Wednesday, January 4, 2017
Ninth Circuit Declares:
No Need to Show Feasible Means of Identifying Class
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday held that class action plaintiffs do not have to demonstrate an administratively feasible means of identifying unnamed class members at the certification stage.
The opinion, by Judge Michelle Friedland, adopts the plain meaning interpretation of Rule 23(a) by the Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth Circuits and rejects the Third Circuit’s contrary view.
Plaintiffs filed the putative class action against ConAgra Foods, Inc., alleging its labeling of Wesson-brand cooking oils as “100% Natural” misled consumers because its products were comprised of bioengineered ingredients. Then-U.S. District Court Judge Margaret M. Morrow of the Central District of California granted class certification, which ConAgra opposed on the ground that there would be no reliable way to identify consumer-class members.
Rule 23(a) sets forth prerequisites for federal class actions, imposing four requirements—numericity, commonality, typicality, and adequacy. Relying on Russello v. United States (1983) 464 U.S. 16, Friedland found that Congress intended this list to be exhaustive.
Noting that the Third Circuit has imposed an “administrative feasibility” requirement, she said:
“The Third Circuit justifies its administrative feasibility requirement not through the text of Rule 23 but rather as a necessary tool to ensure that the ‘class will actually function as a class.’…The Seventh Circuit soundly rejected those justifications…, and the Sixth Circuit followed suit….We likewise conclude that Rule 23’s enumerated criteria already address the interests that motivated the Third Circuit and, therefore, that an independent administrative feasibility requirement is unnecessary.”
In a separate unpublished opinion yesterday, the court affirmed Morrow’s grant of certification, denying ConAgra’s appeal on the grounds of typicality, commonality, and lack of manageability.
The case is Briseno v. ConAgra Foods, Inc., No. 15-55727
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