Justia U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Class Action
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The case involves Quintin Scott, a former pretrial detainee at the Cook County Jail, who filed a class action lawsuit against Cook County and its sheriff. Scott alleged that the county provided him and other pretrial detainees with inadequate dental care, violating the Fourteenth Amendment. The district court refused to certify the class, and Scott settled his individual claim but reserved his right to appeal the class ruling and to seek an incentive award for his role as the named plaintiff.The County argued that Scott lacked standing to pursue the class aspects of the case, contending that he no longer had a live interest in the litigation and that courts were forbidden from granting incentive awards. The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit disagreed, finding that Scott had standing and that incentive awards were permissible. The court also concluded that the district court had abused its discretion in denying class certification, as it had misapplied a previous decision and used too strict a standard.The Court of Appeals vacated the district court's order and remanded the case for further proceedings, noting that the district court was free to revise the class definition as needed to address any overbreadth issues. The court also noted that the district court had not addressed whether the proposed class met the requirements of numerosity and adequacy of representation, which must be satisfied before the class can be certified. View "Scott v. Dart" on Justia Law

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The case involves a class action lawsuit brought against the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) by four parents who were convicted of sex offenses and were on mandatory supervised release (MSR). The plaintiffs challenged an IDOC policy that restricts contact between a parent convicted of a sex offense and their minor child while the parent is on MSR. The plaintiffs argued that this policy violates their Fourteenth Amendment rights to procedural and substantive due process.The district court upheld the policy, with two exceptions. It ruled that the policy's ban on written communications was unconstitutional and that IDOC must allow a parent to submit a written communication addressed to their child for review and decision within seven calendar days. The plaintiffs appealed, challenging the policy's restrictions on phone and in-person contact.The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part. The court agreed with the district court that the policy does not violate procedural due process. However, it held that the policy's ban on phone contact violates substantive due process. The court found that call monitoring is a ready alternative to the phone-contact ban that accommodates the plaintiffs’ right to enjoy the companionship of their children at a de minimis cost to IDOC’s penological interests. View "Montoya v. Jeffreys" on Justia Law

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In this case, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit held that a potential class of consumers who purchased infant formula manufactured by Abbott Laboratories at a plant later found to be unsanitary lacked standing to sue for economic harm. This was due to their inability to demonstrate a concrete injury-in-fact, one of the three elements required for Article III standing. The plaintiffs argued that they suffered economic harm because they would not have paid the purchase price had they known the products were at a substantial risk of being contaminated. However, the court found that the plaintiffs' alleged injury was not particularized as they did not claim that the specific products they purchased were contaminated.The court compared the case to previous decisions, notably "In re Aqua Dots," where a universal defect in a product that rendered it valueless conferred standing, and "Wallace v. ConAgra Foods, Inc.," where the plaintiffs' risk of harm was considered mere speculation. The court found that the plaintiffs' claims were more similar to the latter case, as there was only a potential risk of contamination, not a universal defect. As such, the plaintiffs' claims were dismissed for lack of standing.This decision reaffirms that plaintiffs must demonstrate a concrete and particularized injury-in-fact to establish standing in federal court. Speculative or hypothetical injuries, or injuries that are not particularized because they do not affect the plaintiff in a personal and individual way, do not meet the threshold for standing. View "Economic Loss Plaintiffs v. Abbott Laboratories" on Justia Law

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In this toxic tort case, about 170 individuals allege that they were harmed by lead paint pigment. The plaintiffs, who were joined together in a single complaint, brought claims against several manufacturers of the pigment. After a series of trials, the district court granted summary judgment for the defendants on all claims. The court then extended these rulings to the remaining plaintiffs on law of the case and issue preclusion grounds. The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court's decision in large part but reversed in small part. The appellate court held that the law of the case doctrine properly applied to a group of plaintiffs who had opted to proceed under a single complaint and whose claims were sunk after summary judgment. However, the court reversed the district court's decision as to a small group of plaintiffs who filed their own cases, noting that due process protects their right to try their claims. The court also rejected the plaintiffs' request to revisit or certify certain questions addressed in a prior ruling, and affirmed that ruling based on the principle of stare decisis. View "Allen v. Armstrong Containers Inc." on Justia Law

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In this case, the plaintiff, Laura Mullen, claimed that the defendants, a youth volleyball club and its owners, fraudulently concealed previous sexual abuse allegations. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants, but also imposed sanctions against them and their lawyer for improperly interfering with the class notice process. The defendants appealed the sanctions.The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit held that the district court did not abuse its discretion or commit clear error in imposing the sanctions. The court found that the defendants had intentionally interfered with the class notice and opt-out process and that their communications with class members during the notice period were potentially coercive. The court also upheld the decision of the district court to impose monetary sanctions against the defendants, which included the plaintiff’s reasonable attorney’s fees and expenses, as well as a civil penalty for each defendant.The court also affirmed the non-monetary sanctions imposed against the defendants' lawyer, who had contacted a class member directly and made a false statement to the court. Although the defendants argued that the lawyer had acted in good faith and did not knowingly or intentionally violate the rules of ethics, the court found that she had taken deliberate action to avoid confirming a high probability of wrongdoing.Finally, the court rejected the defendants' argument that the plaintiff should have been sanctioned. The defendants claimed that the plaintiff’s use of the term “rape” was inaccurate and irrelevant, that her actions before and after filing the complaint were inconsistent, that she did not have a proper basis for bringing the suit, and that she misrepresented evidence. The court found no merit in these arguments and affirmed the district court’s decision to deny sanctions against the plaintiff. View "Mullen v. Butler" on Justia Law

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Current and former policyholders filed a class action lawsuit in Illinois against Country Mutual and 46 of its current and former officers and directors. Every member of the proposed class is an Illinois citizen under the Class Action Fairness Act, CAFA, 28 U.S.C. 1332(d)(2), as are Country Mutual and 45 of the individuals. The 46th defendant, Bateman, is a citizen of Massachusetts. The plaintiffs alleged that the firm accumulated and retained excess surplus of over $3.5 billion from premium revenues exceeding the cost of claims and thereby failed to supply those policies at cost. They claimed breach of contract, violations of the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act, unjust enrichment, and breach of fiduciary duty.Based on putative class size, the amount in controversy, and the minimal diversity created by Bateman, Country Mutual removed this case to federal district court, 28 U.S.C. 1332(d); 1453(b). The Seventh Circuit remanded to state court. Under CAFA’s internal affairs exception, each claim sounds in allegations of corporate mismanagement that cannot be adjudicated without immersion into the boundaries of the discretion afforded by Illinois law to officers and directors of a mutual insurance company to set capital levels and make related decisions about surplus distributions to policyholder members. The case is also within CAFA’s home-state controversy exception, 28 U.S.C. 1332(d)(4)(B), as Bateman, who creates minimal diversity, is not a “primary defendant.” View "Sudholt v. Country Mutual Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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Three sets of plaintiffs alleged price fixing in the broiler chicken market, including a class of end users–persons and entities who indirectly purchased certain types of broilers from the defendants or alleged co-conspirators for personal consumption in certain jurisdictions during the class period. This class settled their claims with a subset of the defendants for $181 million. The district court entered judgment (FRCP 54(b)) as to the settling parties. Class counsel was awarded one-third of the settlement—excluding expenses and incentive awards— $57.4 million. Class member Andren argued the court erred in discounting bids made by class counsel in auctions in other cases; in suggesting the Seventh Circuit has rejected the use of declining fee scale award structures; and in crediting expert reports. In setting the fee award, the district court considered actual agreements between the parties and fee agreements reached in the market for legal services, the risk of nonpayment at the outset of the case and class counsel’s performance, and fee awards in comparable cases.The Seventh Circuit vacated the award. Under Seventh Circuit law, the district court’s task was to award fees in accord with a hypothetical “ex-ante bargain.” In doing so, the court did not consider bids made by class counsel in auctions in other cases as well as out-of-circuit fee awards. View "Andren v. Broiler Chicken Antitrust Litigation End User Consumer Plaintiff Class" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff was taking a testosterone replacement therapy drug (“TRT”) called Androderm when he suffered a heart attack. The resulting lawsuits against TRT-producing pharmaceutical companies were consolidated as multidistrict litigation (“MDL”), and Plaintiff filed his lawsuit as part of that MDL. When Defendant Actavis, the company that produces Androderm, reached a global settlement with most of the MDL plaintiffs, Plaintiff opted to take his case to trial. Plaintiff’s attorney filed a motion for a new trial, alleging that Actavis had intentionally withheld evidence to protect its defense strategy against Plaintiff. Plaintiff’s attorney received the last documents in a months-overdue discovery production for another Androderm case in the MDL on which he was also lead counsel. These documents included a previously undisclosed letter from the Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) requiring Actavis to conduct a trial to study a potential causal link between Androderm and high blood pressure. The district court denied the motion, holding that the evidence did not warrant a new trial.The Seventh Circuit affirmed, holding that the FDA letter would probably not have resulted in a verdict in Plaintiff’s favor. The court explained that even if the high blood pressure evidence had been more important to the trial, the considerations highlighted in Marcus make clear that the FDA study would not have made a new outcome probable. Removing Actavis’s blood pressure argument would leave seven alternative causes for Plaintiff’s heart attack. And the significance of Plaintiff’s blood pressure had already been undercut throughout trial. Taken together, the introduction of the FDA letter simply would not make a different outcome probable. View "Brad Martin v. Actavis Inc." on Justia Law

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After Wynndalco Enterprises, LLC was sued in two putative class actions for violating Illinois’ Biometric Information Privacy Act (“BIPA”), its business liability insurer, Citizens Insurance Company of America, filed an action seeking a declaration that it has no obligation under the terms of the insurance contract to indemnify Wynndalco for the BIPA violations or to supply Wynndalco with a defense. Citizens’ theory is that alleged violations of BIPA are expressly excluded from the policy coverage. Wynndalco counterclaimed, seeking a declaration to the contrary that Citizens is obligated to provide it with defense in both actions. The district court entered judgment on the pleadings for Wynndalco.   The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The court explained that the narrowing construction that Citizens proposes to resolve that ambiguity is not supported by the language of the provision and does not resolve the ambiguity. Given what the district court described as the “intractable ambiguity” of the provision, the court held Citizens must defend Wynndalco in the two class actions. This duty extends to the common law claims asserted against Wynndalco in the other litigation, which, as Citizens itself argued, arise out of the same acts or omissions as the BIPA claim asserted in that suit. View "Citizens Insurance Company of America v. Wynndalco Enterprises, LLC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs asserted that CWT violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) by calling class members using prerecorded messages. Plaintiffs moved to certify a nationwide class of people who had received VVT’s calls. The district court certified a class of Illinois residents, believing that Supreme Court precedent required a finding of no personal jurisdiction over CWT for purposes of the claims of the proposed nonresident class members. Plaintiffs used third-party service providers to identify and send notices to the 28,239 Illinois class members.The district court granted the class summary judgment on the TCPA claim, finding that CWT’s TCPA violations were committed willfully or knowingly. A subsequent Seventh Circuit decision undercut the reason behind limiting the class to Illinois. The court re-opened that question, certified a nationwide class. and granted that class summary judgment, holding that the new class members were entitled to notice and an opportunity to opt-out. The district court ordered CWT to bear the costs of providing notice to the nationwide class, reasoning that CWT’s liability already had been established. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. While it would be unfair to shift costs to a defendant based solely on “[a] bare allegation of wrongdoing,” in these unusual circumstances, the court had the authority to assign costs to CWT. View "Bakov v. Consolidated World Travel, Inc." on Justia Law