Estee Lauder Sued in Class Action For Alleged False Claims That Skin Cream Repairs DNA Damage

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The Class Action Lawsuit claims that Estee Lauder's skin cream claims about repairing DNA are fraudulent. But as unbelievable as it sounds, dermatologist Dr. Jeanette Graf said creams can repair DNA.

“Whether it’s in the form of peptides, whether it’s in the form of retinols, whether it’s in the form of enzyme inhibitors — all of which play a role together in diminishing the amount of DNA damage,”
Graf told CBS News.

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Milwaukee Time Warner Customers File Class Action For Losing Channel 4

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Third Circuit Reverses Class Certification Order in Sam's Club Extended Warranty Case and Remands for Further Fact Finding

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Sam’s Club is a members-only retail warehouse that features a section for clearance items, called “as-is” items. Items may be designated “as-is” for various reasons and may be damaged or undamaged. Every as-is item is marked with an orange sticker; when a cashier scans the item, the original price appears and the cashier must perform a manual override. The software records the fact that a price override was performed, but does not include the reason. Overrides can occur for reasons other than “as-is” designation. Sam’s contracted with NEW to sell extended warranties for items sold in the store. NEW will not cover some “as is” products, including some purchased by Hayes. On each occasion, Sam’s employees offered and Hayes purchased a NEW warranty. The store provided Hayes with a manual and remote missing from a television he purchased and offered to refund the warranty price. Hayes declined. Hayes sued, on behalf of himself and all other persons who purchased a warranty for an as-is product from Clubs in New Jersey since 2004, asserting violation of the state Consumer Fraud Act, breach of contract, and unjust enrichment.

The trial court certified a Rule 23(b)(3) class. The Third Circuit vacated and remanded for consideration of Rule 23’s class definition, ascertainability, and numerosity requirements in light of its recent decision of Marcus v. BMW of North America, LLC, 687 F.3d 583 (3d Cir. 2012). The Third Circuit reasoned:

Because the able trial court here did not have the benefit of Marcus’s guidance, it did not consider whether it would be administratively feasible to ascertain class members. In discussing numerosity, however, the court noted that Sam’s Club had no method for determining how many of the 3,500 price-override transactions that took place during the class period were for as-is items. The court did not see this as a barrier to class certification, reasoning that plaintiff should not be hindered from bringing a class action because defendant lacked certain records. But the nature or thoroughness of a defendant’s record keeping does not alter the plaintiff’s burden to fulfill Rule 23’s requirements. Nor has plaintiff cited any statutory or regulatory authority obligating Wal-Mart to create and maintain a particular set of records. ... Given the trial court’s finding that Wal-Mart lacks records that are necessary to ascertain the class, to be successful on remand, plaintiff must offer some reliable and administratively feasible alternative that would permit the court to determine: (1) whether a Sam’s Club member purchased a Service Plan for an as-is item, (2) whether the as-is item was a “last one” item or otherwise came with a full manufacturer’s warranty, and (3) whether the member nonetheless received service on the as-is item or a refund of the cost of the Service Plan. ... To summarize, plaintiff must show by a preponderance of the evidence that there is a reliable and administratively feasible method for ascertaining the class.

You can view the full Third Circuit opinion here
.

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Seventh Circuit Affirms Class Certification in Wage Claim - Ross v. RBS Citizens, NA

Charter_One_Bank_Ypsilanti.JPGEmployees of a bank with multiple branch locations throughout Illinois sued to recover unpaid overtime wages under both the federal Fair Labor Standard Act (FLSA) and the Illinois Minimum Wage Law (IMWL). After the district court certified two classes of plaintiffs, the defendant bank appealed the certification to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. Based in part on a U.S. Supreme Court decision clarifying the requirements for class certification, the Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s order. Ross, et al v. RBS Citizens, N.A., 667 F.3d 900 (7th Cir. 2012).

The plaintiffs alleged in their lawsuit that the bank had several “unofficial” policies that allowed it to deny overtime pay to employees, id. at 903, such as using “comp time” instead of overtime wages or altering employee timesheets. They also alleged that some assistant bank managers (ABMs), while officially exempt from eligibility for overtime pay, spent most of their time on non-exempt work. The plaintiffs therefore sought to certify two classes: non-exempt employees who were entitled to overtime compensation, and ABM employees who performed non-exempt work and were entitled to overtime pay. A class action requires four basic elements: "numerosity, commonality, typicality, and adequacy of representation." Id.; Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(a). The district court certified both classes under Rule 23(b)(3) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP), which applies to cases where the issues affecting all class members supersede those affecting individual members, and where a class action is the best way to resolve the conflict.

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Lawsuit Alleges Potato Prices Fixed

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7th Circuit Reverses Denial of Class Certification in Lockheed Martin Retirement Fund Case

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Plaintiffs claim that Lockheed breached its fiduciary duty to its retirement savings plan, under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, 29 U.S.C. 1132(a)(2). The Plan is a defined-contribution plan, (401(k)); employees direct part of their earnings to a tax-deferred savings account. Participants may allocate funds as they choose. Among the investment options Lockheed offered was a “stable-value fund” (SVF). SVFs typically invest in a mix of short- and intermediate-term securities, such as Treasury securities, corporate bonds, and mortgage-backed securities. Holding longer-term instruments, SVFs generally outperform money market funds. For stability, SVFs are provided through “wrap” contracts with banks or insurance companies that guarantee the fund’s principal and shield it from interest-rate volatility. Plaintiffs allege that the Lockheed SVF was heavily invested in short-term money market investments, with a low rate of return that did “not beat inflation by a sufficient margin to provide a meaningful retirement asset.”

The district court granted Lockheed summary judgment with respect to some claims. The SVF claim survived.

The district court initially certified two classes under FRCP 23(b)(1)(A). On remand, the court declined to certify further narrowed classes. The Seventh Circuit reversed, reasoning that the plaintiffs carefully limited the class to plan participants who invested in the SVF during the class period and employed reasonable means to exclude from the class persons who did not experience injury. The Court held:

To conform to Spano’s warning that the class must not be “defined so broadly that some members will actually be harmed” by the relief sought, Plaintiffs limited their definition of the SVF class to those who suffered damages as a result of Lockheed’s purportedly prudent management of the fund. ... [T]his court has never held, and Spano did not imply, that the mere possibility that a trivial level of intra-class conflict may materialize as the litigation progresses forecloses class certification entirely. ... We conclude both that Spano poses no bar to the proposed SVF class and that the district court’s reservations about the class were unfounded.

You can view the full 7th Circuit opinion here

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Court Dismisses ATM Fee Lawsuit Due to Prior Class Action Settlement Agreement

file0001962305054.jpgAn Illinois court dismissed a lawsuit against a bank alleging deceptive fees for debit card transactions, ruling that a prior settlement in a class action lawsuit, of which the plaintiff was a class member, barred the suit. Schulte v. Fifth Third Bank (“Schulte 2”), No. 09 C 6655, statement (N.D. Ill., Jun. 15, 2012). The plaintiff acknowledged being part of the class, and by accepting the terms of the settlement agreement, the court held, the plaintiff had released the bank from any further claims related to ATM fees.

The original lawsuit alleged that the defendant “resequenced” debit card transactions during a posting period in an order from highest to lowest, rather than in chronological order. Schulte v. Fifth Third Bank (“Schulte 1”), 805 F.Supp.2d 560, 565 (N.D. Ill. 2011). This meant that the balance of the customer’s account drew down faster, leading to more overdrafts and associated fees. A class action lawsuit commenced in November 2009, and the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois approved a class settlement agreement in July 2011.

The Schulte 1 settlement applied to customers of the defendant from October 21, 2004 to July 1, 2010. The court applied a five-part test established by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals for determining if a class action settlement is fair:

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Class Certification Granted in Lawsuit Brought by Identity Theft Victim Against Credit Reporting Agency - Osada v. Experian

Mortgage-debt.jpgA consumer sought to certify two classes in a lawsuit against a credit reporting agency, after the agency allegedly refused to remove negative information from his credit report that was the result of identity theft. The lawsuit asserted various claims under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1681 et seq. The court certified one of the two classes in Osada v. Experian Information Solutions, Inc., No. 11 C 2856, slip op. (N.D. Ill., Mar. 28, 2012), finding that it met the requirements contained in Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff learned in late 2008 that unknown parties had taken out two mortgage loans in his name in a total amount greater than $600,000. He contacted the defendant, Experian, regarding how the fraudulent loans would affect his credit report. He also filed a police report, but did not send a copy to Experian. When each mortgage eventually went into foreclosure, the courts handling those matters reportedly realized that identity theft was a factor. The plaintiff submitted an identity theft affidavit to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in late 2009 and wrote to Experian in early 2010 requesting removal of the mortgages from his credit report. He attached the FTC affidavit, the police report, and proof of residence to his request.

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U.S. Supreme Court Rules that Arbitration Agreement Bars Class Action and Class Arbitration Claims - AmEx v. Italian Colors Restaurant

American_Express_%282284352655%29.jpgThe United States Supreme Court recently ruled that federal law does not permit a court, based on a finding that individual arbitration is cost-prohibitive for a plaintiff, to strike a class arbitration waiver clause in a contract. American Express Co., et al. v. Italians Colors Restaurant, et al (“AmEx”), 570 U.S. ___, No. 12-133, slip op. (Jun. 20, 2013). The decision builds on prior decisions that have generally affirmed the enforceability of mandatory arbitration clauses, class arbitration waivers, and class action waivers, even in contracts where the bargaining power between the parties is far from equal.

The plaintiffs in AmEx are businesses that accept payments using American Express credit cards. The contract between the plaintiffs and American Express includes clauses requiring submission of all disputes to arbitration and waiving class arbitration procedures. The plaintiffs brought a federal antitrust class action lawsuit against American Express, claiming that the company engages in various monopolistic practices. The defendant brought a motion to compel arbitration under the contract and the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), 9 U.S.C. § 1 et seq. In response, the plaintiffs offered an economist’s declaration stating that the cost of arbitration for an individual merchant asserting a federal antitrust claim would exceed any possible recovery.

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Class Action Bans Found Improper By Massachusetts' Highest Court But New Supreme Court Decision Under Cuts that Ruling

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With the Supreme Court's decision in AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion having left many judges and class action attorneys frustrated with the current state of class action lawsuits, a new decision by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has reawakened hope for plaintiffs to achieve justice in a court of law. According to the new decision by the Court, a class action ban, as part of an arbitration agreement, is only enforceable if the plaintiff cannot provide compelling evidence that the ban on class actions would prevent them from obtaining a remedy under state law.

The Court recently ruled in two cases where the plaintiffs tried to prove that the class action bans in the relevant arbitration agreements were unenforceable. In Feeney v. Dell Inc., the Court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, having found that they provided sufficient evidence that the ban on class actions would prevent them from pursuing their claims. In another case, Machado v. Systems4 LLC, the Court upheld the class action ban present in the arbitration agreement, having found that the plaintiffs did not provide sufficient evidence that the ban prevented them from obtaining a remedy under state law.

In its decision in Feeney v. Dell Inc., the Court stated that the Supreme Court's decision in Concepcion did not provide for a general public-policy-based prohibition on class-actions. Instead, the Court decided that the fact that arbitration procedures must not prevent plaintiffs from attaining justice in a court of law remains despite the Supreme Court's decision in Concepcion.
The Court further denied that this interpretation applies only to federal statutory rights. Instead, it argued that the Federal Arbitration Act does not deny any remedies available under state law. As a result, a state court cannot prevent the Federal Arbitration Act from achieving its intended goals, simply by deciding that certain provisions of an arbitration agreement are unenforceable if those provisions prevent the assertion of claims provided by relevant state laws.

The court therefore decided that the enforceability of class action bans as part of arbitration agreements would be dependent upon "case-specific factual showings" that the ban would prevent plaintiffs from obtaining remedies which are granted to them by state law. In Feeney v. Dell Inc., a case involving small-dollar claims, the court determined that the class action ban would effectively prevent the plaintiffs from pursuing their claims, as individuals are unlikely to pursue lengthy and often costly litigation for insubstantial amounts. The case of Machado v. System4 LLC, on the other hand, consisted of significantly larger monetary claims, of the sort that individuals are likely to pursue in court, even without the added power of a class action. The court therefore determined that, in such a case, the class action ban present in the arbitration agreement remained valid.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court is not alone in this interpretation of the law. The Missouri Supreme Court and the Second Circuit have also recognized that circumstances exist in which a class action ban cannot be upheld in a court of law. However, the Second Circuit's decision in Amex that a class action ban which prevents the attainment of rights granted by federal law is unenforceable was just reversed by the Supreme Court. The decision that the Supreme Court has reached in Amex undercuts the reasoning using by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court and allows class action bans in arbitration agreements all over the nation to preclude class actions from proceeding, even if they are the only means of providing a means for protecting the rights at issue. The Supreme Court has provided businesses with a means of protecting themselves from expensive class action litigation.

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Court Denies Motion to Dismiss Appeal of Class Decertification, Finding that Plaintiffs Who Already Settled Still Had Standing - Espenscheid v. DirectSat USA

file4661249323712.jpgIn an appeal of the decertification of a class action lawsuit, a federal appeals court denied a motion to dismiss the appeal for lack of jurisdiction, finding that the plaintiffs/appellants, who settled with the defendants after decertification, still had a stake in the litigation. Espenscheid v. DirectSat USA, LLC, 688 F.3d 872 (7th Cir. 2012). The plaintiffs claimed that they were entitled to an “incentive award” or “enhancement fee” for serving as class representatives, but only if the case was certified as a class action. Id. at 874-75. This gave them an ongoing stake in the litigation, they argued, and therefore gave them standing to appeal decertification. The court agreed, finding that dismissing their appeal on standing grounds would not serve judicial economy, as another class member could simply step in and appeal.

Judge Richard Posner, writing for the court, does not say much about the underlying lawsuit, except that it consists of both class action and collective action claims. The three named plaintiffs brought collective action claims against the defendant for alleged violations of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, and class action claims for supplemental state law claims. The difference between a class action and a collective action under federal law, the court notes, is not particularly relevant to the question at hand.

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Illinois Court Dismisses Putative Shareholder Class Action, Finding Lack of Alleged Injuries - Noble v. AAR Corp.

Delegative_democracy%2C_proxy_voting%2C_liquid_democracy.svg.pngAn Illinois federal court granted a motion to dismiss in a putative shareholder derivative class action, having already denied the plaintiff’s application for a temporary restraining order (TRO). Noble v. AAR Corp., et al, No. 12 C 7973, memorandum and order (E.D. Ill., Apr. 3, 2013). The plaintiff asserted causes of action for various alleged breaches of fiduciary duty on behalf of the corporation, but the court found that the lawsuit was a direct action, primarily for the plaintiff’s benefit as a shareholder, rather than a derivative one.

The dispute related to a recommendation by the Board of Directors to the shareholders of AAR Corporation, a publicly-traded company, regarding an executive compensation plan. The Board made a unanimous proposal regarding the corporation’s “say on pay” plan, which allowed the shareholders to vote on executive pay as required by Section 951 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010 (Dodd-Frank Act), 15 U.S.C. § 78n-1. In a seventy-page proxy statement, the Board asked the shareholders to approve an advisory resolution regarding executive compensation at the corporation’s annual shareholder meeting, which was scheduled for October 10, 2012.

The plaintiff filed suit against the corporation and individual Board members, alleging that the Proxy Statement failed to disclose various details about what the Board considered before making its proposal. Noble, memorandum at 5. He claimed that the individual defendants breached their fiduciary duties of good faith, care, and loyalty to the shareholders, and that the corporation aided and abetted these breaches. Id. at 5-6. The defendants removed the case to federal court on October 4, 2012. The following day, the plaintiff filed a motion for a TRO, asking the court to stop the shareholder vote. The court held a hearing on October 9 and denied the motion. On October 10, the shareholders approved the Board’s proposal, with seventy-seven percent of the shares voting in favor. Id. at 1-2.

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Class Actions Filed Against Monsanto for GMO Wheat Spreading in the Northwest

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There are multiple reasons why so many people are up in arms against the rising prevalence of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in our crops. Aside from the debate as to whether consuming food that has been genetically modified is safe, the issue of contamination is potentially a very serious problem.

Recently, Monsanto has been prominent in the news and in the courts, often depicted as an evil corporation putting the health of the public at risk for the sake of profit. Now the company is facing several lawsuits from farmers who claim that they have suffered financial harm as a result of Monsanto's genetically modified wheat having been found in a wheat field in Oregon. In late May, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that a wheat farmer in Oregon had discovered Monsanto's genetically modified wheat growing on his farm alongside his conventional wheat.

The announcement was followed by European and Asian buyers quickly backing out of buying American wheat when they heard of the contamination. Consumers in Europe and Asia have much stronger feelings against GMOs than American consumers. Both South Korea and Japan have suspended certain purchases of American wheat. The European Union has said it will increase the testing of produce coming in from the United States.

The announcement made by the Department of Agriculture and the ensuing loss of overseas buyers for American wheat has led to a series of lawsuits against Monsanto. Clarmar Farms, Inc., farmer Tom Stahl, and the Center for Food Safety have filed a lawsuit against Monsanto in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington. The lawsuit is seeking class-action status on behalf of other farmers it alleges have been harmed by the lower wheat prices, which have resulted from overseas buyers backing out of buying American wheat.

A similar lawsuit was filed a few days prior by a wheat farmer in Kansas who alleges that he and other farmers have been financially harmed by lower wheat prices as a result of the discovery of Monsanto's genetically modified wheat in American crops. Two other farmers have also filed similar lawsuits in federal court for the western district of Washington state.

The experimental wheat was initially developed by Monsanto in order to withstand treatments of its Roundup weed killer. The product was never commercialized though, due to widespread industry opposition. International buyers were already threatening to stop buying American wheat if the GMOs ever entered the marketplace. The decision to end attempts at commercializing the wheat was announced in 2004.

The field testing of the genetically modified wheat that Monsanto did in many states was supposed to have kept the experimental wheat from contaminating conventional wheat supplies.
Following the most recent onslaught of lawsuits, Monsanto has said that, when it ended testing on the genetically modified wheat, it ordered the wheat to be destroyed or shipped to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's seed storage facility in Colorado. Company officials have denied knowing how their wheat could have made its way into a wheat farm in Oregon.

Kyle McCain, an attorney for Monsanto, has called the lawsuits premature. He claims that the wheat "is limited to one field in Oregon, and no such wheat has entered the stream of commerce". However, the genetically modified wheat has been found in one farm of conventional wheat, it takes no stretch of the imagination to think that the modified wheat has made its way, undetected, onto other farms and into the marketplace. When this possibility is taken into consideration, especially given the claims of GMOs' potentially harmful effects, it is no wonder buyers overseas are hesitant to buy American wheat.

Monsanto insists that it followed "a government directed, rigorous, well-documented and audited" program when conducting experiments on the genetically modified wheat.
The lawsuit filed in Spokane, Washington, alleges that Monsanto's failure to contain genetically modified wheat qualifies as "wrongful conduct" which has potentially contaminated "the entire wheat farming and production chain" and puts many wheat farmers at continued risk of harm by cross-pollination with and contamination of their crops. The lawsuit has not named a number for specific monetary damages, but it is seeking compensatory, as well as punitive damages. It also asks that Monsanto be made to decontaminate equipment, storage, and transportation facilities.

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Federal Judge Will Decide if NCAA Players Through a Class-Action Lawsuit Will Receive a Share of Video Game Revenues

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The world of professional athletes has long been extremely financially rewarding. In recent years, college athletics have approached professional levels where revenue is concerned. The biggest difference is whether or not the players get a cut of the action. Beginning in 2008, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has faced increasing criticism from people who claim that college athletes are being exploited while colleges and the NCAA are making millions off the performance of these players.

The exploitations might not be permitted to last much longer. Ed O'Bannon, a former basketball star for UCLA, watched a friend's son start up a video game in 2008 and was surprised to see himself appear on the screen. While his name never appeared, the player in the game undoubtedly resembled O'Bannon, down to his physique, his player number, and his right-handedness. O'Bannon was initially flattered until he realized that the gaming company was making money off of his likeness while he, O'Bannon, received nothing. The video game was published by E.A. Sports, a brand of Electronic Arts.

Beginning in 2009, O'Bannon filed a lawsuit seeking licensing of broadcast and video game rights for student athletes. Shortly after O'Bannon filed his lawsuit, the NCAA released a statement that its agreement with E.A. Sports prohibits the use of the names and pictures of athletes. However, in July 2003, six years before the lawsuit was ever filed, Peter Davis, an NCAA official, noted that Electronic Arts did include a feature in their latest football game, which allowed users to download rosters of players' real names. Electronic Arts responded that the game did not use real names, although it did use "all the attributes and jersey numbers of the players."

In an email, Davis asked if that was "too close to reality". He was then warned by another NCAA executive, Melissa Caito, to be "cautious as you move through this - any more 'watering down' of the video games will likely move the manufacturers to cease operations with us". Such a statement reflects the NCAA's awareness that the video game avatars were pushing the limits of the law. It also demonstrates their determination to make as much money as possible off of the student athletes, while simultaneously making sure that they do not receive any of that money.

Other emails provide further evidence of high-level executives who see absolutely nothing wrong with the way they treat their athletes. David Berst, a senior NCAA executive, wrote to the head of the organization in August 2008 that, regarding "the student athlete, I think the focus of the exploitation may be misplaced, and maybe it is not our duty to protect the student athlete."
Christine Plonsky from Texas, part of the presidential task force on commercialism, was equally dismissive. She wrote, "We have things we have to do a certain way to raise funds and pay for the scholarships and other things that [student athletes] and their parents expect. I view these cases as being the result of the entitlement attitude we've created in our revenue sports."
Now O'Bannon's lawsuit is moving to a critical stage.

A federal judge in Oakland, California will hear arguments concerning whether the case can proceed as a class action. If class action status is granted, it would give the plaintiffs the opportunity to represent thousands of current and former student athletes.

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Wisconsin Class Action Against Insurance Company Remanded to State Court Because of State Law Claims - LaPlant v. Northwestern Mut. Life Ins. Co.

527px-Northwestern_Life_Insurance.jpgOur Chicago class action attorneys note that a class action claim against an insurance company, which the defendant had removed to federal court, fell within an exception to the federal jurisdiction statute, according to a federal district judge in LaPlant v. The Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company, No. 11-CV-00910, slip op. (E.D. Wis., Aug. 20, 2012). The court remanded the case to Wisconsin state court under the corporate governance exception to the Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA), 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d). It held that the plaintiffs’ claims related exclusively to the defendant’s “internal affairs,” based on Wisconsin law. The defendant issued an annuity insurance policy to the lead plaintiff. As a mutual insurance company, the defendant was “owned cooperatively by its policyholders,” LaPlant, slip op. at 1, and paid dividends to policyholders out of its profits. In 1985, it moved policyholders’ money into a separate fund and began paying dividends based on interest generated by the fund. Id. The amount of the payments received by the policyholders allegedly decreased as a result of this change. Wisconsin law gives policyholders the right to participate in annual profit distributions. Wis. Stat. § 632.62(2). The lead plaintiff brought a class action lawsuit for breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty on behalf of a class of policyholders in Wisconsin. The class prevailed at trial, and the lead plaintiff moved to expand the scope of the class to include policyholders in other states. The defendant removed the case to federal court under CAFA, which confers jurisdiction to federal courts over class actions with more than one hundred class members, more than $5 million in controversy, and diversity of citizenship between the defendant and at least one class member. The plaintiff moved to remand the case to Wisconsin state court based on the “corporate governance exception,” which applies when a class action’s claims solely relate (1) “to the internal affairs or governance of a corporation” (2) based on the laws of the state of incorporation. LaPlant, slip op. at 2, citing 28 U.S.C. §§ 1332(d)(9)(B), 1453(d)(2).

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Court Retains Most of a Deceptive Business Practices Putative Class Action Against a Bank for Overdraft Fees - White v. Wachovia Bank

Overdraft_-_Punch_cartoon_-_Project_Gutenberg_eText_16113.pngA federal court allowed most causes to proceed in a putative class action against a bank for allegedly fraudulent overdraft fees. White, et al v. Wachovia Bank, N.A., No. 1:08-cv-1007, order (N.D. Ga., Jul. 2, 2008). The plaintiffs, who alleged that the bank had recorded transactions out of chronological order to maximize overdraft fee liability, claimed violations of state deceptive trade practice laws and several claims related to breach of contract. The court denied the defendant bank’s motion to dismiss as to all but two of the plaintiffs’ claims.

The two lead plaintiffs opened a joint checking account with Wachovia Bank in 2007. They signed a Deposit Agreement that stated that the bank could pay checks and other items in any order it chose, even if it resulted in an overdraft. It also stated that the bank could impose overdraft charges if payment of any single item exceeded the balance in the account. The plaintiffs alleged in their lawsuit that Wachovia ordered its posting of transactions in a way that would cause their account to incur overdraft fees, even when they had sufficient funds to pay the items. They also alleged that the bank imposed overdraft fees when no overdraft had occurred.

The lawsuit, originally filed in a Georgia state court in February 2008, asserted violations of the Georgia Fair Business Practices Act (FBPA), O.C.G.A. §§ 10-1-390 et seq., and breach of the duty of good faith. The plaintiffs also claimed that the clause of the Agreement related to the ordering of transaction was unconscionable, that the bank had engaged in trover and conversion, and that it had been unjustly enriched. The defendant removed the case to federal court under the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005, 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d)(2), which allows defendants to remove certain class actions to federal court. It then moved to dismiss all claims under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), which allows a court to dismiss a lawsuit that “fail[s] to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” To defeat such a motion, a plaintiff must show a plausible factual basis for their claims.

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Class Action Plaintiffs Awarded $203 Million in Lawsuit Alleging Manipulation of Bank Overdraft Charges - Gutierrez v. Wells Fargo

Cash_Machine_in_Trogir.JPGA California federal court awarded $203 million in damages to a class of plaintiffs in Gutierrez v. Wells Fargo Bank, NA, 730 F.Supp.2d 1080 (N.D. Cal. 2010). The lawsuit alleged that the defendant bank overcharged the plaintiffs, who held deposit accounts at the bank, for overdraft fees, using a series of deceptive bookkeeping techniques. A similar bookkeeping trick was the subject of an Illinois lawsuit resulting in a settlement, Schulte v. Fifth Third Bank, 805 F.Supp.2d 560 (N.D. Ill. 2011).

According to the court’s ruling in the Gutierrez case, Wells Fargo charged individual depositors more than $1.4 billion in overdraft fees between 2005 and 2007, just in the state of California. Gutierrez, 730 F.Supp.2d at 1082. The lawsuit, filed on behalf of individual depositors, alleged that Wells Fargo used a bookkeeping trick known as “resequencing” to turn a single $35 overdraft charge into as many as ten overdraft charges. The bank would then hide this technique behind a “facade of phony disclosure.” Id. The court outlined how the bank would sequence transactions from the highest amount to the lowest amount, out of chronological order, often resulting in a negative balance in an account earlier than if it had sequenced the transactions in any other order. This maximized the amount of overdraft fees the bank could charge to the account. Id. at 1088.

The allegations in the Schulte case were similar to those in Gutierrez. Fifth Third Bank allegedly processed ATM and debit card transactions out of chronological order. During a posting period, the bank would process the largest transactions first, proceeding in high-to-low order. Schulte, 805 F.Supp.2d at 565. This allegedly almost guaranteed that, if a depositor overdrew their account during that posting period, the bank could collect more overdraft fees.

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Video -- Taking Class Actions to Trial

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Video -- Rule 23 - What is the Supreme Court Thinking about Class Action Litigation? -- Our Chicago Class Action Lawyers Prosecute and Defend Class Actions

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Court Reverses Class Certification in Case Alleging Wrongful Withholding of Bonus Compensation - InPhyNet Contracting Services v. Soria -- Our Chicago Class Action Attorneys Defend Businesses in Class Cases

file000388465185.jpgA Florida appellate court reversed an order certifying a class of doctors claiming breach of fiduciary duty and other causes of action against their employer. InPhyNet Contracting Services v Soria, 33 So.3d 766 (Fl. Ct. App. 2010). The case began as a suit alleging breach of a covenant not to compete against one physician, leading the physician to counterclaim on behalf of a putative class with regards to a bonus compensation plan. After separating the physician’s individual claims from the class claims, the trial court certified a class. The appellate court reversed, finding that the class claims did not meet the requirements of commonality or predominance over class members’ individual claims.

InPhyNet Contracting Services (ICS) places physicians in hospitals around the state of Florida on a contractual basis. It offers incentives to physicians to work in hospital emergency rooms through a Physician Incentive Plan (PIP), which pays doctors out of a “bonus pool” associated with a hospital based on performance and similar factors. Id. at 768. ICS placed Dr. David Soria in the emergency room of Wellington Regional Medical Center, where he worked as Medical Director. The dispute between Soria and ICS began when Wellington terminated its contract with ICS and contracted with a competitor, and Soria began working for the competitor.

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