Seventh Circuit Strikes Another Blow to Class Actions

January 21, 2014
MGKF Litigation Blog

Since the United States Supreme Court decided Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes, 131 S.Ct. 2451 (2011), plaintiffs in contamination cases have stuggled to meet the raised bar for class certification.  And that bar was certainly not lowered by the Seventh Circuit in its decision in Parko v. Shell Oil Co., Nos. 13-8023 & 13-8024 (7th Cir. Jan 17, 2014).  Parko involved a putative class comprised of property owners in the town of Roxana, Illinois, who claimed that their property values had been diminished by benzene contamination of the groundwater from an adjacent oil refinery which had been in operation for nearly 100 years.  In checking off the certification requirments, the district court held that the question of whether the multiple defendants who owned and operated the refinary during the preceding 90 plus years failed to “contain petroleum byproduct [resulting] in contamination to Roxana property” predominated.   The Seventh Circuit panel unanimously disagreed.  Judge Posner, writing for the Court, described the opinion as necessary for clarification of a trial court’s responsibility to conduct a “rigorous analysis” of whether common issues predominate; in doing so, he did not hesitate to take the district judge to task for “treat[ing] predominance as a pleading requirement” rather than an evidentiary one.  Read the full blog post.