The United States Supreme Court recently passed on the opportunity to hear appeals on three decisions involving class-action lawsuits, two of which came from the Sixth and Seventh Circuit. The Supreme Court's choice could make it easier for consumers to file class-action product liability lawsuits in the future.
In each of the three cases -- Whirlpool v. Glazer, Sears, Roebuck and Company v. Butler, and BSH Appliances Corporation v. Cobb -- the issue involved washing machine defects. However, though lower courts in each case certified classes for a lawsuit, the defendants protested that not everyone in the class had suffered an injury because not every class member's washing machine had a defect. The defendants therefore appealed to the Sixth, Seventh, and Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals respectively, seeking to have the class certification overturned. The Circuit Courts upheld the lower courts' decision, prompting the defendants to petition the Supreme Court.
Now that the Supreme Court has denied the petitions for certiorari without offering an explanation, observers have speculated how this could impact future class-action lawsuits, product liability or otherwise. Many have looked to another Supreme Court decision, Comcast v. Behrend, which held for the first time that plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit needed to show a connection between their theory of liability and their theory of damages at the class certification stage, as opposed to later in the litigation process. At the time, many defense attorneys believed that it would heighten the standard for class certification and make it more difficult. If so, that should have meant that at least two of the class certifications -- upheld by the Sixth and Seventh Circuit after the Comcast ruling came out -- would be invalid. However, the Supreme Court's choice to not review those decisions suggests that Comcast was not as earth shaking a decision as many believed. Comcast had involved an antitrust class-action lawsuit, not one involving consumer product defects. Therefore, while it would seem that the theory of liability and theory of damages connection would apply to every class-action case, it may be that in fact, it only applies to a narrow range.
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