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Another Supreme Court Rebuff To California Arbitration Rule

California District Courts Continue to Assess the Implications of Mazza

By: Mara Ludmer and Kelly M. Morrison

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The Ninth Circuit’s decision in Mazza v. American Honda appeared to be an instant game changer, providing defendants across the Circuit with an easy way to oppose certification of nationwide classes seeking remedies under California consumer protection laws.  The plaintiffs in Mazza alleged that Honda had misrepresented the safety features of its Acura vehicles in brochures, television commercials, and print advertisements.  On appeal, the Ninth Circuit held that the district court had “erroneously concluded that California law could be applied to the entire nationwide class.”  And “[b]ecause the law of multiple jurisdictions” would apply to “any nationwide class of purchasers,” the Ninth Circuit held that “variances in state law [would] overwhelm common issues and preclude predominance for a single nationwide class.” 

Many interpreted the Ninth Circuit’s decision in Mazza as generally precluding certification of nationwide consumer class actions brought under state law.  For example, just a few months after the Mazza decision, Judge Koh of the Northern District of California determined that “Mazza controls and forecloses the certification of the proposed nationwide class action.”  Kowalsky v. Hewlett Packard Co. Other district courts, however, declined to engage in a bright-line interpretation of Mazza, limiting the Ninth Circuit opinion to its facts and requiring a fact-intensive choice-of-law analysis.  For example, Judge Gee of the Central District of California held that Mazza “does not categorically rule out application of California law to out-of-state class members.” Allen v. Hyland’s Inc.

Although it has not been interpreted to bar nationwide consumer class actions as a matter of law, as some initially predicted, Mazza continues to impose a high bar on consumers seeking nationwide class certification in the Ninth Circuit.  Indeed, where it is evident from the complaint that a nationwide class would be inappropriate, some district courts have dispensed with nationwide class allegations at the pleading stage.  In Davison v. Kia Motors America, Inc., for example, Judge Carney held that the claims of car purchasers who alleged that certain defects should have been disclosed at the time of purchase “must be governed by and decided under the law of the state in which the injury took place,” rendering a nationwide class improper.  Similarly, in Frenzel v. AliphCom, a case alleging misrepresentations regarding the battery life of fitness-tracker wristbands, Judge Orrick dismissed California statutory claims asserted by a putative national class on a motion to dismiss, holding there was no reason to “delay until class certification to consider the choice of law issue” raised by plaintiff’s request to certify a nationwide class.