Class Action by Victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and FEMA and Others Alleging High Levels of Formaldehyde in Trailers Supplied to Displaced Citizens Failed to Satisfy Class Action Requirements of Rule 23 and therefore Class Action Treatment was not Warranted Louisiana Federal Court Holds
Numerous class action lawsuits were filed against the federal government and several others arising out of the trailers provided to evacuees of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita; the class actions were filed by individuals “claiming that they either lived or resided along the Gulf Coast of the United States in travel trailers, park models, and manufactured homes provided to them by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (‘FEMA’)” and that they “have been exposed to purportedly high levels of formaldehyde contained in these [emergency housing units] EHUs, and…have suffered damages as a result.” In re FEMA Trailer Formaldehyde Products Liab. Litig., ___ F.Supp.2d ___ (E.D.La. December 29, 2008) [Slip Opn., at 3]. The class action complaints advanced various claims against the defendant manufacturers, including products liability under Louisiana, Alabama and Texas law, strict liability under Mississippi law, failure to warn; and “breach of express or implied warranty and/or failure to conform to other express factual representations on which the plaintiffs justifiably relied.” Id., at 3-4. The class actions also asserted claims “against the United States/FEMA…under Louisiana Civil Code Articles 2316 and 2317.” Id., at 4. Eventually, the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation coordinated the various class actions in the Eastern District of Louisiana, id., at 3, and plaintiffs moved the district court to certify the litigation as a class action, id., at 1-3. The district court denied the motion.
Plaintiffs proposed numerous subclasses for the proposed class action: a Louisiana subclass, a Texas subclass, a Mississippi subclass, and an Alabama subclass, as well as subclasses for individuals in need of future medical care and individuals who suffered economic loss. In re FEMA Trailer, at 1-3. The district court first addressed numerosity under Rule 23(a)(1), noting that this inquiry considered such factors as “the geographical dispersion of the class, the ease with which class members may be identified, the nature of the action, and the size of each plaintiff’s claim. Id., at 9 (citation omitted). Further, “each proposed subclass must independently meet all of the requirements of Rule 23.” Id. (citing FRCP Rule 23(c)(5)); see also id., at 10, n.5. The court concluded that plaintiffs “fail[ed] to demonstrate or offer any evidence as to whether numerosity exists as to each proposed sub-class.” Id., at 10. Accordingly, class action treatment was not warranted, id. But the district court held further that Rule 23(a)(2)’s commonality requirement for class action treatment also had not been met, agreeing with defense attorneys that “there is no commonality because Plaintiffs lived in different EHUs.” Id., at 10-11. Put simply, “this case does not involve one single product that is alleged to have caused Plaintiffs damage” but, rather, “that dozens of different manufacturing defendants have manufactured products or EHUs that have caused them harm” and that “some defendants have manufactured multiple models of EHUs that Plaintiffs claim to have caused them harm.” Id., at 11. And these facts highlighted the numerous individual inquiries that defeated Rule 23(a)(3)’s typicality test, see id., at 12-18. And while plaintiffs’ counsel were adequate to represent the class, the court found that the plaintiffs themselves were not adequate representatives of the class. See id., at 18-22.
We do not here discuss the balance of the district court’s lengthy opinion, which may be found in its entirety at the link below.