Payne et al v. BenchMaster Furniture, LLC
ORDER AND REASONS that Plaintiff's 7 Motion to Certify Class is DENIED. Signed by Judge Eldon E. Fallon on 1/10/2017. (cms)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF LOUISIANA
JAMIE & LEE PAYNE
BENCHMASTER FURNITURE, LLC
SECTION “L” (3)
ORDER & REASONS
Currently pending before this Court in this case is Plaintiffs’ Motion to Certify Class
(R. Doc. 7). After considering the parties’ briefs and applicable law, the Court now issues this
order and reasons.
Plaintiffs Jamie Payne (“Mrs. Payne”) and Lee Payne (“Mr. Payne”), who are Louisiana
Residents, brought suit against BenchMaster for an alleged defect in a “Nicholas” leather recliner
manufactured by the Defendant BenchMaster Furniture. (R. Doc. 1). Plaintiffs allege that when
the recliner is engaged, the backrest and the seat create a “pinch point hazard.” Plaintiffs allege
that on February 8, 2014, Mrs. Payne attempted to place the chair in the reclined position, at
which point her right hand became entrapped in the “pinch point.” This allegedly caused an
amputation of a segment of her right middle finger.
Plaintiffs set forth several theories of liability against BenchMaster including negligence,
products liability, and redhibition. Plaintiffs bring class allegations on behalf of all purchasers of
the BenchMaster Nicholas chair throughout the United States.
On August 18, 2015, Plaintiffs amended their complaint to add Golden Eagle Insurance
Company, BenchMaster’s insurer, as well as several other theories of liability, including breach
of warranty. (R. Doc. 15). Additionally, Plaintiffs – despite the fact they are Louisiana residents
and have no named California residents as class members—added a claim under California’s
product defect law.
On November 17, 2015, this Court granted in part and denied in part Defendant
BenchMaster’s motion to dismiss Plaintiffs’ amended complaint. (R. Doc. 39). BenchMaster’s
motion was granted as unopposed as to Plaintiffs’ claims arising under California law and those
claims were dismissed without prejudice. BenchMaster’s motion was denied as to the dismissal
of Plaintiffs’ class allegations.
LAW & ANALYSIS
Standard of Review
The proponents of the class bear the burden of demonstrating that the case is appropriate
for class treatment. Berger v. Compaq Computer Corp., 257 F.3d 475, 479 n.4 (5th Cir. 2001).
Class certification is soundly within the district court’s discretion, and this decision is essentially
a factual inquiry. Vizena v. Union Pac. R.R. Co., 360 F.3d 496, 502-03 (5th Cir. 2004). The class
certification decision generally should not reach the merits of the plaintiffs’ claims. Castano v.
Am. Tobacco Co., 84 F.3d 734, 744 (5th Cir. 1996). However, in some cases it is necessary for a
district court to go beyond the pleadings to understand the claims, defenses, substantive law, and
relevant facts in order to make a meaningful certification decision. Id. The district court must
make specific findings regarding how the case satisfies or fails to satisfy the requirements of
Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Vizena, 360 F.3d at 503. Using these standards
as a guide, the Court will now analyze the requirements for class certification.
Plaintiffs seek certification of their claims as a class action under Rule 23(b)(1) and/or
23(b)(3) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Rule 23 provides in relevant part:
(a) Prerequisites. One or more members of a class may sue or be sued as
representative parties on behalf of all members only if: (1) the class is so
numerous that joinder of all members is impracticable; (2) there are questions of
law or fact common to the class; (3) the claims or defenses of the representative
parties are typical of the claims or defenses of the class; and (4) the representative
parties will fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class.
(b) Types of Class Actions. A class action may be maintained if Rule 23(a) is
satisfied and if:
(1) prosecuting separate actions by or against individual class members
would create a risk of: (A) inconsistent or varying adjudications with
respect to individual class members that would establish incompatible
standards of conduct for the party opposing the class; or (B) adjudications
with respect to individual class members that, as a practical matter, would
be dispositive of the interests of the other members not parties to the
individual adjudications or would substantially impair or impede their
ability to protect their interests; . . . or
(3) the court finds that the questions of law or fact common to class
members predominate over any questions affecting only individual
members, and that a class action is superior to other available methods for
fairly and efficiently adjudicating the controversy. The matters pertinent to
these findings include: (A) the class members’ interests in individually
controlling the prosecution or defense of separate actions; (B) the extent
and nature of any litigation concerning the controversy already begun by
or against class members; (C) the desirability or undesirability of
concentrating the litigation of the claims in the particular forum; and (D)
the likely difficulties in managing a class action.
In order to pass to subsection (b), a putative class action must first meet the requirements of
section (a), that is: numerosity, commonality, typicality, and adequacy. Because the Court finds
the Plaintiffs do not meet the prerequisites under Rule 23(a), there is no need for the Court to
address the two proposed types of Class Actions under Rule 23(b). The Court will address the
prerequisites under Rule 23(a) in turn.
To demonstrate numerosity, Plaintiffs must establish that joinder is impracticable through
“some evidence or reasonable estimate of the number of purported class members.” Pederson v.
La. State Univ., 213 F.3d 858, 868 (5th Cir. 2000). While the number of members in a proposed
class is not determinative of this inquiry, the Fifth Circuit has cited with approval Professor
Newberg’s treatise which “suggest[s] that any class consisting of more than forty member
‘should raise a presumption that joinder is impracticable.’” Mullen v. Treasure Chest Casino
LLC, 186 F.3d 620, 624 (5th Cir. 1999).
In this case, Plaintiffs have put forward no evidence that the class extends beyond the
named Plaintiffs to this case. In fact, in their recent Witness and Exhibit List, Plaintiffs identified
no additional individual with alleged injuries resulting from the “Nicholas” chair. (R. Doc. 56 at
1). Accordingly, the proposed class is a class of two. Moreover, Mrs. Payne is the only purported
victim of the allegedly-malfunctioning “Nicholas” chair. Therefore, Plaintiffs are entitled to a
presumption in their favor regarding the numerosity issue. Defendants have not offered any
evidence to defeat this presumption.
Rule 23(a)(2) requires that there be issues of law or fact common to the class. The
commonality requirement is satisfied if at least one issue’s resolution will affect all or a
significant number of class members. James v. City of Dallas, 254 F.3d 551, 570 (5th Cir. 2001);
Mullen, 186 F.3d at 625. There is a low threshold for commonality, and the fact that some
plaintiffs have different claims or require individualized analysis does not defeat commonality.
James, 254 F.3d at 570. However, because Plaintiffs have failed to establish any additional
victims or plaintiffs, there can be no commonality.
Rule 23(b)(3) requires that the class share common issues of law or fact that predominate
over the questions affecting individual class members. In general, in order to predominate,
common issues must form a significant part of individual cases. Mullen, 186 F.3d at 626.
Specifically, a district court should consider how the cases would proceed to trial, that is,
whether any cases would require individual trials on particular issues. See Castano, 84 F.3d at
744-45 (finding that certification was inappropriate where individual trials would be necessary to
determine an element of the plaintiffs’ fraud claims).
While the predominance requirement is similar to the commonality element of Rule 23,
the predominance standard is much “more rigorous.” Steering Comm. v. Exxon Mobil Corp., 461
F.3d 598, 603 (5th Cir. 2006). When conducting the predominance analysis, the Court must
examine each plaintiff’s claims individually in order to determine how these claims would be
tried. Even if the Court bifurcates a case, the Court should not look at whether common issues
predominate over each phase of the trial, but at whether common issues predominate over the
case, as a whole. Castano, 84 F.3d at 745 n.21. Furthermore, “where individual damages cannot
be determined by reference to a mathematical or formulaic calculation, the [dissimilar] damages
issue may predominate over any issues shared by the class.” Exxon, 461 F.3d at 601. Again,
because the Plaintiffs failed to allege or put forth any additional plaintiffs, therefore failing the
Rule 23(a)(3) requires that the claims of the class representatives are typical of the class’s
claims or defenses. Again, the threshold for typicality is low: class representatives must show
similarity between their legal and remedial theories and the theories of the rest of the class.
Mullen, 186 F.3d at 625. Typicality does not require that the claims of the class are identical, but
rather that they share the same essential characteristics – a similar course of conduct, or the same
legal theory. James, 254 F.3d at 571 (quoting 5 JAMES WM. MOORE ET AL., MOORE'S FEDERAL
PRACTICE ¶ 23.24 (3d ed. 2000)). Again, because there are only two class members and only
one purported victim of the “Nicholas” chair, Plaintiffs fail the typicality test.
For the foregoing reasons, IT IS ORDERED that Plaintiff’s Motion to Certify Class
(R. Doc. 7) is DENIED.
New Orleans, Louisiana, this 10th day of January, 2017.
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?