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LLC v. Waste Management of Louisiana, LLC

United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana

March 12, 2015

PLAZA 22, LLC,
v.
WASTE MANAGEMENT OF LOUISIANA, LLC AND WASTE MANAGEMENT NATIONAL SERVICES, INC

RULING ON MOTION FOR CLASS CERTIFICATION

SHELLY D. DICK, District Judge.

Before the Court is Plaza 22, LLC's Motion for Class Certification, [1] which Defendants, Waste Management of Louisiana, LLC and Waste Management National Services, Inc. (collectively "Waste Management"), oppose.[2] In anticipation of a class certification hearing, the Parties submitted pre-hearing briefs. On November 17, 2014, the Parties apprised the Court that they waived their appearances at a class certification hearing and submitted evidence and their respective arguments on briefs.[3]

I. BRIEF FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

In this removal action, Plaza 22, appearing on its own behalf and others similarly situated, contends that it entered into a contractual relationship with Defendants on November 16, 2009 to provide small-containerized solid waste hauling services.[4] This particular service involves a process whereby waste generated by commercial customers is collected in metal containers (or "small containers") 2 to 10 cubic yards in size.[5] The waste hauling service firms collect their respective small containers using front end load vehicles, in which the waste is compacted and then hauled off to a landfill or disposal site. Plaza 22 contends that, as a result of Defendants' unlawful business practices, putative class members have paid more for small containerized solid waste hauling services. Plaza 22 alleges that Waste Management utilized certain contractual terms with its small-containerized, waste hauling customers that resulted in the exclusion of any rivalry business competition and allowed Defendants to achieve and maintain a monopoly in Louisiana. Plaza 22 seeks to certify a class pursuant to Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and proposes the following class definition:

All entities in Louisiana who were purchasers (excluding governmental entities, defendant, subsidiaries and affiliates of the defendant) in said market of small-containerized hauling services at any time during the time period 1988 to the present in the State of Louisiana who were injured as a result of the defendant's contract, understanding or agreement, express or implied, in violation of La. R.S. 51:122 et seq., La. R.S. 51:1405 et seq., La. R.S. 10:1-203, La. C.C.P. arts. 1953 et seq., 1983, and 2315.[6]

II. LAW AND ANALYSIS

A. Standard for Class Certification

Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure governs class certification. "The class action is an exception to the usual rule that litigation is conducted by and on behalf of the individual named parties only.'"[7] Because class actions are the exception, and not the rule, "[a] district court must conduct a rigorous analysis of the Rule 23 prerequisites before certifying a class."[8] Further, "[t]he plain text of Rule 23 requires the Court to find, ' not merely assume, the facts favoring class certification."[9] As the movant for class certification, Plaza 22 bears the burden of establishing that Rule 23's requirements have been met.[10]

Plaza 22's first hurdle is to satisfy each of the following threshold requirements set forth in Rule 23(a): (1) numerosity; (2) common questions of law or fact; (3) typicality; and (4) adequacy of representation. Secondly, Plaza 22 must also satisfy at least one of the three requirements of Rule 23(b). It is Plaza 22's contention that it can satisfy both Rule 23(b)(1)(A) and Rule 23(b)(3). Rule 23(b)(1)(A) allows courts to grant class certification if "the prosecution of separate actions by or against individual members of the class would create a risk of... inconsistent or varying adjudications with respect to individual members of the class which would establish incompatible standards of conduct for the party opposing the class." Whereas, Rule 23(b)(3) requires that "questions of law or fact common to class members [must] predominate over any questions affecting only individual members, and... a class action [must be] superior to other available methods for fairly and efficiently adjudicating the controversy." In addition to satisfying the explicit Rule 23 factors, Plaza 22's proposed class should be capable of being sufficiently defined and clearly ascertainable.[11]

Although Waste Management does not challenge Plaza 22's ability to satisfy the numerosity requirement, Waste Management argues that Plaza 22 cannot satisfy the remaining Rule 23(a) factors of commonality, typicality, and adequacy of representation, or the Rule 23(b) factors. Waste Management also contends that the proposed class definition is not ascertainable. Additionally, Waste Management argues that Plaintiffs' unfair trade practices act claims, claims of fraud, and breach of contract claims cannot be maintained on a class-wide basis.

B. Louisiana Unfair Trade Practices Act

At the outset, the Court must address Waste Management's challenges to the viability of Plaza 22's class certification claims premised on the Louisiana Unfair Trade Practices Act ("LUTPA"). Louisiana Revised Statute 51:1409(A), which provides the private right of action under LUTPA, specifically states: "Any person who suffers any ascertainable loss of money or movable property, corporeal or incorporeal, as a result of the use or employment by another person of an unfair or deceptive method, act, or practice declared unlawful by R.S. 51:1405, may bring an action individually but not in a representative capacity to recover actual damages."[12] Louisiana courts have interpreted the foregoing language as a "clear ban against class actions by private persons" under the Act.[13] This Court has likewise recognized that private individuals may not assert class actions under LUTPA.[14] Hence, the Court finds that, as a matter of law, Plaza 22 cannot seek class certification of its LUTPA claims.

C. Louisiana Antitrust and Monopoly Claims

In considering a proposed class, the Court must "initially identify the substantive law issues which will control the outcome of the litigation." Plaza 22 primarily contends that Waste Management's contracts were unfair under La. R.S. 51:122 and had monopolistic effects within the given market, in violation of La. R.S. 51:123. Notably, La. R.S. 51:122 and 51:123 "are virtually identical, in relevant part, to the analogous provisions of federal antitrust statutes, sections 1 and 2 of 15 U.S.C."[15] Hence, "[b]ecause [the Louisiana antitrust statutes] track almost verbatim ...


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