Certification of Injunctive Class Action
1. Whether claims for monetary relief can be certified under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(b)(2) and, if so, under what circumstances.
2. Whether the class certification ordered under Rule 23(b)(2) was consistent with Rule 23(a).
NCLC filed two briefs at the Supreme Court in this case: one supporting cert. and one on the merits.
In this case, the plaintiffs are seeking to certify a class of 1.5 million current and former Wal-Mart employees alleging gender bias in pay and promotions. In order to avoid more rigorous class certification standards, the plaintiffs sought class action status under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 23(b)(2), which prescribes the rules for class actions seeking injunctive relief rather than money damages. However, the plaintiffs in the case are seeking billions of dollars in damages in addition to their request for injunctive relief. In a contentious 6-5 ruling, a narrowly divided Ninth Circuit adopted a loose approach to class certification that effectively barred Wal-Mart from presenting individualized evidence to prove it had complied with the law.
In its brief supporting review, NCLC asked the Supreme Court to clarify when a class may be certified under Rule 23(b)(2). In its brief on the merits, NCLC urged the Supreme Court to decertify the class. NCLC argued that the class does not meet cohesiveness and typicality requirements as the claims turn on the defendant's individual dealings with each plaintiff. NCLC warned that this case could pave the way for class actions against a host of industries, from antitrust cases to product liability actions to medical-monitoring claims.
In a 5-4 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the certification of the plaintiff class - the largest employment class action in history - was not consistent with Rule 23(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP). As the Court explained, "Rule 23(a)(2) requires a party seeking class certification to prove that the class has common 'questions of law or fact.' Their claims must depend upon a common contention of such a nature that it is capable of classwide resolution." According to the Court, the plaintiffs in this case failed to establish any common issue that is central to the validity of each one of the claims. The Court also unanimously ruled that the plaintiffs' backpay claims were improperly certified under Rule 23(b)(2) of the FRCP because there was not a single, indivisible remedy that would provide relief to each class member.
NCLC filed two briefs at the Supreme Court and five briefs in Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in this case.
Amicus brief supporting cert. filed 9/24/10. Cert. granted 12/6/10. Amicus brief on the merits filed 1/27/11. Civil procedure professors' brief filed 3/1/11. Decided 6/20/2011.