Second Circuit Discusses the Appropriate Standards Governing a District Judge in Adjudicating Class Certification Motions
Per In re Initial Public Offering Securities Litigation, 471 F.3d 24 (2d Cir. Dec. 5, 2006):
This appeal primarily concerns the issue, surprisingly unsettled in this Circuit, as to what standards govern a district judge in adjudicating a motion for class certification under Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. . . . These issues arise on an appeal by Defendants-Appellants Merrill Lynch & Co. and others ("the underwriters") from the October 13, 2004, order of the District Court for the Southern District of New York (Shira A. Scheindlin, District Judge) granting in part Plaintiffs-Appellees' motion for class certification in six securities fraud class actions. . . . All of the lawsuits, including the six at issue on this appeal, involve claims of fraud on the part of several of the nation's largest underwriters in connection with a series of initial public offerings ("IPOs"). We conclude (1) that a district judge may not certify a class without making a ruling that each Rule 23 requirement is met and that a lesser standard such as "some showing" for satisfying each requirement will not suffice, (2) that all of the evidence must be assessed as with any other threshold issue, (3) that the fact that a Rule 23 requirement might overlap with an issue on the merits does not avoid the court's obligation to make a ruling as to whether the requirement is met, although such a circumstance might appropriately limit the scope of the court's inquiry at the class certification stage, and (4) that the cases pending on this appeal may not be certified as class actions. We therefore vacate the class certifications and remand for further proceedings.
"Provided that the district court has applied the proper legal standards in deciding whether to certify a class, its decision may only be overturned if it constitutes an abuse of discretion." Caridad v. Metro-North Commuter Railroad, 191 F.3d 283, 291 (2d Cir.1999) (internal quotation marks omitted); accord Parker v. Time Warner Entertainment Co., 331 F.3d 13, 18 (2d Cir.2003); Moore v. PaineWebber, Inc., 306 F.3d 1247, 1252 (2d Cir.2002). . . . We will apply the abuse-of-discretion standard both to Judge Scheindlin's ultimate decision on class certification as well as her rulings as to Rule 23 requirements, bearing in mind that whether an incorrect legal standard has been used is an issue of law to be reviewed de novo, see Parker, 331 F.3d at 18.
Our initial inquiry is whether Judge Scheindlin applied proper legal standards in determining the existence of the four prerequisites for every class action: numerosity, commonality, typicality, and adequacy of representation, Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(a), and the two additional requirements for a(b)(3) class action: predominance, i.e., law or fact questions common to the class predominate over questions affecting individual members, and superiority, i.e., class action is superior to other methods, id. 23(b)(3). Judge Scheindlin ruled that the Plaintiffs were required to make only "some showing" of compliance with these Rule 23 requirements. We conclude that use of a "some showing" standard was error, but we readily acknowledge that, until now, our Court has been less than clear as to the applicable standards for class certification, and on occasion, as we discuss below, we have used language that understandably led Judge Scheindlin astray. Before considering the relevant opinions of our Court, we start with the guidance provided by the Supreme Court.
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In light of the foregoing discussion, we reach the following conclusions: (1) a district judge may certify a class only after making determinations that each of the Rule 23 requirements has been met; (2) such determinations can be made only if the judge resolves factual disputes relevant to each Rule 23 requirement and finds that whatever underlying facts are relevant to a particular Rule 23 requirement have been established and is persuaded to rule, based on the relevant facts and the applicable legal standard, that the requirement is met; (3) the obligation to make such determinations is not lessened by overlap between a Rule 23 requirement and a merits issue, even a merits issue that is identical with a Rule 23 requirement; (4) in making such determinations, a district judge should not assess any aspect of the merits unrelated to a Rule 23 requirement; and (5) a district judge has ample discretion to circumscribe both the extent of discovery concerning Rule 23 requirements and the extent of a hearing to determine whether such requirements are met in order to assure that a class certification motion does not become a pretext for a partial trial of the merits. In drawing these conclusions, we add three observations. First, our conclusions necessarily preclude the use of a "some showing" standard, and to whatever extent Caridad might have implied such a standard for a Rule 23 requirement, that implication is disavowed. Second, we also disavow the suggestion in Visa Check that an expert's testimony may establish a component of a Rule 23 requirement simply by being not fatally flawed. A district judge is to assess all of the relevant evidence admitted at the class certification stage and determine whether each Rule 23 requirement has been met, just as the judge would resolve a dispute about any other threshold prerequisite for continuing a lawsuit. Finally, we decline to follow the dictum in Heerwagen suggesting that a district judge may not weigh conflicting evidence and determine the existence of a Rule 23 requirement just because that requirement is identical to an issue on the merits. . . .
Under the standards we have today set forth, it is clear that, with respect to at least the factors of reliance and lack of knowledge of the scheme, the Plaintiffs cannot satisfy the predominance requirement for a(b)(3) class action. Accordingly, we vacate the District Court's order granting class certifications in each of the six focus cases and remand for further proceedings.