For Whom the Pipe Tolls: SCOTUS to Decide Whether <i>American Pipe</i> Tolling Applies to “Piggyback” Class ActionsFederal courts generally agree that when certification of a class action is denied or the case is dismissed, the statute of limitations on the claim asserted on behalf of the would-be class is deemed to have been tolled during the pendency of the class claims for all individual members of the putative class action, at least for purposes of a subsequent individual action. The reason the federal courts agree on this much is that the United States Supreme Court so ruled in American Pipe and Construction Co. v. Utah, 414 U.S. 538 (1974), and Crown, Cork & Seal Co. v. Parker, 462 U.S. 345 (1983).

But from that single point of origin, the American Pipe tolling rule branched out into a fair amount of controversy. One of the many circuit splits was resolved a few months ago when the Supreme Court ruled that American Pipe tolling does not apply to statutes of repose (California Public Employees’ Retirement System v. ANZ Securities, Inc., et al., 137 S. Ct. 2042 (2017)). Other disagreements have festered over questions such as whether a person who opts out can assert the tolling effect in a subsequent individual action prior to denial of certification or dismissal in the first action, and how the rule applies cross-jurisdictionally to successive actions in the state and federal systems.

But yet another circuit split concerning American Pipe will not be a circuit split much longer—whether American Pipe tolling applies to save an otherwise untimely successive class action. The Supreme Court last week granted certiorari to resolve that question in China Agritech, Inc. v. Resh, Dkt. No. 17-432.

The Courts of Appeal are sharply split on the issue. The First, Second, Third, Fifth, Eighth, and Eleventh Circuits have held, more or less, that allowing so called “piggyback” class actions would undermine the very judicial efficiency goals upon which the judicially created American Pipe tolling rule is based: avoiding duplicative litigation. They also point out that allowing tolling to save successive class actions would all but eliminate the utility and purpose of statutes of limitations in the class context. But since 2011, the Sixth, Seventh and Ninth circuits—the staunchest advocates of the class action device and its expansion in recent years—have brushed those concerns aside and embraced tolling for successive class actions. They argue that if claims are already tolled individually, then Rule 23 applies as much to tolled individual claims as to claims that are timely on their own. Because the Supreme Court has already ruled that denial of certification has no preclusive effect in a subsequent class action on the same claims, Smith v. Bayer, 564 U.S. 299 (2011), piggyback class action tolling seemingly would allow unsuccessful would-be class counsel to “try, try again” with new class representatives in another court as many times as necessary until they find a court willing to certify their class.

The many circuit splits American Pipe has generated illustrate the pesky problem with judicially created rules: They almost always lead to years of uncertainty and unforeseen consequences. Rule 23 contains no tolling rule, and neither did the statute of limitations at issue in American Pipe, yet the judiciary, ultimately the Supreme Court, chose to create one. Numerous circuit splits have resulted, likely to the surprise of nobody. One day, presumably, all those circuit splits will be resolved, with the rule’s application to “piggyback class actions” being the next in line. But in the years it takes for the splits to be resolved, the rights of numerous plaintiffs or defendants will have already been permanently lost because of the mistaken views of the courts on whatever proves to be the wrong side of the split. Real dollars will have been spent in error, and real rights will have been lost.

This tolling rule would have been better left to Congress or the rulemaking process. Though often incomplete, inefficient and otherwise wanting in themselves, those processes almost always result in a more comprehensive effort to address all foreseeable ramifications of the rule being created than legislating from the bench ever can. After all, Article III ripeness, standing and justiciability considerations actually prevent federal judges from addressing issues not yet presented in the case before the court. That constitutional limitation almost guarantees that judicially created rules will produce more collateral damage to the rights of individual litigants while the uncertainties are worked out in subsequent cases in different circuits at different times.  So while we wait for the Supreme Court to fix this particular glitch, the larger lesson will remain immutable: Courts should exercise restraint in creating ad hoc exceptions to timeliness or other legislatively promulgated rules, whether they be substantive or procedural.

Growing Consensus in the Courts of Appeals against Alternative-Citizenship Theory of Diversity under CAFAIf a putative class of plaintiffs, all citizens of State A, sues a corporate defendant, which the law considers to be a citizen of State A and State B, in state court, may the defendant remove the case to federal court under the Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA)? Recently, the Sixth Circuit became the third court of appeals to answer “no.”

CAFA, 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d), provides for federal jurisdiction over class actions involving at least 100 class members, with $5 million or more at stake, and in which “any member of a class of plaintiffs is a citizen of a State different from any defendant.” Unlike diversity jurisdiction in most other contexts, CAFA allows minimal diversity—as long as one plaintiff maintains citizenship in a state different from one defendant’s citizenship, diversity is satisfied, regardless of where all other parties reside. Frequently, diversity under CAFA is straightforward. If one plaintiff resides in California and one defendant resides in Tennessee, the case passes muster. In contrast, a class of plaintiffs from one state facing a defendant from the same state cannot satisfy even minimal diversity.

Sometimes, however, the nature of corporate citizenship creates a hybrid situation. Under § 1332(b), a corporation is a citizen of both its state of incorporation and the state where it maintains its principal place of business. Defendants in the Sixth, Fourth, and Eleventh Circuits have argued that minimal diversity exists within the meaning of CAFA when one of these places aligns with the citizenship of a class of plaintiffs but the other does not. The intent of CAFA to expand federal jurisdiction beyond the traditional confines of complete diversity is often relied upon in support of this argument. Under this “alternative-citizenship” theory of diversity, the corporation can pick between citizenship in one state or the other to either satisfy or defeat minimal diversity under CAFA.

Unfortunately for removing defendants, the theory has failed thus far in each of the three courts of appeals to squarely address it. The reasoning in each court follows similar lines: First, they say, the text of § 1332 is clear—a corporation is a citizen of its place of incorporation and where it maintains its principal place of business, not either-or. Second, the courts have reasoned, allowing jurisdiction based on the alternative-citizenship theory would not comport with the historical purpose behind federal diversity jurisdiction—to protect an out-of-state litigant from prejudice within a court in the opposing party’s home state. The Sixth Circuit’s opinion even suggests that the alternative-citizenship theory would push the limits of Article III. If that is right, even express Congressional legislation would not make the alternative-citizenship theory effective.  And unless and until another Circuit rules differently, this issue is not likely to reach the Supreme Court for clearer resolution.

Arbitration Provision TKOs Class Action Lawsuit by Online Viewer of Mayweather/McGregor FightBoxing fan Victor Mallh, attempting to take a class action swing at Showtime Networks for failures in its livestream broadcast of the Mayweather/McGregor fight in August of this year, will have to pursue his claim in arbitration, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled last week (Mallh v. Showtime Networks, Inc., 2017 WL 5157247 (S.D.N.Y. Nov. 7, 2017)). While Mallh’s fight – unlike McGregor’s against Mayweather – hasn’t been stopped, it will apparently now be confined to a single-plaintiff arbitration against the entertainment company.

Mallh signed up to view the boxing match via livestream on Showtime’s website, paying $99.95 on the day of the fight. The website’s purchase page required purchasers to agree to Showtime’s Terms of Use (TOU), Privacy Policy and Video Services Policy, each of which were hyperlinked to the page. The TOU in turn contained an express arbitration provision and class action waiver, whereby purchasers agreed in the event of a dispute to either an individual action in small claims court or an individual arbitration proceeding administered by the AAA.  Purchasers also agreed to waive the right to trial by jury and the right to participate in a class action.

Mallh claimed that Showtime rabbit-punched him during the livestream, logging him out for a substantial portion of the fight, and then hit him below the belt by delaying or making incomplete various parts of the coverage. When his request for a refund was refused, he complained to the referee, but not the referee actually in charge of the fight. Ignoring the arbitration provision, Mallh filed a putative class action against Showtime in federal court, asserting contract, unfair practices and unjust enrichment claims. Showtime counterpunched by moving to compel arbitration pursuant to the TOU, or in the alternative to dismiss or strike the complaint’s class allegations.

The court granted Showtime’s motion to compel, sounding the final bell on Mallh’s quest for a class action jury trial. Acknowledging Second Circuit and other precedent, the court first recognized that an electronic click can sufficiently manifest assent to a contract, in the context of both “clickwrap” and “browsewrap” electronic agreements. (The former requires users to affirmatively click an “I agree” box after being presented with terms of use; the latter – as Showtime’s was – generally posts detailed terms of use via hyperlink and does not require the user to click an “I agree” box.) The court found that the Showtime website required Mallh to acknowledge that he had read and agreed to the TOU; the only remaining question was whether Mallh received adequate notice via the website and links that he was agreeing to individual arbitration.

The judge scored all rounds decisively for Showtime. Contrary to Mallh’s arguments, the court held that the website was not “cluttered” and the arbitration provision and class waiver were not “buried,” but instead were reasonably conspicuous. On this point the court held that there was nothing inherently wrong with the TOU being made available only via hyperlink.  Relying on Second Circuit authority, the court found it unobjectionable that the consumer is “prompted to examine the terms of sale . . . located somewhere else.” Given that Mallh did not deny that he clicked on a box agreeing to the TOU, thus manifesting his assent, the court granted the motion to compel arbitration, and left Mallh’s class action aspirations lying on the canvas.