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Class Action Defense Cases-Richards v. Delta Air Lines: Denial Of Class Certification Proper Because Lawsuit Predominantly Sought Monetary Damages And Did Not Involve Common Questions Of Law Or Fact D.C. Circuit Holds

Circuit Court Affirms Dismissal of Putative Class Action Against Airline that Alleged Warsaw Convention did not Limit Liability for Lost or Damaged Baggage Because Action did not Satisfy Rule 23(b)(2) or Rule 23(b)(3)

Following the loss of a single piece of luggage on an international flight, plaintiff filed a putative class action against the airline alleging that she was entitled to the fair market value of the luggage and its contents, not the “maximum reimbursement” amount Delta calculated was due under the Warsaw Convention (now superseded). Richards v. Delta Air Line, Inc., 453 F.3d 525, 526 (D.C. Cir. 2006). In essence, the complaint alleged that because Delta did not “as a matter of practice” record the weight of the luggage on passenger luggage tickets, the defense could not rely upon the Warsaw Convention. Id., at 526-27. Plaintiff’s lawyer moved for class certification under Rule 23(b)(2), and later alternatively sought class certification under Rule 23(b)(3). Id., at 527-28. But while the district court found that the requirements of Rule 23(a) had been met, it refused to certify a class because the requirements of Rule 23(b)(2) or (b)(3) had not been met. With respect to Rule 23(b)(2), the court held that class certification “is not appropriate where plaintiff’s claims are predominantly monetary relief,” and found further that the class action complaint essentially sought payment of monetary damages despite the fact that it sought a declaratory judgment. Id., at 528. And with respect to Rule 23(b)(3), the district court held that Delta’s “accord and satisfaction” defense would require “the application of varying state laws and a case-by-case factual inquiry,” thereby defeating a claim that common questions of law or fact predominate. Id. Reviewing the judgment “for abuse of discretion or legal error,” id., at 530, the D.C. Circuit affirmed.

First, the Circuit Court explained that class actions under Rule 23(b)(2) must seek injunctive or declaratory relief for the purported class. As such, it does not apply to putative class actions that seek exclusively or predominantly monetary relief. Richards, at 530. Class certification under Rule 23(b)(2) is thus inappropriate where the declaratory and injunctive relief sought “would simply serve as a foundation for a damages award . . ., or when the requested relief merely attempts to reframe a damages claims,” id. (citations omitted). The Circuit Court agreed with defense attorneys and the district court that plaintiff’s class action complaint, “[t]hough framed in terms of declaratory and injunctive relief, . . . is one for monetary damages.” Id.

With respect to the Rule 23(b)(3) request, the Circuit Court affirmed on two grounds: (1) plaintiff did not even raise the prospect of a Rule 23(b)(3) class “until three years into the litigation, after Delta had filed its opposition to the motion for class certification and months after discovery on this question had closed,” Richards, at 531-32; and (2) her arguments were confused and conflicting, and thus failed to meet her burden of establishing that class action treatment was the “superior method” of resolving the dispute, id., at 532. Accordingly, the dismissal of the putative class action was affirmed.

NOTE: The Circuit Court sua sponte addressed whether it had jurisdiction to hear the appeal in light of the fact that plaintiff had settled her individual claim with the airline, and concluded that under the particular facts of the case and the language of the release signed by plaintiff, she continued to have a “stake” in the litigation. Richards, at 528-29.

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