A look at appeals in class actions in the Sixth Circuit over the past year reveals several interesting points about these often high stakes lawsuits. First, out of the seventeen cases turned up using a commercial research service, the Sixth Circuit was more slightly more likely to grant review of the district court’s decision on certification, by a ratio of about 5:4. This small edge in favor of review might be surprising to some, but in light of the fact that Rule 23(f) confers broad discretion on appellate courts as to whether to review a class certification decision, this near 50-50 split is not quite unexpected over just twelve months’ analysis.
Of course, in its own oft-cited case law in this area, the Sixth Circuit has held that it will only reverse a district court’s class certification decision upon “a strong showing that the district court’s decision was a clear abuse of discretion.” Thus, in the opinions reviewing grants or denials of class certification, the court was also pretty evenly split on its review of district courts’ orders. That is, in the two cases directly reviewing certification orders, one was affirmed and one was remanded with an expanded analysis of the class. In the several cases reviewing denials of certification, two were simply affirmed, but one was reversed and remanded for a “more rigorous Rule 23 analysis.” In light of these cases and this language, it is clear that the Sixth Circuit does not take the crucial certification step of class actions nor Rule 23’s imperatives lightly.
Finally, it is worth noting that in another sizable group of cases tuned up in this broad class action search, the court reviewed orders and judgments in class actions where certification itself was not at issue or was only marginally at issue. These instances usually resulted from cases where class certification issues were resolved at the district court level insofar as they were moot, not appealed (such as at least one decision in a settlement class action), or involved fee disputes over ongoing class actions (like the one we covered here). Thus, a sizable portion of the Sixth Circuit’s review in class actions involves much more than simply a review of certification.