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Sprint Spectrum LLC v. Hesse

In this case, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that plaintiffs in a class action who claimed that Sprint passed through Washington state taxes to consumers in violation of federal law were not bound by a settlement of different claims against Sprint in a Kansas state-court class action even though the release of claims in the class action might be read to cover the Washington claims. The court held that under Kansas state-law preclusion principles, which determine the effect of the Kansas court’s judgment in a subsequent action in federal court, the class action settlement would not preclude claims that were not based on the same factual predicate. The court also stated that if Kansas state law did permit preclusion in these circumstances, it would violate due process, because the class representative in the Kansas case did not adequately represent the interests of Washington consumers who had claims against Sprint that the Kansas plaintiff could not assert.

The company petitioned the Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari, arguing that by allowing a “collateral attack” on the Kansas judgment based on due process grounds, the Ninth Circuit had created a conflict with decisions of other circuits. Public Citizen assisted in the preparation of a brief in opposition to the petition, pointing out (among other things) that the petitioners had overlooked that the Ninth Circuit’s decision rested on state-law grounds that the petitioners did not even challenge.  The Court denied the petition.