Understanding the “Reasonable Methodology” Requirement for Proving Class Action Claims
Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.220(a) contains four (4) threshold requirements in order to obtain class certification:
(1) Members of the class are so numerous that separate joinder of each member is impracticable (“numerosity”);
(2) The claim or defense of the representative party raises questions of law or fact common to the questions of law or fact raised by the claim or defense of each member of the class (“commonality”);
(3) The claim or defense of the representative party is typical of the claim or defense each member of the class (“typicality”); and,
(4) The representative party can fairly and adequately protect and represent the interests of each member of the class (“adequacy”).
In addition to meeting the requirements of Rule 1.220(a), a party seeking class certification must also satisfy one of three subdivisions of rule 1.220(b). Rule 1.220(b)(3) contains both a “predominance” and “superiority requirement.” Under the predominance requirement, a proponent of class certification must show that questions of law or fact common to the claim or defense of the representative party and the claim or defense of each member of the class predominate over any question of law or fact affecting only individual members of the class.
In considering whether a party has met the predominance requirement for class certification, Rule 1.220(b)(3) requires courts to make a “proof-based inquiry.” See Sosa v. Safeway Premium Fin Co., 73 So.3d 91, 112 (Fla. 2011)(holding that courts should consider three factors: (1) whether a class action would provide the only economically viable remedy to class members; (2) the likelihood of individual claims large enough to justify the expense of individual litigation; and (3) whether a class action cause of action is manageable).
To satisfy the predominance requirement, a party seeking class certification must demonstrate a “reasonable methodology for generalized proof of class-wide impact.” Id. at 112. If the putative class representative satisfies the “reasonable methodology” requirement, he or she has shown that proving the case “necessarily proves the cases of the other class members.” Id.
Florida’s Second District Court of Appeal recently addressed the issue of reasonable methodology in Mosaic Fertilizer v. Curd, Case No. 2D17-2302 2018 WL 5851479 (Fla. 2d DCA Nov. 9, 2018). In Mosaic, the defendant in a putative class action appealed an order granting plaintiffs’ motion for class certification. On appeal, the Second District reversed, finding that the putative class of plaintiffs failed to demonstrate a reasonable methodology for proving classwide claims.
The plaintiffs in Mosaic were commercial fisherman who sued Mosaic following a spill of polluted wastewater from one of Mosaic’s phosphate plants. In September of 2004, Hurricane Frances caused wastewater at Mosaic’s plant to spill into Tampa Bay. According to the fisherman, the spill damaged plant and sea life, including bait fish and crabs. The harm to sea life, the fisherman alleged, damaged the reputation of the fishery products the plaintiffs hoped to sell. Id. at *2.
During the course of litigation, the trial court held a hearing on the Mosaic plaintiffs’ motion for class certification. The plaintiffs called Howard Curd, a local fisherman, who testified that days after the spill his traps were filled with dead blue crabs. Curd also testified that for two years after the spill he was unable to catch any blue crab. Mosaic objected to Curd’s testimony, and the trial court sustained the objection finding that Curd was unable to offer an opinion on whether the spill caused a decline in fishing yields. Id. at *5.
Following two days of hearing, the trial court granted the fisherman’s motion for class certification, finding that under Rule 1.220(a), there were common questions which predominate the individual damages issues. On appeal, however, the Second District held that “the fisherman failed to carry their burden of positing any reasonable methodology for proving classwide claims.” The court further found that the fisherman had the burden of proving “some methodology for generalized proof by which the class representative would necessarily prove the cases of all other commercial fishing license holders who claim to have been damaged by the spill.” Id. at *9
The Second District explained that based on the testimony offered by the plaintiffs, the record lacked a reasonable methodology for proving classwide claims. The court noted that plaintiffs relied on the testimony of two local commercial fisherman both who testified that they observed changes in Tampa Bay marine life following the Mosaic spill. However, the trial court restricted both men’s opinion testimony and ruled that neither was qualified to offer opinions regarding the spill’s impact on marine life and vegetation. The Second District held that because there was no competent, substantial evidence supporting its “proof-based inquiry” in deciding Rule 1.220(b)(3)’s predominance requirement, the trial court abused its discretion. Id. at *9.