February 29, 2016 Articles

Keeping Plaintiffs in the Driver's Seat: The Supreme Court Rejects "Pick-Off" Settlement Offers

The Court has held unequivocally that defendants cannot force piecemeal adjudications through such individualized offers

by Jonathan Uslaner and Brandon Marsh

Can a defendant corporation stall, and potentially terminate, a class action simply by offering to provide relief to the individual named plaintiff and giving nothing to the class? Until recently, that question was a hotly disputed issue across the country. While most federal courts of appeals had held that such unaccepted offers of only partial relief to the class had little or no legal force—and certainly not enough to terminate a plaintiff’s claim—the defense bar continued the practice, hoping to pick off individual plaintiffs and thus frustrate the associated class claims. On January 20, 2016, in Campbell-Ewald Co. v. Gomez, the Supreme Court put the issue to rest. The Court’s 6–3 ruling wholly rejected such tactics, affirming that named plaintiffs deserve a fair opportunity to seek class-wide relief and that an unaccepted individualized offer of relief cannot forestall class actions.

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