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From Antitrust Law Daily, March 16, 2015

Certification of Louisiana Waste Management customers denied

By Jeffrey May, J.D.

Customers of Waste Management of Louisiana, LLC, who claim that they paid more for small containerized solid waste hauling services as a result of Waste Management's exclusionary conduct, cannot proceed as a class in their antitrust suit, the federal district court in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, has ruled. The court concluded that certification of the antitrust claims under Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure was not appropriate (Plaza 22, LLC v. Waste Management of Louisiana, LLC, March 12, 2015, Dick, S.).

Plaintiff Plaza 22 sought to certify a class of all non-governmental entities in Louisiana who were purchasers in the market for small-containerized hauling services since 1988. Plaza 22 contended that Waste Management’s contracts were unfair and had monopolistic effects in violation of Louisiana antitrust law. The contracts purportedly excluded competition and allowed Waste Management to maintain a monopoly throughout the state. The court pointed to the variety of the contracts over the last 25 years in its reasons for denying class certification.

The proposed class definition was not ascertainable because the court would have to conduct mini-trials and make merit-based determinations on the individual claims to determine whether a particular person is a member of the class, it was decided. The proposed class definition required a resolution of the merits in order to determine class membership, in the court's view.

Even if the class definition were ascertainable, the Rule 23(a) elements of commonality and typicality and the predominance requirement of Rule 23(b) were not satisfied, according to the court. Commonality was rejected in light of the need for individualized inquiries into the different types of customers and the different contractual terms at issue, as well as the injuries and the types of damages sustained, if any. With respect to typicality, Plaza 22’s antitrust claims would be significantly different from those of other class members, the court decided. Plaza 22 only purchased services from Waste Management for three years over the 25-year span at issue. In addition, the court questioned Plaza 22's ability to represent customers not only in its own parish but also in different parishes.

Rule 23(b)(3) requirements. Plaza 22 failed to meet the predominance requirements of Rule 23(b)(3) because individual issues predominate over issues common to the class. Once again, the court identified variations in pricing and contract terms over the years and in the various geographic areas as bases for deciding that antitrust impact cannot be established on a class-wide basis. Furthermore, Plaza 22 failed to show that damages are measurable on a classwide basis through a common calculation, the court held.

Rule 23(b)(1)(A) certification. Also rejected was Plaza 22's “lackluster effort to keep its dreams of class certification alive” under Rule 23(b)(1)(A). Rule 23(b)(1)(A) provides for class action if the prosecution of separate actions would impose incompatible standards of conduct of the party opposing the claims. Certification under 23(b)(1)(A) was seldom appropriate when dealing with monetary compensation because no inconsistency would be created when courts awarded varied money damages to different plaintiffs. Because the plaintiffs primarily sought compensatory damages, the request was denied.

Louisiana Unfair Trade Practices Act claim. Because private individuals may not assert class actions under the Louisiana Unfair Trade Practices Act (LUTPA), Plaza 22 could not seek class certification of its LUTPA claims.

The case number is 3:13-cv-00618-SDD-SCR.

Attorneys: Timothy Earle Pujol (Pujol Pryor & Irwin, LLC) for Plaza 22 LLC. John Stone Campbell, III (Taylor, Porter, Brooks & Phillips) for Waste Management of Louisiana, LLC and Waste Management National Services, Inc.

Companies: Plaza 22 LLC; Waste Management of Louisiana, LLC; Waste Management National Services, Inc.

MainStory: TopStory Antitrust StateUnfairTradePractices LouisianaNews

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