Ninth Circuit Holds That California Law Cannot be Applied to a Nationwide Class
On January 12, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed the certification of a forty-four state class of consumers, finding that California’s consumer protection laws could not be applied to a nationwide class, and that even a California-only class failed the rigorous analysis required for certification recently affirmed in the Supreme Court’s decision in Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes, 131 S. Ct. 2541 (2011). Mazza v. American Honda Motor Co., Inc., No. 09-55376, 2012 WL 89176 (9th Cir. January 12, 2012).
In Mazza, plaintiffs sued a California vehicle manufacturer for violations of California’s unfair competition and false advertising laws as well as unjust enrichment, alleging that the manufacturer misrepresented and concealed material information in its marketing of vehicles equipped with a collision safety system. The court found that under California’s choice of law rules, each state had an interest in the application of its own laws to the claims of those putative class members who purchased or leased vehicles in those states. Further, material differences among the forty-four states’ laws required that each state’s law must be applied to the transactions that occurred in-state. The court noted that each state has an interest in determining the level of liability faced by companies operating in-state, such that “[m]aximizing consumer and business welfare, and achieving the correct balance for society, does not inexorably favor greater consumer protection; instead, setting a baseline of corporate liability for consumer harm requires balancing the competing interests” in each state. Accordingly, the class could not be maintained under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(b)(3) because the material variations in the laws of the multiple states “overwhelm common issues and preclude predominance for a single nationwide class.” The court also held that even a California-only class failed the predominance requirement of Rule 23(b)(3) because class members could not be presumed to have relied on the manufacturer’s “very limited” advertisements of the collision safety system. According to the court, unlike the sort of “extensive and long-term” fraudulent advertising campaign that could justify a presumption of reliance by members of the class, the manufacturer’s campaign was neither temporally expansive nor affirmatively dishonest. Thus, the individual factual issues regarding whether each class member had actually seen the advertising prior to purchasing or leasing the vehicle precluded class certification.