The United States Supreme Court generally offers the final word as to the interpretation of statutes and application of law when there is division among the lower courts. In a recent case, the Supreme Court delivered what is being seen as a fairly large blow to corporations and big business in the world of class action litigation. The decision is currently being hailed as a boon to class action litigants, who are often left with little recourse if a primary plaintiff settles with the corporate defendant. The victory, however, should not be ignored by litigants in “smaller” cases as the case may have broader implications that may impact numerous other areas of civil litigation.

The Issue

The Supreme Court found in Campbell-Ewald v. Gomez that a defendant’s offering of settlement to a plaintiff does not act as a bar to moving forward in the action. In the underlying case, the plaintiff argued that the defendant sent him an unsolicited advertisement via text message to his cellular telephone, in violation of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). The plaintiff was planning to file a motion for class certification, as he was alleging that the defendant sent the unsolicited message to a large number of individuals whose rights were also violated and may have also been considered part of a plaintiff class. Prior to filing for class certification, however, the defendant offered the plaintiff a settlement in an amount higher than he could have potentially received at trial (treble statutory damages). The plaintiff declined the settlement offer and continued in the litigation action at which point the defendant, following in the footsteps of numerous other defendants before it, filed for summary judgment. In the summary judgment motion, the defendant argued that a “case or controversy” no longer existed as it provided the plaintiff with complete remedy which, if taken, would have made him whole under the law.  Traditionally, this type of practice has been acceptable and has been used by other defendants in potential class action litigation to avoid facing a larger class (i.e. a larger potential damages award).

The Decision

In its decision, the Supreme Court ruled that businesses cannot render a case moot via settlement offer to the initial plaintiff bringing the case. It stated further that this is especially true with regard to plaintiffs who choose not to accept the offered settlement. According to reports of the decision written by Justice Ginsburg for the majority of the Court, “with the offer off the table, and the defendant’s continuing denial of liability, adversity between the parties persists.” The impact of the decision could reach other class action lawsuits such as the current Uber suit proceeding in federal court, as it takes away one potential “out” card for a defendant facing such litigation. 

Seeking Justice

Regardless of which side of the class action you fall on, the attorneys at Garcia & Gurney are here to help you. Our staff has experience fighting on the side of the law, finding justice for clients both large and small. If you believe you have been wronged and need advice on how to obtain justice, contact us today for a consultation.