ndil seal.gifBy Gerald L. Maatman, Jr. and Jennifer A. Riley

On January 24, 2013, Judge Samuel Der-Yeghiayan of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois entered an order in Baker v. Home Depot USA, Inc., No 11-CV-06768 (Jan. 24, 2013), striking Plaintiffs’ class allegations, and cutting off Plaintiffs’ attempts to bring a multi-state class action at the pleading stage. 

Although Plaintiffs’ claim arose outside the employment context, the decision provides favorable precedent for employers seeking to eliminate defective class claims at the outside of litigation and helps shift the balance away from decisions finding such efforts premature.

Procedural Background

Plaintiffs brought suit against Home Depot claiming that the company promoted and sold wood treated with Chromium Copper Arsenate (CCA), a carcinogenic substance, for residential use,  even though it knew or should have known of the health risks associated with the product. Id. at 1-2.

Plaintiffs claimed that they each owned a deck built with CCA-treated wood from Home Depot. Id. at 2-3. They brought suit on behalf of a multi-state class of persons who own structures made of CCA-treated wood from Home Depot who suffered property damage. Id. at 3.

Plaintiffs asserted claims for design defect, failure to warn, negligence, and violation of the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act. In response, Home Depot moved to dismiss all claims and moved to strike the class allegations. 

The Court’s Opinion

The Court denied Home Depot’s motion to dismiss Plaintiffs’ strict liability and negligence claims. Id. at 6. The Court, however, granted Home Depot’s motion to dismiss Plaintiffs’ fraud claim, and it granted Home Depot’s motion to strike Plaintiffs’ class allegations. 

The Court noted that, where pleadings are facially defective and definitively establish that a class action cannot be maintained, “the court can properly grant a motion to strike class allegations at the pleading stage.” Id. at 9. 

In support of its motion to strike, Home Depot pointed to other rulings made by various courts denying class certification in materially similar cases. Id. at 10. The Court found many of the problems identified by the courts in those cases present in the instant case. Id. at 11.

Although Plaintiffs pointed to “many common issues of fact” among the proposed class members, the Court opined that they could not establish that common issues predominated over individual issues; “issues of causation, the extent of each class member’s injuries and the corresponding remedy, and the potential for individual affirmative defenses to apply to each class member’s claims all preclude the certification of a class.”  Id. at 11-12. For these reasons, the Court stuck the class claims. 

Implications For Employers

Under Judge Der-Yeghiayan’s approach, defendants can challenge class claims at the pleading stage where it is apparent from the allegations in plaintiffs’ complaint that plaintiffs’ claims cannot be certified due to the structure of the certification theories. Although Baker v. Home Depot arose outside the employment context, it provides a roadmap for employers looking to eliminate class claims at the earliest opportunity, before incurring the expense of discovery.