Welcome to CR-CL’s Ames Live Blog!
Tune in below starting tonight, March 22 at 6:15 PM EST. The case summary below is courtesy of the BSA. Teams’ briefs and more information are available here.
Case Summary: For many years, Ames Meat has marketed Meaties, a snack product beloved in the State of Ames, as an “all meat treat.” As it turned out, that was not entirely true–Meaties were held together by non-meat binding agents. Plaintiff Willa Lowe, a frequent Meaties purchaser, brought a putative class action in the United States District Court for the District of Ames asserting a claim under the Ames Deceptive Trade Practices Act (ADTPA). The ADTPA, however, contains a class-action restriction. The statute provides that no consumer may bring an action under the ADPTA on behalf of a class; only the Ames Attorney General may bring suit under the ADTPA in a representative capacity.
After the close of class discovery and initial motions practice, the District Court denied Lowe’s motion for class certification on two grounds. First, the Court held that the ADTPA’s class-action restriction applied in federal court, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23 notwithstanding, because the restriction was in effect substantive, and under a federal statute called the Rules Enabling Act, federal rules of civil procedure may not be applied in a way that abridges substantive state-law rights. The District Court relied on Justice Stevens’s analysis from his concurrence in the Supreme Court’s decision in Shady Grove, in which the Court split 4-1-4 as to whether a similar–albeit non-identical–class-action restriction applied in federal court. The District Court concluded that Justice Stevens’s concurrence was controlling because it provided the “narrowest” rationale for the Court’s decision.
Second, the District Court held in the alternative that Lowe’s proposed class of Meaties purchasers failed Rule 23’s implied “ascertainability” requirement, which mandates that it be “administratively feasible” for the court to determine whether a would-be class member is actually a member. The District Court concluded that ascertainability requires the plaintiff to come forward at the class-certification stage with a reliable means of verifying class members’ claims to class membership. According to the District Court, absent class members could not prove their membership through sworn affidavits attesting that they bought Meaties during the class period, and determining class membership could not be delayed until after certification.
The Ames Circuit granted interlocutory review on these two issues:
- Whether the ADTPA’s class-action restriction applies in federal court.
- Whether ascertainability requires the plaintiff to demonstrate an objectively verifiable means of identifying absent class members at the class-certification stage.