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To obtain class certification, in addition to proving all the requirements of La. Code Civ. Proc. Ann. art. 591(A), plaintiffs are required to prove, pursuant to art. 591(B)(3), that common questions of law or fact predominate over any individual issues and that the class action procedure is superior to any other. The inquiry into predominance tests whether the proposed classes are sufficiently cohesive to warrant adjudication by representation. The predominance requirement is more demanding than the commonality requirement, because it entails identifying the substantive issues that will control the outcome, assessing which issues will predominate, and then determining whether the issues are common to the class, a process that ultimately prevents the class from degenerating into a series of individual trials. Article 591(B)(3)(a)-(f) sets forth six considerations to be weighed in determining whether the predominance and superiority requirements are satisfied.
Plaintiff landowners filed a class action against defendants, the prior owners of a wood-treating facility. In particular, the landowners alleged that defendants' wood-treating and preserving activities caused the release of creosote, hexachlorobenzene, and pentachlorophenol into their communities, exposing plaintiffs to physical injury in the form of increased risk of disease, property damage, and diminished property values. The landowners alleged that defendants' activities constitute a nuisance under La. C.C. arts. 667, et seq., and that defendants were negligent under La. C.C. arts. 2315 and 2317. In granting the motion for class certification, the district court defined the class property owners who owned property within the class area at the time the property was damaged during the years of 1944 through present. The class area was defined as the entire area within a circle having a radius of one and one-half miles with the center of the circle being located at a point in the wood-treating facility. The court of appeals ultimately found no reversible error in the district court's judgment certifying the class, although it candidly acknowledged potential problems with the class as it had been defined.
Did the lower courts correctly apply the standards for analyzing class action certification set forth in La. C.C.P. arts. 591, et seq.?
The court held that the district court manifestly erred in finding the requirements of art. 591(A)(2), questions of law or fact common to the class, were proved. It likewise erred in finding under art. 591(B)(3) that common issues of law or fact predominated over individual questions and that the class action procedure was superior to other available methods for fairly and efficiently adjudicating the claims asserted.