In Koby v. ARS National Services, Inc., ___ F.3d ___ (9th Cir. Jan. 25, 2017), the Ninth Circuit, on its own motion, considered whether the named plaintiffs in a class action have authority to consent to a magistrate judge's exercise of jurisdiction, and to bind the unnamed class members to that decision. The panel concluded that they do, and that the unnamed class members are not considered "parties" for purposes of 28 U.S.C. section 636(c)(3):
We conclude that the statute requires the consent of the named plaintiffs alone and join three other circuits that have reached the same conclusion. See Day v. Persels & Associates, LLC, 729 F.3d 1309, 1316 (11th Cir. 2013); Dewey v. Volkswagen Aktiengesellschaft, 681 F.3d 170, 181 (3d Cir. 2012); Williams v. General Electric Capital Auto Lease, Inc., 159 F.3d 266, 269 (7th Cir. 1998).
As a purely linguistic matter, § 636(c)(1)’s reference to the consent of “the parties” could be read to encompass both the named plaintiffs and the absent class members, for the term does not have a single fixed meaning. In some contexts absent class members are treated as parties, see In re Cement Antitrust Litigation, 688 F.2d 1297, 1307–10 (9th Cir. 1982) (judicial recusal statute), while in other contexts they are not, see Snyder v. Harris, 394 U.S. 332, 340 (1969) (diversity jurisdiction statute). As the Supreme Court has observed, absent class members may be treated as parties “for some purposes and not for others.” Devlin, 536 U.S. at 10.
Viewing § 636(c) as a whole, it seems clear that Congress did not intend absent class members to be treated as parties in this context. ....
Slip op. at 9. The Court also rejected the argument of an amicus curiae that "§ 636(c) violates Article III of the Constitution by permitting magistrate judges to exercise jurisdiction over class actions without obtaining the consent of each absent class member." Id. at 12-14.
The Court then turned to the objector's challenges to the magistrate judge's order approving the class action settlement, which provided for "worthless injunctive relief" but no other remedy (id. at 1), and held that the settlement should not have been approved:
The magistrate judge abused her discretion by approving the settlement in this case. The settlement should not have been approved for one primary reason: There is no evidence that the relief afforded by the settlement has any value to the class members, yet to obtain it they had to relinquish their right to seek damages in any other class action.
Id. at 15.