Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Gintis v. Bouchard Transportation Co.

Feb 23: In the U.S. Court Appeals, First Circuit, Case No. 09-1717. In this case, a fuel barge owned and operated by defendants discharged a substantial amount of oil into the waters of Buzzards Bay in southeastern Massachusetts. Plaintiffs are owners of residential waterfront property on the bay who brought suit as individuals and as members of a proposed class. The district court denied class certification, but the Appeals Court said, ". . .because the court did not subject the parties' contentions to the plenary analysis that precedent requires, we vacate the judgment and remand."
    The  Appeals Court provided more detail and said, "It is enough to say here that Bouchard's arguments in this appeal appear to show that substantial and serious common issues would arise over and over in potential individual cases. Indeed, the only apparent mitigation of this prospect of duplicative litigation lies in the possibility that not many individual actions would be brought if separate actions were the only course, and this implicates the second condition for certification under paragraph (3), that class litigation be
superior to a string of individual plaintiffs going alone. While superiority is a separate base to be touched, it is addressed by many of the considerations that inform a trial court's judgment call about how clearly predominant the common issues must be. . .
    Here there is evidence that may well go to the very reason for Rule 23(b)(3), mentioned before (i.e., to make room for claims that plaintiffs could never afford to press one by one), since the record contains one estimate that potential individual recoveries are probably in the $12 to $39 thousand range. Given the elements of injury, causation and compensation on which Bouchard intends to join issue, there is a real question whether the putative class members could sensibly litigate on their own for these amounts of damages, especially with the prospect of expert testimony required. Like predominance, the issue of superiority is thus a serious one in these circumstances and should be addressed thoroughly."
    Access the complete opinion (click here).