Stockwell v. City & Cnty. of San Francisco

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Civil Procedure
  • Date Filed: 04-24-2014
  • Case #: 12-15070
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Berzon for the Court; Circuit Judges Wallace and Fisher
  • Full Text Opinion

Where a district court evaluates the merits of a case in assessing whether the common question required for certification of a class under Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(a)(2) exists, instead of evaluating the commonality of the questions presented to the members of the putative class, there is an abuse of discretion reversible under Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(f).

Multiple members of the San Francisco police force older than forty (“plaintiffs”) brought suit in 2008, alleging that, in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act, a change in the San Francisco Police Department’s (“SFPD”) policy resulted in a disparate impact, based on age, upon the plaintiffs’ ability to receive promotions. The change in policy at issue was the SFPD’s decision to eliminate a particular examination, which all plaintiffs involved in the suit had taken and performed sufficiently on, as a basis for particular promotions. Seeking certification as a class under Fed. R. Civ. P. (“Rule”) 23(b)(3), the plaintiffs saw the district court deny their motion for class certification on want of commonality grounds via Rule 23(a)(2). Rule 23(a)(2) requires that, in order to gain class certification, the moving party demonstrate that the members of a putative class share common “questions of law or fact.” The district court, then, declined to rule on whether the putative class of officers satisfied Rule 23(b)(3)’s requirements. Plaintiffs timely sought interlocutory appeal under Rule 23(f). Reviewing the district court’s denial of plaintiffs’ motion for an abuse of discretion, the Ninth Circuit noted the appeal’s interlocutory nature, and its own inability to consider the merits of the case. The panel held that the district court had abused its discretion in evaluating the merits of the plaintiffs’ case when assessing whether commonality existed under Rule 23(a)(2), rather than evaluating the commonality of the questions presented to the plaintiffs as members of a putative class. The panel thus reversed the district court’s denial of the plaintiffs’ motion for certification, remanding the matter to the district court for consideration of whether the plaintiffs’ putative class satisfied the requirements of Rule 23(b)(3) and the other class certification prerequisites. REVERSED and REMANDED.

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