The Fifth Circuit yesterday decertified a nationwide class action alleging defects in side-impact air bag systems and sensors.  The case involved 1998 and 1999 models of Cadillac DeVilles.  The court found error in the district court’s failure to require plaintiffs to provide an "extensive analysis" of warranty law in the 51 jurisdictions from which class members hail.  The court concluded that plenty of significant differences exist, precluding a conclusion that common issues will "predominate" over individual issues under federal Rule 23(b)(3).  Cole v. General Motors Corp., No. 05-31070 (5th Cir. Apr. 10, 2007).

The decision follows a trend in federal appellate courts against Rule 23(b)(3) certification in cases arising out of state law claims under the Uniform Commercial Code.  See, e.g., In re Bridgestone/Firestone, Inc., 288 F.3d 1012 (7th Cir. 2002) (decertifying nationwide class action over tire defects).  The goal of uniformity in state commercial law has, shall we say, not materialized — as legislatures have fiddled with the UCC and state courts have interpreted even identical UCC provisions differently.

Blawgletter suspects that the trend will prompt plaintiffs’ lawyers to downsize their ambitions in seeking class certification under state laws.  They may move toward state-wide class actions or multi-state ones in which they can show, through "extensive analysis", that the different states’ laws don’t differ in material ways.  The multi-state approach involves more risk, and only the intrepid or overconfident may choose that path in future.

Barry Barnett

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