A Fresh Look At Class Actions in Georgia

In two recent cases, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes, 131 S. Ct. 2541 (2011), and Comcast v. Behrend, 133 S. Ct. 1426 (2013), the United States Supreme Court established precedents that require federal district courts to rigorously examine proposed class actions to determine whether the standards for certifying class actions have been met. Those precedents are now having an impact on Georgia state courts.

In MCG Health, Inc. v. Perry, Case No. A13A1996 (decided March 20, 2014), the Georgia Court of Appeals reversed the certification of a class. The plaintiffs in the case were patients who had received treatment at a health center operated by the defendant. The defendant had filed liens against the plaintiffs relating to services they had received. The plaintiffs contended that the liens were improper and asserted claims of breach of contract and fraud. The plaintiffs sought the certification of the class of plaintiffs who had received services from the defendant and had had liens filed against them. The trial court had certified the class, but the Georgia Court of Appeals reversed. Citing the Dukes decision at several points in its opinion, the Court noted that “it is not the presence of common questions that makes the case suitable for class resolution; it is the capacity of a class-wide proceeding to generate common answers that governs the analysis.” Opinion, p. 10 (internal quotation omitted) (emphasis omitted). The Court noted that class members, having receiving services under different circumstances and having different insurance arrangements, would each have to resolve multiple individual issues in determining whether or not the liens filed against them were inappropriate.  Because the claims of individual plaintiffs raised such individual issues of proof, class treatment was not appropriate.

The Georgia Supreme Court recently heard argument in another case that tests the standard in Georgia for certifying a class. Georgia-Pacific Consumer Products LP v. Ratner, Case No. S13G1723 (argued February 17, 2014). That case involved a proposed class of property owners who claimed to have been damaged by air emissions at a nearby paper mill. The Georgia Supreme Court is reviewing a decision of a divided Court of Appeals that affirmed the certification of a class. Georgia-Pacific Consumer Products, LP v. Ratner, Case No. A13A0455 (decided July 16, 2013).

Following the lead of the United States Supreme Court, the Georgia appellate courts may be pushing trial courts to take a harder look at the certification of class actions.

For more information on class actions, contact your Appellate Counsel at Smith, Gambrell & Russell.

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