A recent decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit provides an important reminder that if defendants want absent class members to be bound by a summary judgment ruling in their favor, generally they must insist that notice be given to the class before that ruling is made.

In Faber v. Ciox Health, LLC, No. 18-5896, 2019 WL 6596501 (6th Cir. Dec. 5, 2019), the plaintiffs sued a medical-records provider, alleging that it overcharged them for providing copies of their records. Because HIPAA does not provide a private right of action, the plaintiffs brought common-law claims under Tennessee law, and a claim under a Tennessee medical records statute. The plaintiffs moved for class certification and the parties cross-moved for summary judgment, with all three motions pending at the same time. The district court certified a class and then, before ordering notice to the class, granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the district court’s summary judgment ruling, finding that none of the causes of action were viable under state law. But it also ruled that the class certification ruling in effect was a nullity due to the failure to give notice, and the judgment would apply only to the named plaintiffs. The Sixth Circuit rejected the defendant’s suggested approach of remanding so that post-judgment notice could be provided to the class because “post-judgment notice would present no meaningful opportunity for class members to make their case”; rather, it “would only invite parties to enter a fight that they already lost.”  Id. at *7. But what if the district court (or the Sixth Circuit) had vacated the summary judgment ruling too, and then let the class members make whatever additional arguments they wanted to make? It might be difficult to change the district judge’s mind, but the issue could still have gone either way on appeal at that point.

The practice pointer for defendants and their counsel here, in my view, is that if there is both a motion to certify a class and motions for summary judgment pending, you may need to provide a strong recommendation for the district court as to which order the motions should be decided in. If the plaintiff moves for summary judgment, the defendant often will want to invoke the rule against one-way intervention, so the ruling is not binding as to the class unless a class is certified first. With respect to a defendant’s motion for summary judgment, it’s a strategy call as to whether you want to push for class certification to be decided first. And if class certification is granted before your motion for summary judgment is decided, it might make sense to request that notice be given promptly, and your motion be held in abeyance, so it if it is granted you have a judgment against the whole class. But that might not be the best strategy if your argument on the merits is a longshot. And here the ruling in favor of the defendant might well have been perceived as a longshot, given that the Sixth Circuit departed from a Tennessee Court of Appeals decision on the state statutory claim, predicting that the Tennessee Supreme Court would not follow it. These are the kinds of tough calls that defendants in class actions must make in deciding whether to use the class action mechanism as a sword, or just fend it off.

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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.