In Cho v. Seagate Technology Holdings, Inc., 177 Cal.App.4th 734 (Sept. 15, 2009) (which was handed down while I was away on vacation), the Court of Appeal overruled objections to a classwide settlement, but reversed the final judgment and remanded for notice to be re-given with an amended class definition. This was necessary so that people could more precisely determine whether or not they were members of the settlement class:
Slip op. at 12, 13, 15-16 (emphasis added). Scott Leviant has a more detailed discussion of Cho at The Complex Litigator.
A class definition that is ambiguous presents a problem of class ascertainability that “ ‘goes to the heart of the question of class certification, which requires a class definition that is “precise, objective and presently ascertainable.” ’ ” (Global Minerals & Metals Corp. v. Superior Court (2003) 113 Cal.App.4th 836, 858.) In the absence of an ascertainable class, “ ‘it is not possible to give adequate notice to class members or to determine after the litigation has concluded who is barred from relitigating.’ ” (Ibid.) The goal in defining the class is to use terminology that will convey sufficient meaning to enable persons hearing it to determine whether they are members of the class plaintiff wishes to represent.
.... the error we identify arises from the ambiguity in the class notice because it creates a real possibility that indirect purchasers who erroneously conclude they are not members of the plaintiff class may never be heard from and the judgment will be res judicata on their claims. (See Global Minerals & Metals Corp. v. Superior Court, supra, 113 Cal.App.4th at p. 858; Hicks v. Kaufman & Broad Home Corp. (2001) 89 Cal.App.4th 908, 914.)
We vacate the orders of the trial court and remand for further proceedings to correct the class definition to unambiguously state that indirect purchasers of new Seagate disc drives are members of the plaintiff class and to renotice the settlement in order to give adequate notice to all class members, and allow for additional claims, objections or opt outs.