Justia U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Class Action
Peters v. Aetna Inc.
Plaintiff appealed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Aetna, as well as the denial of her motion for class certification. In this case, Mars operated a self-funded health care plan and hired Aetna as a claims administrator of the plan pursuant to a Master Services Agreement (MSA). Aetna subsequently executed subcontracts with Optum for Optum to provide chiropractic and physical therapy services to the plan participants for more cost-effective prices. From 2013 to 2015, in addition to obtaining other non-Optum medical services, plaintiff received treatment from chiropractors and physical therapists provided by Optum under its contract with Aetna.In 2015, plaintiff filed suit against appellees, alleging violations of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), claiming that appellees breached their fiduciary duties to her and the plan based on Aetna's arrangement to have the plan and its participants pay Optum's administrative fee via the bundled rate. Plaintiff also alleged that appellees engaged in comparable violations in their dealings with similarly situated plans and their participants, requesting to represent two classes of such similarly situated plans and their participants.The Fourth Circuit held that plaintiff experienced no direct financial injury as a result of appellees' use of the bundled rate in the claims process. Therefore, the court affirmed the district court's judgment on plaintiff's personal claim for restitution under section 502(a)(1) and (3). However, because the court is unable to conduct appellate review of plaintiff's restitution claim on behalf of the plan under section 502(a)(2), the court vacated and remanded that claim to the district court for development of the record as necessary and resolution in the first instance under Donovan v. Bierwirth, 754 F.2d 1049 (2d Cir. 1985).In regard to plaintiff's claims for surcharge, disgorgement, and declaratory and injunctive relief, which do not require a showing of direct financial injury, the court is persuaded that she has produced sufficient evidence for a reasonable factfinder to conclude that Aetna was operating as a functional fiduciary under ERISA and breached its fiduciary duties. The court also concluded that there is sufficient evidence in the record upon which a reasonable factfinder could find that Optum was acting as a party in interest engaged in prohibited transactions, but not as a fiduciary. Accordingly, the court reversed the district court's judgment as to plaintiff's claims for surcharge, disgorgement, and declaratory and injunctive relief under section 502(a)(1) and (3), and for her claims on behalf of the plan for surcharge, disgorgement, and declaratory and injunctive relief under section 502(a)(2) and remanded those claims for further proceedings. Finally, the court held that the district court abused its discretion in denying plaintiff's motion for class certification when it failed to properly ascertain the full measure of available remedies. Accordingly, the court vacated and remanded the district court's order denying class certification for a full reevaluation under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23. View "Peters v. Aetna Inc." on Justia Law
Mayor and City Council of Baltimore v. Actelion Pharmaceuticals Ltd.
Plaintiffs filed an antitrust class action against Actelion, alleging that Actelion extended its patent monopoly for its branded drug Tracleer — a drug to treat pulmonary artery hypertension — beyond the patent's expiration date. Plaintiffs claimed that Actelion did so "through illegitimate means" with the intent of precluding competition from generic drug manufacturers and charging supracompetitive prices for Tracleer, in violation of federal and state antitrust laws. Plaintiffs further claimed that, as a result of Actelion's illegal monopolization, they were injured by having to pay supracompetitive prices for Tracleer for some three years after Actelion's patent for Tracleer expired.The Fourth Circuit vacated the district court's limitations ruling and concluded that plaintiffs' antitrust claims did not accrue until they were injured by paying supracompetitive prices for Tracleer after the patent expired in November 2015. Therefore, plaintiffs action commenced in November 2018 was timely. The court also concluded that, even if the February 2014 date, when Actelion entered into agreements settling the generic manufacturers' antitrust claims, marked the last anticompetitive act, damages could not then have been recovered by plaintiffs because their claims would not have been ripe for judicial resolution in view of the speculative nature of future conduct that might have thereafter occurred. Therefore, limitations would not begin to run until the claims became ripe. In any event, the court explained that because plaintiffs alleged that Actelion continued with anticompetitive acts after November 2015 in selling Tracleer at supracompetitive prices, new limitations periods began to run from each sale that caused plaintiffs damages. The court largely agreed with the district court's standing, but concluded that the allegations asserting violations of the laws in states where plaintiffs did not purchase Tracleer may yet be considered when determining whether plaintiffs can, based on a Rule 23 analysis, represent class members who purchased Tracleer in those States, and if they can, then whether plaintiffs can include those claims. View "Mayor and City Council of Baltimore v. Actelion Pharmaceuticals Ltd." on Justia Law
Doe v. Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center Commission
A facility caring for an unaccompanied child fails to provide a constitutionally adequate level of mental health care if it substantially departs from accepted professional standards. Appellants, a class of unaccompanied immigrant children detained at Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center (SVJC), filed a class action alleging that the Commission fails to provide a constitutionally adequate level of mental health care due to its punitive practices and failure to implement trauma-informed care. The district court found that the Commission provides adequate care by offering access to counseling and medication.The Fourth Circuit held that neither the Flores Settlement nor SVJC's cooperative agreement prevent appellants from addressing their alleged injuries through the relief they seek from SVJC. On the merits, the court applied the Youngberg standard for professional judgment and reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the Commission. The court explained that the district court incorrectly applied a standard of deliberate indifference when it should have determined whether the Commission substantially departed from accepted standards of professional judgment. Therefore, in light of the Youngberg standard, the district court must consider evidence relevant to the professional standards of care necessary to treat appellants' serious mental health needs. The court left it to the district court to determine in the first instance to what extent, if any, the trauma-informed approach should be incorporated into the professional judgment standard in this particular case. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "Doe v. Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center Commission" on Justia Law
Cantu-Guerrero v. Lumber Liquidators, Inc.
Objectors filed consolidated appeals from the district court's order approving a class action settlement and order awarding attorney's fees to class counsel. The settlement approval order arose from two MDL proceedings related to Lumber Liquidator's sale of allegedly dangerous and defective laminate flooring.The Fourth Circuit affirmed the settlement approval order, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion in approving the settlement. In this case, the district court did not abuse its discretion in determining that the settlement was fair and adequate and, at bottom, the order thoughtfully assessed what the class members would give up in the proposed settlement and then explained why the tradeoff embodied in the settlement was fair, reasonable, and adequate. However, the court vacated the attorney's fee order, because the district court erred by failing to apply to the store vouchers the "coupon" settlement provisions of the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005. Accordingly, the court remanded with instructions. View "Cantu-Guerrero v. Lumber Liquidators, Inc." on Justia Law
Posted in: Class Action
Dominion Energy, Inc. v. City of Warren Police & Fire Retirement System
Plaintiffs filed class actions arising from a merger agreement between Dominion and SCANA Corporation, a former utility company in which plaintiffs were stockholders. Plaintiffs alleged that defendants aided and abetted a breach of fiduciary duty in negotiating the merger agreement. After defendants removed to federal court under the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005 (CAFA), the district court remanded to state court.Defendants challenged the district court's remand orders on appeal. The Fourth Circuit granted the petitions for permission to appeal and reversed the district court's judgment, holding that the the class action lawsuits were properly removed from the state courts and should, pursuant to CAFA, be litigated in the District of South Carolina. View "Dominion Energy, Inc. v. City of Warren Police & Fire Retirement System" on Justia Law
Bell v. Brockett
In this defendant class action, the defendant class argued that the district court erred in certifying the class without simultaneously appointing counsel for the class and in failing to properly analyze the adequacy of class counsel. The Fourth Circuit agreed that the district court failed to follow Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23 on both of these issues, but nevertheless affirmed the district court's judgment in light of the unusual circumstances of this case. The court held that Class Members waived the arguments they now assert regarding the untimely appointment of class counsel and the failure of the court to consider the Rule 23(g) factors, and the litigation has progressed to an extent that it would be difficult if not impossible to remedy the errors Class Members now raise. View "Bell v. Brockett" on Justia Law
Speaks v. U.S. Tobacco Cooperative Inc.
Speaks Plaintiffs filed a class action against the Cooperative, seeking a declaratory judgment, distribution of the reserve funds to members, and judicial dissolution of the Cooperative as an alternative form of relief. Speaks Plaintiffs argued that after Congress enacted the Fair and Equitable Tobacco Reform Act (FETRA) and the price-support program ended, the Cooperative's primary purpose ceased to exist, and it should be forced to distribute the reserve funds and be judicially dissolved. The parties eventually mediated the case and the district court certified the class, approving a settlement.In this appeal, Fisher-Lewis class members, and would-be intervenor Dan Lewis, objected to the Speaks settlement. The Fourth Circuit dismissed Lewis' appeal for lack of jurisdiction, holding that Lewis filed his appeal far beyond the 30-day deadline prescribed by statute. The court affirmed the district court's denial of the attempted group opt-out. However, the court could not agree with the district court that the objectors' interests were adequately protected or that the settlement was fair, reasonable, and adequate for the class. Accordingly, the court reversed the district court's order certifying the class and granting final approval of the class-action settlement, remanding for further proceedings. View "Speaks v. U.S. Tobacco Cooperative Inc." on Justia Law
Posted in: Class Action
Hutton v. National Board of Examiners in Optometry, Inc.
Optometrists across the country noticed that Chase Amazon Visa credit card accounts had been fraudulently opened in their names, using correct social security numbers and birthdates. The victims discussed the thefts in Facebook groups dedicated to optometrists and determined that the only common source to which they had given their personal information was NBEO, where every graduating optometry student submits personal information to sit for board-certifying exams. NBEO released a Facebook statement that its “information systems [had] NOT been compromised.” Two days later, NBEO stated that it had decided to further investigate. Three weeks later, NBEO posted “a cryptic message stating its internal review was still ongoing.” NBEO advised the victims to “remain vigilant in checking their credit.” Victims filed suit under the Class Action Fairness Act, 28 U.S.C. 1332(d)(2). The district court dismissed for lack of standing. The Fourth Circuit vacated. These plaintiffs allege that they have already suffered actual harm in the form of identity theft and credit card fraud; they have been concretely injured by the use or attempted use of their personal information to open credit card accounts without their knowledge or approval. There is no need to speculate on whether substantial harm will occur. The complaints contain allegations demonstrating that it is both plausible and likely that a breach of NBEO’s database resulted in the fraudulent use of the plaintiffs’ personal information. View "Hutton v. National Board of Examiners in Optometry, Inc." on Justia Law
Bartels v. Saber Healthcare Group, LLC
Plaintiffs filed a putative class action against Saber, alleging that defendants failed to deliver contractually promised care and failed to comply with certain state law requirements. After removal to federal court, the district court granted plaintiffs' motion to remand to state court based on the forum selection clause in plaintiffs' contracts. The Fourth Circuit vacated and remanded for further proceedings and factual development on the question of whether all of the defendants were bound by the forum selection clause contained in the contracts executed by plaintiffs. In this case, although the plain language of the forum selection clause precluded removal, a question remains as to whether all of the defendants were alter egos or otherwise bound by the clause. View "Bartels v. Saber Healthcare Group, LLC" on Justia Law
Jackson v. Home Depot U.S.A., Inc.
Dart Cherokee Basin Operating Co., LLC v. Owens, 135 S. Ct. 547 (2014), did not undermine Palisades Collections LLC v. Shorts, 552 F.3d 327, 331 (4th Cir. 2008). In this case, Home Depot filed a Petition for Permission to Appeal the district court's order remanding to state court. The Fourth Circuit deferred ruling on the petition pending consideration of the merits of the appeal. The court held that the Supreme Court has not called into question Palisades's conclusion that an additional counter-defendant is not entitled to remove under 28 U.S.C. 1441(a) or 1453(b), nor has it abandoned Shamrock Oil’s definition of "defendant" in the class action context. See Shamrock Oil & Gas Corp. v. Sheets, 313 U.S. 100, 108 (1941). The court held that Palisades applied to Home Depot. The court also held that the district court properly declined to realign the parties and correctly remanded to state court. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment.. View "Jackson v. Home Depot U.S.A., Inc." on Justia Law