On April 1, the Supreme Court issued “GVR” (grant, vacate and remand) orders in two cases, summarily instructing the courts of appeals to reconsider their prior decisions in light of the Court’s recent Comcast Corp. v. Behrend decision.   The opinions that were vacated and remanded were Ross v. RBS Citizens, NA, 667 F.3d 900 (7th Cir. 2012) (see my blog post about Ross) and In re Whirlpool Corp. Prods. Liab. Litig., 678 F.3d 409 (6th Cir. 2012).  The Court’s decision to vacate and remand these two cases suggests to me that Comcast will be given fairly broad application, inconsistent with the dissent’s suggestion in Comcast that the majority opinion was narrow and confined to its facts.  (See my blog post on Comcast.)

In Ross, the Seventh Circuit’s opinion focused on: (1) whether the district court’s class certification order satisfied the requirement in Rule 23(c)(1)(B) that a class certification order must adequately define the class and the class issues, claims and defenses; and (2) whether the commonality requirement was satisfied under Wal-Mart v. Dukes.  Neither of these issues were directly addressed in Comcast.  The cert petition in Ross (see SCOTUSblog page) raised the following issues: “(1) Whether it is consistent with Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes to hold that a defendant to a Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(b)(3) class action has no right to raise statutory affirmative defenses on an individual basis if the class seeks ‘only’ monetary relief; and (2) whether a district court can conclude that the Rule 23(a)(2) commonality requirement is satisfied when a class claims the denial of overtime pay, without resolving whether dissimilarities in the class would preclude it from establishing liability on a class-wide basis.”  The second issue, which touches on the extent to which merits determinations must be made at class certification, was addressed in Comcast (albeit consistently with Dukes).  Perhaps that is what the Court wants to be reconsidered.

Whirlpool involves claims of mold/mildew problems with front-loading washing machines.  The Sixth Circuit upheld class certification, finding that the district court had conducted a “rigorous analysis” and had appropriately declined to decide merits questions that were not necessary for purposes of class certification.  The district court and court of appeals concluded that the questions of whether there were design defects that caused the problems at issue, and whether product warnings were adequate, were common issues that were appropriate for classwide resolution and predominated.  The class was certified only for purposes of liability, with damages reserved for individual determination.  The cert petition in Whirlpool (see SCOTUSblog page) raised the following issues: “(1) Whether a class may be certified under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(b)(3) even though most class members have not been harmed and could not sue on their own behalf; (2) whether a class may be certified without resolving factual disputes that bear directly on the requirements of Rule 23; and (3) whether a class may be certified without determining whether factual dissimilarities among putative class members give rise to individualized issues that predominate over any common issues.”  Issues (2) and (3) seem to fall within what Comcast addressed, as well as the question of whether the lower courts’ approach of certifying a class only for liability and not for damages in Whirlpool is consistent with Comcast.

These two orders seem to confirm that the Court’s majority views the Comcast decision as substantially more than merely a narrow ruling relatively limited to the unique circumstances of that case.  It will be interesting to see what the Sixth and Seventh Circuits do with these cases on remand. 

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Photo of Wystan Ackerman Wystan Ackerman

I am a partner at the law firm of Robinson+Cole in Hartford, Connecticut, USA.  My contact information is on the contact page of my blog.  I really enjoy receiving questions, comments, suggestions and even criticism from readers.  So please e-mail me if you…

I am a partner at the law firm of Robinson+Cole in Hartford, Connecticut, USA.  My contact information is on the contact page of my blog.  I really enjoy receiving questions, comments, suggestions and even criticism from readers.  So please e-mail me if you have something to say.  For those looking for my detailed law firm bio, click here.  If you want a more light-hearted and hopefully more interesting summary, read on:

People often ask about my unusual first name, Wystan.  It’s pronounced WISS-ten.  It’s not Winston.  There is no “n” in the middle.  It comes from my father’s favorite poet, W.H. (Wystan Hugh) Auden.  I’ve grown to like the fact that because my name is unusual people tend to remember it better, even if they don’t pronounce it right (and there is no need for anyone to use my last name because I’m always the only Wystan).

I grew up in Deep River, Connecticut, a small town on the west side of the Connecticut River in the south central part of the state.  I’ve always had strong interests in history, politics and baseball.  My heroes growing up were Abraham Lincoln and Wade Boggs (at that time the third baseman for the Boston Red Sox).  I think it was my early fascination with Lincoln that drove me to practice law.  I went to high school at The Williams School in New London, Connecticut, where I edited the school newspaper, played baseball, and was primarily responsible for the installation of a flag pole near the school entrance (it seemed like every other school had one but until my class raised the money and bought one at my urging, Williams had no flag pole).  As a high school senior, my interest in history and politics led me to score high enough on a test of those subjects to be chosen as one of Connecticut’s two delegates to the U.S. Senate Youth Program, which further solidified my interest in law and government.  One of my mentors at Williams was of the view that there were far too many lawyers and I should find something more useful to do, but if I really had to be a lawyer there was always room for one more.  I eventually decided to be that “one more.”  I went on to Bowdoin College, where I wrote for the Bowdoin Orient and majored in government, but took a lot of math classes because I found college math interesting and challenging.  I then went to Columbia Law School, where I was lucky enough to be selected as one of the minions who spent their time fastidiously cite-checking and Blue booking hundred-plus-page articles in the Columbia Law Review.  I also interned in the chambers of then-Judge Sonia Sotomayor when she was a relatively new judge on the Second Circuit, my only connection to someone who now has one-ninth of the last word on what constitutes the law of our land.  I graduated from Columbia in 2001, then worked at Skadden Arps in Boston before returning to Connecticut and joining Robinson+Cole, one of the largest Connecticut-based law firms.  At the end of 2008, I was elected a partner at Robinson+Cole.

I’ve worked on class actions since the start of my career at Skadden.  Being in the insurance capital of Hartford, we have a national insurance litigation practice and I was fortunate to have the opportunity to work on some prominent class actions arising from the 2004 hurricanes in Florida and later Hurricane Katrina, including cases involving the applicability of the flood exclusion, statutes known as valued policy laws, and various other issues.  My interest and experience in class actions gradually led me to focus on that area.

In Connecticut courts I’ve defended various kinds of class actions that go beyond insurance, including cases involving products liability, securities, financial services and consumer contracts.

My insurance class action practice usually takes me outside of Connecticut.  I’ve had the pleasure of working on cases in various federal and state courts and collaborating with great lawyers across the country.  While class actions are an increasingly large part of my practice, I don’t do exclusively class action work.  The rest of my practice involves litigating insurance coverage cases, often at the appellate level.  That also frequently takes me outside of Connecticut.  A highlight of my career thus far was working on Standard Fire Ins. Co. v. Knowles, the U.S. Supreme Court’s first Class Action Fairness Act case.  I was Counsel of Record for Standard Fire on the cert petition, and had the pleasure of working with Ted Boutrous on the merits briefing and oral argument.

I started this blog because writing is one of my favorite things to do and I enjoy following developments in class action law, writing about them and engaging in discussion with others who have an in interest in this area.  It’s a welcome break from day-to-day practice, keeps me current, broadens my network and results in some new business.

When I’m not at my desk or flying around the country trying to save insurance companies from the plaintiffs’ bar, or attending a conference on class actions or insurance litigation (for more on those, see the Seminars/Programs page of this blog), I often can be found playing or reading with my young daughter, helping my wife with her real estate and mortgage businesses, reading a book about history or politics, or watching the Boston Red Sox (I managed to find bleacher seats for Game 2 of the 2004 World Series when Curt Schilling pitched with the bloody sock).  When the weather is good I also love to take the ferry to Block Island, Rhode Island and ride a bike or walk the trails there. If you go, I highly recommend the Clay Head Trail.