A well-crafted class definition must ensure that the court can determine objectively who is in the class, and therefore, bound by the ultimate ruling. The court should not be required to resort to speculation, or engage in lengthy, individualized inquiries to identify class members.
Plaintiff consumers filed suit against defendant company alleging that in producing and marketing its non-stick cookware coatings, defendant made false, misleading and deceptive representations regarding the safety of its product. Plaintiffs also claimed that defendant knew or should have known about potential risks in using cookware containing its coating, and failed to disclose this information. Plaintiffs moved to certify, dividing the class into three sub-classes: (1) those who “continue to possess the cookware, cookware packaging, or other documentation of the cookware”, (2) those who owned cookware believed to contain Teflon coating during the timeframe at issue, and (3) “all purchases or owners of cookware coated with Dupont non-stick coating who do not qualify as members of Sub-Class 1 or 2.”
Was class certification appropriate for plaintiff consumers, who fell into three proposed classes, and damages was not an element of membership?
The court determined that “too many infirmities exist” in the class definitions to ensure the Court can objectively determine who is in the class without resort to speculation. “Certifying a class with a weak definition creates more problems later in the proceeding. If the parties are unable to establish membership in a particular sub-class in an objective fashion at the commencement of the litigation, it is highly unlikely that liability and/or damages can later be established without relying on lengthy, individualized inquiry.”