In a recent 5th Circuit decision, the Court of Appeal reversed the dismissal of a labor law class action that was filed within the limitations period, as extended by a tolling period that continued throughout the entire proceedings, including appeal, of a prior, certified, class action. The opinion contains a good explanation of the development of the law regarding tolling while a class action in pending. In Taylor v. United Parcel Service, Inc. (9th Cir. 2008) __ F.3d __, 2008 WL 5401487, the plaintiff, a member of a certified labor law class that had been dismissed filed a new putative class action during the period in which the prior class action was on appeal. The District Court dismissed the new class action, holding that the claims were barred by various statutes of limitations.
Existing Supreme Court precedent holds that members of a certified class are to be treated essentially as named plaintiffs—and are bound by the resulting judgment—when they are adequately represented by the class representative and the other requirements of FRCP 23 are met. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Epstein (1996) 516 U.S. 367, 395. The purpose of Rule 23 would be subverted by requiring a class member who learns of a pending suit involving a class of which he is a part to monitor that litigation to make certain that his interests are being protected. That responsibility does not end at the district court. "It is axiomatic that an appeal is a significant element in the judicial process.”
This rule does not apply equally to members of a putative class that has not been certified. See American Pipe & Construction Co. v. Utah (1974) 414 U.S. 538; Crown, Cork & Seal Co. v. Parker (1983) 462 U.S. 345. However, in Taylor, because the District Court certified the prior class action, the 5th Circuit held that American Pipe and Crown, Cork & Seal did not apply.
Because Taylor remained a member of a certified class while Morgan was on appeal, he was entitled to assume that the class representatives continued to represent him and protect his interests in appealing the order dismissing the class claims on the merits. This is consistent with the general rule that all members of a certified class enjoy the same rights as individually named plaintiffs in the suit. Thus, we conclude that Taylor’s claims were tolled until August 30, 2004, when the Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court’s order in Morgan. This action by the Court of Appeals was the final adverse determination of the claims of the certified class of which Taylor was a member.
As a result, the applicable statutes of limitation did not expire, the judgment of dismissal was reversed, and the case remanded to the District Court. You can download a copy of the Taylor decision in PDF at this link.