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Behr Dayton Thermal Products v. Martin

Homeowners in a lower-income neighborhood of Dayton, Ohio, sued corporations that were responsible for severe groundwater contamination by toxic chemicals, which harm their homes and endanger their health. The plaintiffs moved to certify the case as a class action for resolving a set of common issues concerning the scope of the contamination and the companies’ responsibility for it. The district court certified the class, and on interlocutory appeal, the Sixth Circuit affirmed. The court held that under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(c)(4), certification of an issue class is “appropriate” if the issues certified satisfy Rule 23(b)(3)’s requirements of predominance and superiority. The court held that certification of the issue class here would materially advance resolution of the case and enable the homeowners’ claims to be asserted in a practicable manner serving interest in judicial economy.

The companies filed a petition for certiorari asking the Supreme Court to hold that an issue class cannot be certified unless the class’s claims would satisfy the requirements of predominance and superiority even without limitation of class certification to particular issues. The companies asserted that the Sixth Circuit’s decision, and similar decisions in other circuits, conflicts with decisions of the Fifth Circuit.

As co-counsel for the respondent homeowners, Public Citizen participated in preparation of a brief in opposition. The brief explains that the conflict asserted by the companies is illusory, and that the federal courts’ rulemaking committees have already considered and rejected the argument that amendment of the rules is necessary to resolve the supposed conflict.