Perfunctory Fed. R. Civ. P 54(b) Certification Fails to Confer Appellate Jurisdiction, Holds D.C. Circuit

In a breach-of-privacy action, Attias v. CareFirst, Inc., No. 19-7020 (D.C. Cir. Aug. 11, 2020), the D.C. Circuit holds that the district court’s failure to explain his Rule 54(b) dismissal of some plaintiffs and claims dashes jurisdiction over an appeal.

Seven plaintiffs filed a putative class action against a health insurer following a hack of the defendant’s servers (and compromise of personal information), bringing a litany of tort, contract and statutory claims. The district court initially dismissed the case entirely on standing and other grounds, but was reversed. Attias v. CareFirst, Inc., 865 F.3d 620 (D.C. Cir. 2017).

On remand, the district court substantially dismissed the case again, except for claims for breach of contract and Maryland statutory law by two plaintiffs, the Tringlers. The parties agreed that the dismissed parties and claims should proceed to appeal, and the district court entered a Rule 54(b) judgment finding, without elaboration, “no just reason for delay.”

The D.C. Circuit sua sponte dismisses the appeal. The panel finds two essential defects in the judgment. It notes that Rule 54(b) provides three requirements: that the dismissal resolve a “claim for relief,” that the order be “final,” and that there is a finding of “no just reason for delay.”

The first defect is that the Tringers’ remaining claims were apparently indivisible from the dismissed claims. “Their pending breach of contract and Maryland consumer protection claims arise from the same transaction and occurrence as their dismissed tort and unjust enrichment claims. Under basic principles of claim preclusion, the Tringlers could not have litigated to judgment one action involving the claims still pending before the district court and another involving the claims already dismissed.” Thus, the “claim for relief” was not finally resolved.

As for the five plaintiffs whose claims were entirely dismissed, they too were part of the same claim: “certification would raise concerns, for the claims of any one plaintiff in this case overlap substantially with the claims of every other plaintiff. The claims of each plaintiff arise from the same computer hacking and data breach. They involve the same form contracts used by CareFirst. They involve the same alleged misrepresentations made by the company on the internet and in its promises to comply with federal privacy law.”

The second defect is that the district court failed to explain the finding of “no just reason for delay.” As the panel explains: “The district certified a very different subset of claims—all claims minus the two pending Tringler claims—and it failed to explain its reasons for doing so …. We confront certified claims that appear highly ‘intertwined’ with claims still pending below (and with other dismissed claims that cannot be certified) …. And we have no ‘assistance’ in the form of an explanation from the district court …. As a result, we cannot determine whether the district court would have certified only the non-Tringler claims, much less whether it could have come up with a permissible justification for doing so.”

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