A district court judge in the Eastern District of Louisiana denied certification in a case brought by African American policyholders who received less benefits than whites with comparable policies. The plaintiffs sought certification of a (b)(2) class for injunctive and associated relief, yet affording notice and opt-out rights to members of the putative class. Adopting the practical approach taken in Allison, the Fifth Circuit (reversing the district court’s denial of certification) refused to engage in a theoretical discussion about whether the relief sought was “legal” or “equitable” in nature, but rather, sought to determine whether the relief owed to each classmember could be calculated according to standardized formulas, objectively derived from the defendants’ own business records, without the necessity for subjective inquiries or other individualized determinations. While noting a defect in the plaintiffs’ class definition, the Court recognized that “holding the plaintiffs to the plain language of their definition would ignore the ongoing refinement and give-and-take inherent in class action litigation, particularly in the formation of a workable class definition. District courts are permitted to limit or modify class definitions to provide the necessary precision.” The court also rejected the defendants’ argument that statute of limitations issues precluded class certification. “To hold that each class member must be deposed as to precisely when, if at all, he learned of defendants’ practices would be tantamount to adopting a per se rule that civil rights cases involving deception or concealment cannot be certified outside of a two-year or three-year period…. Such a result foreclose use of the class action device for a broad sub-set of claims, a result inconsistent with the efficiency aims of Rule 23.” The Court indicated that the defendants’ “constructive notice” theory can be determined on a class-wide basis. Bratcher v. National Standard Life, 365 F.3d 408 (5th Cir.), cert. denied, 125 S.Ct. 277 (2004).
[Note – Herman Herman Katz is one of the lead firms representing the plaintiffs.]