Stearns v. Ticketmaster: Ninth Circuit Reverses Denial of Class Certification and Clarifies UCL Standing Requirements

RSS Feed

In an important articulation of the standing requirements under California’s Unfair Competition Law (UCL) and Rule 23’s requirement that common questions of law or fact predominate in certified class actions, the Ninth Circuit has reversed Central District Judge Dale Fischer’s 2008 denial of class certification in three consolidated cases alleging that Ticketmaster deceived plaintiffs into registering for a coupon program that resulted in nearly $60 million in unintended charges triggered by a website “click through.”  See Stearns v. Ticketmaster Corp., No. 08-56065, No. 09-56126, No. 10-55341, 2011 U.S. App. LEXIS 17454 (9th Cir. Aug 22, 2011) (available here).   

Judge Fischer had denied certification of the UCL action, reasoning that all class members—the named plaintiffs as well as the absent class members—must identically prove the requisite injury to establish standing and thereby be eligible to seek remedies for the allegedly deceptive practice.  Stearns at *11-12.  The necessity of those individual determinations, Judge Fischer concluded, gave rise to individual issues, thus precluding certification.  Id.  The Ninth Circuit reversed.  

Writing for a unanimous three-judge panel, Circuit Judge Ferdinand F. Fernandez explained that the California Supreme Court’s In re Tobacco II requires only that the named plaintiff in a UCL action demonstrate actual injury and that Ninth Circuit precedent holds the same, as do class actions generally, stating: “At least one named plaintiff must satisfy the actual injury component of standing in order to seek relief on behalf of himself or the class.  The inquiry is whether any named plaintiff has demonstrated that he has sustained or is imminently in danger of sustaining a direct injury as the result of the challenged conduct.”  Id., citing Casey v. Lewis, 4 F.3d 1516, 1519 (9th Cir. 1993).  He also underscored that “our law keys on the representative party, not all of the class members, and has done so for many years.”  Stearns at *15.