Calif. supreme court saves consumer class actions

In a major victory for consumers, the California Supreme Court has unanimously cut back on corporations’ ability to toss out class actions.

Emergent LLP’s Peter Roldan served as counsel to Emergent’s client, Diana Nieves Noel, along with Public Justice, a nonprofit dedicated to consumer and worker rights.

The decision handed down in Noel v. Thrifty Payless, Inc., held that the "ascertainability" requirement for class certification does not require plaintiffs, including consumers and employees, to show all class members can be identified through official records in order to gain class action certification. The ascertainability standard defendants had advocated would have made it all but impossible for consumers to win class certification in the California courts

“This is an important ruling for consumers and employees. Corporations have used the stricter version of the ascertainability doctrine adopted by the California Court of Appeals a few years ago to eliminate plaintiffs’ right to use class actions. The result has been that corporate misbehavior has increasingly been ignored, as plaintiffs cannot afford to try these actions on individual basis.  We're glad the California Supreme Court has rejected this unfair standard,” said Mr. Roldan.

The suit at issue focused on the purchase of a $60 backyard pool from a Rite-Aid store. The pool was one-half the size of the product’s packaging. While the group of potential plaintiffs was easily ascertainable – 20,000 other California consumers bought the product from Rite-Aid – the trial court threw out the case claiming that because some purchasers used cash and didn’t keep receipts, Rite-Aid would not be able to identify them.

The Supreme Court reversed this decision, noting the importance of having a realistically obtainable class action certification standard. The court noted:

“Thus the true choice in this case is not between a single class action challenging the packaging of the Ready Set Pool and multiple individual actions pressing similar claims; it is between a class action and no lawsuits being brought at all.”

Mr. Roldan noted the ultimate impact impact of this decision: “Consumers and employees will now have a better chance of getting their day in court for corporate misbehavior.”

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