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Whitfield Bryson & Mason

Class Certification Denied Due to Conflict of State Laws in Mazza

In a recent 2-1 decision, Mazza v. American Honda Motor Co., Inc., 666 F.3d 581 (9th Cir. 2012), the Ninth Circuit reversed the certification of a nationwide class composed of consumers seeking relief under California’s consumer protection laws. 

The plaintiffs alleged that American Honda Motor Co., Inc. (“Honda”) had misrepresented its cruise control and automatic braking system in violation of California’s Unfair Competition Law, False Advertising Law, and Consumer Legal Remedies Act by failing to disclose that the system turns off in inclement weather, may not stop a vehicle before impact, and that its three stages might overlap.  The United States District Court for the Central District of California certified a nationwide class on the premise that California law could be applied to class members hailing from 44 jurisdictions.

On appeal, a divided panel of the Ninth Circuit reversed the grant of class certification on two grounds:

(1)   Because “variances in state law overwhelm common issues and preclude predominance for a single nationwide class,” each class member’s claims should be governed by the laws of the jurisdiction in which the transaction took place.

(2)   Even if the class was restricted to only California buyers or lessees, “common issues of fact would not predominate in the class as currently defined because it almost certainly includes members who were not exposed to, and therefore could not have relied on, Honda's allegedly misleading advertising material.”

The majority expressed no opinion on whether a differently defined class would be appropriate under Rule 23(b)(3).  In her dissent, Judge Nelson concluded that “[t]he majority’s holding will prove devastating to consumers” who will refuse to bring individual actions when the potential recovery from them is so little. 

The Mazza opinion is not all that surprising.  California has for many years refused to certify national classes consisting of consumers with no relationship to California.  Moreover, it is sensible to preclude consumers who did not rely on Honda’s advertising to make a claim based on reliance on advertising.  This is not always the case with consumer products since in many instances the advertising is integral to the purchase and virtually unavoidable. 

Mazza, however, will have wide-ranging implications for class certification in the future.  While the opinion was a set back for consumers, it may be reversed if plaintiffs’ February 2, 2012 en banc petition is granted.