District Court Erred by Imposing “Administrative Feasibility” Condition on Class Action, Holds Eleventh Circuit

In Cherry. v. Dometic Corp., No 19-13242 )11th Cir. Feb. 2, 2021), the Eleventh Circuit holds that Fed. R. Civ. P. 23 provides no basis to require a class plaintiff to establish administrative feasibility as a requirement of certification and remands the case for further development.

“Dometic Corporation manufactures and sells gas-absorption refrigerators that are used in recreational vehicles.” Owing to a defect that caused leakages, Dometic recalled a number of units. “The putative class representatives—18 owners of Dometic refrigerators—argue that the defect is far more widespread. In their view, almost every refrigerator that Dometic sold between 1997 and 2016 has a design defect that corrodes the refrigerator’s boiler tubes. They allege that this defect has caused thousands of fires or leaks and that it gradually ruins the functionality of the refrigerators.”

Plaintiffs proposed a Rule 23(b)(3) damages class “consisting of all persons who purchased in selected states certain models of Dometic refrigerators that were built since 1997.” Dometic argued that ascertainability of the class requires proof of administrative feasibility and that “the class representatives failed to satisfy that element because they provided no evidence that their proposed method of identification would be workable.” The district court agreed and denied certification, then dismissed the action on the ground that the court supposedly lacked jurisdiction under the Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA).

The Eleventh Circuit reverses. After concluding that the plaintiffs did not waive the argument, the panel holds that Rule 23 contains no “administrative feasibility” requirement. The Eleventh Circuit recognizes “[a]scertainability [as] an implied prerequisite of Rule 23.” Other circuits had imposed administrative feasibility as an additional implied requirement. “The Third Circuit has applied a heightened standard for ascertainability that “encompasses both the definition of a class and its administrative feasibility … The latter requires putative class representatives to prove that the identification of class members will be ‘a manageable process that does not require much, if any, individual factual inquiry.’”

The panel finds no support for such a requirement in Rule 23.

First, “[a]dministrative feasibility does not follow from the text of Rule 23(a). Unlike traditional ascertainability, administrative feasibility does not bear on the ability of a district court to consider the enumerated elements of that subsection. A plaintiff proves administrative feasibility by explaining how the district court can locate the remainder of the class after certification …. The plaintiff satisfies this requirement if the district court concludes that the proposed process will be manageable and successful …. But neither foreknowledge of a method of identification nor confirmation of its manageability says anything about the qualifications of the putative class representatives, the practicability of joinder of all members, or the existence of common questions of law or fact. Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(a). Because administrative feasibility has no connection to Rule 23(a), it is not part of the ascertainability inquiry.”

Second, there was support in Rule 23(b). “To be sure, administrative feasibility has relevance for Rule 23(b)(3) classes, in the light of the manageability criterion of Rule 23(b)(3)(D),” which “instructs the district court, in deciding whether ‘a class action [would be] superior to other available methods for fairly and efficiently adjudicating the controversy,’ to consider ‘the likely difficulties in managing a class action.’ Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(b)(3) …. Because Rule 23(b)(3) requires a balancing test, it does not permit district courts to make administrative feasibility arequirement. The manageability inquiry focuses on whether a class action ‘will create relatively more management problems than any of the alternatives,’ not whether it will create manageability problems in an absolute sense …. And the district court must balance its manageability finding against other considerations. Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(b)(3). So administrative difficulties—whether in class-member identification or otherwise—do not alone doom a motion for certification.”

Therefore, “[w]e hold that administrative feasibility is not a requirement for certification under Rule 23. In doing so, we limit ascertainability to its traditional scope: a proposed class is ascertainable if it is adequately defined such that its membership is capable of determination …. If a district court reaches Rule 23(b), and the action involves a proposed Rule 23(b)(3) class, it may consider administrative feasibility as part of the manageability criterion of Rule 23(b)(3)(D).”

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