Earlier this year, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court’s dismissal of a proposed class action based on the plaintiffs’ failure to meet a number of the four required elements of class certification.
In Karhu v. Vital Pharm, Inc., the defendant manufactured and marketed a dietary supplement intended to help users lose weight. The defendant marketed the product for this purpose. The plaintiffs’ class action lawsuit alleged that the product did not in fact aid with weight loss as the defendant claimed. The plaintiffs sought to certify a class of product users nationwide.
In ruling on the plaintiffs’ motion to certify the class, the district court ruled that the proposed class failed on a number of grounds. Federal Rule of Procedure 23 sets out the requirements for certification of a proposed class. First, a class must be clearly ascertainable and adequately defined. To be ascertainable, the definition of the proposed class must contain objective criteria that permit potential class members to be identified in a feasible way through administration of the class action lawsuit. This is typically accomplished when the process is manageable and does not require much, if any, individual inquiry into each member’s individual case.
According to the district court, the plaintiffs in the diet drug case failed to show that the proposed class was ascertainable. The plaintiffs’ definition was particularly deficient when it came to providing a realistic means of locating and verifying the potential class members who purchased the diet drug. The product was mostly sold to retailers and distributors. This meant that in most cases the defendant’s own records could not be used to verify the identities of the class members. Additionally, since the product was relatively inexpensive, most potential class members would lack any receipts or proof of payment showing they purchased the product.
The plaintiffs proposed an affidavit-based method to resolve the ascertainability issues, but the district court ultimately rejected it. Without any way to verify that the class members were users and purchasers of the drug, the defendant would not be afforded any due process right to contest each potential class member’s claims. And, even if the court allowed the defendant to contest each class member’s claims made via affidavit, this would require an extensive individual inquiry into each potential class member’s case in contravention of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23’s requirements.
In upholding the lower court’s ruling, the Eleventh Circuit noted that the plaintiffs’ proposed “sales data” method for verification was incomplete, especially since the plaintiffs did not explain how the data would be used to facilitate class member identification. Ultimately, a plaintiff moving for the certification of a proposed class bears the burden of showing that Rule 23’s requirements have been satisfied, including the proposal of an administratively feasible method for identifying potential class members.
If you or someone you love has suffered injuries due to a defective and dangerous product, you may be entitled to compensation. The experienced and dedicated product liability lawyers at Moll Law Group have guided many dangerous product victims throughout the country, including in New York, in Texas, and in our home city of Chicago. We offer a free consultation to help you learn about your rights. Call us now at 312-462-1700 or contact us online to set up your appointment.