Applying the principles of Wal-Mart v. Dukes, the landmark US Supreme Court case involving allegations of employment discrimination, a team of Edwards Wildman litigation lawyers convinced the Louisiana Supreme Court to turn back a would-be class action brought against two former operators of a Louisiana wood treatment facility. The court’s ruling significantly raises the bar for plaintiffs looking to certify as a class in environmental disputes in Louisiana and elsewhere.
The plaintiffs, present and former property owners who own or have owned property within 1.5 miles of the facility over the past 66 years, claimed that the properties had been contaminated by air and surface water emissions from the facility. The trial court initially certified the class in February 2010. The Louisiana Third Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed on appeal on year later, despite recognizing the “unprecedented” scope of the certified class.
The Louisiana high court’s reversal rebuked the plaintiffs’ contentions and the lower courts’ interpretations of the certification standards for mass torts. The justices found that the trial court manifestly erred not only in finding that plaintiffs satisfied the “predominance” requirement, but the threshold “commonality” requirement, as well. The trial court also erred in finding that plaintiffs met the “superiority” requirement. In reaching its conclusions, the justices expressed approval for nearly every argument in the defendants’ appellate briefs, which drew heavily from the US Supreme Court’s June 2011 ruling in Wal-Mart.