Class Action Money & Ethics Conference – The State Of Class Action Litigation

By Gerald L. Maatman, Jr. and Jennifer A. Riley

Duane Morris Takeaways: We were honored to present the keynote address today to open the 7th Annual Class Action Money & Ethics Conference in New York City sponsored by Beard Group, Citi Financial, Simpluris, and Pacer Monitor. With over 100 attendees, the program focused on the current state of class action litigation and “white hot” litigation topics for 2023. The discussion points provide an excellent roadmap on what is likely coming down the road for Corporate America for the remainder of 2023.

Class Action Dynamics

The themes of our keystone address focused on the extraordinary developments in class action litigation over the past 12 months.

The plaintiffs’ bar certified class actions at unprecedented levels throughout the country and monetized their cases with the highest settlement values seen in over 25 years. Many of these settlements arose from opioid litigation against manufactures, distributors, and retailers in the pharmaceutical industry. On an aggregate basis, class actions and government enforcement lawsuits garnered more than $71 billion in settlements, with 15 class action cases settling for more than $1 billion. Suffice to say, 2022 was unlike any other year on the class action settlement front. As success often begets copy-cats, corporations can expect the plaintiffs’ class action bar will be equally if not more aggressive in their case filings and settlement positions in 2023.

In 2022, the plaintiffs’ class action bar succeeded in certifying class actions at an exceedingly high rate. Across all major types of class actions, courts issued rulings on over 360 motions to grant or to deny class certification in 2022. Of these, plaintiffs succeed in obtaining or maintaining certification in 268 rulings, with an overall success rate of nearly 75%. The plaintiffs’ class action bar obtained the highest rates of success in securities fraud, ERISA, WARN, and FLSA actions. In cases alleging securities fraud, plaintiffs succeeded in obtaining orders certifying classes in 23 of the 24 rulings issues during 2022, a success rate of 96%. In ERISA litigation, plaintiffs succeeded in obtaining orders certifying class in 18 of 23 rulings issued during 2022, a success rate of 78%. In cases alleging WARN violations, plaintiffs managed to certify classes in 100% of the suits that resulted in decisions this year.

In terms of predictions, we opined that as the volume of class action filings has increased each year for the past decade, and 2023 is likely to follow that trend. As a result, a company’s programs designed to ensure compliance with existing laws and strategies to mitigate class action litigation risks are corporate imperatives. The plaintiffs’ bar is nothing if not innovative and resourceful. Given the massive class action settlement figures in 2022, coupled with the ever-developing case law under Rule 23, corporations can expect more lawsuits, expansive class theories, and an aggressive plaintiffs’ bar in 2023. These conditions necessitate planning, preparation, and decision-making to position corporations to withstand and defend class action exposures. These crucial issues are inevitably posed by any class action litigation. By their very nature, class actions involve decisions on strategy at every turn. The positions of the parties are constantly changing and corporate defendants must always be looking ahead and anticipating issues during every phase of the litigation.

Hot Class Action Topics

Among the topics addressed at the Conference were ESG class actions, PFAS “forever chemicals” litigation, Camp LeJeune mass tort litigation, Talc liability class actions, crypto class actions, and gender discrimination and pay equity class action litigation.

Litigating ESG Consumer Class Actions

Baldassare Vinti, Jeff Warshafsky, and Jennifer Yang of Proskauer Rose LLP led a discussion of class action litigation focusing on ESG environmental marketing claims, which they noted have been an increasing in number in the consumer class action space. These putative class actions challenge “green” claims that products or services are “carbon neutral,” “recyclable,” “non-toxic,” or otherwise beneficial for the environment.

PFAS “Forever Chemical” Class Actions

Michael J. Bisceglia, Brian M. Ledger, Paul T. Nyffeler, and Thomas R. Waskom of Hunton Andrews Kurth LLP presented on PFAS “forever chemical” litigation.  Despite stringent regulation, PFAS has been linked to harmful health effects, including cancer.  They predicted that after opioid litigation, many in the plaintiffs’ class action bar view this area as the next “big thing” for widespread mass tort and class actions.

Camp LeJeune Litigation & New Theories Of Liability

Mark A. DiCello of DiCello Levitt discussed the state of mass tort litigation with water contamination lawsuits filed against the U.S. Government alleging adverse health effects for affecting nearly 175,000 marines, sailors, their families and civilians at the camp between 1950 and 1985.  Those cases were consolidated into MDL No. 2218 and the government successfully obtained dismissal of all of those cases in 2016. Plaintiffs’ lawyers have continued to litigate based on new theories of liability. The amount of advertising about the litigation is also continuing to mount (estimated at a cost of $500,000 to date), as more than 2,000 lawsuits are pending.

Talc Liability Class Actions

Gina Passarella, the editor in chief of American Lawyer, moderated a roundtable discussion with Melanie L. Cyganowski of Otterbourg P.C., Mohsin Meghji of M3 Partners, Robert J. Stark or Brown Rudnick, and Joshua A. Sussberg of Kirkland & Ellis regarding resolution of talc liability. The census of the roundtable was that this remains a hot topic in the class action and corporate restructuring communities, and that 2023 is expected to see various bankruptcy rulings in this sector.​

After FTX, Crypto Lawyers And Class Actions

Michael P. Canty of Labaton Sucharow LLP and Graham Newman Chappell, Chappell & Newman provided their insights on crypto class action issues. They agreed that with the collapse of FTX, the crypto industry has endured more scrutiny. In this respect, decades-old laws are apt to provide fertile ground for assertion of class action theories.

Gender Based Discrimination & Pay Inequality

Matthew L. Berman of Valli Kane & Vagnini LLP and Rachel Geman of Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein LLP led a discussion on gender discrimination and pay equity class-based litigation.

With recent large equal pay cases, such as last year’s Google gender discrimination class action settlement of $118 million, and recent laws regarding pay equity and requiring pay transparency, a spotlight is shining on compensation in the workplace.

Mass Torts & Cases To Watch In 2023

Christopher Ege of Gordon Rees Scully Mansukhani, LLP, Mark Eveland of Verus LLC, Bridie Farrell of Milestone, Neil Kornswiet of Optium Captial LLC, and Edward E. Neiger of Ask LLP closed the Conference with a roundtable discussion of the state of mass tort litigation. They discussed several cases with some of the biggest brands making their way through court MDL proceedings, including Roundup, Tylenol Autism, and Elmiron.  Based on key settlements from 2022, they predicted a robust litigation landscape for 2023.

Implications For Corporate America

If 2022 is any indication, 2023 is shaping up to be a signal year of developments in class action litigation.

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The opinions expressed on this blog are those of the author and are not to be construed as legal advice.

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