The Eastern District of Pennsylvania denied plaintiffs’ motion to certify certain issues under Rule 23(c)(4) and 23(b)(2), holding that the presence of numerous individualized questions, choice-of-law concerns, and other inefficiencies in the putative class litigation made certification inappropriate. Allstate had terminated over 6,200 agents, 90% of whom happened to be over the age of 40, offering four different severance options to the terminated agents. Three of the options offered enhanced severance benefits but required the agents to execute a release in order to be entitled to them. Plaintiffs sought certification of four issues regarding the validity of the release: 1) involuntariness under a federal standard with respect to plaintiff’s federal claims, 2) unconscionability, 3) unclean hands, and 4) an obscure “part and parcel” theory derived from antitrust jurisprudence.
The court found that none of the issues could be certified. It held that certification was inappropriate regarding federal involuntariness, unconscionability, and unclean hands because determining whether each doctrine applied to each putative class member’s claims would require the resolution of multiple individualized inquiries. The court further held that certification of the unclean hands and unconscionability doctrines was inappropropriate because the laws of the putative class members’ home states would apply, requiring the jury to consider the laws of as many as 47 jurisdictions. The court also found, assuming arguendo that the part and parcel doctrine could apply, that its application could not be resolved on a class-wide basis because plaintiffs had only sought to certify one part of the theory, leaving the parties to individually litigate the remaining portion.
In an additional point of interest, the plaintiffs were successful in striking the declaration of Allstate’s expert witness—a law professor who had opined on the propriety of certification. Applying Daubert principles, the court found that the expert’s declaration was merely an inadmissible legal opinion.