In a recent case in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, plaintiffs brought a putative class action against various defendants involved in milk production, alleging they violated the antitrust laws of fifteen states and Washington, D.C. by engaging in a conspiracy to limit the production and increase the price of raw milk. Plaintiffs sought class certification in each of the sixteen jurisdictions; the Northern District granted the motion in all but one state, where certification failed for lack of standing.
As a threshold matter, the court held that plaintiffs had demonstrated the class was ascertainable, as its definition included descriptions of the offending products and the eligible dates of purchase, which would enable individuals to determine if they were class members. With regard to standing, the court noted that a class representative must have personally suffered an injury and at least one plaintiff must have standing to bring each claim alleged. On that basis, the court denied certification of the West Virginia class due to its lack of a class representative.
The court next addressed Rule 23(a), explaining that, pursuant to the Supreme Court’s decision in Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes, a court must examine the merits of a plaintiff’s claim to determine if common questions exist, but cautioned against turning certification into a “mini-trial.” The court found that plaintiffs had satisfied numerosity and adequacy and noted that typicality had not been challenged. Additionally, the issue of whether defendants had violated state antitrust laws was a common question sufficient to satisfy commonality, as even one common question is enough under Dukes. The court also held that plaintiffs had shown damages could be calculated on a classwide basis, as they need not be exact in an antitrust case and the omission of any relevant factors by plaintiffs’ expert went to the weight rather than the admissibility of the evidence.
Defendants next argued that plaintiffs’ damages were not linked to their theory of liability as required by the Supreme Court in Comcast Corp. v. Behrend. The court disagreed, however; because plaintiffs were alleging a nationwide conspiracy, and because the laws of the individual states allowed recovery for such a conspiracy, the Comcast requirement was met. The court also rejected defendants’ argument that it was a violation of the Commerce Clause for plaintiffs to seek antitrust damages for conduct occurring in non-class action states. Thus, the court found that plaintiffs had satisfied predominance and superiority under Rule 23(b)(3) and granted plaintiff’s motion for class certification with respect to all states but West Virginia.
Edwards v. Nat’l Milk Producers Fed’n, No. C 11-04766 (N.D. Cal. Sept. 16, 2014).