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Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure governs a district court's consideration of a motion for class certification. The class action serves to conserve the resources of the court and the parties by permitting an issue that may affect every class member to be litigated in an economical fashion. The Plaintiff bears the burden of demonstrating that the requirements of Rule 23 are satisfied. The decisions on whether to certify a class action are entrusted to the discretion of the district court. However, for class certification to be appropriate, a plaintiff must first establish the four prerequisites of Rule 23(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
Defendant Zurn Pex Inc. designed, manufactured, and sold plumbing products. Historically, potable water plumbing systems used copper pipes. In the 1990s, defendant’s predecessor designed plumbing systems using polybutylene plastic. After a wave of litigation involving failed polybutylene plumbing systems, defendant designed a cross-linked polyethylene plumbing system, commonly referred to as "pex," as an alternative. Defendant’s pex plumbing system utilized brass fittings and a crimp connection design. Because the brass fittings used in defendant’s pex plumbing system were made from brass with a high zinc content, the fittings were claimed to be susceptible to premature failings. However, plaintiffs, individuals who own a home with a defendant’s pex plumbing system, alleged that the defective fittings used in the pex system caused their plumbing systems to leak resulting in damage to their properties. Plaintiffs alleged that defendant falsely represented the pex systems were of high quality, were reliable, and would last decades. Plaintiffs Denise and Terry Cox filed the first-class action lawsuit for damages to their home from failed pex plumbing. Plaintiffs Beverly Barnes and Brian Johnston filed a similar lawsuit and several related lawsuits followed. The Judicial Panel on Multi-District Litigation determined that the pex plumbing cases involved common questions of fact, and that centralization of the cases was appropriate. Thus, all defendant’s pex cases were transferred to this court for coordinated or consolidated pretrial proceedings and assigned to the undersigned United States District Judge. Plaintiffs moved to certify this case as a class action on the violations of Minnesota consumer protection statutes (Counts 1-4), negligence (Count 5), negligent failure-to-warn (Count 6), breach of implied warranty of merchantability (Count 9), and breach of express warranty claims (Count 12). Defendant, on the other, move to exclude portions of plaintiff’s experts.
Should plaintiffs’ motion for class certification be granted?
The court granted in part and denied in part plaintiffs' motion for class certification. The court ruled as regards to the breach of express warranty and breach of implied warranty of merchantability claims, a class was certified as: all persons and entities that owned a structure located within the State of Minnesota that contained defendant’s plumbing system with defendant’s brass crimp fittings. On the other, the court ruled that as to the negligence and negligent failure-to-warn claims, a class was certified as: all persons and entities that owned a structure located within the State of Minnesota that contained defendant’s pex plumbing system with its brass crimp fittings and have suffered damage to their property caused by a failure in defendant’s brass crimp fittings. The proposed class included, without limitation, all such persons or entities who contacted defendant or its representatives about their pex plumbing system and were denied or partially denied warranty coverage for failure of the plumbing system based on a claim that corrosion was not covered by the warranty or that other alleged warranty limitations applied. However, the court denied the class certification as to the consumer protection claims. Likewise, the court denied defendants’ motion to exclude portions of the expert’s testimony.