Class Decertified Where Vast Majority of Members Sustained No Ascertainable Loss

Adrienne C. Rogove

In another blow to plaintiffs suing under New Jersey’s Truth-in-Consumer Contract, Warranty, and Notice Act (“TCCWNA”), the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey in Martinez-Santiago v. Public Storage, 2019 WL 1418118 (D.N.J. March 29, 2019), decertified a class of 160,000 members alleging that lease agreements with the Defendant Public Storage violated TCCWNA. Following the New Jersey Supreme Court’s decision last year finding that a consumer who is a party to a contract that fails to comply with New Jersey law, but who does not suffer any adverse consequences from the noncompliance, has failed to state a TCCWNA claim, United States District Judge Jerome Simandle decertified the class. The decision was based on an analysis of the Rule 23 requirements, where the Court held that the requirements of “typicality,” “predominance,” and “numerosity” under Rule 23 could not be met.

With respect to the typicality requirement, the Court found that the named plaintiff was one of “relatively few” customers who actually suffered an adverse consequence due to the form lease contract entered into with Public Storage. Since the vast majority of class members did not suffer an adverse consequence, the claims of the named plaintiff were not typical of the class members, and therefore the typicality requirement was not met.

The Court also found that the “predominance” requirement could not be met because questions of fact common to class members no longer predominated over questions affecting only individual claims. Finally, because discovery revealed that only 29 class members might be able to assert a viable claim under TCCWNA, the “numerosity” requirement of Rule 23 likewise could not be met.

The decision of the Court in Martinez-Santiago left only the named plaintiff with potentially viable claims, thereby continuing to chip away at the prospect of successful class action suits against corporate entities, and large attorneys’ fee awards to class action counsel, in suits where the class cannot meet the requirements of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23.

Generic Representations of Regulatory Compliance Not Actionable under Federal Securities Laws

Adrienne C. Rogove

In a case alleging violations of federal securities laws by Cigna Corporation and certain of its officers, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of the complaint on the basis that the statements made by the defendants were simple, generic assertions about its regulatory policies and procedures upon which no reasonable investor would reasonably rely, and were therefore not materially misleading. Singh v. Cigna Corp., No. 17-3484-cv, (2d Cir. Mar. 5, 2019). Following Cigna’s acquisition of HealthSpring, a regional Medicare insurer, Cigna issued several public statements, including 10-K filings, concerning its commitment to regulatory compliance given the significant regulatory responsibilities involved in Medicare coverage. In its 2013 Form 10-K filed on February 27, 2014, Cigna said it had “established policies and procedures to comply with applicable requirements,” and that it “expect[ed] to continue to allocate significant resources” to compliance efforts. Id. at *5. In December 2014, Cigna published a pamphlet titled “Code of Ethics and Principles of Conduct,” which affirmed the importance of compliance and integrity:

[I]t’s important for every employee. . .to handle, maintain, and report on [Cigna’s financial] information in compliance with all laws and regulations. . .

[W]e have a responsibility to act with integrity in all we do, including any and all dealings with government officials.

Id. at **4-5. In its 2014 Form 10-K, Cigna stated that it would “continue to allocate significant resources” to compliance. Id. at *6. The 10-K included a discussion of the difficulty of compliance in the regulatory environment given the “uncertainty surrounding legislation and implementation of national healthcare reform.” Id.

A 2015 audit of Cigna’s Medicare operations by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (“CMS”) revealed numerous regulatory violations. Cigna filed a Form 8-K disclosing the CMS audit conclusions and accompanying sanctions. Within several days, Cigna’s stock price fell substantially. Continue reading “Generic Representations of Regulatory Compliance Not Actionable under Federal Securities Laws”

Meet Blank Rome’s 2018 Law360 Rising Stars

Blank Rome Partners Omid Safa and Michael A. Iannucci have been named 2018 Rising Stars by Law360 in recognition of their legal accomplishments in the categories of Insurance and Class Action, respectively. Below are excerpts of their profiles, as published by Law360Continue reading “Meet Blank Rome’s 2018 Law360 Rising Stars”

Class Gets the Squeeze: Class Certification Denied in In Re: Tropicana Orange Juice Marketing and Sales Practices Litigation, Civil No. 2:11-07382, MDL 2353 (D.N.J. Jan. 22, 2018)

David C. Kistler and Michael A. Iannucci

Consumer class action litigation—often accusing the defendant company of deceiving its customers—strikes at the heart of a company’s reputation, goodwill, and brand—all of which are often built over the course of many years or decades. As such, these cases pose not only the threat of immense litigation and liability costs, but also irreparable, and potentially fatal, future damage to the company’s brand. By way of recent example, for the past several years, a putative class of plaintiffs from several states took aim at Tropicana’s Pure Premium (“TPP”) orange juice, claiming that the company deceived and misrepresented the public concerning its popular orange juice. Continue reading “Class Gets the Squeeze: Class Certification Denied in In Re: Tropicana Orange Juice Marketing and Sales Practices Litigation, Civil No. 2:11-07382, MDL 2353 (D.N.J. Jan. 22, 2018)”

EZ-Pass Paid and Certified: Nationwide Class Certification Granted under New Jersey’s Consumer Fraud Act

Michael A. Iannucci

A nationwide class of 17.9 million members was certified by a judge in the District of New Jersey last week in Mendez v. Avis Budget Group, Inc. and Highway Toll Administration LLC. The Court also granted Florida and New Jersey sub-classes. The suit alleges that Avis secretly charged drivers who rented cars for an electronic toll-payment service (“e-Toll”). Specifically, Plaintiff Jose Mendez alleged that his rental agreement with Avis did not specify he would be automatically enrolled as an e-Toll subscriber and charged an alleged convenience fee of $2.50 per day and up to $10 a week for the service, irrespective of whether he paid for the highway tolls he incurred. Continue reading “EZ-Pass Paid and Certified: Nationwide Class Certification Granted under New Jersey’s Consumer Fraud Act”

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Bans Class Action Waivers in Arbitration Clauses

Michael A. Iannucci and Richard Wolf

While questions remain about the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (“CFPB”) future power, the agency, which was created by the Dodd-Frank Act in the wake of the 2008 economic crash, issued a powerful Final Rule that will ban companies from using class action waivers in arbitration clauses. The Final Rule will go into effect 60 days after its publication in the Federal Register, and arbitration agreements entered into 180 days after publication must comply with the new rule. Retail clients, banks and financial institutions, debt collectors, and credit card companies may be most impacted by the new rule, as they often utilize these arbitration clauses in consumer agreements as a less expensive—and private—alternative to litigation. The CFPB, which has faced intense scrutiny from the Trump Administration as well as challenges in federal courts,[1] reasoned that class action litigation waivers effectively foreclose consumers from pursuing small-dollar disputes on an individual basis because doing so is not cost effective.

Continue reading “Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Bans Class Action Waivers in Arbitration Clauses”

Arbitration of Claims to Avoid Costly Putative Class Action Lawsuits

A Discussion of the Third Circuit’s Recent Decision in Chassen

Michael A. Rowe

I30f99b6e7bed5b995023622415728607n Chassen v. Fid. Nat’l Fin., Inc., 2016 U.S. App. LEXIS 16489 (3d Cir. N.J. Sept. 8, 2016), Plaintiffs represented a putative class of New Jersey real estate purchasers and refinancers who were allegedly overcharged fees in connection with the recording of their deeds and mortgage instruments. Plaintiffs alleged that Defendants charged them more than it cost to record these documents with the county clerk and pocketed the difference. Plaintiffs also alleged that the class claims totaled over $50 million.

In 2009, Plaintiffs filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey alleging both breach of contract and violation of New Jersey law. Defendants moved to dismiss some of these claims and raised various affirmative defenses. Defendants did not seek to compel arbitration based upon arbitration clauses contained in contracts with Plaintiffs. The parties litigated the case for two and a half years, focusing primarily on class certification, during which the parties conducted broad discovery and filed several motions on the merits. Continue reading “Arbitration of Claims to Avoid Costly Putative Class Action Lawsuits”