Counsel and courts continue to adapt to the “new world” of class certification following the United States Supreme Court decision in Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes, and the recent case of Ratner v. Georgia-Pacific Consumer Products, LP, Case No. SU11CV343-W (Effingham County Ga. July 5, 2012), is a good example.
The facts of the case are typical of the breed – a group of homeowners in Effingham County, Georgia have sued Georgia-Pacific for property damages allegedly caused by the release of hydrogen sulfide gas from a nearby paper manufacturing plant. And, plaintiffs filed the suit as a putative class action. What makes the case interesting, though, is how the class is defined, and how that definition has resulted in one of the few post-Dukes class certifications of its kind.
The plaintiffs in Ratner are:
All citizens of the State of Georgia who, as of November 18, 2010, owned property lying, in whole or in part, within an area of land lying in Effingham County, George, and bounded [by precise metes and bounds, except] the above-named Defendant, its related corporations and all directors, officers and employees of the Defendant.
Notable is that the class is limited only to property owners as of one particular date in a carefully defined geographic area. In other words, the class definition avoids many of the pitfalls that have doomed other classes, such as the one we discussed in our post on the Louisiana case of Price v. Roy R. Martin, where the rejected class had been defined as “past and present owners” as well as people “physically present” in a 1-1/2 mile radius of the facility, which had gone through several owners.
With the definition given, the Georgia court found that all elements of its state law equivalent of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(a) and 23(b)(3) had been met. The Court found that class members could be readily ascertained from public records and, with only one defendant, issues of liability, available remedies and punitive damages would predominate over any individualized questions that may exist related to the amount of damages. In a nod to the experience of counsel (and maybe a wink as well), the Court also noted “that counsel for Plaintiffs and for the Defendant have extensive experience in representation of parties in class actions adjudicating claims brought on behalf of property owners for damage caused by releases of hazardous chemicals, and that these cases have been managed to a final conclusion.”