Last week the Fifth Circuit issued a short opinion that made an important point that does not arise often in class certification decisions. Class certification failed because the plaintiffs’ proposed theory of liability would benefit only some class members and disadvantage others, who would be overpaid if the plaintiffs’ theory were correct. For that reason alone, the plaintiffs could not adequately represent the class.
Prudhomme v. Government Employees Insurance Company, No. 21-30157, 2022 WL 510171 (5th Cir. Feb. 21, 2022) (per curiam) was similar to another case I recently wrote about—the plaintiffs claimed that their insurer undervalued their vehicles that were deemed total losses, in violation of Louisiana statutes. Sidestepping questions about commonality and predominance, which are usually the focus of class certification decisions, the Fifth Circuit affirmed the denial of class certification because the adequacy of representation requirement was not met. This was because “a portion of the proposed class members received payments above (that is, benefitted from) the allegedly unlawful valuation.” According to the district court opinion, an expert witness opined that approximately one-fifth of the class would have received less on the plaintiffs’ theory than they received from GEICO. While the plaintiffs argued that class members who were overpaid on their theory might still be entitled to some damages under Louisiana law, that would likely create a typicality problem. Class representatives cannot adequately represent a class if they offer “a theory of liability that disadvantages a portion of the class they allegedly represent.”
Look out for this type of issue the next time you are litigating a class action. It might be lurking in your case when you peel back the onion.