Wolph v. Acer: Another Class Certification Affirming the Presumption of Reliance on Material Misrepresentation

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Building on the trend in which consumer class actions increasingly adopt a doctrine of presumed reliance, Northern District Judge Jeffrey White recently certified a nationwide class in Wolph v. Acer, No. 09-01314 (N.D. Cal. filed Mar. 25, 2009). Other courts have embraced the same presumption of reliance, which as a practical matter typically defeats defendants’ most potent predominance arguments, to the effect that class treatment would be too unwieldy were it to entail an individualized inquiry into each class member’s motivation for buying the product. See, e.g., Fitzpatrick v. General Mills, No. 10-11064, 2011 U.S. App. LEXIS 6047 (11th Cir. Mar. 25, 2011) (adopting presumption of reliance as to purported health benefits of yogurt); Cole v. Asurion Corp., 267 F.R.D. 322 (C.D. Cal. 2010) (granting certification on omission-based liability theory); Wolin v. Jaguar Land Rover North America, 617 F.3d 1168 (9th Cir. 2010) (reversing denial of certification where district court abused discretion; common questions predominated as to defendant’s duty to disclose information a reasonable consumer would deem material).

By obviating the individualized causation inquiries that the defendants had argued precluded certification, the Fitzpatrick, Cole, Wolin and, now, Wolph courts have articulated what can fairly be called an established doctrine, at least as to consumer class actions.

The Wolph v. Acer plaintiffs alleged that the notebook computers they bought from Acer frequently froze, crashed, and required re-starting (which was typically slow), owing to an inherently deficient memory capacity. See cert. order at 1-2. The defendant’s opposition to certification argued a lack of ascertainability, typicality and adequacy, each of which was dispatched with relative ease. See Id. at 3-12. It was the defendant’s predominance argument, and specifically that the plaintiffs were not entitled to a class-wide presumption of reliance or causation under California’s consumer protection statutes, that plainly engaged the bulk of Judge White’s consideration, as he ultimately rejected the predominance defense, holding that individualized reliance on specific misrepresentations is not required, and that the standard for demonstrating class-wide reliance is presumed from a showing that the misrepresentation is material. Id. at 14.

The certification order is available here.