Finding that only a narrow evidentiary review is appropriate when certifying a class under Missouri state law, a Missouri appeals court reversed a trial court’s decision to deny class certification in a suit alleging asbestos exposure. See Elsea v. U.S. Engineering, Co., No. WD77687 (Mo. App. W.D. Mar. 17, 2015). Plaintiff courthouse workers alleged improper removal of asbestos during renovations and sought medical monitoring damages based on negligence and strict liability claims.
The trial court held a four-day evidentiary hearing, involving both fact and expert testimony, to determine whether members of the potential class met the standards for class certification set out in Missouri’s rules of civil procedure. Although Plaintiffs presented testimony that improper asbestos abatement caused elevated asbestos levels in the courthouse, the trial court determined “[t]here is a likelihood that individual hearings would be necessary to categorize class members, and to address individual issues of exposure, dose, causation and monitoring protocol.” Id. at 3. The Court therefore denied Plaintiffs’ motion for class certification.
Such an in-depth hearing, the appeals court found, was an abuse of the trial court’s discretion. The appeals court held the appropriate standard for class certification in Missouri is whether “there is evidence in the record, which if taken as true, would satisfy each and every requirement” for class certification. Id. at 5. The trial court erred by accepting conflicting expert testimony and evidence presented by the defense, instead of taking the Plaintiffs’ evidence as true. The appeals court reversed the trial court’s ruling and found that Plaintiffs’ class definition met Missouri requirements for certification.