IN RE: MOTOR FUEL TEMPERATURE SALES PRACTICES LITIGATION, MDL No. 1840
Alon USA, Inc., et al., This Document Relates To: Rushing, et al. D. Kan. Case No. 07-2300-KHV, N.D. Cal. Case No. 06-7621-PJH Lerner, et al.
Costco Wholesale Corp., et al., D. Kan. Case No. 07-2405-KHV, C.D. Cal. Case No. 07-1216-GHK-FMO, and Wyatt, et al.
B.P. Am. Corp., et al., D. Kan. Case No. 07-2507-KHV, S.D. Cal. Case No. 07-1754-BTM-JMA
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
KATHRYN H. VRATIL, District Judge.
Plaintiffs in these three California cases bring class action claims against motor fuel retailers alleging various claims based on defendants' practice of selling motor fuel for a specified price per gallon without disclosing or adjusting for temperature, and without disclosing the effect of temperature on motor fuel. Under Rule 23(b)(2) and (3), the Court certified plaintiffs' claims for violations of the California Unfair Competition Law ("UCL"), Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 17200 et seq., violations of the California Consumers Legal Remedy Act ("CLRA"), Cal. Civ. Code § 1750 et seq., breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing and unjust enrichment. Order (Doc. #4544) filed April 9, 2013; Memorandum And Order (Doc. #4539) filed April 5, 2013. On July 19, 2013, as to Chevron, the Court sustained defendants' motions for summary judgment on plaintiffs' four certified claims. Memorandum And Order (Doc. #4600). That same day, the Court ordered the parties to show cause whether and to what extent the summary judgment order can be applied to plaintiffs' claims against the remaining non-settling defendants, i.e. Circle K Stores, Inc., Flying J, Inc., Petro Stopping Centers, L.P., Pilot Travel Centers LLC, TravelCenters of America LLC, G&M Oil Company, Inc., G&M Oil Co., LLC, World Oil Corp., United El Segundo, Inc. and 7-Eleven, Inc. (collectively "remaining non-settling defendants"). Order To Show Cause (Doc. #4601). The Court also asked the parties to propose how to proceed in the California cases and to explain what effect (if any) the summary judgment order has on the proposed class notices and notice plan. Id.
I. Parties' Proposals On How To Proceed In California Cases
The parties agree that the Court's summary judgment order applies equally to the remaining non-settling defendants, but disagree how the Court should proceed in these California cases. Plaintiffs ask the Court to rule on the remaining non-settling defendants' motions for summary judgment and then hold a status conference to discuss how to proceed. Chevron states that the Court should issue class notice and after the opt-out period has expired, enter judgment for Chevron in Rushing, Wyatt and Lerner. The remaining non-settling defendants ask the Court to approve and implement the class notice plan, then sustain their motions for summary judgment as to plaintiffs' claims for the reasons the Court granted the summary judgment motions as to Chevron. They ask the Court to then (1) enter judgment in Lerner and Rushing, and (2) in Wyatt, rule on 7-Eleven, Inc.'s motion for summary judgment based on lack of subject matter jurisdiction, preemption and violation of due process. All defendants propose that the Court remand to the Northern District of California the numerous non-California claims alleged in Rushing.
II. Effect Of Summary Judgment Ruling On Class Notices And Notice Plan
Plaintiffs assert that in light of the summary judgment ruling in the California cases, the Court should not order notice to the California classes. See Plaintiffs' Response (Doc. #4603) at 2-4. Specifically, plaintiffs cite the Ninth Circuit decision in Schwarzschild v. Tse , 69 F.3d 293 (9th Cir. 1995), which held that when a defendant obtains summary judgment before class notice has been issued, it effectively waives any right to compel plaintiffs to notify the class of the pending action. Id . at 297.
Chevron asserts that before the Court enters judgment in its favor in the California cases, it should order plaintiffs to give the classes notice and an opportunity to opt out. Chevron U.S.A., Inc.'s Response To Order To Show Cause ("Chevron's Response") (Doc. #4602) filed July 26, 2013 at 2. More specifically, Chevron states that the Court should order class notice "[t]o ensure that this Court's rulings on summary judgment are given appropriate legal effect and that class members are given their opportunity to opt-out of the classes previously certified by the Court." Id . Chevron cites no legal support for its position. See id. On the other hand, in opposition to plaintiffs' revised settlement notice plan (which does not include notice as to the non-settling defendants in the California cases), Chevron does assert factual and legal arguments in support of its position. See Chevron U.S.A.'s Opposition To Plaintiffs' Motion For Order Approving Class Settlement Notice Plan ("Chevron's Opposition") (Doc. #4608) filed August 2, 2013. Specifically, Chevron asserts that (1) Schwarzschild is out-of-circuit, non-binding authority, id. at 7; (2) Chevron did not "elect" to file summary judgment motions, it merely complied with the Court's deadline to file them, id.; (3) Chevron filed summary judgment motions with an "understanding" that the transferor courts would decide them, id. at 8; (4) this Court has inherent authority to direct class notice at this time, id. at 9-10; and (5) it would be inequitable and unfair for the Court not to do so, id. at 7-8.
The remaining non-settling defendants assert that before the Court applies the summary judgment ruling to them, it should order plaintiffs to provide notice which informs the class of the summary judgment ruling and its possible effect on plaintiffs' claims against them. Non-Settling California Defendants' Response To Court's July 19, 2013 Order ("Remaining Non-Settling Defendants' Response") (Doc. #4604) at 4. Remaining non-settling defendants state that they "have not been able to find any authority precisely on point, as to whether notice and an opportunity to opt out should be provided to the classes before the Court applies [the summary judgment ruling to them]." Id . at 4. They state that by filing their response to the show cause order or otherwise, they "do not intend to waive any right they have to compel the plaintiff to provide notice so that any judgment will be binding on the entire class." Id . at 4 n.2.
For claims certified under Rule 23(b)(3), Fed. R. Civ. P., the Court does not have jurisdiction over absent class members - and therefore a judgment is not binding on them - unless the Court has provided notice and an opportunity to opt out under Rule 23(c)(2), Fed. R. Civ. P. See, e.g., Besinga v. United States , 923 F.2d 133, 137 (9th Cir. 1991). In Schwarzschild, the Ninth Circuit found that the purpose of Rule 23(c)(2) is to ensure that class members receive notice of an action well before its merits are adjudicated. 69 F.3d at 295. More specifically, after reviewing the history and language of Rule 23(c)(2), the Ninth Circuit found that the rule "clearly contemplates that the notice requirement will be met before the parties are aware of the district court's judgment on the merits." Id . at 295-96 (emphasis in original). The Ninth Circuit concluded that when a defendant moves for and obtains summary judgment before a class has been properly certified and notified, it effectively waives the right to have notice circulated under Rule 23(c)(2). Id . at 297. Under this analysis, defendants would be precluded from compelling plaintiffs to provide class notice in the California cases.
Chevron asserts that Schwarzschild is out-of-circuit authority which is not binding on this Court. Chevron's Opposition (Doc. #4608) at 7. Regardless, the reasoning of Schwarzschild is highly persuasive - especially in these California cases which the Court intends to remand to California transferor courts to enter final judgment. Chevron has not identified persuasive authority to the contrary.
Chevron argues that it did not "elect" to file the summary judgment motions; rather, it "complied" with the court deadline to file them. Id . at 7. Chevron asserts that to apply Schwarzschild on these facts would result in a "catch-22" which would require Chevron to either (1) file a motion for summary judgment and assume the risk that judgment will not be binding on class members; or (2) altogether waive its arguments for summary judgment. On the facts of these cases, the Court disagrees. Over the course of these proceedings, the Court has repeatedly requested the parties' input on procedural issues. More than 20 months ago, pursuant to the dispositive motion deadline, Chevron filed its motions for summary judgment. Both before and after that time, Chevron has had ample opportunity to provide input regarding the timing of judicial rulings. Not once has Chevron raised an issue regarding the timing of the Court's rulings on dispositive motions vis-a-vis class notice.
Chevron asserts that it filed summary judgment motions with an "understanding" that the Court would remand them to the transferor courts for adjudication. Chevron's Opposition (Doc. #4608) at 8. Chevron cites no circumstances which could have reasonably given rise to such an "understanding" or to any "understanding" that any court would resolve class certification and notice issues before ruling on dispositive motions. Moreover, as events unfolded in these proceedings, Chevron clearly knew that this Court planned to rule on all dispositive motions in the California cases. On January 23, 2013, the Court informed the parties that it planned to remand the California cases with an expectation that they would be tried by the summer of 2013. Order (Doc. #4496) at 1. At that time, it ordered an expedited schedule for supplemental briefs regarding pending class certification and dispositive motions in the California cases. See id. at 2-3. Subsequently, at informal status conferences up to and including May 14, 2013, the Court informed the parties that it intended to rule on all class certification and dispositive motions before remanding the California cases for trial. At the last status conference on May 28, 2013, even as issues of class notice remained unresolved, the Court announced that it planned to start ruling on dispositive motions. No parties objected to that plan, or suggested that class notice issues take priority. See Order (Doc. #4582) filed May 29, 2013 (vacating all status conferences previously set in California cases).
Chevron asserts that this Court has the inherent authority to direct class notice. Chevron's Opposition (Doc. #4608) at 7-9. The Court agrees that it may have discretion to order class notice after it has ruled on a summary judgment motion. See, e.g., Postow v. OBA Fed. Sav. & Loan Assoc. , 627 F.2d 1370, 1383 (D.C. Cir. 1980) (trial court did not abuse discretion in ordering class notice after granting summary judgment in favor of plaintiffs where parties agreed to stay discovery on identity of potential class members and notice did not inform class of judgment in their favor); Katz v. Carte Blanche Corp. , 495 F.2d 747, 759-62 (3d Cir. 1974) (allowing court to rule on liability before class certification where defendant claimed class notice would harm business and agreed that class could be enlarged if it lost on liability ruling). The Court disagrees, however, that this record presents equitable reasons to direct class notice after the Court has ruled on the merits of these cases.
Chevron asserts that it would be inequitable and unfair if the Court does not order class notice. Chevron's Opposition (Doc. #4608) at 7-8. The Court finds otherwise. At best, class notice at this point seems nonsensical. At worst, it would seemingly amount to legal chicanery. What rational class member would choose to remain in the California classes after the Court has granted summary judgment in favor of defendants? To issue class notice now would circumvent the purposes behind Rule 23(c)(3), i.e. to give class members notice and an opportunity to opt out before the Court rules on the merits of the case. Schwarzschild , 69 F.3d ...