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Leblanc v. Exxon Mobil Corporation

United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana

March 17, 2015

ROGER JEAN LEBLANC, Individually and on Behalf of all others similarly situated
v.
EXXON MOBIL CORPORATION.

RULING ON MOTION FOR CLASS CERTIFICATION

SHELLY D. DICK, District Judge.

Before the Court is the Plaintiffs' Motion for Class Certification [1] which Exxon has opposed.[2] The parties have extensively briefed the relevant issues. The Court took evidence and heard oral argument at the class certification hearing held on February 17 and 18, 2015. For reasons assigned in open Court on February 18, 2015 and for the following written reasons, the Plaintiffs' Motion for Class Certification shall be denied.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

The Plaintiffs are individuals who purchased gasoline in March of 2014 that had been distributed from Exxon's Baton Rouge Terminal and produced at Exxon's Baton Rouge refinery. Exxon concedes that, in March of 2014, Exxon distributed fuel from its Baton Rouge terminal that contained elevated unwashed gum (UWG) levels due to what appears to have been an accidental introduction of Escorez™ resin into Exxon's gasoline production process. Plaintiffs contend that the Escorez™ resin is a washed gum (WG) which, unlike UWGs, does not combust and, thus, remains in the engine allegedly causing engine damage and decreases in operating efficiency and performance. Although Exxon does not deny that in March of 2014 it produced and distributed gasoline with elevated resin levels, which Exxon refers to as "atypical" gasoline, Exxon contends that this "atypical" gas contained elevated levels of UWG which Exxon contends is fully combusted upon normal engine operations.

Exxon offered evidence that, upon receiving consumer complaints, Exxon shut down its Baton Rouge Terminal on March 26, 2014 and established a claims handling program to address consumer concerns and provide relief to those who sustained damages as a result of purchasing the subject gasoline. According to the evidence, Exxon has paid approximately $4.6 million in claims.

Plaintiffs move for class certification under Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and propose the following as their class definition:

all purchasers of defective fuel created, sold, or distributed by Exxon for the twelve months preceding April 3, 2014 and all owners of property damaged by the use of defective fuel created, sold, or distributed by Exxon in that twelve month period.

II. LAW AND ANALYSIS

A. Elements and Standards for Class Certification

The party seeking class certification bears the burden of proving all four requirements of Rule 23(a); namely, numerosity, commonality, typicality, and adequate representation.[3] In addition to meeting the requirements of Rule 23(a), a class must also meet at least one element of Rule 23(b). Plaintiffs move for certification under Rule 23(b)(3).

"The class action is an exception to the usual rule that litigation is conducted by and on behalf of the individual named parties only'."[4] 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."[5] "Rule 23 requires the Court to find, ' not merely assume the facts favoring class certification."

Exxon attacks Plaintiffs' certification motion on each ground necessary for class certification.[6] The Court finds that the requirements of numerosity and adequacy of representation are present. However, the Court finds that Plaintiffs' claims fail the predominance and superiority requirements of Rule 23(b)(3) and that the class is not ascertainable. Because the Plaintiffs' Motion to Certify fails on these grounds, the Court need not address the additional 23(a) requirements of commonality and typicality.

B. Rule 23(b)(3) Predominance and Superiority

"The Rule 23(b)(3) predominance inquiry tests whether proposed classes are sufficiently cohesive to warrant adjudication by representation."[7] The class definition proposed in this case draws its parameters around consumers and/or purchasers of the subject gasoline, which Plaintiffs call "defective" and Exxon calls "atypical". The clever use of adjectives, however, does not drive the Court's analysis. Rather, the Court must "identify the substantive law issues which will control the outcome of the litigation"[8] in order to determine whether "questions of law or fact common to class members predominate over any questions affecting only individual members".[9] While the common experience of purchasing and/or using the subject gas may satisfy Rules 23(a)'s requirement of commonality, the predominance inquiry is "far more demanding".[10] Thus, "[t]he issue of predominance' has ...


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