their prices. The lower courts had dismissed the suit out of hand, concluding that price regulations regulated conduct alone and thus are immune from scrutiny under the First Amendment. The Supreme Court held that because the statute goes beyond the pure regulation of price sufficiently into the realm of regulating speech, it is subject to scrutiny under the First Amendment. As a result, the case was remanded for further consideration of the validity of the statute under the First Amendment. The ruling is a narrow one, but ensures the continuation of class action litigation over the New York statute.
- Advocate Health Care Network, et al. v. Stapleton, 137 S. Ct. 1652 (2017) – Decided on June 5, 2017, this ruling determined that pension plans that otherwise meet the definition of a church plan definition under the ERISA can qualify for the exemption without being established by a church. The decision is the culmination of a wave of ERISA class actions brought by employees of religiously affiliated non-profit hospitals who asserted that the employers improperly claimed that their pension plans were ERISA-exempt “church plans.”
- Microsoft Corp. v. Baker, et al., 137 S. Ct. 1702 (2017) – Decided on June 12, 2017, this ruling determined that the voluntary dismissal of individual claims by class representatives after denial of class certification deprives appellate courts of jurisdiction over review of the underlying class certification decision. The case involved consideration of a strategy for appealing denials of class certification whereby plaintiffs responded to a denial of class certification with a voluntary agreement to dismiss their claims. With that dismissal in hand, they would claim they have a final order that they can appeal, planning to revive their claims if the appeal reversed the certification order. The Supreme Court unanimously rejected this practice. It held that plaintiffs in putative class actions cannot transform a tentative interlocutory order into a final judgment simply by dismissing their claims with prejudice – subject, no less, to the right to revive those claims if the denial of class certification was reversed on appeal. The ruling should help corporate defendants in defeating piece-meal attacks on favorable class certification orders.
- Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., et al. v. Superior Court Of California, 137 S. Ct. 1773 (2017) – Decided on June 19, 2017, this opinion established limitations on personal jurisdiction over non-resident plaintiffs in “mass actions,” a litigation strategy often utilized by plaintiffs’ class action lawyers to sue corporations in plaintiff-friendly jurisdictions that have little to no connection with the dispute. The Supreme Court determined that the requisite connection between the corporate defendant and the litigation forum must be based on more than a combination of the company’s connections with the state and the similarity of the claims of the resident plaintiffs and the non-resident claimants. The ruling reversed a lower court decision that hundreds of plaintiffs who sued a corporation in California state court over alleged injuries associated with a corporation’s product could not sue in that state because they were not residents. In effect, it reversed a decision of the California Supreme Court and directed the dismissal of 592 non-California claims from 33 other states. The ruling has significant implications for the location and scope of class action litigation. As a result, the ruling supports the view that plaintiffs cannot simply “forum shop” in large class actions, and instead must sue where the corporate defendant has significant contacts for purposes of general jurisdiction or limit the class definition to residents of the state where the lawsuit is filed. It should provide some measure of protection to corporations that often are hauled into plaintiff-friendly jurisdictions across the country to which they have nor the plaintiffs suing them had any connection.
- CalPERS, et al. v. ANZ Securities, Inc., 137 S. Ct. 2042 (2017) – Decided on June 26, 2017, this decision involved a relatively technical question regarding the right to opt-out of a class action – when plaintiffs file a class action, are members of the class entitled to opt-out and represent themselves, and how statutes of limitations work in that situation. Federal securities laws include two different kinds of filing deadlines for claims about misrepresentations in connection with the issuance of securities, including a one-year deadline running from the discovery of the untrue statement and an outside three-year deadline running from the date on which the statement was made. The Supreme Court held that tolling under American Pipe applies only to the one-year deadline, not the three-year deadline. Applying that rule, it barred the action brought in this case by CalPERS, which had opted-out of a large class action brought against Lehman Brothers; the original action was brought in a timely manner, but CalPERS did not opt-out of that action until more than three years after the challenged statements. The ruling closes off a tactic of successive class claims by barring the traditional power of lower federal courts to modify statutory time limits in the name of equity despite any practical obstacles this creates in class actions.
- Czyzewski, et al. v. Jevic Holding Co., 137 S. Ct. 973 (2017) – Decided on March 22, 2017, this case involved the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (“WARN”) Act and the interplay between worker rights under that statute and the rights of creditors in bankruptcy proceedings after a company allegedly violates the WARN Act. In considering whether priority in distributing assets in bankruptcy may proceed in a manner that allegedly violates the priority scheme in the Bankruptcy Code, the Supreme Court held that such a distribution is improper and priority rules may not be evaded in Chapter 11 structured dismissals. The Supreme Court’s ruling protects workers with WARN claims and bars priority deviations in bankruptcies implemented through non-consensual structured dismissals.
The decisions in Advocate Health Care Network, Baker, Bristol-Myers, CalPERS, Expressions Hair Designs, Jevic, and McLane Co. are sure to shape and influence workplace class action litigation and government enforcement litigation in a profound manner. Theses rulings will impact standing concepts and jurisdictional challenges, liability under the WARN and the ERISA, appeals of class certification decisions, challenges to EEOC administrative subpoenas, and rules on American Pipe tolling and application of statute of limitations in class actions. To the extent that extrinsic restrictions on class actions – i.e., limits on the ability of representative plaintiffs to appeal certification orders (as in Baker), and jurisdictional restrictions on bringing cases in “plaintiff-friendly” jurisdictions (as in Bristol-Myers) – were tightened, class actions will become harder to maintain and litigate. On the other hand, McLane Co. is certainly a setback for employers and strengthens the EEOC’s ability to conduct wide-ranging administrative investigations through its subpoena power.
Rulings Expected In 2018
Equally important for the coming year, the Supreme Court accepted five additional cases for review in 2017 – that will be decided in 2018 – that also will impact and shape class action litigation and government enforcement lawsuits faced by employers.
Those cases include three employment lawsuits and two class action cases. The Supreme Court undertook oral arguments on two of these cases in 2017; the other three will have oral arguments in 2018.
The corporate defendants in each case have sought rulings seeking to limit the use of class actions or raise substantive defenses to class actions or employment-related claims. Further complicating several of these cases, government agencies have either taken opposing stances with each other or reversed positions they held in pervious Supreme Court terms or in the lower court proceedings in these cases.
- Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis, NLRB v. Murphy Oil USA & Ernst & Young LLP v. Morris, 16-285, 16-300 & 16-307 – Argued on October 2, 2017, these three consolidated appeals in employment cases deal with the interpretation of workplace arbitration agreements between employers and employees and whether class action waivers within such agreements – which require workers to arbitrate any claims on an individual basis (and waive the ability to bring or participate in a class action or collective action) – violate employees’ rights under the National Labor Relations Act to engage in “concerted activities” in pursuit. The Supreme Court’s ultimate decision is likely to have far-reaching implications for litigation of class actions and collective actions. The issue started when the NLRB under the Obama Administration began challenging employers’ use of arbitration agreements with class action waivers. During briefing of the issue before the Supreme Court, The Department of Justice under President Trump opposed the NLRB’s position, and has sided with employers and argued that the Federal Arbitration Act favors the validity and enforcement of arbitration agreements that include class waivers.
- Cyan, Inc., et al. v. Beaver County Employees Retirement Fund, 15-1439 – Argued on November 28, 2017, this class action case poses the issue of whether federal law bars state courts from hearing certain securities class actions. The case turns on interpretation of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995 – which imposes tougher standards on securities class actions brought in federal courts – and if it mandates that state courts can no longer hear class actions based on the Securities Act of 1933. The ultimate ruling by the Supreme Court will impact what many view as a “cottage industry” of state court-based class action filings in states such as California where class action lawyers target public companies with securities claims over drops in stock process.
- Encino Motors, LLC v. Navarro, et al., 16-1362 – In this case, the Supreme Court will examine whether service advisors at car dealerships are exempt under 29 U.S.C. § 213(b)(10)(A) from the overtime pay provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act. The future ruling in the case may have far-reaching implications on the legal tests for interpretation of statutory exemptions under the FLSA. A broader reading of the exemption potentially could reduce the number of workers allowed to assert wage & hour claims against their employers. The case is set for argument on January 17, 2018.
- Janus, et al. v. AFSCME, 16-1466 – In this employment case, the Supreme Court will consider whether Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, 431 U.S. 209 (1977), should be overruled and public-sector “agency shop” arrangements invalidated under the First Amendment so as to prevent public-sector unions from collecting mandatory fees from non-members. In deciding the constitutionality of “fair share fees” being imposed on public-sector employees as a condition of employment, the Supreme Court’s future ruling likely will impact millions of workers in 22 states that do not have right-to-work laws. Since many workers are apt to cease paying union dues if the fair share fee payments requirement is abolished, the future ruling will have a significant impact on the ability of public-sector unions to conduct their business. The case is set for oral argument on February 26, 2018.
- Resh, et al. v. China Agritech, Inc., 17-432 – In this class action case, the Supreme Court will examine whether the tolling rule for class actions established in American Pipe & Construction Co. v. Utah, 414 U.S. 538 (1974), tolls the statute of limitations to permit a previously absent class member to bring a subsequent class action outside the applicable limitations period. In American Pipe, the Supreme Court held that the filing of a class action tolls the running of the statute of limitations for all putative members of the class who make timely motions to intervene after the lawsuit is deemed inappropriate for class action status. In essence, a future ruling in this case will limit or expand the tolling rule in American Pipe to apply only to subsequent individual claims or if it is expanded broadly to successive class actions where plaintiffs were unnamed class members in failed class actions. The case has yet to be set for oral argument.
The Supreme Court is expected to issue decisions in these five cases in 2018.
Implications For Employers
Each decision outlined above may have significant implications for employers and for the defense of high-stakes class action litigation. Further, the decision in Epic Systems / E & Y / Murphy Oil may well end up being one of the most significant rulings for employers since Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes in 2011. Employers have to keep a close eye on this case, since the decision may shift the class action landscape in terms of the ability of employees to bring suit against a company. As always, we will closely monitor all Supreme Court case developments and report them to our readers. Stay tuned!
Seyfarth Synopsis: In our recent blog on the second workplace class action litigation trend of 2017, we provided our readers with a comprehensive analysis of class certification statistics. As this year’s Report profiled, court decisions throughout the country resulted in a favorable landscape for employers in terms of defeating certification motions in the decertification process. In today’s blog, author Jerry Maatman breaks down all aspects of the Report’s class certification findings, and tells employers what to watch for in 2018. Check out Jerry’s analysis in the link below!