Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its opinion in a securities class action case, Amgen Inc. v. Connecticut Retirement Plans and Trust Funds, ___ U.S. ___ (Feb. 27, 2013). Justice Ginsburg wrote the majority opinion, in which the Court addressed the predominance element of Rule 23(b)(3) and affirmed the Ninth Circuit's judgment upholding the district court's class certification order. Although the case arose in the securities context, the opinion contains language that will be relevant in many other types of cases.
Here is an excerpt from the introduction:
Rule 23(b)(3) requires a showing that questions common to the class predominate, not that those questions will be answered, on the merits, in favor of the class. Because materiality is judged according to an objective standard, the materiality of Amgen’s alleged misrepresentations and omissions is a question common to all members of the class Connecticut Retirement would represent. The alleged misrepresentations and omissions, whether material or immaterial, would be so equally for all investors composing the class.
Slip op. at 2 (emphasis in original). The rest of the opinion elaborates on this basic holding.
The same is true of UCL "fraudulent" prong claims. In such cases, the question is whether the defendant's conduct is likely to mislead a reasonable consumer — an objective standard. For UCL cases pending in federal court under CAFA, Amgen will be a highly relevant binding precedent.
For common-law fraud cases, too, where a presumption of reliance arises based on the materiality of the misrepresentation, Amgen teaches that common questions predominate. In this regard, the opinion can be considered an analog of the California Supreme Court's leading class certification opinion, Vasquez v. Superior Court, 4 Cal.3d 800 (1971). In Vasquez, the Supreme Court observed (among other things) that "[s]ome federal class action cases in which stockholders have alleged fraud on the basis of printed misrepresentations in a corporation prospectus hold that individual proof may not be required to establish reliance by each stockholder." Id. at 815. Later federal cases confirmed this.
The Amgen opinion also has this to say on merits determinations at the certification stage:
Although we have cautioned that a court’s class-certification analysis must be "rigorous" and may "entail some overlap with the merits of the plaintiff ’s underlying claim," Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes, ___ U. S. ___, ___ (2011) (slip op., at 10) (internal quotation marks omitted), Rule 23 grants courts no license to engage in free-ranging merits inquiries at the certification stage. Merits questions may be considered to the extent—but only to the extent—that they are relevant to determining whether the Rule 23 prerequisites for class certification are satisfied. [Citation.]
Amgen, slip op. at 9.