In a putative class action in federal court, the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey quickly put to rest a controversial theory advanced by the plaintiffs to allow them to sue defendants who admittedly caused them no harm. The theory—known as the juridical link doctrine—would allow class plaintiffs to sue broad groups of defendants based on the allegation that they engaged in conduct similar to those defendants that allegedly injured the named plaintiffs. The opinion is consistent with the majority of federal jurisdictions that require a named plaintiff to have individual standing to sue each named defendant.

In 6803 Boulevard East, LLC v. DirecTV, LLC, several landlords who own and lease residential apartment buildings in New Jersey brought a putative class action alleging that the defendants—including satellite providers such as DirecTV—installed satellite equipment in the common areas of the plaintiffs’ buildings without their consent. One of those defendants, DirecTECH, did install such equipment in multi-unit dwellings, but not in the plaintiffs’ properties.

DirecTECH filed for summary judgment, arguing that the named plaintiffs lacked standing to sue it. In opposing DirecTECH’s motion, plaintiffs invoked the “juridical link doctrine,” a rare doctrine created by a 1973 opinion of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. That doctrine, as applied in the context of Rule 23, provides that named plaintiffs in a class action may sue defendants who did not cause them harm, so long as those defendants are “juridically related in a manner that suggests a single resolution of the dispute would be expeditious.” The DirecTV plaintiffs argued that the juridical link doctrine—a creature of Rule 23—should be applied to satisfy their standing requirement.  

The district court rejected the plaintiffs’ request, holding that a putative class representative must himself have standing to sue each defendant in a class action. In doing so, the court noted the “scant” Third Circuit case law on point, and expressly adopted the reasoning of a more recent Second Circuit opinion. The Second Circuit held that the issue of Article III standing—a constitutional requirement—supersedes the issue of class certification, which is governed by a federal rule. This means the standing issue must be decided first and in the context of the named plaintiffs only. That ruling is not universal, however, as at least the Seventh Circuit has held that Rule 23 issues may be decided first, such that the standing issue may be evaluated regarding the class as a whole, and not simply the named class representative.

Ballard Spahr’s Product Liability and Mass Tort and Consumer Class Action Litigation Groups have substantial experience defending consumer class actions, including economic loss, consumer fraud, and warranty claims. For more information, please contact Neal Walters at 856.761.3438 or waltersn@ballardspahr.com, or Michael R. Carroll at 856.761.3452 or carrollm@ballardspahr.com.


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