Ninth Circuit Rejects Stand-Alone ‘Administrative Feasibility’ Requirement in Addition to the Superiority considerations under Rule 23(b)(3)

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Plaintiffs brought a putative class action against ConAgra on behalf of consumers who purchased Wesson-brand cooking oil products labeled “100% Natural” which they allege was false or misleading, as Wesson oils are made from bioengineered ingredients that are “not natural”.  The district corut granted class certification, and the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed.

“The language of Rule 23 does not impose a freestanding administrative feasibility prerequisite to class certification…. We recognize that the Third Circuit does require putative class representatives to demonstrate ‘administrative feasibility’ as a prerequisite to class certification…. But Rule 23(b)(3) already contains a specific, enumerated mechanism to achieve that goal: the manageability criterion of the superiority requirement. Rule 23(b)(3) requires that a class action be ‘superior to other available methods for fairly and efficiently adjudicating the controversy,’ and it specifically mandates that courts consider ‘the likely difficulties in managing a class action.’

“Moreover, as the Seventh Circuit has observed, requiring class proponents to satisfy an administrative feasibility prerequisite conflicts with the well-settled presumption that courts should not refuse to certify a class merely on the basis of manageability concerns.u00a0 Rule 23(b)(3) calls for a comparative assessment of the costs and benefits of class adjudication, including the availability of ‘other methods’ for resolving the controversy. By contrast, as the Seventh Circuit has emphasized, a standalone administrative feasibility requirement would invite courts to consider the administrative burdens of class litigation in a vacuum. That difference in approach would often be outcome determinative for cases like this one, in which administrative feasibility would be difficult to demonstrate but in which there may be no realistic alternative to class treatment. Class actions involving inexpensive consumer goods in particular would likely fail at the outset if administrative feasibility were a freestanding prerequisite to certification.”

Further:

“If the concern is that claimants in cases like this will eventually offer only a ‘self-serving affidavit’ as proof of class membership, it is again unclear why that issue must be resolved at the class certification stage to protect a defendantu2019s due process rights. If a Wesson oil consumer were to pursue an individual lawsuit instead of a class action, an affidavit describing her purchases would create a genuine issue if ConAgra disputed the affidavit, and would prevent summary judgment against the consumer. Given that a consumer’s affidavit could force a liability determination at trial without offending the Due Process Clause, we see no reason to refuse class certification simply because that same consumer will present her affidavit in a claims administration process after a liability determination has already been made.”
Briseno v. ConAgra Foods, 844 F.3d 1121 (9th Cir. 2017).

 

 

 

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